Bosmeleac is an artificial lake, a barrage, built about 1840, on the river Oust. It used to feed the rigole d'Hilvern, a winding channel which supplied the Nantes-Brest canal. The builders of this water system suffered; it was hard, perhaps forced labour, they were hungry, sick and overworked. Now little of it is used in any working capacity, but just for pleasure and leisure, and presumably for water supplies.
It's only half an hour's drive from here, if that, but I'd not been there before. It lies beyond the railway, and the once important station town of L'Hermitage-l'Orge, on the other side of the frontier, beyond which baleful mists and miasmas rise up from the benighted hinterland. This side of the watershed, we are Armor, not Argoat, and never the twain...
Which is all nonsense, of course. In fact it's not far at all, not very different, and often very pretty, more wooded, flowery and watery than our slopes towards the sea often are. There is a sense of the interior being a somewhat closed and hostile region (ask Rosie!), but I'm sure many people who live there would say otherwise.
However, expecting it to be rather remote and undeveloped, we were quite surprised to see clean artificial beaches with play equipment, a campsite, a bar and restaurant or two. A few families were spread on the beach, and in the water, a group of adolescent boys were playing a noisy game of improvised water polo.
'Roaring boys!' laughed my sister, then 'Where's that from?'
I thought it was Dylan Thomas, but it isn't. The Roaring Boys were Ben Jonson's Elizabethan crowd of young, hot-blooded, trouble-making playwrights and actors, 'Shakespeare's Rat Pack', as one recent book describes them. I was thinking of Dylan Thomas's 'boys of summer'.
I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren...
But it got me picking up Dylan Thomas again anyway. I was reminded of the rather flayed and fleshy, gamey quality of much of the poetry, especially this early stuff, the (usually) male anatomy only barely covered by the obscurity of the imagery and the highly-wrought and twisted language. Makes me squirm a little as ever (saints preserve me from attacks of the vapours!), but it's also rich and heady and amazing.
And high summer is gamey, and time and change and the seasons, life and generation and birth and death all rolled woven and stitched in with each other can be shocking and cruel.
My elderly former neighbours, Jean and Josiane, had a painting on their wall. It had been bought from an itinerant seller, a formulaic rendition of a romantically misty, highly-coloured wooded lake scene, but Jean loved it because, he said, it reminded him of Bosmeleac. When they were youngsters, in the summer, he and the other children of the village, and the visiting friends and cousins down on the train from Paris and elsewhere, including Josiane as a girl, would gather in groups and ride their gearless bicycles out to Bosmeleac to swim and picnic and hang out.
There in their heat the winter floods
Of frozen loves they fetch their girls,
And drown the cargoed apples in their tides
It was still quite quiet when we went there, the holidays having only just begun, but as well as the families, small groups of kids from the campsite were gathered on the stone bridge, in shorts and swimming costumes and bright lycra, with the odd scooter, the younger girls observing the older ones with sharp and timid curiosity.
There in the sun the frigid threads
Of doubt and dark they feed their nerves...
Occasionally one of the boys would drop into the water with a yell ,
Or lame the air with leaping from its heats;
There in their hearts the dogdayed pulse
Of love and light burns in their throats.
But a short walk away, all is quiet, and oaks and chestnuts almost dip their leaves in the gently rippling, olive or sky-reflectingwater,
the beeches still have enough translucency in their leaves to form a lively tracery overhead,
occasional patches of coniferous trees scent the air differently, and alter the quality of the light,
rough footbridges of wood and stone cross the tributary streams in the dappled light,
and there is room for everyone, even those who want to be quiet and solitary.
Despite the summer, in the continual moist turnover of soil and dead matter, there were still curious funghi emerging into the tenuous light.
I see the summer children in their mothers
Split up the brawned womb's weathers,
Divide the night and day with fairy thumbs;
Of sun and moon they paint their dams
As sunlight paints the shelling of their heads.
We agreed that somehow there is always something slightly melancholy, slightly oppressive, about dams, a stillness tinged almost with menace. Perhaps it is the forceful and vertiginous danger of sluices and spillways, of sheer drops and man-made waterfalls, the formidable stonefaces of barrages. I remember an enormous one in the Auvergne, way down in a valley among woodland, which seemed to be entirely empty of human life, where crag martins peered mistrustfully up at me form their niches as I looked over the precipice of the dam wall.
Or perhaps it is the way the structures look like fortifications - many in the Welsh hills seemed to make an architectural motif of this, so one felt small and agoraphobic approaching them on foot, like Childe Rolande coming to the dark tower. And indeed they are, I suppose, battlements against the vengeance and power of the held back water.
Or the knowledge that, most likely, settlements, villages, hamlets, farms were sacrificed and flooded to create the reservoir.
Perhaps too, in this case, it was also about the slight air dilapidation created by half sunk, algae-speckled pleasure boats, and empty pontoons and landing stages.
But in fact, this was an early season dereliction, of things mostly just not brought back into shape yet. It was really only the start of the summer holidays, and yet already there is the sense of everything going over, of incipient decay.
But isn't that always the way, as the poem says? That every season, every phase of life contains the germ of every other, the 'pulse of summer in the ice' and 'Death from a summer woman'?
It's there in the winter warmth of the woodpile stacked and seasoning in the July heat,
and the parasitic globes of the evergreen mistletoe drawing its strength from the soft green summer poplars, which will in turn nourish the mistle thrushes that will lay eggs the colour of the sky next spring.
The dog-days can be melancholy days, and still calm waters are places of reflection.
But seasons must be challenged or they totter
Into a chiming quarter
Where, punctual as death, we ring the stars;
There in his night, the black-tongued bells
The sleepy man of winter pulls,
Just by the way, something that gave me a real blogging boost today: our friends A and C had guests in their gite near here who they got on very well with, and who were very active and curious explorers of the area, having done plenty of research in books and on the internet. The lady happened to mention that she'd found a blog which she'd enjoyed and found informative, by a woman living somewhere nearby with a dog called Molly, a blog called Box Elder! A and C are somewhat unusual among my incarnate friends hereabouts in being familiar with Box Elder, and even more unusual in perhaps considering it of any interest or value, though they don't read regularly, not having broadband and not living much on-line, so they were pleased to report back to me about this. I have to say it did give me a buzz to know that it's proved accessible and interesting to people who want to find out about place where I happen to live, and that they might even be prepared to be sidetracked with details of topics so diverse as Dylan Thomas, audiobooks of Proust, fence post typology and sundry other tangential ruminations to stick with it. It kind of makes it all worthwhile...
So Jude, if you're reading, sincerest thanks, and feel free to leave a comment if you should ever want to, you can do it as anonymous and just put your name at the end.
( I know this post could do with some links, including to the full 'boys of summer poem', but I'm out of time tonight, so I'll do it tomorrow!)