Monday, January 26, 2015

Perennial problem

I'm writing about Morlaix for a new guide to Finistère, and the creation of the text soon brings up the perennial problem of guidebooks. It's important to write about the famous viaduct, a work of art as much as functional architecture. When and why it was built are essentials. How it transformed journey times between Brest and Paris must certainly be mentioned to give the economic context of such a major construction. Then of course it's necessary to describe the RAF bombing raid on January 29 1943 that killed 67 civilians. Surely people will want to know that of those victims, 39 were children between the ages of 4 and 7, studying the catechism with their teacher in a school at the western end of the viaduct, not least because a little chapel 'of the angels' built in its place to mark their collective burial on the spot can be visited today. And that's really as far as I can go.
There's no room to write about the painful religious manoeuvrings that presented the tragedy as God's will, a new 'Slaughter of the Innocents', the children as chosen martyrs for the redemption of others (a stance which not surprisingly roused some of their parents to anger). And how barely a word was spared for the other 20 who died. Or the political repercussions and attempts to stir anti-English feeling: La Bretagne's headline on February 1 read 'Raid terroriste de l'aviation anglo-américaine sur Morlaix. Or to analyze the extraordinary decision of the allies to make such a day-time raid where large loss of civilian life was highly likely instead of targeting other viaducts carrying the same railway across other valleys in the middle of unpopulated countryside. Or the fact that only one arch of the viaduct was hit, and that the Germans had the trains running normally again only eight days later...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

We marched in Morlaix today...

... powerfully in the spirit of freedom and equality. Thousands of Bretons and others of all ages and backgrounds - the presence of many young adult men and women was a special sign of hope - milled and smiled together in what amounted to a considerable display of solidarity within wide diversity. There were those who laughed and chatted, others grim or solemn with tears in their eyes, but all alerted by this simple physical act of walking together to the importance of our shared values and the reality of our enviable quality of life, which rests on tolerance and inclusivity.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Strange start

2015 has not got off to the best of starts. I had to leave my appartment because of noise problems over the New Year itself, an oddly disorientating experience and more endless to-ing and fro-ing with bags and supplies, upstairs, downstairs, etc. I'm doing the Walk a Thousand Miles challenge this year and on target so far, but feel as if I would be well ahead on the Climb a Thousand Steps event if such existed.
Workwise all seems rather fragmented too, with a translation for a scientific association in Quimper spanning the Xmas/New Year period, website updates to organise and many routine administrative tasks. Frustratingly, my new Lumix camera refuses to co-operate with my computer, or vice versa, so many photos remain unprocessed and unusable for the moment. Hoping to get going in a more settled way this week and focus on the new Finistère guide without distractions.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Landerneau - no

Landerneau
Disappointing visit to Landerneau for work today. Ten years ago I used to live in the vicinity and included a look around the town in Walking in Finistere. It was always busy, being a dormitory town for Brest whilst having plenty of light industry and commerce of its own, but a stimulating place with its estuary setting and truly glorious architecture. There is still an air of prosperity in the centre, which is full of individual shops, bars and restaurants. The Elorn estuary is still beautiful. The range of historical buildings is still pretty stunning.... But I couldn't wait to get away from intrusive loud 'music' blasted from public speakers every few metres, the littered streets (unusual in Brittany) with the wonderful cobbled bridge of old houses lost under a thick layer of fag ends, and the incredibly dangerous traffic with local drivers making tight corners in the one-way system by mounting the pavements at high speed, oblivious to adults, children and dogs. I had to wait several minutes to cross a narrow side-street against a constant stream of cars. In Brittany. There's an air of neglect about it all, and the shameful state of the Maison Duthoya (1667) seems emblematic of a loss of sense of the importance of heritage here.
All these things make for an unpleasant visit. Luckily a quick jog up to the top of the castle at Roche-Maurice soon restored my spirits. Until I saw all the information boards with the translation of donjon as 'dungeon'. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
La Roche-Maurice

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Yule and all that

Wintry lake at Huelgoat
Wishing all my readers a very happy Yule and other festivities, with thanks for the many supportive and cheering letters/emails about books or articles you have enjoyed, and a special welcome to new readers in America following my contribution to the latest Now Write! volume. It's been a strangely up and down sort of year with a long delay between finishing Brittany - a cultural history in January and having to wait until November for publication, circumstances conspiring against the project conceived with artist Jill Jamieson, being nearly blind for half the year, two house moves in the last few months, etc. Lots of good things too, with friends from the UK visiting Brittany, Cornish idylls, some fun talks to associations and plenty of development in my own landscape work, which may well see the light of print in 2015. Not settled there yet, but on another front, I have agreed to write a new type of guide to Finistere in the next year.
I'm looking forward to these challenges, and hope you all have a happy and fulfilling New Year.

Monday, December 08, 2014

London blues


Lovely purple seats on an almost empty TGV
A quick seasonal visit to my nearest and dearest in London has been both an eye-opening and painful experience. Took National Express coach up from Portsmouth ferry port to Hammersmith to get a bus the last couple of miles. Slight problem - apparently buses don't accept money any more. What sort of world is it when cash is not allowed on public transport? I walked the whole way with all my luggage, thus aggravating tendonitis in my right arm that's been getting worse daily for some months now.
Yesterday, strolling to the local shop with a friend, I fell off the pavement, managing to wrench and skin my right knee and give my left elbow an equally savage cut and jolt. Multiple plasters were applied at said shop, where staff seemed alarmingly unfazed by the appearance of a customer dripping blood. The whole thing was quite a shock, and I wished later I had agreed to brandy in the reviving coffee supplied afterwards, because a 26 hour journey from London to Finistere involving two car trips, two coaches, one ferry, two trains and a taxi is not something I ever want to do again in that degree of pain and discomfort.
It's nice to be home :-)