Saturday, May 28, 2011

Road of the Solar Wind, 8: White knuckles at the Phare d'Eckmühl

Eckmühl lighthouse(at the bottommost point of the Bay of Audierne): 65 metres (213 feet), 307 steps to the top.  Which isn't much compared to the Burj Khalifa, or even the Eiffel Tower, but makes it (apparently) the second tallest lighthouse in Brittany, the 5th tallest in France and the joint 14th tallest in the world, and it certainly feels a long way up, both when you're climbing it and when you get to the top and look down. There is a notice exhorting people not to carry their small children on their shoulders, the thought of which makes my insides squirm with horror.

It must certainly have one of the most photographed spiral staircases in Brittany.  Which didn't stop me from adding to the stock.  The joy of acrophobia - lean into your pathology, only not too far...

That's our car down there.


Time to call time on the Finistère photos, at least until the next Nablopomo general turning out and using up of the old stuff, I guess, as I still have some left, but freshness and seasonality still seem to be important, and one can always salt away for the winter. 

Now to sorting, doing the sums and writing the thank you e-mails after the English trip.  This blog seems rather to give the impression that my life is just one long jaunt, which isn't quite the case, but I don't do so badly. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Road of the Solar Wind, 7: waves, with or without humans

The view of the Bay of Audierne from la Pointe de la Torche seems to me unbeatable, as magnificent a sea-and-landscape as anything I can remember seeing in Australia or New Zealand, though as Tom said, it's Atlantic blue, not Pacific, a colder, greyer, shade.  Even so. I started again, pointing the camera and blindly clicking in an attempt to record somethi8ng of its ever-changing majesty.

The trouble with all this grandeur and sweep of sand and surf is that it attracts sporty types, specifically surfers.  I'm afraid I'm about to indulge in a bit of indolent, introvert, grumpy old woman(nothing to do with age, I think I was born one), misanthropy here, so if you don't like that kind of thing look away now.

I'm sure surfing is an exhilarating, graceful, exciting and otherwise justifiable activity, when one is actually doing it.  A lot of people seem to come here to watch it and to take photos, and I can see that, properly done, it's a joy to behold and presumably even more of a joy to experience directly.  I even succumbed to trying to capture something of it with the camera myself.

However, most surfers seem to spend much of their time floundering about in the water and falling off their boards.  They spoil a perfectly good seascape, looking like squashed bugs on the camera lens.

And even more of them don't seem actually to surf at all, but simply to be into the surfing scene, and into being seen to be into the scene, and into hanging out and spending a lot of money on surf gear and clothing, most of which seems to bear scant relationship to the sport at all.  Can anyone explain to me about Fatface?  No, on second thoughts, don't bother, I am beyond any willingness to understand.

When we arrived at the headland, it was, unfortunately, at the beginning of some kind of surfers' conference or fair or similar get-together.  Large quantities of fluorescent plastic, fibreglass and lycra (or whatever substance they encase their bodies in) were in evidence,  racks of the aforesaid surf togs, barbecues and large speakers being set up, and hoards of rather less than couth specimens of manhood (mostly) set to consume these delights.

Setting off on our walk, I read a notice board which requested that visitors desist from naturism as taking one's clothes off might lead to the kind of behaviour which would be disrespectful the ecological tranquillity of the site.

In fact, believe it or not, I was inclined at first to plead the case for the surfers and their cohorts, live and let live, just because it isn't what we want to do, maybe if we were young and sporty and gregarious... That was until a large young Belgian shepherd-type dog, sans lead or any other means of control, evidently yet another snazzy must-have testosterone-boosting accessory to a group of Bermuda-wearing six-pack-flashing proto-hominids, darted growling and snarling up to Molly, who was bumbling along on her long lead in her usual helpless and hapless myopic and hard-of-hearing fashion.  We got between them and yelled at the dog and its owners, who slouched off grunting, nothing which sounded remotely like an apology or even an attempt to check the dog.

Bloody surfers, was the more polite version of my verdict on them at this point.

Anyway, I think you'll agree, it's a gorgeous bit of coast.  The shot below is a cropped detail with a glow filter and a strategic bit of retouching brush to get rid of any surfers or other extraneous matter in the scene.


(Nearly at the end of The Road now...)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Road of the Solar Wind, 6: Land art

Land art is something I generally like the idea of, but don't seem to have found the time to learn more about, though there was an exhibition about it at la Roche Jagu a few years ago, which piqued my curiosity.

When it comes to those pebble towers by the seashore, which have become as ubiquitous if not more so in greeting card imagery as that Zen gravel raked into circles and swirls, or baskets full of spices or coloured pigments on Indian markets (in fact I've still got rather a fondness for the latter...), I was quite charmed by them initially but by the end of the first decade of this century I could say I wouldn't have minded if I never saw another photograph of them.

However, a couple of things lately have made me review my jaded attitude.  Our friend Isobel recently went on a land art course down by the sea in Morbihan, and is quite in love with the whole subject.  She described the process of building them with such enthusiasm, about how you had to embrace the stones, and feel the centre of balance in them with your whole body (she is a dancer too), building up the stack slowly and with concentration, and how they then sat and waited for the sea to come and dismantle their work, and how surprisingly resistant to it the most apparently precarious of the structures were.  It sounded very beguiling, and had something of the same charm as the theatre of objects which she has also introduced me to: an ephemeral art form made from things which are already there, perishable things in the process of disappearing, or things which have always been there and will continue to be, but not necessarily in the fugitive form in which we have arranged them.

The other experience which has helped me learn to love pebble towers was something we saw at la Pointe de la Torche, at the southern end of the Route du Vent Solaire.  This is a magnificent spot with the disadvantage of being invaded by a very commercialised surfing scene on its wilder, north-facing side of which more perhaps later.  However, on its gentler southern aspect, we came across an entire city - or was it a forest? - of pebble edifices.

of all shapes and sizes.

There was something so balanced and still and patient about them, especially in contrast to the frenetic, gregarious intrusiveness of the surfers.  They made one smile and sigh.  Another lovely thing about them was they were in a continual process of making, people, mostly children, were free to move among them and add to them, and the thoughtfulness and focus they required was evident in their movements.

So, I am quite converted to pebble towers!

A smaller but also pleasing example was at the top of the bay, near to Audierne, these characters,

who also brought a smile.

I must find out more about land art...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Road of the Solar Wind, 5: Poppies and wishing stones

St Vio's chapel was locked.  There are so many on this route, that this one doesn't even merit a mark on the Michelin map in bold blue,  But it has one of those astonishing heavy granite stairways on the roof up to the bell tower, which I can never quite credit the roof structure as really being strong enough to support.

However, just as good things were to be found beyond the chapel itself,

like this quaint round menhir, which looked as if it had been split and cemented back together again, in a field to one side ( the chapel roof is visible just to the left in the picture).  Closer examination revealed it to be oddly pitted, like the surface of the moon,

and that people had placed shiny coins, sometimes of quite high denominations, in the craters.  A kind of wishing stone, perhaps.  ( I'm rather hoping that the enigmatic and knowing Setu, my authority on the ground for all things Breton in general and Finisterian in particular, may stop by and tell me more about this, but he moves in mysterious ways, and hasn't been about for a bit...)

Best of all though was a field of clover and poppies, grasses and other flowers,

on the other side of the road, and stretching far and wide, with the sea in the distance.

(I'm trying to get all the photos in this series out before I go to England for a quick trip next week, as after that I think they really will be beyond their sell-by date, so please indulge me in over-frequent posting!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Taking the Road of the Solar Wind, 4; the ruins of Languidou

What is it with a ruin? Perhaps it shows the beauty of the elements of the building in a way that the finished, knit-together structure cannot.  Spaces only partially enclosed require an act of vision to define them which engages the viewer more deeply.  Or perhaps it is the paradox: pillars to support a roof which isn't there, a rose window to pass the light through stained glass but which is open to the changing colours of the sky, arches which stop in air before the arc is achieved or barely even begun.

Or perhaps its the melancholy of them. (Melancholy, I think,  is a sort of default vagueness, a get-out clause, a smothering lack of focus says Edmund de Waal, in The Hare with Amber Eyes, everyone's book of the year, if not the decade, I know, and worthwhile for this line alone, and for the fact that he sticks to that position...)

The funny thing is, one deplores the forces that ruined the chapel of Languidou  - it was broken up for materials just after the Revolution, which is odd, since many other religious buildings in this region escaped this - but if it weren't a ruin it would be less remarkable, one of dozens of quaint old chapels which dot this part of the world.  And the ruin is a piece of artifice, reconstructed, perhaps inaccurately, in the early part of the last century, so far and no further, to create just the romantic impression I've fallen for.

However, though the French wiki link above goes into exhaustive detail about the architectural history of the place, and deciphering inscriptions which might give further clues to this - it has obviously been the subject of much study as well as many photos - I can't seem to find any reference to the beguiling little face under the capital, or indeed the geometric mandala type figure on another capital, or the worn cross in a circle on a threshold stone underfoot,.though they appear in other photos.  So they remain mysterious, to me anyway.  I'm rather glad about that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking the Road of the Solar Wind, 3: the chapel at Penhors

Numerous chapels in various states dot the route, too many to take in at one time.  The one at Penhors has an imposing gateway onto its enclosure, and is looks out onto more wide expanses of sea and open, flat land, a few modern domestic buildings that do little to distract the eye, either to please or displease.

Outside it is well maintained and, aside from the archway, quite typical, I think. Inside there were things to please..

An elderly couple sat near the altar (you can just see the man's white head to the left of the photo). They seemed relaxed, chatting quietly rather than praying, but they had a bubble of calm privacy around them which  contributed to the benign, sunny quiet of the place, but which made us aware of not wanting to crowd them.

There was plenty of wood polychrome.  You get used to this hereabouts, at least if, like me, you spend a bit of time hanging around in old chapels. I've grown to like it; some of it is interesting, some grotesque, some quaint and amusing, some touching.  It seldom feels over-restored, the colours are often powdery, muted, the kind of thing people were in a frenzy to recreate on their walls and furniture a few years with the help of Country Living magazine-type books and articles on decorative paint effects.

In this place though, I felt there was something quite special about the faces, which can sometimes be monstrous or bizarre, or else mannered and saccherine.  These however, seemed gentle, with some depth in their sweetness.  Also in their gestures, clumsily rendered, but kind of intense.

There were also a number of rather unusual fruit motifs, which are something I've always liked in any decorative art, feeling they give a richness to it beyond that of flowers and foliage.

We also spotted another couple in residence, who didn't seem to mind ducking in and out over our heads to gain access to their home (not great photos, they were high in the beams and the light was low).

A place of charm and sweet airs, we found it overall.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sculpted rocks and seed mussels

as I mentioned there were.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taking the Road of the Solar Wind 2 - bugs and flowers

On the cliffs there were flowers.  There was thrift.

I like thrift.  The flower, that is.  I generally approve and practise the virtue too, I think.  But then I remember the bit in The Enchanted April:

 Mrs. Wilkins's clothes were what her husband, urging her to save, called modest and becoming, and her acquaintance to each other, when they spoke of her at all, which was seldom for she was very negligible, called a perfect sight.
Mr. Wilkins, a solicitor, encouraged thrift, except that branch of it which got into his food. He did not call that thrift, he called it bad housekeeping. But for the thrift which, like moth, penetrated into Mrs. Wilkins's clothes and spoilt them, he had much praise.

which makes me look a little askance at thrift.

 Not at the flower, however. I assume the flower was named after the virtue, not the other way around.

There was mallow,

the one above was hanging over the cliff edge, so it is in part the reflected light of the sea which passes through the petals,

and this picture I kept trying to throw out because the flower was out of focus and the leaves in, but something stayed my hand.  Who says it's the flower that matters?

The blue-mauve flower with the glaucous fuzzy leaves below was everywhere, including, I think, in some cultivated versions.

I don't know what it is, and haven't got around to finding out, or indeed what that lovable little fluffy grass is called either.  Identification of grasses and sedges is an an anorakism just waiting for me to acquire it, no doubt.

However, I did check out the blue butterflies, which seemed to be as tiny, holographic chips of the overwhelming blue of sea and sky.

They seemed extraordinarily blue, and consulting the book, which is illustrated only with paintings (very lovely ones, but never really so accurate), I badly wanted them to be Adonis Bllues, for the mythological hyperbole of the name, and their claim to be the bluest of all the blue butterflies in Europe.  But taxonomic discipline compelled me to go to the internet, where the ever-excellent Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies affirmed that they were mere Common Blues.  However I was consoled to see that as such, their Latin name is polyommatus icarus, while Adonis only gets to be a p.bellargus, which has less myth and magic.

There were Hottentot fig flowers,

this one had a visitor.  And there was a swallowtail butterfly.

But I couldn't capture it.  They are the most archetypal bright elusive butterflies, eye-catching and recognisable from a long way off by their shape and size and dipping, whimsical flight pattern, but tricksy and unpredictable, waiting until just before the camera finds its focus to take off sharpish.  Fortunately, this one chose to pose on a valerian flower further down the road.  In fact one of its swallowtails is broken, odd really, to have such a fragile, vulnerable, apparently useless appendage at all, but that's what makes them swallowtails, so it's just as well they do*.  One of the blue butterflies has a broken segment too, I notice.  Butterflies are very much like animate flowers. They blossom just for long enough to seed themselves then fade and crumble and fall away, sometimes quickly, sometimes they are quite enduring, but individuals seem to have no powers of self-renewal or repair.  Then, though, they might reappear later on in a second, remontant burst of flowering.  It's just an impression, though, a whimsical comparison, I'm no naturalist.

Some years we get quite a lot of swallowtails hereabouts, others hardly any.  This year they seem quite common, I even saw one in the supermarket car park the other day.  It was Ecomarché, too, not even Carrefour. 

More tomorrow, if we're spared (as my granny used to say), from data corruption and other anomalies in the space-time continuum ...

* Yes yes, I'm sure it's probably got some evolutionary function to do with attracting other swallowtails.