From the Great Wood in Brittany

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From the Great Wood in Brittany
Well, I still haven’t seen snow here though we’ve had our share of both hail and sunshine today and it’s bitterly cold. Driving back from the boulangerie this morning I could see down the hill to the sea – clear dark blue but flecked with whitecaps. The boulangerie is one of the social centres of Ploudalmézeau. Actually we have three boulangeries here; I haven’t quite worked out how a town of fewer than 5,000 people (according to last year’s Guide Rouge) can support three boulangeries working flat out six days a week. Still, there is almost always a queue and a chance to chat about the weather to someone else in line. Here it sems the weather is every bit as much a topic of conversation as in England. The ‘Méteo’ usually dismisses Brittany as ‘raining again’ and, though that is far from universally true, there is enough to keep the countryside very green throughout the year. Alongside the boulangeries we have two pharmacies – essential to the French way of life – a scattering of bars and restaurants (sadly only open mostly at weekends except in the summer or the school holidays), matched only by the number of banks. And there is the market – Friday is market day. The market is mostly about food, although there is also the ever hopeful double-glazing salesman. I cannot imagine how so much food can be consumed by those 5,000 people – there is fish (three stalls), cheese (two or three), fruit & vegetables (half a dozen), cooked food of all sorts (perhaps a dozen), and the rest. On a cold February Friday there are perhaps 20 stalls, in the summer perhaps 50 or 60. Shopping is done I’m sure, but also much conversation – it can take our friends an hour or more to walk the hundred yards from the Hotel des Voyageurs to the Maison de la Presse. We are still more in the English mode of functional shopping and having to learn that all of life is really a social event. If the market is good for fresh food then the supermarkets are the source of everything else – including much conversation and gossip in the warm and dry. We have two of them: a medium-sized Leclerc, with its startling blue showing up in the sky at night for miles around, and a Casino, refurbished after a fire last summer. Casino is the smaller but seems to be the haunt of the true Ploudalmézien, who can be disdainful about the brash newness of Leclerc. (Leclerc moved from simpler premises a few years ago; the old building remained empty for a while but is now the home for the local Music School – just occasionally I feel tempted to drop in and try the Breton bagpipes). Leclerc also happens to have an excellent restaurant, not haute cuisine but five courses of good wholesome food for 7€50. We went there on Wednesday – early to avoid the queues; the restaurant regularly fills, mostly with workmen, by 12:30. On offer were a salmon terrine, an enormous plate of couscous, fruit yoghurt, cheese, wine, and coffee – more than I can eat for lunch. The ‘menu ouvrier’ in its various forms must still be one of the best bargains anywhere. I haven’t counted, but offhand I can think of at least half a dozen restaurants with ‘menu ouvrier’ boards inside 20 minutes from here. The largest is the Jardin des Abers in Breles, with 50 or 60 long tables, all of which will be full. Every street in the pretty village is lined with white vans for the magic hour, then empty again. All this consumption has to lead somewhere of course, and much of it leads to the déchetterie, the rubbish tip. In England I recall trips to the tip as chores to be accomplished as quickly as possible. Here there is a social context too. Our déchetterie is cared for by Mr B, who comes and checks your load as you arrive and points you towards the correct receptacle – I think there must be a dozen or more choice, from used batteries to garden waste. Once you’ve been there a couple of times you become a regular and are greeted with a Bonjour and a hand-shake. I had another little lesson this week when Mr B and I were both wearing our leather work gloves: as I put out my hand he slipped his glove off – too fast for me. I apologised for my gaffe –“Ce n’est pas grave.” OK, but next time I’ll remember. The trailer that I brought over from England draws much admiration: here in a place where everyone has a trailer, mine has luxuries such as brakes. I can guarantee that whilst I am struggling to offload yet another load of garden waste onto the heap – that rain again – at least one person will stroll casually past having a good look, then drop into conversation about trailers and life in general. On one occasion they went as far as to compliment my French – but I still didn’t offer to sell. Bob Janes and his wife Jane Revell divide their time between rural Brittany and urban London – a tough choice. Bob is an occasional organisational consultant and coach and an avowed internet tekkie. He enjoys having choices about his life after 25 years in international business, working in finance, strategy and change management. Jane is a writer, teacher and trainer in personal development and English as a Foreign Language. More at www.bobjanes.com and www.janerevell.com
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