Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bliss (Kerguéhennec)

When I went to bed last night, I had a searing ball of fire in my throat with what I thought was me coming down with a cold. Ouch ouch ouch. So at 8h30 this morning, I was in the waiting room of Dr. Niemiec's office (that's right, you have to say it two or three times to really appreciate it). As I may have described previously, doctor's visits are on a first come, first served basis, so there's always a good bit of waiting involved. But then you're seen, you pay your 22euros (which is what the doctor makes, i.e. this is not a co-pay) and you're on your way with your prescription and your day. Every time I go, I hear older patients bemoaning the state of affairs once Niemiec retires (he must be in his mid-55s now, and unless the retirement age goes up (that's what 2 million people were in the streets of France about today) he'll retire in 5 years) - he's apparently the only one in town who will visit patients in hospitals in the morning, then see in-office patients (us), then see at-home patients (the bed-ridden, the elderly), then go back to the hospital at night. This guy works incredibly hard, and the older women this morning were worrying about the "younger generation" a) not wanting to work as hard and b) not wanting to live in Josselin. The first worry I have to take with a grain of salt, as it is a perennial complaint of the older generation to the younger one. But the second one I understand, living as I do in a small town in America - doctors basically have to have a really good reason to come live in your tiny town, and so you find yourself hoping for a family connection or a personal reason. More so in Greencastle than in Josselin, I would think, but still, they worry. And I can see why: Dr. Niemiec is terrific. Within seconds of my describing what was going on, he had a diagnosis: I talk too much. Yes, yes, go ahead and laugh - I did. It's laryngitis, which I always thought was just your voice being hoarse, but turns out to be an inflammation of the vocal chords, which would explain the incredible pain of swallowing. It can often be triggered by a slight cold, but the baseline problem is "un mauvais emploi des chordes vocales" (a mis-use of the vocal chords). He said professors often get it (ha!) and indeed, when I've had this before, it's been in the early summer, at the end of the school year (all the talking to students). Perhaps this is the price I pay for endlessly talking up the kids and our friends. Mac has forbidden me from following up with my Neanderthal Man stories (Neanderthal man discovers that one can eat an artichoke, Neanderthal Man discovers fire, Neanderthal Man considers the weird nice feeling he gets when he looks at the ocean). I've loved Neanderthal Man stories (they've (gasp!) displaced Baby Pink Dragon these past few nights, but the kids really do love that pre-historic period. See you later Neanderthal Man, when I have my voice back (his, uh, limited but emphatic grammar and guttural voice are a challenge). All this to say, a Cortizone pill and some kind of magic spray later, I was much better. The only weird part is that in the States I was prescribed antibiotics, and that worked, too (perhaps there was infection at the site of inflammation? I don't know). This was too long, but I'd wanted to do a full-blown description of a visit to a doctor's office, and somehow didn't get to do the two ear infection visits we had with the kids. Thank you, Dr. Niemiec - you work incredibly hard, and literally keep an entire town going.

I will get to the glorious photo above in just a second, but just know that I came home having pretty much lost my voice and so had a quiet hour with the kids. I noticed that they were quieter, too. Is laryngitis this good for everybody? Something to consider: could I actually just keep quiet, not alk so much, and thereby have quieter kids? Wow! Actually, they're really specific. And impossible - because I actually crave hearing the kids. Oo! This is the day of Thoughts on the Side, but I did want to record this one. When we came home from the Aquarium in Vannes yesterday, we rather inevitably watched Finding Nemo. Oliver and I have a long-standing debate about whether or not Dory really speaks whale. I say that YES, she does, and that it's all part and parcel of her knowing other surprising things, like how to read, and what a hammer and money are; Oliver says NO, there's no way that a fish can speak whale and there's no way that a whale could understand a fish trying to speak whale anyway. We have this debate every time we watch the movie, and of course we started again last night. During a lull, Oliver says "I can just hear the movie makers chuckling about a mom trying to convince her kid that a fish could speak whale." Movie makers chuckling? I love it: chuckling! So, above is rational Iris who stays out of such debates (wise) and is seen here getting a jump start on her bridge book, which we were thinking of starting for all three kids in Switzerland to help them get ready again for American school. We're at the Taverne following a great picnic at the Bois d'Amour (if we could strew kisses and flower petals to Josselin and get away with it, we would) - two of our favorite spots in town. The Lists have not been taken over by pétanque-playing men, but instead by the camping cars occupants who park in the lot directly behind the Lists - the changing o' the seasons.

I'm going to repeat the picture above because I love it so. It was taken at the Domaine de Kerguéhennec (another name to say three times fast), which is part of that great group which also brought us to Suscinio, Melrand, Poul-Fetan, and Gavrinis. (wow!) It's the one closest to our house (not even 20 minutes away!) and so of course we'd never been there. In some ways, we misjudged, because the castle only opens again tomorrow. But in other ways, it was total bliss. We had the place pretty much to ourselves once again, and were just together, in a beautiful place. Kerguéhennec is another really cool idea: an 18th century castle that sits upon a lush forest and lake domain now turned into a visitable castle, a center for contemporary art, and a regional restoration atelier. The coolest part: the fields and forests house contemporary sculpture (Tony Cragg, Hrrein Fridfinnsson, and more!). This shot was taken within minutes of coming into the property gates: an enormous pine forest surges up against a hill that overlooks a lake. It's been very hot, so Oliver and Iris wanted to cool themselves with the view. They sat there for a good long while, while we walked about with Eleanor getting our bearings.

Oliver did ask: "What's the goal of being here today?" which, of course, made me realize how programmatic our visits to places are. It was thus pretty swell to be able to say "just to see something beautiful together." He looked at me like I was nuts, but I was really into the idea of doing just that. So we settled into this long alley entirely shaded by trees (think cathedral vaulting, but of green gently moving leafy branches) and did absolutely nothing for a good long time. Meaning: Mac and I tried to lie down, but those moments were short-lived, broken up by questions, teasings, desires for entrance into the castle (which was at the other end of the alley), and queries as to how to draw a pentagon (apparently, that's one of the skills you're supposed to acquire in Kindergarten to get ready for First Grade). Communing with beauty is neither a skill set, nor a state of mind for the kids, but I will say that when we were walking around they did a bit of communing. Now if we could only get them to commune lying down (yoga?).

We only touched the surface of the awesome sculpture park (if you have time to click on the link, you can see a full listing (and picture!) of each of the artists' pieces present - truly fantastic! This piece is entitled Sept Colonnes à Mallarmé and was made by Etienne Hajdu (Romanian) from 1967-1971. Its homage to the poet was beyond us, but Oliver and Eleanor loved the piece, and it's a powerful (those are bronzes, folks) connection to megaliths.

The piece that moved us all was Sentier de Charme (1986) by Italian artist Guiseppe Penone. If you look closely, you'll see that a tree is growing within the bronze form. The symbiosis of the tree growing through and around the bronze as it ages, and the bronze turning greener and greener and more closely approximating the moss-covered tree as it ages is just so beautiful. I love how the figure's "traces" unfurling behind it will anchor it as the tree's weight grows. This human figure and the tree will be constantly negotiating their physical and aesthetic relationship. I want to come back and see how they're doing for a long time.

There is one sad note about the Domaine de Kerguéhennec, and that is that while the castle and sculpture park will stay, the Center for Contemporary Art will close. Apparently, the Conseil Général du Morbihan will no longer be supporting it, and the support of the State and the Région Bretagne aren't enough. I went to the petition website and some 4000 people have signed the petition. Sigh - that will be very much too bad if it closes, as the presence of contemporary art in Brittany is a rare one. The presence of contemporary art in a setting such as this one in Brittany is utterly unique. Well, we have plans to go back and see the castle and the center (while we can). The castle, it seems, was built in the 18th century for Swiss bankers - could there be a better building segue for our trip to Switzerland which starts (ee gads) next Friday afternoon? Poetry!

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