Wednesday, March 05, 2014

rekindling a lost love

Sometimes a song sticks in your head because something about it is fitting. And then you hum it to yourself over and over, even though the lyrics in their entirety resonate with your life not at all.  It's sort of like singing somewhere over the rainbow because you happen to see a bluebird fly by.  My song du jour is Far Away (the Boys and Girls rendition) and the lyrics that bounce around in my head go like this:

I will live my life as a lobsterman's wife
On an island in the blue bay
He will take care of me, he will smell like the sea
And close to my heart he'll always stay

I will bear three girls all with strawberry curls
Little Ella and Nelly and Faye
While I'm combing their hair, I will catch his warm stare
On our island in the blue bay

Far away, far away, I want to go far away
To a new life on a new shore line
Where the water is blue and the people are new
To another island, in another life.

(I know one Ocean commenter will appreciate the reference to a lobsterman's wife, as she is that. Me, I'm sort of drifting in "where the water is blue and the people are new"  lyrics.)


I wake up to a day of pink clouds and, at least initially, faintly blue skies between them. This is the view toward the fields in the back of my small house.


Yes, this is Brittany. I'm dusting off an old love here. She was my favorite. She was to be the place I would covet, long for, return every chance I got. But, I turned my back on Brittany when Ed and I discovered Sorede in the south. And now that Ed has had his fill of Sorede (and I surely will never go there alone), I am back, courting my old flame, my Brittany, begging for forgiveness, proclaiming my loyalty henceforth. And admiring her beauty anew.

At first Brittany pouts. That wisp of blue sky? That was just at sunrise. Quickly the clouds take over. And this is not uncommon here. Sorede does, in fact, have more days of sunshine. Indeed, when Aurelia parked her car in a lot by the St Pol de Leon swimming pool, I asked if that was an indoor pool because there were quite a number of cars there. She had laughed -- we could not have an outdoor pool here. Even in the summer, it can be quite cool.

If I strain my neck, I can see the sea now from my little house. But as the clouds take over and the color of the sea fades to that of the sky, it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other.


There is, all morning long, a threat of rain. And by afternoon, the threat is realized and it rains. And rains. And rains.


Even had it rained in the morning, I would have hiked to town. Tuesday is market day in St Pol de Leon. I surely want to see that. And, too, I want my morning cafe-croissant.

And so I head out. My little house is on the outskirts of town (whereas the one I was to be in was smack in the center), but in St Pol de Leon, this hardly matters. The town is small. It's twice the size of Sorede, but still hardly more than a village. At last count, there were about 7000 Saintpolitains (that's what residents here are called) and the number is steadily declining. (I note that the owners of my first problematic rental and, too, of my current little house are both of the younger generation and both of them live in Paris.)

I walk to town between the stone homes and the fields of harvested chou. Classic Brittany: stone walls, artichaut and chouChou means cabbage. And there are many varieties: chou blanc, chou rouge, chou fleur (cauliflower!), chou frise -- in the grocery store, they're all lined up for you, one next to the other. So, my walk to the center ( a mere ten minutes or so) is past this:


And as I get closer to the heart of town, I come across other familiar sights: the decorative lace curtains in doors and windows.


The hearty Bretagne folk, pausing, of course, to exchange greetings and stories from the week.


And everywhere, there is that stone: the building material of choice here for hundreds of years.


Let me give you an overview of the main street in town and then we'll scoot right to the market.


....where they're selling, well, cabbage.


...and another Brittany favorite: crepes. Either sweet or buckwheat. You buy them by the stack. For future use.


I leave the market for a little while. I want my coffee. There is a lovely little bakery -- I had purchased bread there last night, and I go there now because it has a few tables -- perfect for a cafe creme and morning pastry. What to eat? Oh, easy -- I want what she's having!


Heaven on a plate. (With a light almond paste inside and almonds on the outside -- mmmm.)


I spend a while at the cafe. It's a warm room with a friendly staff. Madame remembers me from the other day, frantically buying bread and asking about WiFi; they in fact have it and she tells me I can surely use it now. I smile: no no, not necessary. During the day, I am cut off from the rest of the world.

Other patrons? Varied. Since it's a school holiday, there will be the child and parent. And this lobsterman, who comes in dripping with water, even as he is clad from head to toe in rubber garb. He comes in, shakes his wet hand with this person, that person and sits down to read the paper and drink his coffee.


Okay, time to leave. That threat of rain is not to be taken lightly. Yesterday's storms are still in my head. I'd like to stay dry for as long as I can. Time to pick up a baguette, a bag of meringues and to set out.


I'm back at the market now, not to look, well -- only a quick look. For instance, at the small handful of lobsters and crabs,  and at the bucket loads of shrimp and langoustines...


...but really, I am now in the buying mode. I pick up a honey cake (did I tell you about Brittany honey? They say it has the distinct flavor of the sea...), and an herbal tea made of local flowers and propolis, a few stalks of endive and, too, a portion of prepared chicken stew. If there'll be rain, I wont feel like searching for a place to eat. At every market I've ever been to in France, there is always a stand where you can pick up a container of prepared food: either paella or stew. Today I find a stand selling aromatic chicken tagine and couscous. This will be my supper.


One last glance at the market, at the kids who amuse themselves as grandparents -- the baby sitters of choice during school breaks -- shop...


And then I do a quick side step to the tourist office for maps and another side step to the super marche for a six pack of mineral water and a bottle of rose wine. Along the way, I pass a garden square which speaks to the fact that spring has come to northern France.


(People back home -- take heart! Surely yours is the last snowstorm of the season!)

In that small square you'll also find a statue. If I had to pick an icon for Ocean, I would consider it.


It comes with a stone at the side, engraved with the words -- celui qui regarde passer les autres. One who watches others passing by.   Ocean words.

And now I return toward my small house by the fields where a new crop of cabbage is being harvested, even as the skies release the first drops of rain.



I spend a leisurely afternoon reading and watching the French news on TV. I know I can read about the crisis in the Ukraine on my computer, but I want to improve my French vocabulary and so I listen to the French voice-over of the Putin press conference.

I have a flashback then to the words of a rather nasty commenter to my Friday post. I almost never post nasty comments, or comments of people who have a history of being disrespectful, but I published that one because I thought it spoke to the odd notions people develop about countries that they have never been to and that they do not really understand. The commenter admitted as much. He wrote something to the effect that he doesn't "get"Poland.

And I'm thinking now how I lived in Poland in the years when it was recovering from the most brutal attack at the hands of our western neighbor: Nazi Germany. And, too, I lived in Poland in the year when the Soviet army marched into Czechoslovakia to the south. And now, here I am, about to go back to Poland as the Russians mobilize forces to the east, in the Ukraine.

Historically, has the Baltic Sea (to the north) been Poland's calmest neighbor? Imagine living in a country where no century passes without a stormy threat to the west, or south, or east. Or north, really, because the Baltic Sea is never fully calm.

I'm remembering, too, the short bus right to the plane that brought me from Poland to France. A young mother was explaining everything around us to her very young son. And he is delighting in all of it: the bus, the planes and now he points to a military helicopter and he is excited because he knows the world for it! Helicopter! Her mood changes. She frowns. And she tells him -- you don't have to get excited about that. I don't like it. It's a war helicopter. Boys, playing their war games.  The boy looks crestfallen at her suddenly dampened enthusiasm. After a pause, she smiles again and points to the Wizzair plane we were then approaching.

Poland is scarred by centuries of invasions. Of war.

I continue to watch the news. You don't need a huge vocabulary to understand what's going on in the Ukraine right now.


It's nearly six and I notice that it's not dark yet. And that the rains have settled into a fine drizzle. That's walkable! I have a jacket! I need a gaze in the direction of the sea. Brittany is the province with the longest coastline. It is cabbages and artichokes inside, but it's all about the ocean at the edges.

So I walk toward the water and I take note of how wet this winter has been and how wet it remains today. Wet artichoke fields, spilling out to the gray ocean waters. (This part of Brittany is just where the English Channel stops and the Atlantic Ocean begins.)



It's an invigorating (if somewhat damp) walk. A wonderful encounter again with the Brittany that I once loved and am prepared to love again.


I end the day with a hearty bowl of chicken tagine. With bread and cheese and a glass of rose wine.