Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Boats and poetry in Lorient, Brittany

There are a lot of boats in the Gulf of Morbihan on the south Brittany coast. This was in the Port de Plaisance in Lorient where I spent a long weekend. It was a poetry gig, a twin town affair between Galway and Lorient, and I definitely pulled the long straw. This photo was taken on Friday when it was overcast but 18 degrees, and things only got better. You could sit outside, watch people walk past while you drank your coffee or glass of Belgian beer, wearing sunglasses and with short sleeves.

I arrived on Thursday with Mary and Susan, the two other Galway poets (yes I know I live in Clare, but the boundaries of the city have stretched to include those who spend poem time there). Friday was busy starting with a tour of the amazing Médiathèque. This is far more than une bibliothèque, a library (don't worry - I'll get over myself soon and stop dropping in French words). You can watch films here from deeply comfortable chairs, borrow from a huge range of CDs and DVDs, consult the Internet, sit in settees in the quiet space or use a closed-off room for meetings. This is the area we were in for a two-hour session checking our poem translations with Patrick, the poet, and Nadia, his english-speaking wife. It's hard work, and I wasn't even the one doing the translations. You really understand the difference between languages, and how some things just don't translate. In the evening Patrick led a bilingual poetry workshop - well attended with eleven of us working away. It was a great success.

Another thing that doesn't necessarily translate is your order for coffee. Cappuccino came with a huge quiff of whirled cream on top. Crêpes do translate but in a most superior way. There are the wheat-flour ones, which I can't eat, and the gallettes made from buckwheat, which I can. They tip over the edge of the plate and come with various fillings. The complète has egg, ham and cheese tucked into an envelope of gallette that fits on the plate, or spread across an open gallette to spill over the sides with a salad dropped into the corner. That's the one in the picture below. There are what look like oversized tea cups on the table for the cider that is traditionally drunk with the crêpes.

Saturday was poetry reading day. Hmm. Not quite such a success. The weather, you see. It was glorious and who wants to come to a reading in a dark auditorium, even if it is in the wonder of the médiathèque. So not quite such a big audience as we'd hoped. But those who were there were very enthusiastic.

On Sunday we had a visit to megalithic tombs after a traditional Breton lunch provided by Vivianne and Agnès, long-time members of the twinning committee. We were out in the countryside in a traditional farmhouse. A bit of work going on at the moment:

All the vegetables were from the garden including seven or eight varieties of tomato which tasted nothing like anything you'd buy in a shop, even a good shop selling fresh local produce. The cider, the other tradition in the area, was home made.

There were two sites we visited. Locmariaquer has the most complete Neolithic remains. There is the broken Great Menhir (read fallen phallus):

There is also the Er Grah tumulus and the Table des Marchands cairn. Inside the cairn is a chamber with engravings. Here we all are (bar the photographer):

It was just after this that we made a cloud disappear. It took some concentration but we managed it. Pouf! Three minutes of drawing its energy with our eyes according to instruction from Pascal and it was gone. Amazing!

Trinité-sur-Mer was the next stop. I thought there were a lot of boats in Lorient but look at this:

 You'd need a wide-angle lens to fit them all in. And this was looking only in one direction. There were round-the-world catamarans too:

And, my favourites, the old fishing boats:

On the way back from Trinité we drove past the many 'alignments' in Carnac. We hadn't time to stop but they were easily viewed from the road. These are extraordinary: lines of standing stones spreading over many acres.

There was an interesting thing going on with the language. It's years and years since I spent time in France and my french is very rusty. At first I was struggling in spite of working at improving my vocabulary over the last few weeks. It was all a blur. But by Saturday I was doing much better, and on Sunday it was as though a babel fish had been popped into my ear. Not all the time. It took concentration, and I needed to be in on the start of what was being said. Several people having a conversation was tricky. But I was 'zoning in' for twenty minutes at a time. It reminded me of when I first moved to this part of Clare and used to go to a local bar where the farmers drank. It's an accent that people in Scarriff down the road can struggle with. After a while, though, the words separated out and everything was clear. I'd got my ear in.

So now I'm in love with Lorient and its people. I have to keep up with the French. And Joe wants to learn for when he retires (!) and we take off in the van for a couple of months of winter warmth. Let's hope all these good intentions last.


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