Sunday, March 14, 2010

More astounding facts, 19th and 20th century

Here is what the main street of Josselin looked like during a pardon in the 19th century. Breton pardons are described as "démarche pénitentielle chrétienne" - Christian penitential processions, and they are the stuff of legend. They are still held throughout Brittany (Josselin's is on September 8) and they combine pilgrimage with reconciliation, renewal with a possibility of miracles, and some business as well, if we are to judge by Notre-Dame de Roncier's official record (confirmed by this other website's photos, which, interestingly, are for sale). Certain towns have a kind of specialty in the miracles that might happen there - for example, Josselin (according to the 19th century guide book) attracted "abboyeuses," barking women, as they were known back then (epilectics, today).

When I say "the stuff of legend," I mean that it was precisely things like the pardons that attracted Gauguin and the Pont-Aven artists who got here even before him. Here is a work by Emile Bernard from 1888, today in a private collection, entitled "Breton Women at the Pardon." Mac points out the two tourist women (the one who are seated (as spectators) and wearing stylish Parisian hats, as opposed to traditional Breton coiffes). Bernard seems to be seeing and saying a great many things here: about the kind of mundane aspects of the gathering (I love the two central women with arms akimbo and child in tow), as well as its more exotic aspect (the tourists, after all, are these for something spectacular). The promise of religious ecstasy attracted both the spiritualist avant-garde and the conservative neo-catholic movement in France.

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret painted "The Pardon in Brittany" (currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) in 1886. (Merci, monsieur Mac!) An artist of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, he was conservative aesthetically as well as culturally, painting in this highly detailed realist style and being neo-catholic himself. Personal, fragmentary views of a pardon, like Emile Bernard's above, were jarring to him. And you can see his loving emphasis on every bare foot, every fervent gesture. As an art historian (or just, as me) I find both of these paintings incredibly gripping: Bernard's for the intimacy and ephemerality of the moment he captures; and Dagnan-Bouveret for the precision and realistic glimpse he provides. So in the three pictures above, you have a realist painting from 1886, a photograph from 1887, and a avant-garde painting from 1888. To my mind, this speaks to the power of the Breton pardon: this rush to put it into image that drew the three major modes of artistic representation to itself.

Now, in case you're wondering about the medieval connection (of course you are!), in honor of the forthcoming holiday which is foremost in the hearts of certain members of this household, the pardons seem to be linked to processions such as those celebrating saint Patrick in Ireland. This makes perfect sense, Brittany and Celtic culture being so very closely related. They're also related to Assumption Day (August 15) procession in that they take statues and/or relics out of the church and parade it throughout the town. I've been to an Assumption Day procession at Chartres (one of many people in the crowd, as opposed to the procession), and I still teach from those images - they shake up the stolid stillness of the architecture and make history come alive.

Another astounding fact is that Josselin Rohan (the current duke of Rohan) was mayor of the city from 1965-2000. The mayors Dayley of Chicago have nothing on duke Rohan!!! He's, of course, a member of the UMP, which (just discovered!) stands for Union (I think) du Mouvement Populaire - another horrendous website (no, really, move your mouse over it to the right, it just keeps on going - further and further to the right - maybe that's a political joke?). Turns out the regional elections were today and next Sunday as well - go figure. Ok, last astounding fact about Josselin Rohan (who is currently serving as senator from the region): his full name is Josselin Charles Louis Jean Marie, 14e duc de Rohan, comte de Porhët et de Lorges, marquis de Blain et de La Garnache, baron de Mouchamps, seigneur de Héric et de Fresnay. Wow!

But to return to those for whom Saint Patrick's Day is of prime importance: here is a great little drawing that Oliver did using his cool "Je dessine et j'efface" (I draw and I erase) book (from Suscinio, of course) - it's one of those step-by-step drawing books and he's here combined the knight, princess and castle drawings for a lyrical moment of love. In the name of full disclosure, I should tell you that the next drawing was of a catapult whose intent was, apparently, to break up this happy scene. !!!

A few more astounding facts, gathered on our walk this afternoon: off in the distance in this photograph, you might be able to see windmills - they absolutely enormous when you drive under them, and form a "parc éolien" - a wind farm. They're popping up all over Brittany which does indeed have a lot of wind blowing in from the ocean. Brittany produces only 15% of the electricity it consumes, so perhaps farms like these will change this. Probably don't need to tell you this, but it was bright and sunny behind me when I took this picture.

The other astounding fact of the day is that Mac is leaving for two weeks of research in Germany tomorrow. Here he is playing a combination of hide and seek and tag with Iris (he's hiding pretty well behind that farthest tree). Her glee and anticipation were audible and dear. The kids always seem so much more vulnerable to me when Mac is gone - the phrase "I'm all they've got right now" always rings in my ears and I worry about coming through for them. I apologize in advance for any especially neurotic posts that may follow in Mac's absence - he has a way of making the world make sense that I'll miss. He's excited about this research trip (tying up loose ends and finishing up certain projects started during the research trip in October of 2009), but he's definitely looking forward to returning to Josselin and to this wonderful life that we're living here. I realize (example of neurosis coming up) that we're coming up on the halfway point of our stay here (March 28) and I just don't want it to end. So many good things are happening. Well, but that's what the blog is for, too, isn't it? Keeping this vivid and possible somehow after it's gone.

So that I can focus on Iris sprinting from her Dad once he's discovered her.

So that I can wonder at what on earth Oliver is doing dragging huge sticks all over the place (turns out it was building a Neolithic hut).

So that I can relish Eleanor declaring that when she goes to big school (Kindergarten at Ridpath), she'll be bringing her Petite Taupe lunchbox. Wish Mac a good research trip, everybody! Auf Wiedersehen, monsieur Mac!

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