I have lately been tasked with the care and feeding of J's cat while J is on holiday. Not a difficult job, but not a very interesting one, since while Scatty is a cat with much fur and excess weight, she does not possess much personality. She sometimes shows herself briefly when I arrive, once or twice has tolerated a couple of strokes, then retreats under the bed. In my absence, she eats much of the food - about a quarter of the amount I have been instructed to give her but more than enough - and uses the litter tray, thereby justifying my turning up at all, to top up the former and clean up the latter, but there is no incentive to sit around and keep her company. It has been perishingly cold and she has no interest in going out of doors, and I can't say I blame her.
So I had a walk round Hénon, where J lives, a small commune a few kilometres over the hill from where we live. There is nothing remarkable or picturesque about the place, it is rather down at heel and has not been subjected to the kind of makeover that even our own commune of Plémy has lately undergone, involving reckless planting of hornbeam trees and construction of such new-fangled things as pavements and kerbs throughout the length of the bourg - the village centre - and a consequent rise in our local taxes. It's tempting to say Hénon doesn't have much personality either, but this is perhaps unfair. Its lack of modernity offers some elements of interest in itself,
for example, in the old-fashioned French-blue house number plates. In most communes now, the street signs usually have white backgrounds and feature an up to date commune logo, and indeed many in Hénon are a rather harsh grass-green on white, but that which commemorates the young Resistance fighter Jean Sio ('died for France, wishing to save his comrades from being taken prisoner'), which is fixed to the wall of J's house, once, it's said, the café where the Resistance members met, has been retained. Whatever necessary and truthful revisions have been made to the accounts and mythologising of those times and people, and whatever the story was, Jean Sio was terribly young. In the woods and hedgerows where Molly and I have sometimes walked, are shabby marble stones and crosses marking the spots where he and others were shot.
An odd name, Sio, perhaps one of those of Spanish origin that abound in these parts, which are peppered with Caros and Hellios. Carlos and Philippos, legacy of the Wars of Religion, when, and I'm not quite sure how and why, many Spanish settled here. The section of the First World War memorial in the collage below, shows that nine young men with the family name Carlo lost their lives a generation before, among scores of others.
And there are other quaint and sometimes cheerier things to be found here: the remains of an old pump on a house wall; the nurses' office which used to be quite an imposing public baths and showers (Hénon Bains-Douches), a funny little man on a roof end (these are called épis de faitage, this one is a traditional design but probably modern), walking and biking trails, a hairdresser whose name means 'a thousand and one cuts' (ugh, why do they so often call them that?) vegetable patches tucked away round many a corner; more oddities in the way of doors and windows, ramshackle and dilapidated, neat and prettified, than you can shake a stick at; and a general store-cum-butcher's, with the curious mosaic 'boucherie' sign. This is the only one of these here, but other small inland towns also possess these, all of a similar style. Again, I don't know their history or provenance, but there was a family of Italian mosaicists whose beautiful work adorns several private and public buildings in Rennes, the regional capital, from the early 20th century, and I wonder if there was a vogue for imitation, albeit someway amateurish, out in the backwoods...
The butcher's faded van has been delivering to our hamlet all the fifteen years we've been living here, come rain or shine or snow. They are noted for their sausages,
There's also a bakery, who do a good linseed loaf, and a reasonable baguette.
More doors and windows.
There is a small Catholic primary school, and a huge late 19th century church, a kind of quarter-sized cathedral, much frequented for funerals but I'm not sure for how much else.
A visiting Dutch friend of our Dutch friend E, on visiting J when she first moved there, was somewhat horrified by the enormous crucified Jesus so close to the house. We were all a bit non-plussed, since we hadn't really noticed. I thought she must have been referring to the calvaire, the full crucifixion scene, sometimes complete with thieves, St John and a Mary or two, at the other end of the same street. Protestant (with a small 'p') English to the core as I am, I struggle with full-on Catholic iconography as much as anyone, especially that from this time and place, when the Roman church, trying to seize back the ground lost during Enlightenment and Revolution, threatened by the imminence of the final separation between church and state which took place at the beginning of the 20th century, taking advantage of the fear and vulnerability in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war and the relative conservative religiousness of Brittany in particular, hammered home their message with grim, overblown, oversized edifices of pastiche architecture and overwrought art. Yet it wasn't really till I took this photo that I noticed the crucifix that had given our Dutch visitor the heebie-jeebies.
I've never in fact been inside the church here, and don't have any great wish to, it never seems very accessible except when there's a funeral on anyway, I'm not sure where the main entrance even is. But I enjoyed finding some shapes and corners to enjoy on the outside.
Not featuring in any pictures, there is a popular bar run by a very out gay couple (one of whom also runs the hairdressers, I think), sometimes helped by their retired parents. Sometimes in the summer they set up a bar in an open garage out the back, spread some sand on the pavement, put out some deckchairs and potted palms and make it into Hénon plage; up the hill is an English-run B&B and a restaurant; and down the hill a little a monstrous bright green shed of a sports centre. There is a very plain but purpose built theatre for the local amateur dramatic group, also quite popular, where I spent possibly one of the most excruciating evenings of my life, which I have (briefly) described here before and have no wish to re-live again. It is also noteworthy as the home of the dechétèrie.
There is also a house which looks like it was converted from an old garage perhaps with this over the door, of which I can make no sense whatever.
And because it is really a very small place, on a hillside, with no main roads leading to it, everywhere there are field and open country at the end of the road. And the are plots of ground and old farm-ish buildings everywhere. In one there were some intensely illuminated cabbages, with the frost still on them in places,
and stems like giant lolling caterpillars.
And from another, a dove watched me from the winter branches of a walnut tree, and, and this was the best thing really to be seen there, a charm of perhaps a dozen or more goldfinches rose up from the leeks and groundsel and chickweed like so many tinkling enamelled bells on invisible strings.
So there we are, Hénon, a somewhat unlovely place, but not altogether an uninteresting one.