Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mac and Mamie (Rochefort en Terre) and Eleanor's French Face

Wow, eh? This is the beautiful little town of Rochefort-en-Terre that Mac and Mamie went to see today, while I accompanied Iris and her class of Maternelle Grande Section to the pool (more on that soon). Seeing this beautiful little town through Mac and Mamie's eyes is nice, too - I find myself looking for the familiar, a foothold in the pictures of their experiences. Rochefort-en-Terre shares a "Petite Cité de Caractère" sign with Josselin, but has about 700 inhabitants and has survived simply ("simply") because it is so beautiful. It is there as a site of beauty, a respite and an escape - and then there are the 700 inhabitants of the town who have a different tale to tell. We think that the gorgeous purple plant above is wisteria - it snakes along the Mairie's (town hall's) facade as well, and is just amazing. So feathery against all that stone.

I think often of the powers of oral tradition in medieval travel - of how consistently good stories of travel and discovery had to be to encourage so many people to take on such far-flung travel. Now we have the added benefit of lush photography to make us want to go places. Here is the collégiale (the collegiate church) of the town, beautifully adorned in the classical Breton style (Gothic Flamboyant, or, as a friend of mine says: "isn't it all pretty flamboyant?")

The element that got me were those little monkey serving up the cathedral from their posts atop the column beneath the (wooden!) vaulting. There are so many of these smiling and twisting their way round capitals and along wooden beams - art history's demands for purity and coherence led them to Burgundy, where the 12th century Romanesque could still be found beneath just a layer or two of other styles. Here, I'm not quite sure when our monkeys were put in place, but they scurry now, calling out their little joke of imitation and aping.

Mac really liked this guy (who knows where a modernist's medieval taste will take you?) - it's a 17th century statue, surely repainted, of saint Mathurin, a saint particularly helpful with exorcisms. Here he is holding a holy book and a stick with which to spray holy water (good for exorcisms). Wonder if he played a major role in any pardons held here. It's interesting to see the preacher's canopy on the opposite wall - as though the figure of the saint and the figure of the preacher were both suspended in mid-air in mid-conversation. There are lots and lots of these painted statues in Brittany, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries and all beloved enough to receive fresh coats of paint.

Mamie and Mac had a coffee and came home to find us with six enormous brioches from the school bake sale. We had ordered them before spring break as part of the fund raiser with the usual American tremulousness at wondering what, exactly, a 400gram brioche looked like. Turns out it's about the size of a great big loaf of bread. We have six of these to eat before May 28th - care to join us? :-) Good thing Oliver has decided that they are the absolute best thing in the universe. They are, too.

So the pool with Iris was both terrific and poignant. Terrific to see Iris mingling with her little buddies, poignant to see her apart at times as well (when the French just got too fast and too hectic - plus, I was there for her to retreat to, so she may not be that poignant on her own). Terrific that, hey, they were taking 34 kids to the pool, and poignant to see my little one look up at me and say "Can I swim free?" when the swimming was not only structured (four actions to perform at each of four stations) but also graded. I was the parent on the outside of the pool that had to write down the assessment of the kid with the parent inside the pool. It's rather elaborate - especially compared to Iris's desire to "swim solo." But it looks as though at this point they're looking for comfort level for each kid: how easily do they go in? how far beneath the water can they go? and so forth. This was a completely different way for Iris to experience the pool. She asked me to find out when "free swim" was and, indeed, that is my next mission. The pool turns out to be public - yea, France!

In the ecstasy of sharing stories of Rochefort-en-Terre, brioches, and the pool, I was able to ask Eleanor about her French face - here are the farcical results. You have to imagine her doing that face without being aware that she is being funny. She's now added some flourishes, both gestural and linguistic - you can hear my sigh of exasperation at the end: I don't know what a "tootie" is exactly, but it sounds naughty, non? :-)

Iris had her own contribution she wanted to add. Here is what she calls her "French talent."

Well, and while I'm on this video clip roll, here is Eleanor speaking full Eleanor-ese, a combination of French and French-sounding syllables (liberally sprinkled with her sparkle) - we hear a lot of this around the house.

Et maintenant - bonne nuit!

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