Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bosmeleac, and the roaring boys of summer.

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;

There in the deep with quartered shades
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,
Nor blows back moon-and-midnight as she blows.

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!)


Catalyst said...

What a wonderful post! And your photography, Lucy, just gets better and better.

herhimnbryn said...

What Cat said!
Sitting here with deafening rain on the tin roof and I have be transported to silky winding rivers and bright green trees. I wonder did you want to get into th water at any point, dip your toe?

Rouchswalwe said...

As I am in your post, great thunderous clouds are moving fast in the low sky. The poem is new to me, your photographs bring back dear memories of walks on Aburayama (Oil Mountain) on the island of Kyushu ~ old and new ~ past and present ~ and now the raindrops are splattering against the floor-to-ceiling windows. Wow! How did you do that, Lucy?

marja-leena said...

It's marvelous to play tourist in your own 'backyard', isn't it? Gorgeous photos and post, as always, Lucy.

And I know about that buzz when you find out someone is reading your blog. When someone comes up to tell me he/she is reading it and enjoying it, I feel almost shy, yet gratified of course. The connectedness never ceases to amaze.

The Crow said...

I've been on another mini vacation without having to leave the quiet of my back room. Wonderful, Lucy; just wonder-filled, too.

Of all the delightful photos, the one I wanted to see for myself, in place, is the one of the sky and tree caught in the little puddle. The little kid in me wanted to play in it with a twig, stir up the image and watch it settle into place again.


Barrett Bonden said...

For a moment I thought you were about to explain a mystery I have lived with for 65 years. Back then I was briefly a parish church choirboy. During a particularly boring sermon I looked down at a singing colleague in the next set of stalls and saw he was reading a book, "The luck of the Roaring Camp." The title struck me and from that day to this it has remained like a piece of gristle lodged in a mental tooth gap. Were you going to explain? No you weren't. But these days there are no mysteries. I simply Googled (did you know that googler is an acceptable French verb?) and discovered the author was Bret Harte and blah, blah.

However, there was a more significant link. The Brest-Nantes canal passes through Redon a mere step and a jump from Drefféac where we had our house. Nothing in common with the canals of my youth (esp the Leeds - Liverpool) it resembles a slightly tidied-up river, a genuine asset to the countryside. Ths shots you took could easily have been on its banks even if the umbilical cord has now been cut.

And now to DT's gaminess.

Anonymous said...

Oh how my sons would love to do that.

How interesting re the blog. I think I would feel a bit weird about that - in a nice way but I quite like my blog to be disconnected from my life. Although it is less so these days as I have met quite a few people via my blog so they know me.

Plutarch said...

"Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green .." DT, and in a way how I think of DT. Some of the music is hard to get out of your system, like a pop song that you have on your brain.

Granny J said...

As I sit here hoping against hope for rain from the gathering clouds, you reminded me of just how very different summer can be in the green world, tho nowhere did you refer to heat or the hot sun, different from the summer in North America's green world. A lovely idyll.

A Write Blog said...

I really enjoy your photos Lucy.

Photos of paths and stairways always intrigue. They invite you further in.

Think the monochrome of the tall straight pine trees is my favourite; but only just.

julie said...

Oh, how lovely! It makes me miss the cooler, greener summers of more northerly climes, spent swimming in lakes and gallivanting madly through forests, playing at Robin Hood.

Lucy said...

Thanks dears. 'Tis a pretty spot.

Isabelle said...

I love getting to see part of your life, your countryside, what you see, what you think. You have a wonderful eye.

Dick said...

A wonderful post, Lucy. We're only a few days away now from the source of the images that make Box Elder such a visual treat each time.

The Dylan Thomas works so well, woven through this perambulation around Bosmeleac. That Celtic chain?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy!
Yes, I am still reading your blog! We had such a lovely time staying in A and C's gite, and reading your blog had given me quite a feel for the place. I feel that I almost know you - in fact I kept a look out for a dark haired person with a little black dog - especially when we walked from Tredaniel to Moncontour. It wasn't till our last evening that we discovered the connection to A and C! We hope to come back one day ...
and one day I might start blogging myself!
Best wishes to you and Tom and Mol,

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

Glad you liked the DT interleaving, Dick, I thought it might be a bit overworked somehow, though I did cut out a lot of tangential rambling about him I was tempted to go off into! Celtic fringes indeed, and I look forward to seeing you here very soon.

Hello Jude! Thanks so much for stopping by, and I am glad you enjoyed your stay, they spoke very warmly of you. I feel like I'm a little bit famous now! Please let me know if you do start blogging; my relationaship with it has changed a bit over the time I've been doing it, but it's still very satisfying, especially when one gets good feedback.

Meggie said...

I do so love your posts, no matter what the subject. Your photographs are pure delight.

Avus said...

Superb, Lucy, just superb (and you caught that DT feeling exactly)