Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guest Blogger (Try Try Again)

Hullo there: turns out you can't cut and paste on Blogger - lesson learned and apologies for the delay in getting Mac's guest blog out. Without further ado, here are his and the kids' adventures from Sunday!

Our lovely Sunday in Brittany (for those of us NOT in Paris!) was a day almost entirely devoted to insects - with a couple of exceptions. our plan to while away the day was to have a picnic and then head to one of those oddball local museums that make living in a relatively out-of-the-way place so much fun - the Insectarium in Lizio.

But first the kids wanted to try to collect their own insects at our picnic (I loved them for their enthusiasm for this project before we went to the pedagogical site). Right away they wanted to collect some of the insects they've seen clumped together in little swarms at the bases of trees and along the rocks at the promenade, bright red bugs with black markings on their backs, looking for all the world like little African masks. We found out later - we asked about them at the Insectarium, in fact - that these are called "gendarmes" in France, because, so explained the big expert, the gendarmes of France wore red uniforms with black markings in the 18th century. In Switzerland (Anne remembered them from her own childhood), they are called cordonnier. Or, if you prefer, pyrrhocoris apterus. It turns out that they are widespread, group together (r, as French bugologists say, they are "gregarious"!) mate in April and May (yes, we saw them at it!) and are very find of linden trees - which is what are planted in rows at the promenade. They were, in fact, planted all over France in the tens of thousands in 1792, as yet anther undertaking of the French Revlution), and are a kind of tree of civic pride and symbol of French liberty, which explains why they were planted on the promenade.

In any case the kids knew to go there to collect their favorite French bugs, which they did, in little palstic baggies - except for Iris, who chose t draw pictures of them on the spot, complete with explanatory notes. She has labeled the drawing "mask insect" (we didn't know yet to call them "gendarmes") and drawn both a mature specimen (labeled "grownup") and what she supposed was a younger one (labeled "baby") - it turns out she was probably right. My little naturalist.

After a quick stop at the café for dad, we hit the road, and drove to Lizio, which is another of those charming little 17th century Breton villages of granite stone houses and churches that time has seemingly forgotten (it was actually depopulated after the end of the age of sail - sailcloth being the staple of its economy, like so much of the region - and has been restored, although there were several newly constructed houses to be seen). One of those houses now contains cases of live insects, working beehives, and drawers of pinned and labeled, spectacular butterflies and horned beetles.

The room the kids liked best was the "reversal of scale" room!

The Insectarium is always paired in the travel literature with the (very) nearby Musée du poète ferrailleur which I think translates loosely to the museum of the blacksmith poet - in other words, quirky and winsome kinetic sculptures made from recycle junk and cast-off metal - not usually one of my favorite art forms. The clown paintings of the post-industrial age. Nonetheless, I did by best to promote it to the kids, who were much less enthusiastic about this than they were about the insectarium. But I have to say that I was charmed by it, maybe because of the extensiveness of the site and its pastoral setting, or because of the mechanical ingenuity of a lot of the work, or the seemingly genuine and unaffected child-like quality of a lot of the imagery; little beings, innocent of their own fragility, chasing the stars. There's actually a Don Quixote figure who tilts at a little windmill, and St. Exupery in his airplane. And there was a good deal of genuine craft involved. Then there's the fact that he makes automatons, the tradition in which I've been interested in for a long time).

We started with a little film, and the recognition of classmates of Iris and Eleanor, and then we wandered around the grounds, the various outbuildings containing sculptures varying in scale from the tony to the monumental.

The kids' favorite was the House of the Hermit, where they would have gladly spent the rest of the afternoon (you can watch a little video of its construction on the website).

But we needed to get home and eat the lasagne I had bought from the so-called "cute butcher," and eat the Sunday evening tarts. On the way home, I thought about the fact that if Robert Coudray, the backsmith poet, had been born in America instead of Brittany, he would be considered an "ousider artist" - a term, coincidentally, that was used aout Otto Dix in an essay written in 1923, that is, the English word "Outside." He - Coudray - has all of the hallmarks, including a certain care for his own image (he's trademarked the term "poète ferrailleur," for example) and the extensive park setting of his own structures, like a little hand-made amusement park. But that's not at all how he presents himself, or how he seems t be received here. But I wouldn't begin to know where to sort that out.

Back home, Iris set out to research insects some more on line - searching things on the internet has been a new habit since we've been here. She pretty quickly came across some very cool little animated films featuring comically bug-eyed little bugs, from the French film maker Thomas Szabo, "Minuscule - The Private Life of Insects," and combines computer animation with real settings. The insect protagonists have funny little misadventures resulting from their desires to achieve something beyond their reach (this is the kids' analysis, and I think they've nailed it). The endings are happy, and there's some melancholy music. You could argue that it's as French as the poète ferrailleur, yet it's pretty much the opposite in both message and material aesthetic form, and the kids love it.

Some tarts (citron, my little guy's favorite, Normand, and, in the foreground, apple), they were off to bed, in eager anticipation of their mother's triumphant return from Paris tomorrow!

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