Sunday, June 20, 2010

In the Footsteps of Prehistory (Malansac)

A welcomed sight, oui? Les vacances (to California no less) of monsieur le fromagier were wonderful, and now he has returned! Mac was the one to see home and bring home (starting with the triangular wedge in the bottom and going clockwise) a bit of Livarot, du Broucaou, de l'Etivaz, and a wonderful goat cheese. We've dismissed the sobering thought that we have but one more marché in Josselin and are focusing on which one of these is the stinkiest (uh, the Livarot, bien sûr).

So where does a recently reunited family go on a gorgeous Breton day? Why to the Prehistoric Park of Brittany, my friends! Here you see not only an awesome bunch of dinosaurs in a forest habitat, but you get to follow the evolution of humanity all the way to our beloved menhirs draggers, neolithic humans. Five lakes and an undulating forest floor around an abandoned slate quarry (what a cool reuse for the quarry!) made for a beautiful walk in the woods...

... with some pretty astounding surprises at times. Say what you will about enormous fiberglass sculptures in the forest, they create an entirely different sensation than dinosaurs in museums do. We've been to the Dinosphere at the Indianapolis Children's Museum a good bit, but I don't remember squealing quite so loudly there, or having Iris slam herself into my thighs quite so vigorously. This here is the brachiosorus, I believe (but the kids will have to check on me).

And I'll freely confess that one of the highlights was the presence of these delightful "Your Face Here" mounts. The idea of Practically Toothless Iris amongst so many teeth still cracks us up. The mount is careful to point out, of course, that this is all a joke and that humans and dinosaurs never (ever) co-existed. They were emphatic on this point throughout the park which makes me wonder about the presence of creationism or intelligent design ideas in France - which is where we get most of our temporally warped ideas about humanity and dinosaurs in the States. The intelligent design Wikipedia page is one of the most thorough I've ever seen, reminding me what a force this strain (and I use that word consciously) of thinking is. I won't launch into (oh, but I could) how disheartening I find the anti-scientific, anti-intellectual gusto of places like the Creation Museum - we've had conversations with science friends about trying to figure out at what point in American history discounting the complex work of science in favor of grander, simpler Christian narratives became ok. It's disheartening to me because it renews the discord between Christianity and science that was at its worst when the Catholic church doubted (ok, oppressed) Galileo. Maybe that's why you see much, much less (none) of that Creationist thinking here - the Church's anti-science stance against Galileo still rings wrong here.

Wrrrrreeek (sound of me pushing soap box away). This picture doesn't tell you much about our visit, but I thought it so lovely of Iris as she studied Oliver's "mark" which here he left on a piece of bark, but also on lots and lots of slate stones throughout the park - slate being what chalkboards (ardoises) are made out of, after all.

This was by far the most dramatic scene we saw: hunters chasing horses off a cliff. My dear, ever-optimistic Oliver said "Look! They're training the horses to jump." Mac muttered underneath his breath "to their death." Yikes! Some of the super dramatic scenes (giant cave bear attacking a hunter, men spearing an elephant that had fallen into a trap) were staged at a distance which actually gave them even more of an effect, the kids searching out details from afar.

But there were always the mounts to lighten the mood! This one has Oliver saying "Taste how good this marrow is!" and Iris's figure responding with an astute culinary opinion. Good times...

How's that for dramatic? We had just had boar saucisson sec for our picnic lunch and were thus, um, sympathetic to all involved.

Mac was using his best exasperated French guy face here while my little cutie pie kept working on her awesome neolithic boat.

The walk ends with neolithic man and his menhir endeavors and Oliver actually did say "done that" when he saw them dragging a huge standing stone. Granted we had a different technique entirely (smile), but hey, what a thing to have in common! It was pretty cool to think of neolithic humanity as the newbies (as opposed to our family's more common thinking of The Oldest Humanity Around). I really want to get straight in my head the whole Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal, Homo Erectus, Homo Sapiens Sapiens business/chronology. I'm fascinated by the idea that there were several different possibilities for human evolution, that lines of human species (Neanderthals are an example) died out. Friend and colleague Pedar Foss once made a comment that I still think over about the presence of monsters like Grendel in Beowulf being tales of an oral tradition whose long, long, long-ago origins are in the murky past when two different species of humans might have co-existed. Funny that, as one of the Beowulf movies takes exactly this stand (there are problems with the film, but Gerard Butler as Beowulf works for me every time).

P.S. here: there's a scholarly chapter left to be written, if it hasn't been already, on Tolkein (great (great) Beowulf scholar that he was) and Brittany - I was thinking this today as we passed by signs for Elven, and of course Rohan is not too far. I wonder if he ever studied Breton, he of phenomenal linguistic prowess. So many place names from the Lord of the Rings trilogy seem to come from the Breton landscape...

Because Brittany is a magical land, we were welcomed home by the sounds of the cornemuse and traditional Breton music! The Fête de la Musique continues throughout France tomorrow, but here in Josselin it was tonight. Actually, the web site for the Fête de la Musique will restore your faith in government - this is what the French Ministry of Culture is doing. Bravo bravo bravo!!

And so, dear friends, I am left with the last delicious picture of the week: all they had at the patisserie this morning by the time we stopped hugging and snuggling our reunion was tarte au citron - clearly, Oliver's dream come true!!!

P.S. There was a moment when I profoundly communed with the blog on my last day in Paris, and that was at the fantastic little restaurant La Bourse ou la Vie right across the street from the Bibliothèque Nationale on rue Vivienne. Having spent an entire morning poring over a didactic moral treatise about humility and restraint, I nonetheless felt compelled to order the gorgeous "steak pavé avec ses frites." It was the most glorious good-bye to Paris, France I've ever had after research and I relished every single bite. I very much wanted to write it up here, and share it with you - it was that good! So I was thrilled to discover that it clearly impressed this other blogger who had the good sense to take beautiful photographs of it all. Mmmm, steak-frites...

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