Thursday, December 31, 2009


Our first day truly here meant our first day truly out and about: here's where we wound up in the Bois des Amours (the Forrest of Loves)at the end of the day. The mysticism becomes ever more palpable: there's moss on every stone and tree, everything, every bit of nature seems alive and breathing. And maybe it's the weather, too, but the trees are gnarled and turned in totally wild ways: in the stark outlines of these gnarled trees the kids saw dragons, boats, and (?) a monkey. Here's what preceded it all: spot of grocery shopping with Iris (we were _both_ exclaiming at the cheeses and the jams), bit of French cartoons (wish I'd captured Eleanor's look of _utter_ concentration as she tried to follow), and, well-fed on breakfast hunted up by Mac and Oliver at the boulangerie, we set out. At some point, I'll figure out video and we can take a walk together. Iris had been hankering for her first ever French crêpe, so we obliged by ducking into the first warm, glowing crêperie that we saw.

The results did not disappoint.

Oliver thought pretty highly of his mousse au chocolat as well.

We then visited Notre-Dame du Roncier, the local church, complete with c. 800 miracle, famous 15th century patrons (Olivier (!!!) de Clesson and Marguerite de Rohan), really interesting stained glass windows (I saw what looked like both 15th and 19th century work), and fantastic wooden vaulting (has to be 19th century, but maybe modeled closely on the 15th century work). Like the castle, it has a rich and varied history we can't wait to uncover. Then, yes, we had to conquer the castle. Now the castle proper won't open until April, but that doesn't mean that we can't scale the ramparts and try to talk to the kids about Richelieu (who destroyed 5 of the 9 towers - yeesh! Eleanor should give _him_ a scolding!). We have kind of a three musketeers thing going, what with the house being from the 17th century. But we also want to start developing a Celtic thing, as we're planning on going to see some megaliths (not a heavy metal band) on the 1st. Award-winning Breton scholar of the French Revolution Mona Ozouf speaks of an "identité feuilletée" (quote from the morning paper!) - there are puff pastry layers to time here, as well. Well, on that delicious metaphor, good night, and see you tomorrow to wish you a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

First Day

Wow! What a first day. Here's how we started it: with breakfast from the boulangerie in our awesome kitchen. Due to having to return the rental car and buy kid car seats for the Josselin car, we found ourselves completely in the flow of everyday life, driving to Rennes (an hour away) and shopping at the Carrefour (think big, huge, Target filled with cool French stuff). I had mapped everything out ahead of time, but it was still all kind of unbelievable. We made our way to the parking lot of the Alma Shopping Center (huge huge huge, contains the Carrefour) after the Rennes airport rental car drop-off and, noticing the time (1:30 p.m.), jumped into the first restaurant we saw. So this is a restaurant off the parking lot of a shopping center - not the most promising, right? Wrong! It was swell! It's clearly a chain, but it was swell nonetheless: welcoming to kids (I still think of that as rare anywhere but Italy) and yummy and great. We were thus able to gird our loins for car seat shopping, which actually was very easy, and then made our way home to revel in _being_ home. Dear Oliver made us swear we would "do something medieval" tomorrow - no problem! To the castle! Sweet Iris asked if we could take a walk _every_ night (upon returning from shopping for dinner) - indeed we can! Eleanor wanted to know when she could meet Henry II so she could (and I quote) "scold" him for tearing down the castle here in town. In the 12th century. Hmmm. Amazing how a house becomes a home after you have breakfast in it, after you bathe your children in it. We are definitely home. More tomorrow - less modern, more medieval!


We are here! We are here! We are here! Through snow, a dramatic (hurried) change of planes in Philadelphia, an effortless arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, a lovely five hour drive, we made it to beautiful, marvelous Josselin. The picture above is, granted, from the summer, but the "place" is just the same: think Christmas lights instead of summer banners - we ate dinner at the restaurant in the back of the picture, the Guethenoc (another cool ancestor of the region). Did you know that Henry II destroyed the first castle in Josselin? Amazing! When I told Eleanor he was the one married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, you should have seen her face light up! The kids' reactions have been so cool: Oliver and Iris both are looking for difference, finding it in language and houses, but not in people - some kind of interesting universal humanity being cultivated here. Oliver stunned us by saying "When can I start school?" !!! He's wildly curious, I think (as are we). Iris took a long and careful look around our (fantastic) house and declared "This is a good house, we're going to be happy here." and she's totally right: it's from the 17th century (that alone does it for me!) and was owned by a saddle-maker: three levels and the stairs are so, so worn (all the stories! all the people!). Eleanor, Iris, and Oliver are sharing a room: a big, beautiful room with a double bed under a canopy (for the girls) and a single bed (with opportunities to read _Harry Potter_ late at night) for Oliver - there's even a hobby horse in the room! Mac and I are next door in a cozy room with this gorgeous comforter we snuggled under. There are two more rooms upstairs plus a sitting room - and a chess board! The kids were so gleeful in discovery. :-) As we were finishing up dinner, Oliver said "I was just starting to get sad, thinking we'd be leaving soon, but we're here for a long time!" Indeed, little man, we can settle in. And I'll confess to wanting to give myself over completely to Brittany - on the drive here, you see markers for sites heralding the Lady of the Lake and Merlin, and everywhere you look, there are ways of marking both the historical and the mystic past (indeed, they seem more conjoined here than in other parts of France). Oh, I can hardly wait for tomorrow, and the next day, the next.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Wedding

Steve and Gina are married! Pictures are coming, but for now, a few mental pictures: a huge mead hall aglow with votive candle, fantastic Russian fairy tale flower and tree branch arrangements, beautiful Gina calm and happy amidst the whirl, wonderful Steve excited and alert, the whirl himself. And then this incredible moment heralded by bagpipe, framed by eager faces and we walked towards what became an altar. Prophet Dan had such cool things to say "About Comradeship," I read a bit from Aelred of Rievaulx's _Mirror of Love_ (medieval!), Ben, Gina's terrific (and really, really funny) brother read from Dante (medieval again!), and then their vows: reminiscences and realizations, their words bringing everybody into the sense of wonder and discovery that they have for each other. And then the feasting and the sitting and the talking and the toasting. And a beautiful first dance: that's actually the picture that's in my head the most: radiant, strong petite Gina smiling as she guides my dear big (little) brother through a dance - the crowd of us really did melt away I do believe. My dear brother has found a home and (if you'll allow the metaphor), this wedding opened the door to everyone. Party at their house! Today is Christmas Day, and they're coming over - much is happening!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


A huge snowstorm is about to blanket the east coast, and so there's this unexpected moment of calm as we delay travel plans to D.C. for my brother's wedding. I should be grading (always) but instead, I think that I'll make my first hello out here. Hello dear family, friends, art historians, medievalists, modernists, French enthusiasts and any and all intersections thereof! Forthwith begins our family blog. We leave a week from tomorrow, and I expected that we'll live in this strange, suspended state until then. When we're all seated on the plane from Philadelphia to Paris, then perhaps the reality of it will sink in. So, who will we be and what will we bring for the flight? Oliver is seven and a half, my dreamer, the Boy with the Big Imagination, and will probably bring both his _Harry Potter_ book (the 4th, I believe) and his much dog-eared (haha) copy of _Good Old Snoopy_; Iris is almost six and will bring multiple notebooks into which she presses huge block letters of (fantastic) intuitive spelling: when asked in a prompt at school "Why are you special?" she wrote "I pluk my teeth awt, thas wiye im special" (woo-hoo!); and Eleanor, who is three and a half, gosh, I don't know what Eleanor will bring - her commentary on all things around her is most probable. They're plucky, these kids, but I still think of what's ahead with a mix of tremulousness and excitement. That first day in a French school - well, that will be its own separate blog entry. In the meantime, Mac, daddy, husband and modernist art historian extraordinaire, will bring tons of reading and otherwise lug children and suitcases in alterations; and I will bring a bag that will contain everything that anybody might need as we make our way to our small town in Brittany (right?).
I won't be long, because if you're checking in, you already know us - but it's been a while since we've seen some of you! So this living in France business is the result of a sabbatical leave - this incredible tradition in academe in which professors retreat to rethink, revamp, rediscover, re-engage with everything having to do with teaching and research and re-emerge better professors and human beings. Ta-da! Stay tuned on that one.
In the meantime, here is to your happy holidays - we'll be low-key this year, the only thing we're committed to is screening _A Christmas Story_ with the kids, and _The Lion in Winter_ for us (although Eleanor has started to identify a lot with Eleanor of Aquitaine, even proclaiming she was going on Crusade the other day). The rest of the time, we'll be daydreaming (as we have been for over a year) about this beautiful little town in Brittany where we'll be, 15 minutes away from Brocéliande, the forest that houses Merlin's tomb, and not far from the neolithic megaliths of Carnac, and stunning coastlines. Apparently, the table upon which the Edict of Nantes was signed in 1598 is in a castle nearby (maybe even the one in our town!) - how fantastic is _that_? Pont-Aven is near, too, where Paul Gauguin first sought out the primitive (discuss!) in the sound of his clogs on the cobblestone. And those are just some of the layers of the history upon which everyday modern life is based there.
Well, off to grade in earnest, now - so glad you're out here with us - many thanks to Pedar, friend snd wordsmith, for the blog title - away we go!