Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fleur de Caramel (Vannes through adult eyes)

Wow! It turns out that it's not only a city coming into spring that makes it look different, it's also visiting it with not-kids. My mom and I spent a delightful few hours in beautiful, beautiful Vannes, popping in and out of the many boutiques we must have scurried past when we were here with the kids; having a long, leisurely lunch in a terrace; window-shopping (one of my favorite French terms: "lèche-vitrine" - literally, window licking!). Note, for instance, my photographically recorded presence in a Fine Epicerie, a type of shop known for its multiple glass jars. :-) The bottles on the right, those gorgeous blue ones, are of a liqueur so exquisite-sounding that I wanted to record it - Fleur de Caramel: liqueur de caramel salé. Mac and I are in consultation about whether or not to buy it. Stay tuned.

This day brought a Tiny Insight: most of my European experiences have been without children. I will always treasure Brittany most of all because I discovered it with the kids. But today was reminiscent of the kind of discovery I used to have: different pace, conversation, goal, result. It was the first time that that difference struck me, and I wonder why I've never had it before. There are moments of absolute sameness: the kids would have been glued to the cheese display at the wondrous Halles des Lices as we were (and that was just the goat cheese side - there was an entire other side!).

They would have gasped, as we did, at the various crustaceans moving about in their bubbling baths beneath their already cooked compatriots above.

And they might even have marveled with us at the multi-layered fashion that we saw in the windows for spring.

But stepping into a used bookshop? I haven't done that, coupled with actual browsing, in a really long time. And of course what did I buy but something for the kids! There was a huge collection of Sylvain et Sylvette comics at the house of one of my mom's cousins in Switzerland - a marvelous, sweet and gentle woman named Jacqueline. Seeing the book cover was such a shock: instant Proustian transport to those happy summer days spent poring over the books. I chose one about the hunt for a duck and read the first half of it tonight to the kids - great success!

There were many other surprises (and things I want to show the kids when we return for the early June (oof that's late!) opening of the eagerly-anticipated Musée d'Histoire et d'Archéologie) such as this excellent 17th century statue of the 12th century Saint Isidore the Laborer, in the Cathedral Saint Pierre, who is undoubtedly here because his later compatriot, Vincent Ferrier preached and died in Vannes in 1419.

Here is Vincent Ferrier's head reliquary (can't you just hear Oliver exclaiming that he oh please oh please wants to see it?). Pretty remarkable fellow, if you have time to read the linked page. The reliquary itself is from 1956 and has such lovely, clean lines. Vincent Ferrier was known for a lot of things, including treating plague victims, but most famously, he was known for his preaching. Being a Dominican monk, he was of the orders (along with Franciscans) who lived in cities. Both St. Dominic and St. Francis had their urban-dwelling monastic orders approved by the pope in the early 13th century, and completely changed not only the urban fabric of religiosity: they appealed broadly to the urban population (by, among other things, commissioning fantastic and amazing works of art) and presented a very real challenge to the traditional monastic orders (those who lived "off the grid" in isolated monastic communities). Why am I telling you all this? Because I am fascinated to think of Vincent Ferrier (from Valencia, Spain) preaching in the streets of Vannes, which are laid out today pretty much the way they were in the early 15th century. The city welcomed their miracle-working preacher and commemorate him in style.

Wouldn't we want to know the story behind this beautiful ex-voto boat? Mac says that he saw a painting at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Quimper that depicted such a votive offering. In gratitude or for insurance? Either way, it's a perfectly executed model of a schooner of some sort. I hope that they made safe voyage.

The rampart gardens (which turn out to be have been created in the 17th century - so early!) were in full glory. I love the decision to go with the eggplant-colored tulips - they created this marvelous effect in the wind: being taller than the plants around them, they lilted more than their short companions, and thus seemed to dance above the heads of those little floral attendants. There is a photography exhibit up against the rampart walls - the space continues to be used for aesthetics early modern and modern.

And at the end of the day, to pick the kids up from school, ebullient and full of stories, and to find that Mac had a good work day (more on the articles and book chapters I've downloaded and started to read about François Ier and the Turks soon soon) - le bien-être (well-being) indeed. We had fish for dinner, having eaten by the port, and the kids ate it all up. It was morue (cod) and very delicate, with rice and a leeks and carrot combination I made. I'm once again co-ordinating menus with the school's (saucisses - sausages - today, with the usual ups and extras). The caramel sucker pictured here is extra. :-)

So all of the thinking about beautiful Vannes and its history and its site as the parliement of Brittany prompted me to make a purchase I've been contemplating for a while but have resisted because it is so absurd and cheesy (yes, those are precisely the terms to use here). On March 15 the double DVD of the (brace yourselves) rock opera based on the life of Anne de Bretagne came out, and it's in every Breizh (Brittany in Breton) press shop you see. I couldn't stop myself from "Breizhing up" (as we call it whenever we engage in Breton-pride behavior) and so... I bought the DVD! The website for it all, says it all: it is the most earnest and melodramatic and at times positively awful rendition of a monarch's life in rock operative form that you will ever hear. And you know what? I don't care! I'm so thrilled that Anne de Bretagne is so incredibly alive in the current imagination. Of course Mac knew all about Fairport Convention, the British folk rock band which somehow wound up fueling the guitar licks for this. Rock on, Anne of Brittany!

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