Saturday, January 23, 2010

Go Fish Go! (Guéhenno and Vannes)

Before the details of our first non-medieval adventure, the cheeses of the week, this time collected by Mac at the market (bravo, Mac!). From the right we have a lovely, surprisingly creamy Comté, it starts out as a hard cheese and then just melts in your mouth; next, a good, strong Camembert; and lastly, lurking in the background to the left is the invasive, ever spreading Époisses, it's from Burgundy and wants you to know it's traveled far to come here - so love it! We love it.

Ok, I lied: it wasn't a totally non-medieval adventure day. Oliver said "I knew you couldn't quit any time you wanted!" (a phrase they've picked up from us and which we all love). Indeed, taking a slightly different route to Vannes, we could go through a small town named Guéhenno, whose cemetery houses a 16th-century Calvary. It was our first one (and we are ready to become serious Calvary pursuers) and it was incredible: all of the Stations of the Cross gathered in one composition that resembles a tableau vivant - all of the figures are mid-motion yet poised. I wish that I could show every detail: the terrific Christ on the Cross with Mary and John; the very energetic two thieves; the truly surprising sleeping Jesse at the foot of the cross; then, all of the main characters of the Passion cycle: down to Veronica holding her veil bearing the imprint of Christ's face. The column you're seeing in the foreground depicts all of the instruments of Christ's Passion (the Arma Christi: the nails, the hammer, the sponge of vinegar, the lance, etc.) all topped by Peter's rooster. The ensemble was heavily restored (it was destroyed in 1794, I have to think in the wake of the French Revolution) in the 19th century and some of the stylistic details are more 19th century than medieval, but the iconography and composition are there, and really provide a sense of the medieval theatricality of such a piece as this. So interesting that most of the crosses in the cemetery face the Calvary - a kind of dialogue.

Threading our way down to Vannes, we passed through a little town called St.-Jean-Brévelay. It doesn't show up in any guide books and there were no signs indicating anything, but is that a megalith I see nestled outside the crossing of the Church? I don't see people raising one in the Christian period; and the labor of moving those stones is extreme. So, could the church have been built around it? I'd certainly like to think so - how cool a decision would that be?

And so we made it to the Aquarium in Vannes! Skirted the old city (which I pined for just a little bit) and pressed onwards down down down towards the sea - really, here, an inlet called the Golfe du Morbihan. During the summer, the entire 2km stretch must be lined with people and ice cream vendors; for us, it was calm and grey and rainy: perfect. We had the place almost to ourselves, save a few other families and two older Dutch couples. The aquarium has these excellent little high chairs on wheels for little ones to sit in and be at eye-level with the exhibits. Eleanor lasted about 5 minutes in hers, but enjoyed every last one!

Iris did some talking with a fish - we love these guys with their enormous high foreheads and their teeny tiny mouths. Iris is convinced that she can telepathically communicate with fish - she says that when she thinks for them to swim up, they swim up; when down, down they go. Here she is, speaking their language.

Oliver was completely enthralled. He's been on a big ocean and pirate kick ever since we saw the port of Vannes last week-end (thus why we found ourselves watching Muppet Treasure Island last night), and so today was a total dream come true. His favorite French sealife word was "langoustine" - it is fun to say - try it! :-) They had all sorts of wonderful creatures here: jellyfish, turtles, exquisite tropical fish (one bunch with no eyes - they don't need them in the dark caves where they live!). And the tanks really were at kid level, so lots of interaction, talking, musing, and telepathic communication.

The most famous inhabitant of the Vannes Aquarium has to be this crocodile. Found in the sewers of Paris (yes!) in 1984, the crocodile comes from the Nile (but how?) and was brought to Vannes rather than killed. By keeping the temperature low, they were able to keep her (for she turned out to be a she) growth low - so now, this enormous beast is small by comparison with her compatriots. I wonder if the Paris sewer decorations give her a sense of home, or if she's just puzzled by it all. The best part? they named the crocodile "Eleanor." The Vannes crocodile is officially another namesake of Eleanor's (after Eleanor of Aquitaine and Eleanor Roosevelt) - especially when she's in a dangerous mood!

And really, what better way to end a splendid visit to the aquarium than with an ice cream in winter? Even in the dead of winter, you can get a coffee here - granted, it's from those instant cappucino machines, but it was worth it to drink that stuff just to remember the countless coffees drunk from those machines at the Bibliothèque Nationale! We headed on home with Eleanor cranky after falling asleep and waking up (Eleanor the Crocodile!) - she demanded that I sing her favorite song, but wouldn't tell me what it was. Imagine my surprise as I desperately scrolled through my kiddie songbook repertoire, and was praised by Eleanor for finally singing what she'd wanted me to sing: "The Oscar Mayer Bologna" song. !!!!!

I'd bought fish at the market this morning (my first time) and so we had it for dinner - a feast!

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