Friday, April 30, 2010

Art for Art's Sake (La Gacilly)

I've been meaning to write about some of the more agonizing moments of French culture (our sighting of a bumper sticker on a city wall that read "No mosques in Brittany" in French and Breton; the politicized worries over the French language), but I don't seem to have the wherewithall. There doesn't seem to be a place for it, or a way to make sense of it within the burgeoning of spring and the loveliness of so many things. Of course that's the point, is that these issues grate against idylls, real or imagined. I say all this by way of apology and promise, in that I hope to come to these topics soon. Undoubtedly when work picks up again and the frame is that of history and research, instead of wisteria and cobblestone, there may be an operative frame for this conversation. What beautiful, incredible La Gacilly offered instead was a utopia the likes of which I'd never seen.

Watching my mom claim her Brittany and her happiness here has been amazing. She already has her favorite places of return: the famed "bleus Breton" such as the ones you see here, or a good Breton beer at the end of the day (yea, mom!), or the news at 8 p.m., or the pause café on a sunny day. I think that that is why it's so hard to think of OFII issues right now - it's hard to imagine not being able to make all this your own. There's a gentle openness here for one very special reason. Well, 34 very special reasons, actually: and those are the 34 artisans who (live? and) work here and whose shops are also their studios. We've been in just enough little towns to admire how each one has found a way to survive: for some (Rochefort-en-Terre) it's charm itself and the pleasures of being in a town of 700 people. Josselin has its castle (and its 2500 people who bring their own flavor to the city). La Gacilly has its artisans. They line two long, meandering streets in town and I'm oh so sorry that I can't show you any pictures because in almost all of them photography was not allowed. Woodworking, stained glass, sculpture, ceramics, clothing, children's toys, oil paintings on leaves, silver spoons and forks made into lampshades and jewelry (a lot cooler than that makes it sound - I now have a very cool necklace from this gentleman - oo! that I bet I can take a picture of that! soon soon). I had to think of the people themselves working in their studios - yes, it had a touch of the medieval work structure to it, but one that contributed beautifully to the whole "out of time" feeling of the place. There was a bumper sticker on some of the windows from the city that read: "Les artisans de La Gacilly. La magie au bout des doigts." (The artisans of La Gacilly. Magic at your fingerprints). And it is! The woman who makes pottery using medieval techniques (she also paints medieval manuscript pages!); the man who makes enormous hanging sculptures of stained glass medallions strung together with the most delicate metal wire; the husband and wife team who paint on leaves together.

What was there to do except enjoy a coffee together before meandering back into the fray? Actually, Mamie had a hot chocolate and I had an infusion involving apples and mangoes. As the sky clouded over outside, this was the warmest, most welcoming place to be. It seems very coherent, this part of this little town - the feeling of one place to another seems to carry over: the care, the close attention, the love of detail, the unique beauty, and the expertise gained through the materials themselves all create a mood in which there is both admiration and possibility: admiration for doing these wonderful things, and possibility for wondering if we might be able to participate in some of this magic. There are distances to be collapsed for everybody.

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