The further adventures of Sara and Bijou

Perros Guirec is a village in the Cotes d’Amor department in Brittany. It has been a seaside resort since the end of the 19th century. Along with other villages along the coast, it is famous for the pink granite rocks which have been sculpted over the years by the sea and resemble animals and objects. In the winter, the population is around 7200 people. During the months of July and August, when Parisians and tourists alike descend on the many beaches, the population quadruples.

Men playing with mechanised sailboats in the port area
The marina of Perros Guirec

This is the part of Brittany that Bijou and I have landed and spent the last almost four weeks. From my window where I work, I look out on part of the English channel (Perros is directly south of Bournemouth). Today, though cold, the weather is magnificent. The sea is that turquoise blue with whips of white toped waves in the distance. The sail boats are out in force. There is hardly any Covid in this area. A boy at school reportedly was diagnosed with the virus last week but no one else has gotten sick. At the marché and along the streets in Centre Ville, everyone wears a mask. Walking along the sea, people have masks on their wrists or under their chins. They put them on if they pass another being. But one can walk for two or three miles and only pass a handful of people.

Along the shore walking towards the town of Louannec

Two weeks ago, Brittany suffered some of the coldest weather ever known in this area. It can be much like the Bay Area in California–warmer in winter and colder in the summer. But in early February, it snowed, stuck to the ground and one morning, I awoke to a huge patinoire (skating rink) that was the roads and driveways. Wednesday morning, as it was starting to warm up, I walked down to the marché at the port of Perros. There were twice as many stalls out as were out two weeks ago. People look forward to the three marchés in this area: Friday morning, there is one near the Poste in centre-ville, and Sunday morning the market is in La Clarté, high on a hill overlooking the beaches. Many people prefer the outdoor markets although most French have become habituated to American-style supermarkets. They can get eggs that were laid the same morning, vegetables with dirt still on them from being pulled the night before, Bretagne honey and Bretagne beer made in this region plus the hundreds of cheeses from all over France but the freshest are from this area.

Wednesday morning marche at the port of Perros
Les Fromages

This was the area I was to visit over Christmas and due to the new variant from the United Kingdom, I chose not to deal with the train station and the rest of the places it would be hard to socially distance. When it seemed a good possibility that France might have a third lockdown, my friend, Roland who lives in Perros, said “Come stay with us.” “How long will you be gone?” some friends asked. “If there is a confinement, I’ll stay to the end. If not, probably two weeks.” Yet, here it is almost four weeks later, no confinement- although all of France still has a 6pm-6am curfew – and I am still here. There is so much air and there is no Covid. For some unknown reason, my friends have not gotten sick of me. They beg me to please stay longer. I’m not sure I would have that kind of tolerance!!

Bijou watching the birds near the sea
View from my bedroom window, looking out at the point of Perros Guirec and one of les sept îles

Prime Minister Jean Castex and health minister Oliver Véran have been holding press conferences as the health situation has deteriorated sharply in France over the past week.  https://www.thelocal.fr/20210225/what-can-we-expect-from-the-french-prime-ministers-latest-announcement/ According to the French, they are the best at everything. Not true. There is still very little vaccine and what there is is not being given to the 65-74 year old group because “it hasn’t been proved that it is helpful for those over 65 years of age.”

Moon rising over Perros last night

So here I am in this beautiful area of Brittany where there is no Covid, contemplating going back to Paris where there is plenty. It is only because of the kindness of my friends that I even have a choice. Since I have Bijou with me, there is no reason to rush back. Each day, we watch the news wondering if Brittany will have the 6pm curfew lifted. As of yesterday, Friday, it seems they are thinking in terms of regions and not one size fits all. Dunquerque and Nice have been hit very badly. Both cities and areas around them are in a weekend lock-down. Paris was warned that if things didn’t improve, they will also be put in lockdown for as long as three weeks. All this will be decided Saturday, March 6. So I’ve accepted I’ll be here for awhile. My hortensias on my terrace may die from lack of care but I will probably be safe. And taking more long walks along the beautiful blue sea.

jonquils blooming along a walk down at the Port
Huge dice made out of pink granite, which is everywhere on the Côte de Granit Rose

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

Catching Up in Paris with Somers and MacLean.

A month has passed since I last wrote. Since then my sister, Dr. Margaret Somers, and our friend, Dr. Nancy MacLean came to Paris to visit. They gave a joint talk at the American Library in Paris–which I moderated–and the next evening answered questions on American politics and political economics at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore.

The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore: Nancy MacLean; Margaret Somers; Nita Wiggens; Penelope Fletcher.

We then made a whirlwind visit to Bretagne and la Côte de Granît Rose visiting with my friend, Roland, who kindly lent us his three-bedroom home while he slept in his boat–which he loves. He insisted we weren’t putting him out in any way. He even took them on a boat ride around L’ile de Brehat. On the way home, the engine fell off the boat–not down into the murky depths but was dragging along while the men, Roland and Nancy’s husband, worked at pulling it up. Nothing like coming to France on vacation and having a big adventure on the water!

Nancy, Bruce, Sara and Margaret in Pontrieux, Brittany

Because of the very difficult situation in the US, I’ve been doing a lot more reading about how US government works, the forces that do not want Democracy because it gets in the way of making mega-billions (numbers I can’t even imagine), the huge efforts to end all social programs–which help our neighbor who may not be as lucky as we are in life circumstances. It has been eye-opening and appalling–if only at how much I’ve taken for granted–that others want a Democratic system that works for all us as much as I do.

My sister is an academic and has written a wonderful book along with a colleague, Fred Block, The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Nancy has written a best seller Democracy In Chains; the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. They were invited to the American Library in Paris July 2nd for an Author event.

Sara, moderator; Nancy MacLean and Margaret Somers at ALP

It was quite an honor to moderate and ask both of them questions. The two books actually address a similar topic: the growth of the free market as something that promotes financial equality for all. Somers’ book lays the historical background and MacLean’s book goes from 1958 with the fall-out of the Brown vs the Board of Education supreme court case to the present day and the Koch brothers.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Dr. Nancy MacLean, Sara Somers, blogger

It is beyond the scope of this blog to tell in more detail the specifics of Somers’ and MacLean’s talks or to review their books. I do encourage anyone interested in learning more about political economics to read these books. It’s one thing to listen to either sides’ rantings. It’s another to get educated information and form an opinion based on facts–even though facts seem to be going extinct.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Amy Sulkies Below, Dr. Nancy MacLean at The Red Wheelbarrow

The next evening, at the Red Wheelbarrow, there was lively back and forth of questions and answers. It was a beautiful Parisian evening and when the gathering finally left the bookstore, it was still light out, the energy was high and it was hard to contemplate going home and to bed. There is something about Parisian nights and the the sky still being light at 10:30pm that makes one just want to stay out and join the bustling sidewalk culture that is at the heart of Parisian life.

Bruce, Margaret, Sara near Lezardrieux.

The next morning, we all got on the TGV fast train to Brittany. What a pleasure it is to show friends some of the most beautiful places in France outside of Paris. All too soon, both women were on the way to Potsdam, Germany where they gave keynote speeches at an International Conference: The Condition of Democracy and the Fate of Citizenship.

Happy Bastille Day, July 14th,

A bientôt,

Sara

Brittany (or what I did on my summer vacation)

In Paris, summer vacation is sacrosanct.  From June 15 to August 15-30, the majority of Parisians leave Paris for three weeks to two months.  In August, Paris is dead.  Only the tourists walking around in the summer quiet.  Half of businesses close, either because the owners vacation or for renovation.  The train lines use the summer to do work on the tracks.  Many Parisians have country homes in Normandy and tend to go there for the summer.  An equal number will have second homes down south somewhere in the sun.  And a smaller number go to Brittany.

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The hydrangea or hortensia, as they are known in French, are magnificent in Brittany.  There is a Fete de Hortensia every summer.

I discovered Brittany last summer.  I wanted to go somewhere in France that I’d not been before for my August birthday.  My friend, Barbara, suggested Perros Guirec on the Coast of Pink Granite (Cote de Granit Rose).  She’d been there many, many years ago.  So I found an AirBnB and off three of us went to Perros Guirec.  By the end of our five days there, I was so in love with Brittany that I convinced the owner of the home we had rented to do a house exchange with me.  I would come to Perros Guirec for 4 weeks this summer and he and his girlfriend could have a month in the Bay Area.

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My “home” in Perros Guirec

 

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The view from the bedroom window

Brittany, to me, is an extraordinary place.  It’s not like anywhere else in France.  I’m told that the catholic English, Irish and Scottish escaped there at one point in British history.  I’m guessing it was during the reign of Henry VIII when being Catholic was outlawed.  Not only is Brittany exceptionally Catholic but all the dialects have Celtic in them.  The people are as friendly as they come and love their land.  Only sixty years ago, if a visitor from one village came to another, he was called a foreigner just like I am a foreigner.  It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means in the end, you don’t belong.

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Marker on GR 34

 

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Typical Bretagne home with a beautiful garden

Brittany has a coastline on three of it’s four directions.  There is a hiking trail, GR 34, that follows the coast line and attracts day trippers and backpackers all summer.  Many other trails criss cross Brittany.  But enough, they say a picture says a thousand words so I’d like to share some of my best photos from this summer.

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One of my favorites parts of GR 34–the Sentier to Ploumanc’h (the path of the customs workers)

 

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Sentier des Douaniers along Le cote de Granit Rose

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Sara and Barbara in the Perros-Guirec harbor

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Church in Treguier

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One of many harbors

 

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Port of Perros-Guirec in low tide

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Beginning the Sentier des Douaniers trail looking back on Trestraou beach

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Harbor at Paimpol

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The old Washing Area in Pontrieux–the washing women for private homes would come down here and do the wash.  The city and home owners have decorated it so it is quite special

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IMG_6960.jpg Sara and Barbara on the 4th of July headed to Ile de Brehat

If you see that every single house and building is an A frame, good observing.  They do not have flat roofs in Brittany!!!

The last week I was there, I went to the Finistere and stayed in a six house hamlet in a National Forest.  I will put those photos up over the weekend.

A bientôt,

Sara