december 30th. morning. evreux. the kitchen in your apartment. you’re roasting nuts. and then covering them in maple syrup and butter and salt and sugar and cayenne pepper. and then roasting them again with mini pretzels.
a simple holiday trail mix. the perfect present for when you’re going to a place that already has everything: good bread. good wine. and above all, good butter.
la bretagne. or in english, brittany.
december 30th. afternoon. paris. gare de montparnasse. and you’re waiting for your train while listening to the tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick as the the list of departing trains updates. you hope they never go digital because those ticks make you tick.
what is it? why, your great love in life: the sea.
and so you close your eyes. and imagine. imagine that you can see the water.
then you close your eyes for real. and fall asleep in a comfortable bed.
and all you have to do to see the sea? stand up.
it might be low tide, but you see it. you can see the sea right from your bed.
december 31st. afternoon. in the kitchen. you’ve spent the entire day grocery shopping, and now it’s time to cook. and the rule of the house is, those who cook, drink. cooking and not drinking just does not exist in this breton home.
it is important to note that in brittany, they do not consider unsalted butter as real butter. c’est la margarine! dégueulasse! is what they will tell you with a horrified look if you dare ask for some unsalted butter.
you’re warned. to call unsalted butter “butter” is to insult les bretons. and you don’t want to do that.
le plat principal. two chickens roasted with a crust of salt. it was supposed to be a chapon, a castrated rooster, but let it be a lesson learned that you cannot find a chapon december 31st without previously reserving one. impossible.
the night is spent talking. dancing. laughing. drinking. playing cards. singing. eating. smoking. celebrating.
at the sea.
you friend explains that “en bretagne, quand on descend, on arrive à la mer.”
in other words. generally, as long as you heading downhill, you are sure to arrive at a body of water. the body of water that is so important to the breton culture.
but you discover that they also have a second dance. the dance of smashing seashells on the beach.
or if someone is really good, un-deux-trois-quatre-cinq-six-sept-huit-neuf-dix-onze-douze-quatorze-quince-seize-WOOOOOOOOW-SUPER!
quand tu descends…
that is the one phrase that you repeat over and over for this little week-end breton. quand on descend, on arrive.
january 1st. night. since you’re the guest, it’s up to you to decide what to do at night.
so you request a visit to the port. because while you’ve been driven past it multiple times, what you’d really like to do is walk around it.
look at the size of le drapeau francais. and the size of le drapeau breton.
the flags. look at the flags. the size. what does it tell you?
january 2nd. morning. you’ve raided yet another bookshelf. this time, a french one. all you wanted was jules verne. instead your friend decides to add to your reading list. you end up with tintin and les fleurs du mal as well.
les fleurs du mal. that’s setting the bar high. but it will be read. you’re determined. if your friend thinks you are capable of understanding baudelaire, then you are.
a sunday. in january. in france.
means only one thing.
puff pastry! almond cream! baked! hidden trinket for a king and queen!
you learned about this last year.
but this year, you learned of an additional tradition.
someone (normally the youngest) has to hide under the table and decide who receives what slice to avoid any sort of cheating that could lead to someone knowing what slice has a fève.
and you’re also given the right to give a coup de pied to the person underneath the table. fun times.
but this time, it’s not the sea. it’s the wine cave. which is just as important as the sea for this particular breton.