Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hello 2019

Temple complex Fanum Martis
Good start to the New Year, with lots of calm weather for tentative walking and lots of new writing getting itself down on the page. I've been working on the Roman chapter of Wayfaring in Little Britain with a trip to Corseul this week, considering the notion of procession in the short journey from the town to the hill-top site of the Temple of Mars. I'm also thinking of reviving my idea for a short Walking Meditation book if I can find the right artist for a collaboration.
Some solid work on the parish close exhibition has been achieved in the first days of January and I can now see the whole thing 'in the round' and connnections between the different pieces are clearer. There have also been new poems, so something in my head is still working - an encouraging and surprising discovery.
Temple remains

Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodbye 2018

This has been a sad and painful year on many levels: generally poor health, debilitating illness in recent months, deaths, the demise of relationships, practical problems, erratic work patterns. But somewhere out of all the torment have come good things like new friends and different ways of moving forward into a new year.
2018 has been my first year without a book being published for quite a while as Wayfaring in Little Britain proved too big a task physically in the last two years of serious illness. I agreed to write a more sedentary book on the Breton Saints and spent two months on this before stopping for a whole raft of complex reasons. Bottom line is that such a book would not serve my own essential interests nor honour the direction my writing has taken since 2015, and I feel strongly that I should no longer spend time writing or translating work outside those criteria.
Thankfully agreed that instead of an in-depth study, the saints will appear in short version later in 2019 in the very successful series of mini-guides like Huelgoat and the Monts d'Arrée, which have been my bread and butter over some years. Ironically this may also be more commercially satisying for the publisher. I cannot let go of the idea of WILB, so I resolve to try again with this tricky, demanding book and see if somehow I can find a scale and scope that is within my physical capacities. This is the book I want to write.
Otherwise I have come back to poetry in a concentrated fashion this year, and worked extensively on the parish closes through translation, talks and guided visits. A more creative approach will come in 2019 when I have an exhibition on this subject - Seeing is Believing - with a photographer friend at the new café/bookshop Sur la Route. I am working on those texts at the moment, contrasting individual experience with the collective identity enshrined in the closes.
So I am happy to move on into a New Year with new energy and ideas. I wish all my kind and valued readers and followers the very best for 2019 and thank them as ever for their continued support, without which these housebound months would have been much harder to bear. Good luck, my friends.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Place and positive solitude

Putting aside the brief lapse of that last post, I return to my main theme: the power of place and its role in positive solitude. It took a large part of my life to learn this, but a naturally solitary person has to replace the mechanisms by which the socially active reinforce their own sense of identity and well-being. For them, this comes mainly from feedback from others and the operation of family networks. Outside such structures an individual generates self-assessment and works through the evaluation of experience in different ways.
It is perfectly possible for an internal 'conversation' to satisfy both these processes; a constructive, friendly dialogue with myself establishes what I got or failed to get from a film, an art exhibition, a concert, for example. I don't need another or other perspectives - mine own are usually diverse - delivered in the moment, verbally by a companion. I absolutely prefer to look and think and reflect quietly. Sometimes if puzzled by my reactions or curious about some actual facet of the production, I might later go on online to reviews or personal opinions on review sites. Certainly the experience of culture is different with a companion: I have rarely felt it to be better, assuming I am not looking for a learning experience from someone with specific knowledge.

In what one might call the larger issues of existence, I have come to realise over many years of getting to know the landscape of Brittany, that place can also take the role of companion and provide the feedback and stimulus essential for quality of life for those who prefer to live in positive solitude. Being alone in nature can act as a veritable celebration of the solitary. It provides me with replenishment and fulfilment. Why?

Because outside in the forest, on the moor, beside the sea, under the night sky, I am connnected with a much older, wider network than any social group I have ever reluctantly joined. There is something deeply freeing about a relationship that is spiritually profound, but without demands, on-going, without the pressing urgency - whether something is urgent or not - that characterises much human communication.
 You get to know a place much as a person: the first encounter is tramelled by self-consciousness, but losing that through the familiarity of shared time and space, you go beyond the curtain, to a powerful sense of the minutiae of connection in every aspect of the natural world. It is also the framework in which I can best see myself as a functioning living thing, with a place, a context, a layered existence of my own. This is my feedback, my family, my network. It is strong and subtle, liberating and binding. It is always there, in this place or that, here or there, now or tomorrow.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Finding our natural place

Recent events have taken their toll on the equilibrium of many people on both sides of the Channel. My own is further threatened by separation from the natural world, as illness continues to prevent me from spending sufficient time in places that have always acted as harmonising forces. I am like the child on a first bike without stablisers, wobbling and fearful. My spirit is heavy, full of big emotions that rest crammed into small enclosed spaces. The coast is too far away, the moors too difficult, the constant rain no longer liberating, just sadly wet. Everything is narrower and I make a virtue of wasting time, idly rolling in the muck of news, the offensive slough of politics. Helpless in the face of endless greed and cowardice beyond comprehension.
I am no longer staunch or bright or quick myself. But I do love winter. Maybe that's the lesson, to remember why.
 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

RUIN

Thinking about ruin(s) came out of my last book on the Spirit of Place. This also emerged.

RUIN                                                                                                           
We played in that old ruin,
Mark, Sylvie, Dev and I,
Threading childhood dreams
Through something broken:                                        
Truncated walls, a single arch,
Lost purpose, masquerading as romance.

I led because I talked the best.
The others took direction,
Indifferent or desiring, 
Through laughter cracked by cruelty
Wrapped in nature’s greening stance.
                                                                
We grew up and unfurled.
Mark dreamt, Dev dared,
I wound up in my words,
Flirting with truth and Sylvie
More fragile than her beauty.
Nothing was settled, we only
Played for time, revolving  
In that other ruined structure    
Called the world.

Our hopes were vague,
All focused on survival,
Far too hung up to grieve
The missed stop of arrival.

Fast forward on to now -
Mark lost, Dev dead
On London streets and Afghan sand,
Sylvie, adrift in drunken dactyls,
Twice deserted (only once by me).
I still have my stories, my dissolving dream.

Thread end, dead end, back
To that eternal present
Beneath the mouldering arch,
For failure not my own,
Where grey and green rewind:
I am still living in the left behind.
Nature at least does not discriminate
Between what is and some more pristine state.
The ruin carries on, the teller tells,
Each prospering their shadow-selves.


© Wendy Mewes

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hell and healing

After three weeks of hell - total incapacity, insufferable pain, hospital in Rennes - I decided to turn to more traditional methods of healing yesterday. One of the chapters in my new book on the Breton saints is on this very theme, so some pratical research combined with the personal search for relief from pain that is preventing me from working, even reading or spending more than a few minutes on the computer, seemed a pragmatic idea. A kind friend took me to the place.
St Maudez is a specialist in skin diseases, eczema especially, but this fontaine is also associated with the cure of shingles. It sits beside a large, plain chapel in the countryside near Plouyé, with plenty of outside covered space indicating continued use for festivals and a pardon. There are two statues, one unusually incorporated in the steep-curved roof, and three basins, one shaped liked a four-leaved clover.
I made an offering and said my piece, then scooped water onto my burning face. Strangely after a couple of minutes there was a complete lull in the pain and a sudden flow of relief went through my whole body, so worn down after weeks of intense suffering. Then it was back, throbbing and stabbing around my eye and cheek-bone. For the moment, I have nothing more to say to St Maudez.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Saints preserve us

Making cow"s eyes - St Herbot
Summer has been slow, sad and full of difficulties, but I have to say that working on the new book about Breton saints has revived my tenderness for this bunch of introverted loners and misogynistic misfits. The tension between what they mostly wanted - isolated contemplation and spiritual struggle in the throes of landscape - and what became expected of them in terms of community leadership, man management and political nous (or maybe nowse) was nothing if not challenging. Some - St Pol, for example - rose above it all and maintained a lofty saintliness that was proof against the worst excesses of wordliness: others, like St Ronan, fought every battle with asperity and, one is tempted to think, the relish of a waspish personality. His namesake, the philosopher Ernest Renan, says he was more a spirit of the earth than a saint: 'son caractère était violent  et un peu bizarre'. St Herbot just gave it all up and settled down in a quiet spot away from people to commune more comfortably with cattle.
But their legacy is immense, and the particular nature of Breton faith that cherished them so is equally endearing. I am currently reading Anatole Le Braz's Au pays des pardons in which he describes (or rather tells how it was described to him) the pardon of St Servais when the faithful of Cornouaille and the faithful of Vannes turned up ready for a brawl, comported themselves as teams and fought for the privilege of hoisting the sacred banner of the saint, whilst the little statue of Servais was smashed to smithereens under the blows of staves and had to be replaced each year. The wounded were taken home on carts, bleeding and groaning.
Pardon of St Eloi - a more orderly affair