Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Chaos at Huelgoat: in Segalen's footsteps, trembling rocks, Virgin's kitchens, diabolical caves and more besides.

Aime à sauter roches et marches; mais caresse les dalles où le pied pose bien à plat.
[Love to leap rocks and steps, but caress the flagstones where the foot lands squarely.]

Victor Segalen, from Conseils au Bon Voyageur  [Advice to the Good Traveller - translation by Timothy Billings and Christopher Bush], from  Stèles

There is certainly something of Segalen's exoticism, a whimsical Chinoiserie about the Chaos at Huelgoat, it confounds perspective and scale rather like a Chinese scroll painting or scene on a porcelain plate, or one of those carvings in jade or cork where a tiny, vertiginous world is contained in a small, encircled space, a conundrum of interlocking paths and spaces. (He died in these woods, it seems from loss of blood after cutting his ankle out walking, a copy of Hamlet open by his side, and is buried nearby.)

Trees are dwarfed by the rocks they grow from, and trees and rocks are wondrously sculpted. 

('That's a beautiful tree!' exclaimed a mother to her young daughter as she stepped into the majestic bower created by this ancient chestnut.

'Why?' asked the child.)

Nature seems to imitate art, and partly because of the human traffic that passes over and through, often the roots and stumps of the forest floor take on accentuated, readable forms, 

animal ones perhaps,

or shamanic,

this one put me in mind of the Venus of Lespugue, or something later and more fluid.

(I've turned them to black and white and edited a bit, to bring out the shapes).

The most remarkable forms, though, are perhaps to be found in the cave, or rather chamber between rocks, known as le Ménage de la Vierge, loosely and commonly translated as the Virgin's Kitchen.

The hollowed out shapes and holes are supposed to be her pots and pans, I think.

Another celebrated bit of geology is la Roche Tremblante,

A stand alone megalith which is known, as it's name tells us, to tremble.  But not easily.  More precisely, it rocks when rocked.

Or that's the idea.

Another couple caught up with us, and advised on the required place to make the rock rock, and the chap and Tom put their combined shoulders to it, watched by their dog.  The woman and I looked on, and assured them that  yes, the stone really did move (it did, just perceptibly, at the other end), and, menfolk confirmed in their manhood, we all went happily on our way.

We didn't bring Mol with us on this occasion.  I'd taken her for a short walk over some of the rocks the day before when we arrived, but she likes rock scrambling a little too much, gets over-excited and ambitious and a bit tired and anxious, and next day was favouring one front leg when she went out.  So we took her for plenty of shorter strolls on more even ground, which she was happy with, and she soon recovered.  This meant we were able to explore the rugged places without worrying about her, and there were some where she couldn't have gone at all, such as la Grotte du Diable.

I was somewhat tickled by this idea, not least because there's just one transposed letter's difference between Santa's Grotto and Satan's Grotto.  An interesting option in festive retailing, perhaps, but you know you should be very careful what you ask for there, there could be a hell of a price to pay...

To reach it you must descend by this steep metal ladder, and when you enter it's really very dark,   

there is a railing, but you must place your feet by feel alone.

Slowly the eyes do become accustomed to it, lit as it is by entirely natural spotlights from chinks in the rocks above.

and you are aware of water rushing somewhere quite far below.

Que voit-il au fond du trou caverneux? La nuit sous la terre, l'Empire d'ombre.
[What does he see at the bottom of the cavern? Night beneath the earth, the Empire of shadow.]

(Segalen again, from L'Abîme, [The Abyss], from Stèles.) 

I think you could walk for weeks among the woods and rocks and rivers around Huelgoat, we only really scratched the surface in the areas near the town. We'll certainly go back.


Afterword:  I'm afraid my mini-computer died recently without warning or ceremony.  It had had a short life (about  two and a half years, which apparently is about what you should reckon on for such things these days) but a very busy one.  I am in something of a quandary about replacing it which I may write more of, partly in the hopes of getting some advice from you all.  Meanwhile, though it may not much affect my productivity here, which is not exactly frequent anyway and we still have the main computer, my on-line time in general is somewhat curtailed, and it will make a difference to how much I get about to yours, so please do not take my absence amiss, not that you would if you even noticed, I'm still about and hold you in my heart as ever!


Zhoen said...

Very similar to places I saw the Appalachian Trail when I was small, old glacial areas, nooks and crannies with lots of moss. More satanic names, though. Devil's this or Satan's that.

marja-leena said...

Oh! Oh! I want to go there, a place so very beautiful, ancient and mysterious. I'd not go down that Grotto though! Gorgeous photos, Lucy.

Sorry to hear about the mini-computer death and have no suggestions to offer but good luck.

christopher said...

A lovely post. I think Mol loves you for your care and that she is safe but I bet she would have loved this walk too. She told me she promises to not go where she shouldn't. Really. :D

Roderick Robinson said...

Since I seem to be in a hymn-singing and connubialistic (the following was chosen for the RRs' wedding) frame of mind may I allow these two strands to flow harmoniously together in my response to the wimpish Victor:

Not for ever in green pastures
Do we ask our way to be
But the steep and rugged pathway
May we tread rejoicingly.

And add, as a post-scriptum, the chances are there will be smooth flagstones en route to the cemetery where it will be the concern of load-carrying others to plant their feet squarely and avoid the anti-climax of a toppling coffin and the re-emergence of someone towards whom the waiting congregation is of one mind, viz, "Surely, now, we've got rid of him." The best argument ever for setting aside a modest sum in one's will requiring the useless (ie, non-writing) bits and pieces to be allowed to form the nutritional basis of a nascent asparagus trength which will at least provide a form of pleasure that the novels never approached.

Reading on, I see I've been unfair to poor old Victor (Was it open at: Oh that this solid, etc, etc) but he was in the writing game and by the time he set up his terminal mise en scene I'm sure he was used to unfairness.

I have organised a secular requiem mass on behalf of your mini-comp (The Takacz to play the Grosse Fuge; a dozen oysters for the first three passers-by) and would advise you to look into tablets (mine's a HP), though not the thrice-cursed I-pad with its enveloping cloud of sanctimony

Lucy said...

Thanks four.

Z - yes, there's something about holes in the ground which seems to suggest things diabolical I suppose!

ML - you'd have loved it, very rock-filled!

Christopher - Sweet! Butshe did have a nice walk there the days before, but really did have a poorly paw that day and wasn't keen to walk too much.

RR - I would keep up this game to receive such comments from you, if for nothing else, and of course there is much else too. I love the idea of an asparagus bed on one's grave, with its miasmic ferns followed by the livid green fingers emerging, delicious!

I'm so glad you said that about I-pads, and I think you must be the very person I need to talk to about tablets etc Everything I read seems to assume a level of knowledge I do not possess, and the FAQs are never the ones I want to ask... I'll e-mail with a list of queries. Thanks!

Oh, and I like that hymn very much, including the verse with 'not for ever by still waters', so I don't even mind the earworm you've just given me.

Pam said...

What amazing photos. I often read while walking but I don't think I'd risk it in that countryside. I can see how your chap might have fallen over.

(I too feel enormous sympathy for Mary/Anon. She's right in what she says about my blog, of course. One shouldn't complain. But one is human. And ... well. Umm. I wish I could email her too. I feel there's more to say but on the other hand, you might well be the better one to say it. And when's all said and done, pain is pain and sorrow is sorrow and ... nothing can be done to change that aspect of her life. It's just that... having children opens up the channel to more worry - as well as joy. Life ain't perfect.)

zephyr said...

what a marvel
i, too, love your photos.
Looking at those rocks, it amazes me to think of the rushing waters that have shaped them so.

i agree on the tablet vs. ipad thought. Apple is proving itself to be more than a little bloated in the arrogance department. So over-priced for what you don't get.

Lucy said...

Hello both.

Isabelle, I giggled rather at the image you provoke of Monsieur Segalen fatally tripping over a rock with his Hamlet in hand, though I suppose I shouldn't. For some reason it didn't occur to me that he was reading while walking, hence his injury, but it really would have been rather foolish over such terrain... I would e-mail you but sadly your address is one that has been lost in the demise of the mini computer, or possibly even the one before that; I have found one I think may be yours in the salvaged info on the external hard drive but I'm not sure, and wouldn't wish to write to some complete stranger. Also, e-mailing time is also at something of a premium now I can no longer curl up of an evening with a dog on one knee and said mini computer on the other! Rest assured I am not seeking to take sides, pass judgement or make mischief, neither am I under any illusions I can fix anyone else's pain and sorrow for them, hers or yours.

Zephyr - thanks, and for the opinion on the tablet debate, I really don't want to get sucked into the i-pad thing. I continue to be overwhelmed with too much baffling information on the subject, and periodically have my head turned by the siren call of things like the Ki˄dle fiʁe HD which probably isn't what I want at all...

Now I'm off to read Carlyle's essay on Novalis on my very primitive, grubby-grey proto-e-reader, which I can accommodate on my lap with a spaniel. I just won't pay much money for content, that's my trouble, but it does mean I get to read some surprising and recherché things...

Catalyst said...

Marvelous rocks but dangerous, I think, for this 72 year old couch potato!

Rouchswalwe said...

... wonderfully soft, plush-seeming rocks in certain shots. Then others most definitely seem stony. Interesting effect. I understand why Molly gets excited. Although I would love to take a walk through this area, my friends would no doubt want to tether me somehow. The photo of the manly men and the dog rocking the rock is great! I believe it did move, without a doubt!

Dick said...

What a sequence of beautiful photos, Lucy. How striking the similarities to bits of West Cornwall. That Celtic chain apparent yet again.