Saturday, March 08, 2014

cloudy, with a chance of rain

It's an impossible forecast. A chance of rain: that's a Brittany constant! All of France may be luxuriating in sunshine, but Brittany lives with a chance of having something uniquely theirs: rain. On the flip side, France may be under a heat wave or a cold spell, but Brittany will be attending to her own weather patterns. They do things differently here.

No big hike for me though. A gray sky -- that's enough to keep me close to St Pol de Leon.

Which is not a bad deal. For one thing, it gives me a chance to go into town for breakfast. I miss that ritual of a coffee, with an eye to the people who come and go. To say nothing of missing my pain au chocolat.

But I turn first toward the sea -- a long route into town, but that's okay! Work up the old appetite! (As if it needs a nudge!)


It's a lovely walk, gray skies notwithstanding. And the tide is in! Hello, sea.


And even heading back toward the town center, the gray hardly matters. We're heavily into spring here!



I come in my most favorite way -- past the curving stone walls, right into the center. I love the fact that my favorite bakery is prominently before me as I enter the square.


A close up for you -- just so we can moan together with M. Louis at the anglicisation of the French language, or of the world in general.


I brought my computer with me. I intend to stay. The place isn't crowded, but there is a steady stream of traffic -- locals. Each one kisses those already present and one older gentleman is the supreme kisser, topping everyone else by pecking four times, rather than the brief two or very cordial three used by others. I didn't really take many photos -- just a few. Of the women whose animated conversation creates a lovely background music to my hour or so there.


Of the general coming and going of bread buyers...


Of my breakfast, of course.


And as I sat there and worked away, Madame came over and placed before me slices of some of the local brioche-type cake: le pastechou. It's made only in Brittany and the rich yeasty, eggy dough is filed with prunes. Delicious!


Filled with sweet thoughts and sweet breads, I eventually force myself to get up. As does the lobsterman whom I recognized from the previous day. He comes over, gives a fisherman's handshake (left hand) and asks where I am from and whether I would be returning tomorrow.
Well yes, I guess, sure, of course.
Bon. Until tomorrow.
Madame from behind the counter smiles. I ask her -- a fisherman? I mean, as if there were doubts. His rubber garb is dripping with moisture. She nods. I'm thinking -- it's lonely out there on the water. Is this where he finds solace at the end of his run?
As I thank her for the treats, she reaches behind the counter and packs a half a loaf of pastechou into a bag and hands it over. A gift.

At home, I put on my exercise video to make up for a morning of eating an enormous amount of bread.


I do some reading and writing at home and, too, I go out and watch the harvest of cauliflower in the field next to my little house. Note that the men are hand chopping the heads and slashing off the leaves before tossing the cleaned cauliflower into the moving truck. And here's the other thing: the driver sets the tractor to move forward without him. He joins the others in the slash and toss ritual.


And in the early evening I head out yet one more time. I have a deep craving for fish and vegetables (and visions of diving back into my pastechou late at night). There is a restaurant that's fairly popular in town and since I skipped lunch I thought I'd do my big night out today.

It was not to be.

I had it in my mind that the restaurant opened at six. Why I would think this, given that no restaurant has ever opened for dinner before seven in the entire country, is beyond me. And so it was closed and I did not want to wait, so I restocked at the grocery store and went home.

And let me insert a comment here on the whole French shopping experience: you have to remind yourself that it's different than back home. At the supermarket back home, I'll sometimes get a polite hi from the checker. At Whole Foods they add a standard line -- find everything you need? I think that's funny: by the time you're paying for your groceries, it's too late! Should the world stop for you now as you go out and and search, with assistance, for the organic Turkish dried apricots?

In France, shopping is all about courtesy and the contest as to who is the most polite begins when you enter (or when your groceries are first touched by the checker)  and does not end until you leave the store.  On the first night in St Pol de Leon, I forgot all this. I was too preoccupied, too discombobulated, too distracted. And when the checker touched my first item on the conveyor belt, I said nothing. She stared hard at me, in shock. Still nothing. Finally she uttered a bewildered bonjour... I caught on right away and we launched into it.
Ca va?
Ca va.
That'll be 12 Euro.
Merci a vous.
Bonne soiree! 
Bonne soiree! (not done yet! one more!)
Au revoir!
Au revoir. (and had it been the beginning of a weekend, there's the obligatory -- I wish you a pleasant week-end).

Anything less is insulting.

But you know, leaving the store, a bit disappointed about having to actually cook dinner on this night, I feel uplifted by the whole exchange. There is something soothing about this ritual of graciousness. Like a balm you put on to make the sting of life recede for a while.

And in the end, I do not fuss with dinner: a couple of happy Breton chicken eggs, salmon from the waters just north of us, endive -- a favorite of mine and grown in abundance in Brittany, tomatoes, cheeses, and of course the pastechou Madame had given me. And cider. I had a bottle of Breton cider and it had to be consumed. An easy assignment. And delicious.


I'll end with flowers from the day. Just because.