Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Country

Sometimes now when we walk around, we have to stop and literally smell the flowers because we feel like we're in a different place than the one we arrived in back in late December. As closely as we've been watching every leaf and blade of grass, the flowers seem to have sprung fully grown from the earth. It's so wonderful to look at the perennials and know that they were lying there in wait throughout the winter. Spring is the season where it's easier for me to imagine a humanity in common: everyone throughout all time surely must marvel at a sight such as this one. (Mac would give you a lot more on the historical specificity of the tulip and its importation from Turkey and the tulip follies of the Netherlands, but let's just go universal on this one for now).

At the risk of being repetitive of the same scene, here we are in front of the same idea of flowers. We decided to start out wanderings close to home today, visiting Ploermel. Mom wants to play the Combat des Trentes board game (!), so we felt that a visit to Ploermel was absolutely necessary. We went to what is officially my favorite restaurant there, the Jardin des Saveurs (really nice owner, cool little innovations involving things like polenta and sweet potatoes) and then tooled around, winding up here facing the World War I monument with Saint Armel church behind us.

I've been wanting to write about Saint Armel for a good long time. This incredible wooden vault alone would be enough, but the church has fascinated me for a long time. First, from the outside, where its stones virtually writhe with winsome and whimsical creatures, and now, from the inside, where more fantastic beings creep along the wooden beams and grin to each other across the vault. Ploermel is a wonderful stop on the way to the Broceliande forest (this is what I did with Gretchen during her visit), which is the home of so much Arthurian legend itself rooted in pagan lore, and I can't help but think, when I see these wonderful carvings, that the forest, its nature, its legends, and its folklore are not too far when one is here. Can you see that the ends of every beam are held within a snarling dragon's mouth? Harder to see, but oh they're there, are the musicians and acrobats and peasant women, the two-headed dogs, the crouching dragons, and the comical bulls.

There's clearly been some wonderful renovation work done here (the entire central vault and most of the aisle vaults have been restored I would think), but this one beam seems to have been left as is (very much so: do you see the cobwebs?). It forms what may or may not be a structural column that joins the wooden vault to the stone column below and depicts a dragon vomiting forth a wooden column which is then "picked up" by the crouching angel in the capital. It is so rare to find a wooden vault in such marvelous condition, let alone this vestige here. To me, it speaks to just how alive these edifices were: architectural elements whispered to each other, sections yawned and stretched to find each other, and the entire space became an enormous, alive creation, housing and reflecting the wonders of divine as well as mortal creation - and, perhaps most importantly, commemorated the creations in between the divine and the mortal: those of the human imagination.

I need to bring the children inside Saint Armel someday. For today, it was such a joy to pick them up from school - Iris is to the left jumping up and down with excitement (it was chicken cordon bleu for lunch and the weather was gorgeous and they're still learning a little bit more about Africa, so hoorah!). Iris and Oliver both had a bit of a "cafard" this morning (hard getting going, hard letting go) - Eleanor on the other hand, was raring to go. Language note: both girls came home speaking up a storm of French - it was like 0 to 60.

We walked home past the goats and Iris, who favors the little one and was trying to give it some dandelions, said to the big one "Non, c'est pas pour toi, c'est pour la petite." (No, it's not for you, it's for the little one). Because these goats speak French, you know. Isn't that great? So it's this sunny day, and we're in this beautiful new country where there is sunshine and flowers line your every path, and I'll confess to missing the coziness of the Brittany that we made ours in the winter months, but oh the worlds that await us now!

And so I leave you with more flowers, here framing the Colonne des Trente (not even remotely the same site that we visited in January!). We missed the anniversary of the Combat itself (mid-March I think it was), but now..... to the board!

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