Friday, 10 July 2015

Sun, sea and subs in Brittany

Summer and for us, two months of travelling is under way. We have had a heat wave this week and the children have had trouble going to sleep before 9pm. That is pretty normal for French kids though. And not too big a deal as it is holidays now. The end of the school year is celebrated by a kermesse or school fete. At Master 7's school, each class performed a dance or play while parents sat in the sun with a cool wine or beer. Then the kids did archery, sack race or bet on which door a rabbit would run through. The start of two full months of summer holidays means one thing though: Tourist season is in full swing. Also, at this time of year, there are soldes, the government-mandated sales that only happen twice a year!

A house in the Gulf of Morbihan

One thing I love about travelling around France is the real differences between the regions. Brittany has some 2800 kilometres of coastline and some of the most beautiful beaches and quaint ports. It is also the only Celtic place on the European mainland. Brittany has historically been a rural area with farms, fairytale villages, medieval town centres and even standing stones. Now though, it is the 4th most popular area in France for tourists and also has positive migration with people from around France and England moving there in retirement, offsetting the younger ones moving to Paris for jobs.


It even has its own Celtic language, entirely different from French and thought to be derived from Brittonic langauges that were spoken in Great Britain before the invasion of the Roman Empire (like Welsh and Gaelic). It is an highly endangered language. In 100 years, from 1914 to 2015, the number of speakers of Breton is estimated to have quartered from 1 million to 250,000 people.

Brittany (Armorica) used to be independent but was annexed to France in 1532 and formally came under French governance in the Revolution, at which time a single French language for the nation was enforced. Breton children were only allowed to speak French in school. There was also a law until 1993 stating that all French babies born could only be named from a set list of saints and national heroes. So people in Brittany would have had an official French name and also a Breton name used in every day conversation. There is still a minority calling for independence for the region.

Some Breton proverbs:

Brizh diod hag a oar tewel, ouzh un den fur a so heƱvel

Translation:
Complete idiot who can keep silent is similar to a wise man
 

Ar ew vezw a zivezwo med ar re sod ne zi'sodont ket.
 
Translation:
The drunk ones will sober up, but the mad ones will not clever up.




We went to visit the standing stones of Carnac. It is one of the most important sites of these stones in the world and thought to be 4000 years old. A lot have been stood up again after having fallen over. There are stone tables (dolmens) and huge rocks standing upright (menhirs). There are also some beautiful beaches in this area but they can be quite busy (by NZ standards).



Brittany's political history is mixed up with that of World War 2 as it was the last place in France to be overcome by the Allied forces along with Germany itself. Breton nationalists co-operated with the German army as they thought there would be a chance of independance for them. (Turns out...) We visited the submarine base at Lorient which has three massive submarine pens and a submarine you can walk through. Standing on the sea front, a chill ran up my spine seeing the ships intentionally wrecked in the harbour by the German army as a trap. There is a great museum explaining about daily life on a submarine and their place in the war.

Vannes is a beautiful city with medieval half-timbered buildings in the historic centre. It was also the backdrop to a scary tale involving me and a razor. We had been pretty happy with our hairdressers in Bordeaux and should have heeded the advice of others about French salons. (Hindsight is a beautiful thing) As soon as we walked in, the signs were there. Madame wasn't happy to be interrupted from her work, there was no smile for the kids and no small talk. I asked for a cut and thin out. She started in with the clippers, hacking off locks and buzzing through my long tresses. The whole thing took about five minutes. She never once used scissors. The final result was not good. No more French haircuts for me.
 



My Brown Paper Packages
 
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