Sunday, December 13, 2009

in France: love and such

Is intense friendship all that different from love? If you care about someone, is that a sign of love? Let me speak by way of example: today, yet again, we did not leave work/sleep (one of us slept, the other worked) behind until noon, by which time, the best breakfast option was the creperie at the harbor. A good enough choice. I select a crepe with blueberry jam, Ed has a crepe with strawberry jam.


At the table by the window, two men are engaged in an animated back and forth. Obviously caring deeply about the outcome. Profound concern. A form of love. Brotherly? Loverly? Friend or colleague? It hardly matters. His eyes show caring.


At another table, a more elderly couple sits down. He takes off his Breton cap. They study the menu. He orders a sweet crepe with honey. She takes a longer minute to decide. He looks at her patiently. Or, is it that he is thinking of countless such times spent with her, just so, waiting, waiting, thoughts drifting, waiting? Such is love.


Oftentimes when I travel, I snap photos of people’s laundry strung out on a clothes line. It’s a natural: colorful, with a hint of old-wordliness to it. Here’s another such photo:


The difference: it’s our laundry. After many trials and tribulations, we did a load this morning (well, closer to noon). We hung it to dry in the riverside yard and then went off for the day.

Went off where? Oh, on a hike. We had one picked out: just south of Dinan, in part along the river Rance, and in part through the beautiful Breton farmlands. We start in this village, by this building. No, no, it’s not about marriage. Or at least not entirely. It’s the French town hall. Every village has one. You file important papers there. Births, deaths, purchase of property, well yes, marriage too. Every French marriage must be recorded at the Mairie. While Santa looks on.


We leave the village and proceed to lose ourselves in the lanes and passages of the lands bordering the river. Walking along a quiet country road from one village to the next -- this is what makes me happy. I say as much to Ed. No one can say that I do not express positive emotion.

the colors of a Brittany December day

are these collard greens?

bare trees, a green field

December light

Perhaps you have been wondering – what’s with the clumps of green stuff around the trees of Brittany? Here’s the scoop: it’s mistletoe. It grows randomly, often transported by bird droppings onto a tree trunk where it takes hold and grows, sometiems with terrific abundance. It used to be regarded as a menace (is love a menace?) but more recent studies have revealed that where mistletoe spreads, so flourishes bio-diversity. In other words, love is a good thing, don’t you think? (BTW, the association between love and mistletoe is a Scandinavian things so please, do not blame it on the French).


Our hike takes us down to the River Rance and the canals that were built centuries ago to facilitate transport. They are still in operation, but not now, not in the off season. There is a mill here as well. Very old, very beautiful.



I hear someone working in the field behind the lock keeper's house. It is indeed Monsieur the lock guard. Ed nudges me to ask about the operation of the locks. Monsieur tells us about the seasonal closings, the water levels, the boats that pass from the Atlantic, along this way, up toward the Channel.


I ask – but why is the canal so dry?
We wont start filling it until January. The first boat traffic will pass through in April.
I can hear Ed’s thought spinning – might one navigate a little boat through here? Through villages with bakeries where they sell great bread? The man loves boats and good French bread.


We walk along the tow path. The sun is low, but still there, protecting us from the night that is so quick to take hold. The shadows are elongated now in ways that could only happen toward the end of the day.


We pause at the second series of locks and Ed reads the description of how one navigates a boat through them. I can tell. Someday, he will be doing this kind of navigation. Someday. But not this year.

Our small map tells me that we’ve walked too far. I’m about to suggest we head back, but a small sound across the river holds me back. Donkeys. In love? One tries to straddle the other, she pushes him (or is it her?) off. They nuzzles, lick each other, mellow now, they rest in contentment.





A Saturday afternoon in France.

And now we walk back, ourselves mellowed by the sight of love. Or such. Up the hill toward the village where we left the wee car (mystery solved! The car stalls on purpose! And restarts itself at intersections! Smart!). Past chickens, farms, fields of greens, past a goat. A lonely goat. A goat asking for attention. Two bearded fellows, engaged.




Bronze fields of wet earth and last year’s leaves. Bare trees, golden tones from a fading sun beam. Then dusk.




Time to head back to Dinan.

As we approach the old town, we note the dense traffic. Why? It’s not market day. Why the congestion? We park the car and walk toward the center and it becomes obvious that this is just the way a Saturday afternoon is meant to be on a fair December evening in Dinan. People are out and about. Not shopping exactly, though some are certainly gazing into shop windows. Mostly strolling, sipping warm beverages, buying bread for the meal ahead. And stopping at the parent sponsored school holiday fair, where you can pick up the Breton cake and a cup of warm spiced wine. (We support the schools of Dinan! We pick up both!) And gaze up at a French Santa.



Of course, Ed coaxes me toward THE bakery with THE best bread, and the ladies there smile at us there because they recognize my camera.


At a shop just up the street, we admire the salads and prepared foods and Ed gets it into his head that we should buy snails – stuffed with butter and garlic, all ready to be baked? Broiled? Something. I ask Madame – can I microwave these? Biensur! One minute in le micro!

Up one street, then back again. A mother and daughter exit a perfume shop. The mother has sticks of paper with fragrance on them. She lets the girl sniff each one so that she can pick a favorite.


I want to walk further, toward the chocolate shop, but our parking meter is almost up. It’s just as well. Let loose in the crowded streets of a weekend evening of Dinan, I would never stop. Not until the last person said goodnight and turned toward home.

In the apartment, after a snack of bread and cheese, snails and tomatoes, Ed dozes off. Not for long. There is dinner to be had. Just across the river, at a tiny local place, packed even this late, with families, friends, dogs. We order platters of seafood and buckets of moules frites and it’s all rather inexpensive and 100 % wonderful.


I gaze at the four children, eating together at the table next to ours. Ed's thoughts wander, most likely to the work that has to be done tonight on his trail case.


Or maybe to the good bread and sweet donkeys and lonely goats and sturdy boats. Probably not the mistletoe though. Ed's not a mistletoe kind of guy.