Friday, August 10, 2012


Lorient is not in any sense an old place. It began in 1666 as a new port on the confluence of the Scorff and Blavet, and a base for the Compagnie des Indes (French India Trading Company), the town taking its name from one of the first ships built there, the Soleil Orient, more commonly called L'Orient. This maritime history is graphically portrayed in a 17th scene now adorning one vast wall of the Chamber of Commerce's entrance hall. It shows Madame de Sevigny, society lady and prolific letter-writer, arriving at the port amidst ships, merchants and goods from all over the world. The facades of a few houses on the same quay today indicate the prosperous life-style of the ship-owners, but there is little else of Lorient's former glory since WWII bombardments aimed at destroying the German submarine base pretty much levelled the town. An unobtrusive stele marks the spot where the last surrender took place - not until May 1945.
Under the blistering August sun, the stylish modern white apartment blocks and pleasure harbours give an impression of renewed wealth and self-confidence. The stunning post-war church of St-Louis is a glowing advert for the versatility and downright beauty of 1950s concrete. I am here for the iconic Interceltique festival, mingling with my Welsh confreres, Cornish language promoters, Breton unificationists (who assure me Rennes will remain the capital under their plan, so as not to upset anyone - nice news for Nantes) and any number of bands and bagpipes. A terrific set from an Acadian trio is the highlight, Acadie in New Brunswick being this year's special invitees, as the Celtic world seems to be undergoing a remarkable period of globalisation. There is a strange history behind this connection, a tale of early 17th century French colonists, many from Brittany, many later repatriated, often unhappily, to Belle-Ile amongst other places. Today they are seeking to attract holiday-makers and entice higher-education students across the Atlantic. I doubt either group could do better than just staying here.

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