“It’s all very French.” That was one of my more acute observations made all the sharper because we were in France. In Brittany. And yes, it was all so very French.
Just like on the telly.
The French are as fond of their townlands as we are in Ireland, except they call them neighbourhoods. We were staying in Landes Ardennes, a neighbourhood of the nearby commune (village) of Coëtlogon.
The local pub is a hive for ex-pats (mainly British) who drop by on a Tuesday evening to visit the market and have a catch-up. It has some fab découpage by British artist Clive Mercer on the walls (I have some of his stuff on my walls, too – and he takes commissions).
Church Abbey de la Trinité once belonged to the Knights Templar. I love the fact that the French keep their churches open, even in the villages – unlike Hungary. So much to see.
In 1870, there were still fourteen small altars in the church, often served by seven or eight priests attached to the parish of La Trinité-Porhoët. Today, only four altars remain. According to local tradition, Mme de Sévigné would have offered an altar to the Church Abbey of La Trinité. The tree of Jesse, decorated at its base with the shields of the families of Rohan and Porhoët, traces the descendants of Jesus. He is represented on an altarpiece dating from 1675: in the center of this altarpiece stands a statue of the Holy Trinity surrounded by statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
In all my years as a card-carrying Catholic, I’ve never seen a statue of the Holy Trinity. And here, there were two!
I was intrigued by the image of St Fiacre, an Irish saint who came to France in A.D. 628. He is the patron saint for victims of venereal disease and haemorrhoids.
The price list on the noticeboard confirmed what my pocket was feeling – France ain’t cheap: €160 for a burial mass and €18 for an offertory mass (it’s €6 at home in Ireland). Presumably, the anniversary mass wouldn’t be shared with anyone else, hence the €34.
I found this postcard and am struggling to put the word grotesque into context. Maybe those of you with better French might have a clue.
Even more curious though, was the remnants of a swastika cut into the render on the wall of a house taken over by the Germans during the war. I’d never have noticed had it not been pointed out to me but once seen, it’s impossible to unsee.
Perhaps that’s why it all seemed so French – the lingering memories of a movie binge of WWII resistance stories set in this part of the world. I had no problem at all imagining the bicycles, the women in pants, the messenger bags, the parachute silks, the flashlights – it was like being on a movie set except everything was real.
We drove through the Forêt de Lanouée, a massive, privately owned forest (I think by a Canadian group, Boralex) of about 4,000 hectares. Once a haven of oak, beech, and chestnut trees, it turned to coppice so that the nearby forges in Lanoué would have wood for their fires (1756-1886). The drive through the trees was other-worldly. We came upon a clearing with two stone houses, either one of which I’d give up chocolate for, for life!
We stopped in Forges de Lanouée (the locals are called Fargerons). Down by the church, there’s a gap in the hedge through which you can see the Chateau de Lanouée, dating to the mid-1700s when it was built for the master forger. Today’s neo-Louis XIII-style residence has seen a few renovations. Owned by Armel Levesque du Rostu, it has an interesting history, as told by the octagenarian third-generation lord of the manor to Amélie Loho in an interview for Le Ploërmelais. The gardens were created in 1910 by Mme Renaud, to give jobs to the workers who had lost theirs when the forges closed, a nod to the follies of Ireland, perhaps. In 1933, his father saw the value in electricity and installed a turbine to convert the mechanical energy of water into power; they’ve been selling it back to the grid for 90 years. They also powered the hospital in Josselin during the war. Levesque du Rostu has been living in the 900 sqm castle with his wife for more than 20 years and sees it as a gift, one he’ll be passing on.
We found another open church in Sainte-Jacques, a commune of Plémet. Here, we found an exhibition on Brittany’s Camino route. Further searches led me to the Tro Briezh loop, a 1500-km walk billed as Brittany’s version of Santiago de Compostela – this little church is a stopping point. Tempting?
We ate locally a couple of times at a truck stop called Le détour near La Croix Chanvril. Us and all the truckers. They offer a three-course meal of buffet starter (including cockles, shrimp, and snails), a choice of six mains (pork, fish, chicken, beef) and six desserts for under €15. It was all very real.
Thank you, Brittany. It’s been grand. A lovely spot. Very French.