A Breton president? / Ur brezidantez breton?

The current presidential election–a topic that you didn’t expect on this blog. It’s extremely important, of course. But don’t worry–I’m not here to talk US politics. Instead I’m going to share with you the one thing I’m pretty sure that you don’t know about one of the major candidates….

Hillary Clinton is Breton! That means in two days, the US may be electing a Breton president. I have to say, I think that’s pretty cool. And I think it’s safe to say that I’ve managed to scoop the New York Times and the Washington Post on this one.

It turns out that Hillary is French Canadian on her mother’s side, and her ancestors came from 16 different départements–which are similar to states–in France, including two Breton départements, Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine. (She also has an ancestor from Loire-Atlantique, which includes an important corner of traditional Brittany, so she may be even more Breton.) Morbihan is where I was living when I began this blog, so maybe she’s related to the people I met when I lived in Plañvour. And no doubt, those ancestors spoke in the Gwened (aka Vannetais) dialect.

Also of note: Hillary is a descendant of King Louis X of France, a medieval king who–among other things–freed the serfs and allowed the Jews to return to France. These two facts are quite impressive. The details on his Wikipedia page point up some self-serving motives and harsh details–but still, a step in the right direction. And who else is descended from King Louis X? The current president of France, François Hollande. So they’re distant cousins.

Closer cousins of Hillary via that French Canadian heritage apparently include Madonna, Céline Dion, and Angelina Jolie. Just imagine that family reunion….

I found all this out via the France 3 (Bretagne) website article (it’s in French, of course) about Hillary. It takes this information from a new book on French and international leaders’ family histories. It’s called Dico des Politiques, is written by the geneologist Jean-Louis Beaucarnot, and was just published on November 2nd.

Degemer mat, bienvenue, refugees welcome

With the clearing out of the Calais migrant camp, the situation of refugees in France is very much in the news this week. Brittany, of course, is one of the places that refugees are being resettled. I came across–via a friend on Facebook–this wonderful trilingual welcome sign.  I downloaded it from the site Les gens heureux que Trégastel et Trébeurden accueillent des réfugiés–the people happy that Trégastel and Trébeurden are welcoming refugees. The site credits the designer as being Claire Robert.

Part of what I like about this sign is its message of welcome. Of course, another part of what I like is the inclusion of “Degemer Mat”, a phrase of welcome in the Breton language. (I’m assuming that the English is included for the sake of the refugees.)

The other thing that makes this special is the inclusion of the traditionally-dressed woman reaching her hand out to a bearded man with a bag, symbolizing a refugee. While Bretons haven’t worn traditional outfits as daily wear for a while, you can often see people dressed in such outfits during parades and folk dancing competitions. And faïence and dish towels sold in gift shops often have images of men and women in traditional attire. So, it’s very symbolic of Brittany and its connection to its traditional culture. It’s also a thoughtful way of connecting Breton culture and the modern (global) world. People sometimes set up a false dichotomy between tradition and modernity, tribalism and globalism. But as this symbol shows, many people understand that the two do not have to be in opposition.

P.S. Apparently, because of the shape, and because of where I placed the image above, it’s hard to see the whole image at the top of the page. So I’m adding another copy of the image here, the better for you to see it:

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-11-10-01-pm

Gortoz a ran / I wait

One of the reasons that I write this blog is because most people in the U.S. have never heard of the Breton language or Brittany, and I want to spread the word. So any time that Brittany or the Breton language is in the mainstream English-language media—something that only seems to happen very rarely—I’m thrilled. This is one of those times.

Millions of Americans heard part of a Breton song on TV the other day. Did you know that? I didn’t either. Pretty cool. It would have been even cooler, perhaps, if they’d been aware of it, but I suspect they weren’t. The song in question was on an episode of South Park, on Comedy Central. “I Can’t Fix You” is the name of the episode, and this clip has the bit of the song that they used. The song starts a minute in.

It’s quite a haunting tune. The name of the song is “Gortoz a Ran” (I Wait), and the recording is by Denez Prigent and Lisa Gerrard. Denez Prigent is one of the best-known singers of traditional Breton music, and this song is on his 2000 album Irvi. (Available in all the usual places.) It’s actually not the first time Americans have been exposed to this song–it was featured in the movie Black Hawk Down. I haven’t seen the film, but I had read about that at some point. Here’s the official video of the song on YouTube, with film scenes interspersed with video of the singers:

 

And because I don’t really watch animated TV programs, this South Park episode is not something that I would have come across by chance. Thanks to the internet, I read about it in this article in Le Ploermelais, a small (French-language) newspaper in Brittany. Did any of you happen to see the episode? Have you heard this song before? Let me know in the comments below.

Language activists take on the SNCF

kemperle stickers

Yesterday, the political action collective Ai’ta festooned the Kemperle (Quimperlé) train station with stickers protesting the inferior treatment of the Breton language in the signage around the station. (The image above of one of these stickers comes from Ai’ta’s own article about this action, in Breton and in French, including photos and a video.)
This act of protest was carried out in Ai’ta’s signature style—a very targeted serving of guerilla politics and language activism, performed in colorful and entertaining attire.
A little background on why Ai’ta chose to take this action in Kemperle:
The SNCF is the national train system of France, and while signage is primarily in French, there is typically some signage in other languages (such as English) in smaller print to help tourists visiting France.
In Brittany, where Breton has historically been spoken, the language’s presence (or lack thereof) in signage is a big issue. It’s essentially a local decision, city by city, and this is a big topic in and of itself, which I’ll have to save for another post. But because the train stations are part of a national train system, getting Breton signage included has been a struggle.
There has been signage in Breton, but it was partial and in a smaller font size, and thus treated in the same way that English and other foreign languages are treated. This is of course an insult to Breton, since it is the traditional language in a place such as Kemperle.
Great progress was made last fall, politically, when the regional government of Brittany reached an agreement with the national government of France to move toward an equal footing for French and Breton on infrastructure signage in the region. This was a very big deal.
You’d think that train signage would be a part of that move toward true bilingualism, right? Apparently not. A new high-speed train line, known as the Bretagne Grande Vitesse (Brittany High Speed—like France’s nationwide TGV, Train à Grande Vitesse) is being developed for the Brittany region. In anticipation of this new line, which will speed up transport between the major cities of Brittany, the SNCF is creating new signage for stations along the route, starting with Kemperle. The new signage in Kemperle, despite this agreement to move toward true parity for Breton and French in infrastructure signage, is just like the old signage—with French dominating in size and content, and Breton in smaller letters and only including some of the content. This is why Ai’ta chose to protest the signage now, in Kemperle. Maybe if the protest gets enough attention and media coverage, the SNCF will rethink their signage strategy and fulfill the government’s goal of moving towards bilingual parity in signage around Brittany.

Ar Redadeg

This week, a nine-day race known as Ar Redadeg is being run across Brittany. In truth, it’s not so much a race as a physical and geographic celebration and fundraiser for Breton language: as the runners make their way around different parts of Brittany, they hand off their batons in relay, symbolizing the passing on of the Breton language from one generation to the next. This is only the fifth time Ar Redadeg has been run.* It’s modeled after the Basque language community’s Korrika race, which is a fundraiser for Basque language programs.

This video makes me tear up. It was created to get the word out about this year’s Ar Redadeg. I love how it gives a sense of the emotional importance of the Breton language for the community, as well as the diversity of its members. It’s a lively 2 1/2 minutes–a heartfelt statement about the event, incorporating everyday folk and local celebrities, including one of the actors from Suite Armoricaine. I also love its multilingualism: it’s a mix of French and Breton, with a little French Sign Language thrown in for good measure.

As I post this midday in California, it’s night time in Brittany, and the race has passed Kemper and Rosporden and is winding its way east for the home stretch. Here’s a map of this year’s route, from the Ar Redadeg site:

hentad_redadeg_2016.jpg

Ar Redadeg covers 1700 kilometers—a bit over 1000 miles. That’s 200 kilometers longer than the last two races, so enthusiasm for the race must be growing. Ar Redadeg ends tomorrow in Lokoal-Mendon, a little town in the Morbihan region, and there will be music and other celebrations to mark the end of this year’s run. Here’s a poster for the weekend of events.

RedadegEventLokoal-Mendon.pngEver since I heard about Ar Redadeg, I’ve wished I could participate. I just haven’t managed to be in Brittany when it’s taking place. So, I’d like to make it a goal for 2018 to run (or walk) in the next race!

Individuals, organizations, companies—and even cities—contribute money by buying kilometers of the race: it’s 100 euros per kilometer for individuals, and 200 euros per organization. And since the race is about community as well as fundraising, donating is not required for you to be able to run in the race or participate in other ways—everyone is welcome.

Fifty percent of the proceeds go to supporting the Diwan Breton immersion schools that have been established all over Brittany in the past few decades. The story of the Diwan schools is an amazing one—but that’s for another blog post. It’s enough to know for now that these schools get by on shoestring budgets and thanks to the sweat-equity of the parents and language activists. So funding received from Ar Redadeg is crucial for Diwan.

The other fifty percent of the funds raised goes to support innovative Breton language projects. This year’s projects include a film tetralogy in Breton called E Toul Ar Bleiz (In the Wolf’s Den), and an AirBnB-type of lodgings rental organization called Bod Ha Boued (Food and Shelter), for people who want to stay with Breton-speaking hosts. Sign me up for that app!

In addition to the money, the race gives the people of Brittany a festive week of activities and celebrations. Brittany is a relatively small place, both geographically and socially, so wherever you join or watch the race, you’re likely to run into people you know. Especially if you’re active in the Breton language revitalization community.

In the lead up to the race, the organizers always create ways to get the broader community excited and involved—songs, photos, and videos. Two years ago, the organizers had people send in photos of themselves holding Ar Redadeg signs that they could download from the site, in the language of their choice. Here’s me, holding my sign up, as I stand in front of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The sign says, “I speak Breton, and you?”

MadeleineArRedadegSign2014

* This is a corrected version of the blog post: my earlier version incorrectly stated that this was the 4th time the race had been run, and also misstated the cost to buy a kilometer of the race. Apologies for the errors, and thank you to the person who pointed them out to me. I always strive to get the information correct!

Suite Armoricaine

I was whisked away to Brittany yesterday by Suite Armoricaine, a film showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Set in Rennes, and in western Brittany, the film tells the tale of Françoise, a professor of art history, returning to her alma mater and her native land of Brittany after spending 20 years in Paris. There’s also a second, parallel story about Ion, a geography student of mysterious origins, and the connection between the two characters becomes clear over the course of the film.

Here’s the trailer:

Of course, I couldn’t resist checking out a film set in, and about, Brittany. (For a little context on the title, the term “Armoricaine” is from a Celtic, pre-Breton term –Armorica–for the region of Brittany/Bretagne/Breizh.) And then watching the film, what was so exciting and moving for me was that I got to hear and see (in some of the titles) the Breton language! I didn’t expect that, although of course I hoped I would. Like the landscape of Brittany, the language was a character in the film,  playing a minor role, but ultimately–via two ethnology students–part of the alchemy that reintegrates Françoise with her family history.

I wonder if the Breton language has ever appeared before in a mainstream film. (Does anyone out there know?) I perused a few reviews, and it seems that the French film critics accept this linguistic and cultural journey as a meaningful one, in spite of France’s historical tendency to minimize difference among its peoples.

The filmmaker herself, Pascale Breton, spoke at the screening I attended at BAMPFA, which was a wonderful bonus. I thanked her for including the Breton language in the film during the Q and A. She also mentioned that she has two new film projects in the works, and one of them is specifically focusing on the Breton language. That’s both remarkable and exciting. I can’t wait to find out more about that.

Meanwhile, if you’re in San Francisco, you still have a chance to see Suite Armoricaine–the festival is showing it one more time, this evening, at the Alamo.

Watch out for the Butter! / Diwall–an amann!

I realize that I haven’t posted enough (or perhaps at all, really) about food in Brittany–certainly, an important topic. A rather odd event this week forced me to sit down and introduce this topic finally, although not in the way I’d planned. Rather than discuss a delicious Breton food, I’m going to tell you about something that’s where it shouldn’t be: the butter in the river.

It sounds like an old folk song, or perhaps the name of an indie ska band; however, it’s an industrial accident that occurred Tuesday. Yes, butter fell into a river. A bunch of it. Hundreds of pounds, actually.

While it’s very unfortunate, and I’m imagining that it has caused a lot of people (and perhaps a lot of fish) problems, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the news because–if there was going to be a butter spill somewhere, it makes sense that it would be in Brittany: butter is essential to Breton cuisine. Bretons use lots of very yummy butter in their cooking–and especially in their baking. More on this topic another day!

Here’s what happened: a dairy processing plant accidentally spilled the butter into the Odet river, just outside of the city of Kemper (Quimper). If you follow the link to this article, you can watch a video showing chunks of butter cruising down the Odet through the center of the town. I’ve often strolled along the banks of the Odet and crisscrossed the river right about where the footage was shot. It’s a very scenic area–the little bridges are lined with colorful flowers in the warmer months, and Kemper itself is a charming city.