Sunday, July 21, 2013

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

There’s a lot to be said for the sea. 

Brittany, of course, has a lot of it, so no matter where you are, you’re never that far from a spot of ozone replacement therapy. In these hot days, the lure of the beach is stronger than ever, though it calls all year round. 

The coast differs greatly depending where you are, from the wide sandy crescents of St Brieuc bay, to the tiny little beaches amid the rocks of the Côte de Granit Rose, to the mighty cliffs of the Atlantic coast.

We’ve been up to the beach at Les Rosaires in all weathers. One wintry Tuesday we picked up a whole roast chicken and a pot of fried potatoes and onions from the rotisserie man at Quintin market, and ate them in the car watching the waves hurl at the beach. 

Even on the least inviting days there will be someone in the sea. It’s common to see groups in wetsuits walking breast-high through the water, occasionally with a leader who does the whole thing backwards whilst encouraging the rest.  One lot were all equipped with paddles, looking for all the world as though their boat had sunk under them. There are events where these teams walk all the way across the bay, though I think I’ll give that a miss; you can’t exactly sit down half way for a breather. 

We’ve recently been up at high tide, with the waves foaming at the rocks just below the promenade, and the sea noisy but not quarrelsome.  Later the same week, it was flat calm, murmuring at the sand. There have been men with fishing rods stretched out, hoping for a bite. In other seasons there will be lots of people bent at the waist, looking for shellfish with which to fill their buckets. The beach occasionally gives generously, but it also takes back: every year someone will die for concentrating too much on the possibilities of a free lunch and not enough on the turn of the tide. 

Just now it’s full summer, and very hot, so there are families at the beach; but there are nothing like the crowds we have seen on the TV news. ‘England is having a heat wave – head for the sea and broil!’ It doesn’t seem so frantic here. Dogs, horses and radios are banned from the beach from 10am to 7pm. There will be people playing volleyball, courts scratched into the sand, and children building sandcastles; there will be babies trying out the water for the first time, and teenagers discovering that air and water temperature don’t line up as closely as they hoped. There just won’t be a lot of noise or cramped crowds. 

There are sailing schools, and numerous vessels just offshore with matching sails, passing back and forth before the breeze – or against it, which confuses a landlubber like me no end. 

This proximity to water is wonderful, even though neither of us is a swimmer; we’re more the frantic floater types.  We live near a lake, but there’s something sinister and waiting about lakes; I’m not sure what it is, but still deep water worries me. The sea doesn’t wait for anyone. It just does its thing, backwards and forwards, endlessly, and in many moods. 

Now, the renovations can’t be put on hold just because it’s summer, you know; but we’ve come up with a compromise. I will go into yet another DIY store and gaze longingly at plumbing sundries, (largely because I’m the one with the specs about my person and neither of us can read the small print without them), in exchange for a swift detour to the beach five minutes up the road. It works out really well. We both get some exercise and fresh – occasionally very fresh – air, and we come home with lots of things to keep He Who Does Everything Around Here occupied next door for hours afterwards. 

So I sit here at the bottom of the house – I’ve had to decamp, or suffer from heatstroke up under the roof – and write, with a new view of the garden to gaze at for inspiration, while he plumbs and mutters and wanders in and out for cups of tea. Then, when he comes in frowning, and says, ‘There’s a bit of a hitch,’ I sigh and reply, in that wifely understanding but slightly exasperated way, that we’d better go and buy another part. I’ll pack my sun-hat and towel, and reach for the Factor 50 cream. 

Yes, there’s a lot to be said for the sea.
 © lms 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

July 1st - it must be Summer!

The sun has come out, the temperature’s on the rise, and every commune is having fetes of one sort or another. 
We had our Music Festival a week ago. This is a very local event, held in the car park of the Mairie and the church. Anyone can take part: you just book your slot with the Mairie’s office.  (Yes, I could have; no, I didn’t.  We have to keep the entente cordiale cordial, you know). 

The evening began with a Balade Chantée: this is a walk round the village’s many little green ways, in amongst the houses, accompanied by a donkey (for reasons that weren’t explained, especially not to the donkey, who objected to being there) and a group of singers. A man and a boy played Breton pipes, if the singing flagged.  All the songs were question/answer ones, where the lead sings a line and the rest repeat it. We stopped at the Fontaine of St Théo, a place where women used to scrub their smalls to the beat of bawdy songs. We paused at a house where the garden is open to the public on regular occasions; and then off we went after the donkey, behind our own garden, and back to the Mairie. 

Within a few minutes, with barely time for a small glass of wine, we were whisked off to the church, where a choir sang something French to the tune of Over the Sea to Skye, and Zulu and Maori music, as well as some jazz: and they really enjoyed themselves – as did we, even if the benches were designed to make sinners repent.

 The interior of our village church

Outside again, there was time for a galette saucisse: a galette, with a sausage in it, wrapped in a napkin, and eaten like an ice cream cornet – just the thing for a chilly evening. 

After that there were various groups who for some reason sang in English (and I have never heard A Hard Day’s Night rendered with such perfect diction before), some Breton dancing and traditional music, and all washed down at the obligatory beer tent. 

It ended with a bonfire and a trumpet playing a salute. 

Yesterday was the Fete du Monde Rurale. This is rather larger, and canton-wide. 

Now, the thing about this is that it happens every two years, in pretty much the same guise: the first time we went it was in the grounds of the Chateau, but this time it was on a dairy farm at the other end of the village. (As that’s about 300metres from end to end it’s not far).  This time we had the sit-down meal: it was organised so that we all took a glass of kir, a tray holding a plastic plate, half a melon with parma ham, a piece of cheese (‘the cheese course’), and a dessert, and sat down at a table. There we found napkin, cutlery and spare plastic cup.  We could buy a bottle of wine if desired (it was), and we settled down again. When we had eaten our starter, we took the same plate outside to where men were slaving over a barbecue grill, on the hottest day of the year so far, cooking beef from a local beast. We were given our steak and two boiled potatoes, and went back to our table.  Eventually a lady came round with a coffee jug, and the meal was complete. 

By now the decibel level in the barn had risen to astonishing proportions, but we were wise to have gone in when we did. An American-style marching band came in to play later, to add to the fun, but we listened from the safety of the open air. 

Outside there were farm machines old and young in use, Breton horses with foals, wine tasting (we didn’t),  farm-made ice-creams (we did), and a man herding geese with a sheepdog.  


There were stalls set out with rural history, and other farm related exhibitions. There were two beer tents (it was a hot day) and a helicopter selling 5-mintue taster rides. These went on long into the evening after everyone else had left, and the cows had been milked. 

Pretty much all of this will be repeated next time, and everyone will go again, because it’s free (apart from the meal and the drinks), and because it’s local and it’s what life is about. There’s nothing complicated, apart from the catering for nearly 1000 meals, and you may have seen it all before: that doesn’t matter one jot. It’s a community event, and it’s being seen to be part of it. 

And by the way, the beef was excellent.
 © lms 2013
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