La Bretagne

After almost three months of lockdown in Paris, being in Brittany was a breath of fresh air-literally. I stayed with friends in Louannec on the Côte de Grânit Rose. That area is a large peninsula jutting out of the north side of Brittany just under the UK. The ink was barely dry on Macron’s decree that we could travel further than 100 kms, that I bought my ticket, packed my suitcase, put on my mask, and headed for Gare Montparnasse. The TGV car that I sat in was half-empty. If one wasn’t a couple, we sat, either as the only passenger in the double seats, or in the single seats along the other windows. J’adore le voyage par train en France. I have come to love train travel so much that it only seemed natural to take the train from Chicago to Ann Arbor to see my sister last summer!

This was a vacation like none other that I’ve ever had. The first two nights I slept so long that I realized I was far more tired than I had thought. My hosts didn’t change their lives for me. It wasn’t their vacation. They just wanted to give me a place to breath, to see the sea and walk without breathing in car fumes. So, for the next thirteen days, after I awoke, I made a breakfast and read the news on my computer, went for long walks along the sea (five and six miles), had lunch, took a nap in which I usually fell asleep, read, took another walk, wrote some e-mails, had dinner at 9pm then went back to sleep. On the weekends, we went to a tiny hamlet that isn’t even on the map where my hosts have bought a small house. No internet, no WiFi. So my day didn’t change much except I walked beside wheat fields instead of the sea.

View from my bedroom window: looking out on the Bay. The port of Perros is to the left.
The port of Perros Guirec

Brittany wasn’t hit with much Covid 19. There was one incident, before I arrived, where someone was admitted to hospital with an unrelated condition. It turned out that person had the virus, and within a week, fifteen people had it. My hosts believe that no one died. That was the biggest outbreak. One is required to wear a mask at outdoor marchés and inside any store. I saw no one break that rule.

Walking the Sentier des Douaniers, a summer ritual. Everywhere large and small boulders of pink granite.
Inside the small stone house in Kerprouet.
Back in Louannec: 11:15pm!

Within days of being in Louannec, it was hard to remember that there was a deadly virus in the world and that it was making a comeback in a number of countries, the US being the worst of the rising cases. I had gotten used to keeping a clean mask in my purse. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have been able to go into a couple of stores. It was so hard to remember: purse, keys, mask which has gotten automatic in Paris.

Picking the first lettuce (known in French as salade) in Kerprouet. Two families together have planted lettuce, tomatoes, winter squash, corgettes, rasberries, potatoes, put in apple trees and plum trees. They will be eating will all summer long.

One plant that grows beautifully and prolifically in all of Brittany is the hydrangea (hortensia in French). They become hedges in front yards, climb up walls near many of the beaches, and there is a Hortensia festival every summer. Maybe not this summer. I’m told that it loves to be sprayed. So though it’s important to water it regularly and deeply, it’s also important to spray it. In Brittany, water drops fly in from waves. It can cool down at night and there will be mist. They come in pinks and reds and pale blues and deep, vivid blues and violets and white. Each one of these colors will have different species. The hortensia known in France as hydrangea is a delicate flower with star-like shoots coming from the stamen and at the end of each little finger are four petals. Looked at from above, the flowers look like lace.

My hosts tell me that Bretons are not really french! There is France and there is Brittany. It’s an ages old joke that, like most of these kind of folk jokes, have a lot of truth to them. Bretons don’t like authority and if the government says ‘black’ Bretons will do ‘white’ on principle. It is the only department in France that does no allow any paying highways (because it’s not right). On the whole, they are extremely kind and generous people. Like much of France that isn’t Paris and Lyon, the majority are hurting financially. You would never know it by looking at their homes. They don’t get extreme cold at winter so they can garden all year around and it shows. Every house and its garden is clean and manicured to perfection.

It’s July in Paris. That means that everyone is either planning their getaway for August or have already left. School ended last week. The next seven weeks are a French specialty: “Leave Paris”. It is heavenly. So I’m already plotting my next trips to Normandie and then Le Gers. First, I have to put in a drip system on my terrace. Then I will have plants to come home to.

A bientôt,

Sara

Jardin du Luxembourg

I want to thank so many of you who have bought my book, read it and sent me feedback. I am deeply appreciative. I wonder if some of you would also post on Amazon. Especially those of you who are not compulsive eaters/food addicts and learned about it from the book. That’s an audience I hope to reach and the posts will help people decide whether to get it or not.

Paris has been in deconfinement for one month. On the surface of things, a walk outside seems much like it was 6 months ago but with masks. I don’t see any effort at social distancing. Yet…..the TV screen in the upper right hand corner says ‘Restez prudent’ Stay prudent’. Wise words. I read in the US news that a number of states are seeing a rise in cases of the virus. And certainly Brazil is right behind the US for most deaths in the world. The protest marchs all over the world have taken over front page news.

Walking into the gardens from Blvd St. Michel

In my small world, I rode the RER C to St Michel/Notre Dame and walked up St. Michel to the Luxembourg gardens. I met nine other people who are members of a tour group that I love. We meet during the academic year and go on 17 or 18 tours of places in Paris (also outside). Some are well known but the majority are not well known and we are treated to little vignettes of Parisian life both past and present. We are led by a wonderful art historian, Dr. Kelly Spearman. Yesterday, a beautiful, warm day, we spent the morning in the gardens. They are situated on the border between St Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter. They cover 25 hectares of land. They are inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Dr. Kelly (yes, we call her that) regaled us with stories of Queen Marie de Medici who initiated the installation of the gardens in 1612.

Luxembourg Palace; photo by Jeff Waters

I again felt the illusiveness of time. I hadn’t been to this part of Paris in months, since long before the lockdown started. These gardens are usually packed with runners, mother’s and their children, little boys pushing wooden boats around in the fountain, and by noon, every chair would be full of readers and talkers. The gardens were not empty but certainly not what we are used to. Is this a lack of tourists? Perhaps being prudent? Or, perhaps, like me, many Parisians have lockdown fatigue and are getting out of Paris now that we can travel anywhere within the french boundaries.

Taking with masks.

I walked with my group and listened to the vibrant, living stories told by Dr. Kelly. But my mind kept being pulled away by a memory or something I needed to do. I was definitely not zen. (Did I happen to mention that a second laptop was delivered to me and…yes, it too had a french keyboard!). I have had a string of bad luck. I wasn’t aware of holding my breath wondering what would happen next but the truth is the bad luck and the time it takes to deal with each thing steals the present from me.

Little cafes like this are open on the outside. This one is in the eastern part of the gardens.

For three weeks, I have been looking forward to a trip to Bretagne. I have friends who live in Perros Guirec on the Cote de Granit Rose. Look it up. Look at photos. It is a wonderful area of Bretagne. Truthfully, all of Bretagne is wonderful. I will see the Atlantic ocean, walk trails, maybe go sailing,—all things many of you have been able to do as you don’t live in a city. Thanks to the bad luck, I also decided that I would take a vacation from commitments and responsibilities. I’m going to put myself in the hands of my hosts and when they say “let’s go to to X”, I will follow!

One wooden boat in the fountain. Boys hold long sticks and as the boats come close to the concrete sides of the water, they will reach out and guide their boats this way and that. They can play an entire afternoon.
The oldest carousel in Paris, active daily. It was the first carousel to have a ‘gold ring’. The young ones on the outside circle could hold a long stick and try to capture the ring as they went by. Photo: Jeff Waters
Pantheon in the background. Photo: Jeff Waters.

I wish you all a wonderful rest of June. I will see you in three weeks.

A bientôt

Sara

A birthday in Nantes–Part 1

On the train riding home from Nantes yesterday, I asked my friend Barbara, should I title my Blog ‘Nantes’ or ‘Barbara’s Birthday’ and with that cheshire cat smile of hers, she said ‘Barbara’s birthday in Nantes’.  So I compromised.  For no good reason, I just like the title!!

Nantes, the sixth largest city in France, holds a unique place in French history.  Originally in Bretagne, it is now the administrative seat of Loire-Atlantique department.  In the mid-20th century, France changed the regions of France and made Rennes the centre of Brittany and created Pays de la Loire with Nantes as its centre.  The vast majority of Nantes would prefer to be Brittany and consider themselves Bretons.  Pays de la Loire says it could not exist without Nantes as it’s largest city and port.

Whatever its history, Barbara picked Nantes to spend her birthday and off we went last Friday.  We stayed in an AirBnB in the heart of Nantes, walking distance to all the attractions, of which there are many.  We could have easily stayed another 2 or 3 days.

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One of the drawbridges and the moat surrounding the Chateau

Our first stop was to the Chateau des Ducs des Bretagne or Chateau d’Anne of Brittany.  It was late in the day after the trip from Paris and rather than take the 10euros tour to the large and informative museum inside, we opted to walk over to the Tourist Office–Barbara’s favourite first stop! We stood in the courtyard and knew we’d like to walk the ramparts at some point.  The chateau has been completely renovated.

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Inside the courtyard

At the tourist office (french tourist offices for those that don’t know are a must stop.  Kind people will pull out a map and show you how to get to suggested sites.  There is usually a gift shop with wonderful postcards and things from the region.  I always leave with lots of little booklets that I end up tearing apart and putting the photos in my journal!), we decided we’d return in the morning and take a self-guided tour with a talking box.

We headed “home” stopping at Monoprix, which was conveniently placed on the RDC of our building, for good food that would make a quick dinner.  After eating, out came the map and the booklets and we plotted when we would do what.

The next morning, Barbara’s birthday, I called on Paul McCartney to serenade her with “You say it’s your birthday” in true rock and roll style.  Then I looked out the window.  Everywhere I looked, every space of sidewalk, every inch of street and concrete was full of tents and floating stores.  It was the once a year Braderie de Nantes/Giant Sidewalk Sale.

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Barbara opening up cards and presents

After a pow-wow, we thought there was no way we could do the self-guided tour.  We’d be caught up in a sea of people wherever we turned.  We thought we’d brave the crowds immediately and go to Passage Pommeraye.

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Paris’ many passages had nothing on this three story passage.  As with the Chateau, it had been completely renovated and cleaned up.  In fact, what struck me during the entire day was how clean and new Nantes looks.  Nantes’ city centre was destroyed by American bombs during WWII.  The Allies eventually took back the city but the decades following weren’t kind to Nantes.  It wasn’t until 1989, under a new Mayor, that Nantes finally experienced economic growth and developed a rich cultural life.  And in the years since 2010, Nantes has been cleaning to show off it’s rich history.  Between the cleaning and the 20th century building, Nantes has the feeling of a newer, contemporary city.  It’s median population is the youngest in France.   But Nantes puts money into small everyday things to keep the city clean.  At the end of Saturday, around 10pm, I looked out the window and there wasn’t a trace left of the huge sale.  Fifteen boxes were piled up at the corner to be taken away by the garbage truck and a machine with rolling brushes was covering the sidewalk, vacuuming into its insides any debris that could have possibly been missed.  Very impressive.

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Parvis of Musee d’Arts de Nantes

From the Passage we went to Place Royal but there were too many stalls and too many people so we pushed through that and found our way to the Musee d’Arts de Nantes, another icon that has recently undergone a huge renovation.  The museum houses art from the 13th century to the 21st century.  The modern art is located in a part of the museum appropriately called the Cube and looks nothing like the rest of the museum.  It is large enough for installations yet paintings and photographs don’t get lost.

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From the museum, we worked our way up to Cathedral de St. Pierre et St. Paul.  We really wanted to make it to the Prefecture by 4pm at the latest.  I had learned that there would be a March for our Lives in Nantes and both Barbara and I were anxious to be there and march.  So we gave the Cathedral short shrift as they say.  Our hearts weren’t in it.

IMG_0595.jpgSo we wound our way to the Prefecture and spotted a small crowd of people huddled together.  There were probably 20-25 of us but that is a lot when you think it’s France and not Paris where most people are paying attention to American politics.

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The middle banner is Unicef

In fact, we didn’t march at all but formed a circle while Alison, the head of DA, read moving excerpts from speeches, from the surviving HS kids and a wonderful letter from the Obamas to Parklands School. As I stood there listening,  I was remembering that it was 50 years ago that I was protesting the war in Vietnam, campaigning first for Gene McCarthy and then Bobby Kennedy, that MLK was murdered in April or May of ’68 and Kennedy in June.  I prayed that these High School kids could do for Gun control and murdering children what my generation did to stop the war in Vietnam.

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Extraordinary statistics were cited.  Since 2001, the number of school killings in each country one by one were mentioned.  The largest being five, I think.  Whereas in the US, we have had 217 since January 1, 2018.  It’s hard to write that.

We made our way back to the apartment a bit thoughtful.  Stopped at Monoprix for the birthday dinner (we wanted to go to La Cigale but it was full so you will have to wait to hear about that wondrous place till tomorrow).

Le Menu:

Cabaillaud cooked in demi-sel beurre and herbes de provence.

Roasted rutabaga cut up to look like french fries.

Green salad with dressing of oil, vinegar, and mustard.

The final present of the night was that we lost an hours sleep BUT no longer had to do mental acrobatics trying to figure out how to align with the US who changed clocks two weeks ago.

Stay tuned for Nantes–Part 1

A bientôt,

Sara