A lovely email arrived yesterday from Brittany and cheered me. It also made me yearn for the beauty of the French countryside and the civilized ways of the French.
by Charlie Leck
Cold has gripped Minnesota. It’s arrival in these harsh winter months is usually a challenge for me to which I rise and find in the encounter some awesome kind of beauty and thrill. Then a message and some lovely photos arrived from Brittany and the cold here seemed harsher as I thought of beautiful France. Though it lies north of us, when you look at those longitudinal and latitudinal lines that circle the global map, the mysteries of the earth keep it, compared to Minnesota, reasonable, mild and lush there throughout the year.
The peninsular coast of Brittany is spectacular and, sometimes, breath-taking, but I like most the inland towns and villages in the province. It’s a lovely part of the world and a drive through it brings constant gasps and surprising delights. It’s the home of the extraordinary Mont St. Michel to which I’ve paid a few visits and which I find peaceful and charming each time I go there – even when there are thousands of tourists filling the streets and making their way to the top of this natural wonder and sacred, Christian place. I'll never forget the day when I took my sister, a deeply devout Roman Catholic, there to see the place. The old girl, who normally struggled to walk, found her legs and climbed the big, long hill and took in every shop and delight along the way up to the grand church.
I’ll not write here a travel promotion. That isn’t my intention. It’s more the peacefulness and casual nature of Brittany that I want to picture for you. In Rennes there are two peaceful museums that I can bring back to mind. Le Musee de Bretagne et le Musee des Beaux Arts are both enchanting and inspirational places to visit. One is a cultural museum that explains the history and evolution of Brittany through artful displays of costumes, furniture, porcelain and art. The other is a museum of fine art that shows off a fine collection of paintings by greats such as Rubens, Picasso and George de la Tour. Rennes is also home to the grand Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. It is one of the most important pieces of architecture in all of France and it is a beautiful place to visit.
The war was fought over this land in the 40s and many Americans and Brits lost their lives in this region. You sense that as an American and feels the spirits of the downed soldiers when you travel here. The great cathedral of Rennes was heavily damaged in those years and you can find other scars both along the coast and inland.
However, it is difficult to find anything but delicious and stimulating food in Brittany. Every little town boasts of delightfully good places to eat. If you have the luxury to be able to travel slowly in a place like this, you can find nearly every town enchanting and many of them have restaurants, museums and chateaux worthy of the time you spend in them.
And, as always, their three beautiful and adventurous children are with them. They’ve all traveled widely, to thrilling places like Morocco and Egypt and India – and, yes, of course, to Minnesota just this summer (talk about thrilling places). The kids, from 8to 13, are “World-Schooled” as Laurence calls it. They are carefully taught by momma and papa in the arts, languages, history and sciences. They take their training seriously and work hard at it, but they also know how to breathe-in the very beauty that constantly surrounds them and they are playful, cheerful and filled with humor. I count them as a very special and inspirational family.
While they were here, I wanted to introduce them to all of America and to every friend I have. I wanted to constantly boast about them and point to them as examples of that to which humans can rise. The children romped about the land like explorers who had to visit every corner of the property and every building to learn what happens in this place and why it is so important to us. Most visitors to our home come and go and say the polite and expected thing about their visit here, but this French family dug in and learned about our place. I believe they visited every animal that lived here – the cats, sheep, horses, llamas, dog and mule. They identified birds and listened at night to the hooting of the owls and the chattering of the raccoons in the woods.
I made visits to museums, parks, restaurants, shops and lakeside beaches with them and learned so very much about so many things – but mostly about enjoying life itself – while they stayed here with us.
When they departed our piece of the world and moved off to Montana – and then to Washington and California – they left a feeling of emptiness behind them. Their joie de vivre had been enchanting and even penetrating. They were so French! Yet they are American, too, and proud of that. The children were given citizenship here while they visited in Montana and they proudly sent back messages of great glee about it. Really, they are citizens of the world and how I admire them and miss them.
Their little message came from Brittany this morning and it made my day. Indeed!
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