Thursday, December 10, 2009

from Dinan

We sleep at odd hours and neither of us is making an attempt to set our clocks straight. I fade away in the early night, sure, after dinner, but then I am up, working, until almost predawn. And then I fade again, succumbing to sleep until most of the morning is gone. It is a long and wonderful rest.

Our apartment is on the river road. Access here is limited to the “riverains” -- those who live by the river. That means we get almost no traffic at all, which is good, because the bedroom faces the road (and the living room and garden look out onto the river).

I say “almost” no traffic, because there is road work further up the river road, and we hear back hoes and mini excavators going by fairly regularly during working hours. Blissfully short, here, in France, with a long pause for lunch. The machines roll by just a few feet from our window. Most certainly I could poke them with a broomstick without getting out of bed.

In spite of this, we sleep soundly. Lulled by the luxury of having no preset internal alarm urging me to get going, be on time, get going.

The downside of this unscheduled life? It is past noon today by the time we stumble out into the world. Here’s an important question: what do you even eat if you begin your day at 1? People are filling the bars and restaurants, cider is poured, or, in the alternative, wine is uncorked. Beefsteak and frites placed before a hungry lunch crowd and I am still craving my cup of café crème.

Surely the numerous creperies here are meant for people (like us) who can't tell the difference between morning and afternoon. We order galettes (buckwheat crepes) with eggs and now we fit right into the stream of life here. Only my café crème is a little off. But then, I carry a camera. I’m one of those. I’m excused.



It’s the last of the warm and wet days in Brittany this year (so I read). Whereas in Madison, a blizzard rages, here the temperatures have hovered in a narrow range of forties and fifties. Initially today, it is wet enough for me to take out an umbrella. But not for long.

We walk first along the river bank. Ed has been wanting to do his usual inspection of boats along the water’s edge.


And then, as before, we climb up the hill to Dinan center. The idea is that we should walk along the ramparts that encircle the town (or at least its historic center). It is a leisurely, at times muddy, at times quiet and serene, at times melodic walk (with strains of Auld Lang Syne coming in through a loudspeaker somewhere).


Halfway, Ed finds a bench and takes a moment to consider his surroundings (this is a habit of his when hiking – a charming Juhn Muirian kind of thing, I think). I wander off to inspect a row of flowering trees (yes, I am in northern Europe... such is the gentleness of Brittany: rough seas surround a very mellow and forever green landscape); he gets up slowly to join me. Within minutes a group of men gather near the same bench for a game of petanque (an import here from Provence).


You could spend a day just looking at this bench and watching the Breton world unfold, right here, by the old ramparts. And it would be, in my view, a beautiful day. But, we have more to see, more ramparts to circumvent, more Dinan life to look in on. Children singing Christmas songs in school (strains of “We wish you a merry Christmas” spill out onto the street). Artists, sketching scenes of squirrels and holiday trees. December in Dinan. Sometimes visible to the passerby. Sometimes hidden behind a holiday lace curtain.




In one shop, I see a seamstress working. I knock on the door. Might you know where I can get some yarn or thread in Dinan? Yes, yes, of course, there is just such a place. She gives me directions and Ed and I take a detour. I have an errand there for a friend. We find it easily: a tiny shop that couldn’t be more precious and colorful. Ed whispers -- is color ever not beautiful here?


I buy what I think is right and this takes more time than you could imagine because time now stretches for me without boundaries. The only constraints are hunger and light.

It is not yet dusk, but we are, by now, hungry. And that is good news indeed. I see food I want to eat constantly here. When I ask myself – am I really hungry to warrant this additional indulgence, most often I have to admit that I am not. But this time we give in. We are just around the corner from a terrific bakery – a biologique (organic) artisanal place with Breton pastries and breads.


We split the apple tart and walk away quickly before an imagined hunger nudges us to make another selection.

Back to the ramparts. Back to people watching, window shopping (that Breton lace!), back to smelling the dampness, to admiring the winter berries and blooms.








And now the loop is completed. We are at the point of our cobbled walk down to the port. One last look over the old town...



... and we head back to our apartment by the water.

But in the late evening we turn around and climb up again. You’d think that we’d reconsider. The mist is crawling up the river bank. I reach for my umbrella.


But I am hungry for that plate of Breton seafood. The one that needs my full attention, because there are shrimp to peel and oysters to slurp and snails to pull out. The one that I have been thinking about for months, because it’s been way too long since I have said – don’t make me eat another snail! (A Breton seafood plate will always have more snails of varying sizes than you could possibly want.)

We walk along the wet cobbles, dazzled as always, by the strings of holiday lights.


We pass a large and fairly busy brasserie with great big terrace windows looking out on the town. We gratefully accept a table by the window and I order my Breton plate and because this is considered only a starter, I follow it by a seafood choucroute – three different fish in a pot of boiled potatoes and sauerkraut.



Honestly, no one could be hungry after that. But our fixed price dinner (a modestly priced one at 19 Euros, tax and tip included; oh, and 8 Euros for a pitcher of wine) comes with dessert and so I continue. A lemon tart is indeed the perfect ending.


Except that I really cannot finish it with the pleasure it deserves. French people do not take doggie bags of leftovers home. They finish what they like. And I do not want to suggest that this is anything but delicious. I sneak a Kleenex and I gently wrap the remains of my tart and Ed’s flan and discreetly place them in my pack.

The drizzle has almost stopped now. The holiday street lights have been turned off for the night. The town is quiet. We walk the cobbled way down to the river port, content, grateful.