Friday, January 1, 2010

Megatastic (Monteneuf)

They are real! They are intense! They are Megaliths!!! Skirting past the heavy metal allusions, I'll use the local terminology for the incredible stone we are standing in front of in this picture: it is a "menhir," the tallest one of the site near Monteneuf known as "Les Pierres Droites" (the straight stones). It stretches 5 meters above the ground (about 16 and a half feet) and is in alignment with a series of other stones across east-west and a north-south axes.

Isn't that beautiful? and why is that so moving? Silent, daunting, solitary, secret, patient, knowing, strong, enduring. It starts with our awe at the human effort and _will_ that it took to move and position these behemoths. And then the why, the whatfor. To commemorate (the dead)? to co-ordinate (with the sun)? These stones are from around 5500 B.C.E., about 3000 years older than Stonehenge III (the Stonehenge we know and love) - they were the beginning of an idea, but already working within alignments and arrangements. Over how many generations? Under whose guidance? To what felt effect? Interestingly, it's the medievals who clue us in to the power of these stones, as in the 11th century, there was a concerted and successful effort to knock down _all 400 stones_ at this site!

You can see it was no picnic.

(ha ha - couldn't help but get the kids to re-enact the effort when we were telling them about this strange chapter of history). 400 stones these 11th century people knocked over. The site was taken over by an archaeological team only in 1989, and finished as such only in 1997!!! In the process, these marvelous archaeologists re-erected 30 of the stones, using fascinating archaeological processes to figure out exactly where and how the stones were positioned. 400 sentinels standing there until the 11th century - what a strange battle with the ancient gods of history that medieval event taking down the stones must have been. Of course the kids cursed the medievals for messing with the site, but (of course again) I'm wildly intrigued by the honest and naked fear the stone-o-phobes felt in the presence of these stones.
This site is truly amazing - there were a couple of hiking trails and we took the 3 km loop (note to self: 3 km is almost 2 miles - the kids let me know that in less mathematical terms - they were thoroughly beat by the end, but our hard-boiled egg, saucisson sec, cheese and bread and clementine picnic afterwards was the food of the gods!). It winds in and out of forest and farmyards (one farm had a huge menhir right behind the main farmhouse!) and is itself moving - this old, old land. About 3/4 of the way, we found another menhir.

This one is made of quartz, which is not local at all, and is marked by a perfect ring of smaller stones - most of them have sunk, but you can still see two quite prominently in the foreground. It seems it might have been a burial site, probably for someone important - we decided a chieftain. I love the look on Oliver's face in this picture. He was so into all of the legendary stuff, asking me so earnestly if dragons were real, might they not have been real in the Middle Ages or earlier? He carried that sword with him all day long. We asked the kids at one point if they were hungry and he said "Yes! for adventure!"
So the Pierres Droites are only about half an hour from where we live, so we decided to push on to make a beeline for Merlin's Tomb in the famous Forest of Broceliande - famous for its associations with Arthurian legends, especially Merlin and Vivanne and the Lady of the Lake and Lancelot. Getting there was hilarious: teeny, tiny roads (at one point, we were driving between two houses whose owners had put tires on the outside walls to cushion cars driving by!), and lots of unexpected turns - but we finally made it. And we walked to Merlin's Tomb.

Not much is it? Well, it used to be much bigger (about 10 meters, almost 33 feet!) until a 19th century farmer decided to line it with dynamite to uncover what he thought was surely the treasure below. Mistakes were made. Although when you read about the horde of Anglo-Saxon gold that was discovered this year (, you do realize that such treasures really are buried out there. What's left of this stone is, to me, more a monument to the 19th century's (ok, our) hunger for the legendary past, our yearning that it be real in the way we imagine it to be - whether that's gold or chivalry or magic. That's what so mind-blowing about these stones: their utter, enduring, unnerving reality - they are here. Let me know, dear friends, if you'd like to see more pictures - I took gobs and might be able to make a PowerPoint or some such.
Tomorrow we are taking it a bit easier: the market in the morning (can't wait!), then laundry (always a daunting task when you face those European washing machines for the first time), then maybe Astroboy in French at the local movie theater. In between, coloring, talking, eating. Hoorah for vacation! (Monday, our whole world changes when the kids start school!).

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