Friday, July 18, 2014

The allure of Nantes

Nantes Cathedral
Working in Nantes this week, with temperatures in the city centre up to 32° as I caught the train home yesterday. Altogether a scorching interlude and not really conducive to rushing about checking things out, but there were some great moments, like being shown round the fabulous new OKKO hotel and being upgraded to a spacious appartment at Park&Suites where I was staying.
The usual fun and festive atmosphere prevailed around the city, with new works of art and exhibitions everywhere - a creative vacuum in Nantes is unimaginable.
Even the chateau and cathedral are constantly re-inventing themselves with new expansion into old spaces, like the crypts beneath the latter, which are not only beautiful in themselves but made functional by a stylishly simple exhibition about the chequered development of the church ever since the Vikings destroyed an early version in 843.
All this seduction is almost irrestible. Maybe I will do that book about the city after all...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Playing games - the Chateau de Landal

I have been in Combourg for a few days and on my way back stopped off at the Chateau de Landal which has come up with a creative way of raising money for restoration. The entry fee pays for a roof tile which you can sign and illustrate, thus forging a permanent personal link with the chateau and its progress towards new life. The whole place - courtyard, towers and basement rooms - is devoted to games, mostly of the simple, traditional variety, but pretty addictive and endlessly fun for kids and competitive adults. I spent a long time throwing stuffed socks at these medieval heads. For a surcharge you can even get locked in a room and try to solve clues to get out - I didn't risk it on this occasion. They also offer gourmet picnics. Great family visit - highly recommended.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Le Guilvinec

Pavé de merlu followed by a café gourmand at the Poisson d'Avril in Le Guilvinec on a boiling summer's day in Pays Bigouden.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

New website

After a lot of work in recent weeks my new website is finally up and running. An overhaul was long overdue, so I decided on radical change to make a better showcase for all aspects of my work. Please have a look!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Theatre in Morlaix

Went to the theatre in Morlaix today to see a friend perform in Gogol's The Nose. It's many years since I saw a play here and the theatre has had a complete refit to restore its Italianate splendour. It's also a very long time since I saw this particular play in London, and I liked it rather better in this masked version staged by Pascal Péron. Great experience all round. Congratulations, Jeanne!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Morlaix guided tour

I was in Morlaix again yesterday giving a guided visit to a small group of British people who (mostly) live in the area. The focus was on the river, a confluence of the Jarlot and the Queffleuth, which flows out 24 kilometres beyond the town into the Channel at Carantec, past the Chateau du Taureau, a fortified island.
The original impetus for establishing the latter in 1544 was an up-river raid by the English in 1522 which led to the sacking of Morlaix and severe economic hardship before the medieval port could recover its prosperity. This was based primarily on the cloth trade with England and Spain, although paper, leather and butter were other exports. Morlaix was also an important stop on the wine route from southern to northern Europe.
A more unusual economic strength was the tobacco industry, established on the Quai de Léon in 1736, having started out at the Manoir de Penanru on the opposite bank about fifty years earlier. Success demanded larger premises as the huge structure which remains today indicates. The factory only closed in 2004, although by then only 38 workers out of the thousand-odd employed in the heyday remained. Apart from the cigar production for which 'La Manufacture' was well-known, the business was also socially progressive, providing a creche, literacy classes and sick-pay.
We also had a look at the memorial of Tristan Corbière (and his father Edouard), and I read a short extract of the La Pastorale de Conlie to give the flavour of this avant-garde poet who died at 30 with just one self-published volume - Les Amours Jaune - to his name. His posthumous fame came from the acclaim of Verlaine: 'son vers vit, rit, pleure très peu, se moque bien et blague encore mieux.' The scandal of Conlie, during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, where Breton conscripts were kept in camp in appalling conditions apparently because French generals feared 'an army of Chouans' (the counter-Revolutionary movement that had seen strong support in the Vendée and parts of Brittany) is a powerfully sour memory in Franco-Breton relations. The Bretons were finally sent ill-equipped into battle as canon-fodder: the French baying "Good dogs" as Corbière puts it.
The final stage of our tour was to the grounds of the Chateau de Kernanroux, where we got some much-needed shade from the strong sun, and did a little tour of the dovecote, cascade, lake and ruined medieval chapel with its fine carving. This is a concessionary route, with no access to the chateau itself apart from a brief glimpse of the rear façade if you continue along the GR footpath to the village of Ploujean. The sunken heart of the park around the lake feels like a secret place, and it well provided the 'special' element I always like to add to a guided visit.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Glittering Groix

I have just been walking on the Ile de Groix, 10 kms off the south Brittany coast. Tex (issued with his own ticket!) and I got an early morning boat from Lorient and after a quick coffee/pain au chocolat in my favourite port café, set off westwards towards the Cote sauvage. At first this was re-tracing my steps of last year when I came in search of the roots of Breton poet Jean-Pierre Calloch, who was killed in WWI. His statue on a gorsey headland was just as moving on a second visit. Then off into the loneliest part of the island - in fact I didn't see a single other walker all this first day, just a small group of bird-watchers on the nature reserve - and it proved a very long, very hot walk with some spectacular scenery, like the Iron Age fort Camp des Gaulois, and some infuriatingly poor signage adding extra kilometres. A local kindly then provided a lift to the villlage in the interior for our overnight stop, and a really pleasant experience this turned out to be (thank you Christiane). Walked into the bourg of Loctudy to pick up food and then both dog and I very happy to lie down for the rest of the evening.
Hot dog under a megalith
Garnet-encrusted rocks
The next day we started off early for the Trou d'Enfer, before continuing along the south coast to a welcome stop at the bar in Locmaria before following the sea past the Viking burial spot to the geologically famous section with its blue and green rocks, many studded with garnets, and everywhere the micaschiste shimmering like silver and gold. It was even hotter than the first day and I decided to change the plan and take a long rest on a beautiful beach with some welcome cooling of the feet (all six of them) in the sea before striking off inland. Unlike many of the Breton islands, the interior of Groix is quite varied and interesting. I was surprised to discover a good-sized lake, luckily with a shady seat. After a long slog back to the bourg and a brief ice-cream stop, we went down to the port and waited for the boat back.

So that's the summer holiday over. Just as well there's the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour de France to keep me occupied...