We ought to go to France in this post. You’ve been waiting for some travel writing for long enough, n’est-ce pas ? Is that not so? In this trip we are heading for Brittany. The Reading & Writing Region. The tourist development organisation of this huge Région, to use the French spelling, used to promote Bretagne as the place for reading and writing. Many organisations took this to heart and began their own publishing projects, specialist libraries and even the écrithèque in Quimper. L’écrithèque is a made-up word, think of the French for writing, écriture, and add the ending from discothèque.
Brittany has its own ferry service from Plymouth and Portsmouth, Brittany Ferries, which is only a continuation of the migration of Britons to Brittany that began when Brythonic Celts from Devon and Cornwall began to sail over as Roman, and then Anglo-Saxon occupation, spread across the Westcountry of England. Even the Devon pixies migrated to become korrigans. Quimper, which is where we are heading, is the French-spelling of a Breton word meaning confluence of rivers, Kemper, which, in [IPA], sounds like you’ve arrived there by camper-van /kɛ̃.pɛʁ/ except French makes the –m- sound like an –n- within words so, can pair, would be an even closer way of writing it in English. I suppose that is just what the rivers do here, they can pair up on their last fifteen kilometres to the sea at Bénodet; the mouth of Quimper’s River Odet. Jean Failler is part of that legacy of the reading and writing region, being inspired in the early 1990s to write crime fiction, he created the character of police detective, Mary Lester.
An earlier literary figure, who grew up in Quimper is Max Jacob (1876-1944); he is somewhere between a surrealist and a symbolist in his writing about place, such as this verse set on the quayside of the Odet in Quimper:
SCENE FROM THE FAIR – MAX JACOB
A holiday in Quimper. The chestnut trees shade the banks in the evening. And from so high! The banks are full of people. The hawkers are in the public square. There was a captain who was soused. I led him to the coffee house on Chestnut Quay, where, far from the noise, I comforted him. A little coffee to get him straightened out.
I wish I could find the French original of this verse. Please post it in Comments below if you track it down. Something may be lost in the translation above.
Sailing to Finistère, the final département of modern-day Bretagne, by Brittany Ferries is a complex travel experience. It’s exciting. In the bright sunshine of this glorious autumn afternoon it’s exhilarating. Standing too long at the handrail on a choppy October swell, though, does take its toll on even the most hardened sailor. If the crossing looks rough, I will head below decks and adopt a horizontal position as soon as possible. Proprioception, that mix of balance from the ear canals, and the tensing of the muscles is less challenged lying down. Upright you will begin to attribute a more literal meaning to Finistère, the end of the world.
Just before you board, though, here is today’s French lesson:
Elle m’a prêté un livre pendant nous attendions le ferry.
She lent me a book while we were waiting for the ferry.
Look for the letter –i- squozen into attendre, to wait for, that is the sure sign of the imperfect or l’imparfait in French. It makes it easy to remember, that –i- for imperfect. Nous attendons is we are waiting, while the –i- in attendions makes it were waiting.