14 January 2011

quand on descend, on arrive. (à la mer)

bret01december 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.

bret02december 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.

bret03december 30th. night. la bretagne. st. brieuc. you can feel it. you can smell it. you can touch it. you can hear it. the only thing you can’t do is see it.

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.

bret04december 31st. morning. in your bed. in your pajamas. uncombed hair. unbrushed teeth. you reach for your glasses. you put them on.

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.

bret05december 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.

bret06l’entrée part one. feuilles de brick / phyllo pastry. with pears + goat cheese + butter.

bret09l’entrée part two: foie gras. pan seared with just a bit of salt.

bret08the side. purée / mashed potatoes. with butter. lots and lots of butter.

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.

bret10le 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.

bret07le dessert. profiteroles / cream puffs. with pastry cream injected by a syringe. a pineapple as well that didn’t get photographed.

the night is spent talking. dancing. laughing. drinking. playing cards. singing. eating. smoking. celebrating.

bret11january 1st. 2011. morning. your very first photo of 2011 is none other than some salted butter. it couldn’t have been anything else, knowing you. your first breakfast.

bret12which is eaten directly in front of the sea.

bret13this day is also spent cleaning.

bret14and admiring the neighbor’s magnificent house.

bret15then, you walk down. you descend. you arrive.

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.

bret16les bretons have a very traditional dance. they aren’t taught it. it’s just natural.

but you discover that they also have a second dance. the dance of smashing seashells on the beach.

bret17a stone skipping competition begins.

bret17aand you count. un-deux-trois-quatre-cinq-oooooh!

or if someone is really good, un-deux-trois-quatre-cinq-six-sept-huit-neuf-dix-onze-douze-quatorze-quince-seize-WOOOOOOOOW-SUPER!

bret18nothing is better than a walk with fresh air.

bret19don’t forget.

quand tu descends…

bret21tu arrives.

bret22à la mer.

that is the one phrase that you repeat over and over for this little week-end breton. quand on descend, on arrive.

bret22ajanuary 1st. night. since you’re the guest, it’s up to you to decide what to do at night.

bret25so 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.

bret24and so begins the game of saying “bateau” as many times and as quickly as possible.


bret23the words blur together. just like all the boats waiting for the tide to come in.

bret26when one is close to the sea, don’t forget who gets priority: les bateaux, of course.

bret27and note. a lesson about french and breton culture.

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?

bret28serious. your friend is serious.

bret29just kidding. more like silly.

bret30then you say goodnight.

bret30a (2)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.

bret30aatime for lunch. chicken. purple potatoes. and an ingenious way of snipping herbs. also note the clever usage of corks.

bret31january 2nd is a sunday.

a sunday. in january. in france.

means only one thing.

bret30aaagalette des rois! king’s cake! for epiphany!

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.

bret35quand on descend, on arrive.

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.

bret36and it’s on the road back to normandy. 

bret37culture difference: note the tiny french billboards. a nice break from the large american ones that dominate and destroy the landscape.

normand so. the end. it’s back to work the next day.


donna said...

wow....this is probably my all time favorite posting...i can smell that breton sea air from here......i truly can't live without the sea, and live near the ocean (pacific).... i love cities, states, provinces, and areas whose culture is sea based...i share your love for the sea

cathy said...

:) glad i could transport you to brittany momentarily!