Sunday, April 19, 2009


Binic is a pretty seaside satellite of St Brieuc, about 40 minutes from us. It used to be a significant fishing port, especially in the 19th century, when the fishing boats regualrly sailed from here to Iceland and Newfoundland, to catch cod to be made into salt cod - morue.
Now it's mostly a pleasure port, the last major fishing activity, for scallops - coquille st Jacques, having relocated to nearby Saint Quay.

Yet , despite the prettiness of the place, the boat traffic is pleasantly low-key, no floating gin-palaces here, mostly just simple sailing boats,

often quite old, wooden ones.

with their jolly hotchpotch of mostly plastic little tenders,

one of which looked to have been painted by Jackson Pollack.

We smiled at the name of this rather large and utilitarian looking boat, la Fée de l'Aulne; not very fairylike, we thought. She had charm though, not least in the spick-and-span, shipshape domesticity, the clothes horse of yellow oilskins airing on the foredeck,

the motley shapes and colours of her functional details,

and, perhaps most of all, in her very thoughtful looking ship's dog.

Later research showed that la Fée is in fact a very special vessel indeed. Last of the wooden barges built in the region, some fifty years ago, and still capable of being propelled by sail, she is officially classed as a Historic Monument. She was decommisioned in the year 2000, prior to which she was still being used to carry cargo, bought by passionate enthusiasts, and restored with the help of grants. She was used to haul building materials between the western islands off Britanny, and her draft was so wondrously shallow, that she frequently carried the maerle, the limey mix of shell and sand from the coast used to sweeten the fields and market gardens of the interior, a long way up the river Aulne, which flows into the sea at Brest, and along the Nantes-Brest Canal. Hence her name, she could pass as if by sorcery where no other could!

We sometimes daydream about one day taking our final retirement here, in a tiny shipshape appartment, all passion, for gardening, house renovation and large green spaces, spent. Conceivably, by that time, four bedrooms, three acres, a view of dozens of kilometres into Ile-et-Vilaine, and twenty-plus years of hard graft might buy us two rooms and a window-box in Binic. Then we think about just what, and who, we will have lost, given up and let go to reach that point, and it's too heartbreaking to bear thinking about.

So we come here occasionally, usually to have lunch at the Nord-Sud (I love restaurant websites, and this one's got their cute puffin logo, go on, have a look!), which must really include coquillages farcies, succulent bivalves - clams, scallops, and mussels - smothered in slightly alarmingly green garlic and parsley butter and grilled very hot. This is the first time Tom has ventured to eat shellfish since his operation, indeed, since the bout of illness which preceded it, which seemed to be precipitated by a meal of moules marinières. Though he will probably not eat that particular dish again, the grilled ones were a resounding success, and had no ill effects.
Then, while he digests his lunch with a book, Molly and I and the camera take a stroll around the harbour.

Though the place is prosperous and quite chic, the sea and the salt and the weather takes their toll, in rusted surfaces,

and algal bloom and residue,

and cracked and porous masonry.

As I stood fingering the camera, and wondering about the window boxes of this shabby appartment, with their yellowing prickly pears and straggling hottentot fig, a woman passed behind me, larger, older, more imposing than myself. I held off framing the shot, feeling self-conscious, and moved on, passing her again, and quickly photographed the great rusty mooring ring in its lichenous granite bed.

When I looked behind me, she had taken out a DSLR, also larger and more imposing than my camera, and was photographing the same object. Momentarily, I felt an impulse to make contact, even to ask if she blogged or Flickred her pictures, but decided against the intrusion. She stood looking at it, occasionally lifting the camera to shoot, but mostly just looking, for several minutes. I admired her contemplative discipline, or perhaps she was wondering whether to scramble down the rock and remove the ugly piece of orange plastic tat that was adhering to the ring, or to include it in the picture, or to edge it out of the frame as I have, which, on reflection was by far the least courageous option.

The harbour wall is of pink and grey granite, and orange sandstone, an architectural sampler of the geology of the region. It is presumably 19th century, a larger, more modern and rectilinear cousin to the Cobb at Lyme Regis, which endears it to me.

I am taken with its various patterns and geometries.

and on the beach below, turnstones, caught between summer and winter plumage, do as their name suggests, busy and fairly unconcerned by our attentions.

Looking out to the wilder beach beyond, there are, as there always are on any seashore, solitary, contemplative women. I always wanted to become one of these, still do. Perhaps I have done, some of the time. The one below, on examination of the photo, however, appeared to be less contemplative than foraging, she has a bag and is picking over the mussel-strewn rocks and pools.

Foraging, contemplating. To everything a season...


Zhoen said...

Such a wonderful liminal place.

Julia said...

The algea shot is gorgeous. Did you see any fossils in the harbor wall?

We just scheduled a week in August at Val Andre by the way!

Rouchswalwe said...

Ah, I can taste the salt in the air and hear the stones tell stories through your wonderbox. The geometric shots are especially fascinating.

Catalyst said...

Oh, Lucy, what photos! You are truly an artiste!

Crafty Green Poet said...

beautiful series of photos, so many well observed details

The Joined up Cook said...

Wonderful stonework.

Looks as though it has been designed to be painted - or photographed.

Michelle said...

Lucy, through your photographs you help me to see things I would never notice walking through the world. You are so talented.

I want to live in the grey house in the first picture.

Did Molly have a ball?

Granny J said...

Awesome stairs and granites.

christopher said...

Yaquina Bay Gale

Watching the walls breathe
with the big gusts that blew past
the side door entries
creating bass notes
that just shook everything.

When the curtains fell
away from the wall
you thought it was wind getting
through. I said it was
the wind bending walls.

You went to bed then, escaped
the gale force, dreaming.

Rosie said...

I love is lively all year round!

Fantastic Forrest said...

Great shots and commentary. Thanks for this interlude, Lucy.

Roderick Robinson said...

Wanted to say much more but I'm dragged away by domestic chores. One thing at least: Brittany proves that grey, in all its variations, is as lively a colour as any other. Some of the greys dance.

Pam said...

I can smell the sea in your pictures. Beautiful.

Three acres? You have three acres?

Wow. Mind you, I think three acres would kill me since I'd try to fill it up with flowerbeds. But still. I wouldn't mind trying.

By the way, I love lily-of-the-valley but I wish I hadn't planted it in my little garden. It comes up everywhere and I spend the spring yanking it out. Now, in three acres it would be fine, at least in my lifetime.

vicki johnson said...

i've said this before
but now i have to say it again
this is
my most favorite collection of your photos
just wonderful.
i especially love the ones of the stones.

gestalt. whoever needs a definition, here it is, illustrated

Unknown said...

Beachcombing is one of the most sublime of activities. The lady in red foraging evokes the process, the joy of hunting and gathering combined. It reminds me of a word I came across in Australia - to fossick - which is used by people who search for the opals lying around in some mountains on the New South Wales, Queensland border.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful name Binic is. I love that. It sounds French, but scientific too. Not like a real place at all. And yet, it clearly is very real.

As someone else said, it is good to look at your photos as I would have walked straight past all these things without noticing them at all if I had been there.

Lucy said...

Thank you!

Z - yes, I like liminal!

Julia - Huzzah! Look forward to seeing you. No, no fossils, not like at Lyme, it's not a fossilly coast here really...

R, Cat and CGP - thank you for kind words.

Write - yes, the colours and shapes are very painterly.

Michelle - Hmm, that house would be nice, but rather beyond our means, I think! Molly had a nice time, though we didn't go down to the beach proper, she found many interesting sniffs and smells!

GJ - yes, I like the rounded edges of the steps...

Christopher - thank you, what a wonderful sea-girt poem!

Rosie - it is, isn't it? Even on witer days the tables go out if it's sunny...

FF - thank you!

BB - yes, the pinkish and peachy tones add some lovely soft colours. That band of orangey sandstone makes for some dramatic rockscapes out at the Ile de Brehat.

Isabelle - well, we don't actually garden all 3 acres! The wet bit at the bottom we planted with goat willow and other trees, supposedly for firewood but we never touch it, and the farmer and the Dutch bulbman rent quite a bit more. Tom did have some notion of filling it all with flower beds I think but has had to accept reality to some extent... Old houses regularly come with large and awkward lumps of ground that no one quite knows what to do with here.

Zephyr - thanks, you are nice! I'm pleased to think I might have achieved gestalt...

Joe - Yes, I remember fossick! I didn't really see what the woman in red was doing, the zoom picked it up, she seemed to be wandering aimlessly.

RB - It is a good name isn't it? I suppose the 'ic' suffix is Breton - or Gallo... the camera makes one look at things.