Monday, June 28, 2010

Brittany 'till you Drop (Kerguéhennec Redux)

We couldn't stay away from Kerguéhennec (so much fun to say) to see the inside of the manor, but first....

This is Iris's rendition of her "herrow" on the horse (that horse must have appeared to have been all legs to her!) - complete with cool if puzzling beard braid! So without further ado at all, here is a video extravaganza from our time at the Fête du Cheval at Guer.



These are the Bagad players that Mac could listen to all day long (and a "woo-hoo!" to Steve and Gina, whose wedding memorably was initiated by awesome bagpipe playing!).

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These are the players who told the story of Brittany through dance - I can't tell you what this event is, but bicycles were a big deal during the Resistance (kids on bikes, especially, heroically threaded their way through treacherous terrain on two determined wheels). I really love the music here, and check out how young that kid is singing (in the red shirt on the right) - wonderful.

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And here are Oliver and Iris responding to the Ukrainian music with a little jig of their own.

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And here, my sweet Iris being a little lavandière (with much elbow grease!)

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And finally, her "herrow," this guy who swings himself underneath the horse (!) and then back up - you can see at the end that she is pretty amazed!!!

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And now mademoiselle Eleanor will bring us back to reality by pointing out her incredibly red goldfish. We received Iris's enormous folder of work from the year thus far, and can't wait for Oliver's and Eleanor's. Eleanor suggested today that perhaps her teachers could come with us. And maybe the whole class, too. That would, of course (especially if we added the town) be the best solution. Much better than our current rationalizations about time passing and being ready for more adventure. I love how kids think. There are these promised continuities in the kids' classes that make it natural to want to talk about the fall here. The little English boy in Eleanor's class just welcomed a baby sister. I spoke to his sweet mom today when I was stunned to see the little one (she was due in mid-July). They're a really interesting family, having moved here from England to completely make their lives here - the dad works over at the abattoir and I believe she stays home (there's a little girl, too, who is now a big sister to the newborn baby), but we very often see him dropping off or picking up his little boy. The new baby is named Isolde, and would have been Tristan had she been a boy. Arthurian legend continues apace, you see, and I can't help but think of this beautiful little family growing here in Josselin long after we're gone, with a poetry that defies the hard work of the abattoir - one of the many reasons, perhaps, for making one's life here.

We entered the poetic world of Kerguéhennec once again right after school, knowing that now the manor was open. Oliver wasn't enthusiastic at first, ranking the manor well below a proper castle. Turns out this is the least hierarchical place ever: we saw families in the parks, by the lake (how many of the parents work in Josselin's abattoir, the biggest in France, I wonder), joggers and runners, friends walking and talking. But we had the manor all to ourselves, and the minute we entered its cool hallways, Oliver and the girls were very keen indeed. It's free to get in and they have all sorts of amazing things set up for kids: here's Oliver down in the kitchens preparing a feast (that is one purple eggplant) for the count and countess Lanjuinais and their guests above.

The "Swiss bankers" aspect of the construction of the manor in 1710 was downplayed, with the presentations instead focusing on the late 19th century renovations of Lanjuinais. The manor was bought in 1872 by a Lanjuinais who loved the countryside and loved to hunt. The lay-out of the grounds is beautiful (lots of views of the gardens framed by the architecture) and that of the house as well: small dining room, large dining room, salon, and then, grouped together: fumoir, billiards room and library ("Is that so much to ask in a house?" asked Mac wistfully, knowing that a fumoir addition would be, um, awkward on our house). Here you see the kids being invited to set the table in the big dining room (with its Fontainebleau-inspired fireplace) - they absolutely loved this - Oliver even said that this felt more real than just walking through a fancy place. Amazing what some colorful plastic fruit and gold paper plates will do!

There were two kinds of by-hand work in the small dining room that I really enjoyed thinking through. The first was the wall-paper which was drawn and painted by hand. I loved following the outlines of the ink along the paper. There were massive restorations here in the late 1990 (the before and after photos reveal that the manor had fallen into complete ruin, only the fireplaces and walls and some of the wooden beams left standing).

This is another end of the hand-painted spectrum: it's in an Academic style, and part of me could never get tired of looking at the glossy drapery folds and the smooth, rosy skin. The other part of me wonders if this is Lanjuinais himself, or an ancestor from not too far back. 1872 he started planning out what he wanted for the manor (apparently, he was a countryside and good fishing kind of aristocrat - again, Mac had to ask, is that asking so much?). Since the late 19th-century renovations, there have been two more renovation campaigns, but oh the wonders they have wrought!

It's a country house, right, and so the beams are wooden, but they are gloriously decorated, complete with nigh inscrutable coats of arms. There's a series of of patterns here that I found truly exceptional - they just flow and move across the surfaces and frame and reframe what you see. (Makes me want to see the Draughtman's Contract for some reason.... hmm). Such a perfect setting.

The library was denuded of the 10,000 volumes that had once resided here, (there has to be a story there) and so it was a little sad, but it was a perfect library, complete with "flame o' knowledge" torch carved in wood. To think I used to scoff (well, more like get defensive and silly) at restoration projects. "It's not authentic!" I'd complain inside my head, thereby missing the point that I often think I see now, about Brittany's renewal, about its continuities, about the deep love that aristocrats of the 19th century held for the place (they are actually responsible for most of the restorations that we've seen, not the government - the Count of Lanjuinais, not Viollet-le-Duc, who, I just now realize, is the 19th century restorer whose work I'm used to seeing - that might explain my early reluctance to embrace these). In any case, here is the library with its waiting book cages - I hope that they all fly home soon!

And so what's better on a hot summer day after school and after a manor than playing in the shade after being given two squirrels and a hedgehog. Part of me balked, thinking of the packing (always), but how can I begrudge Oliver a 1.50euro hedgehog which, it turns out, gets along great with squirrels!


Speaking of Oliver, here is his brush with fame in France! The Ouest-France reporter was indeed out here for the circus performance and snapped this picture in which you can just barely see Oliver's eyes peeking out over the little girls in the front row - he's fourth from the left in this kind of pewter rose vest. And the little girl who is third from the left in the front row wearing that gorgeous outfit is our dear, dear Clementine who has befriended Oliver powerfully and has great, good humor (recall the water pistol fight at the school kermesse!). Hey-wow! My little guy was (pretty much) in the school paper!

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