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.

“Pep tra a zo mat a zo mat da gaout”

So, one of the things to know about Breton is that it–like all of the languages of France other than Standard French–has historically been suppressed, ignored, and villified by the French government. Which is why I love this clip. Because in it, two members of the Assemblée Nationale speak in the Breton language. During an active Assemblée session. It would be the equivalent of a member of congress speaking a Native American language during a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Has that ever happened? Perhaps one of you can enlighten us in the comments section on that.)

For those who don’t speak Breton, in the course of his comment on an environmental topic, Assemblée member Paul Molac (0:22) quotes a traditional saying, “Pep tra a zo mat a zo mat da gaout”, which translates “Everything that is good is good to take.” Then, Marc Le Fur–who appears to be chairing the session–comments (0:53), “Marteze tout an dud n’o deus ket komprenet” (“perhaps everyone didn’t understand”).* He then translates into French himself and gives a little laugh.

Both of the men are Breton, not surprisingly. And Molac, according to Wikipedia, speaks both Breton and Gallo–the two traditional languages of Brittany, now both endangered.

This occurred in 2013, and I believe that it was the first time Breton had been spoken by its members in the Assemblée. Perhaps it was even the first time any minority language had been spoken in the Assemblée. The brief exchange did not go unnoticed by the French press–google the saying, and you’ll come up with a dozen or so French and Breton outlets reporting on this event. This was a wonderfully subversive act of speaking Breton in the Assemblée, smack dab in the halls of government where it had so often been reviled.

* I’m using Rafael Urien’s transcription of the text here, and I’ve seen the same transcription in news articles, so I don’t know who originated it. When I listen to the text, I don’t hear the past tense postposition -et at the end of Le Fur’s utterance, but it would theoretically be there, certainly.

Five years ago today / Pemp bleiz zo

Madeleine and classmates - Malarde

Five years ago today, I completed my six-month Breton language immersion program at Stumdi, in Plañvour, Brittany. Although I’d had some Breton under my belt when the program began, I felt I had very limited skill in the language–especially when I tried to speak it or understand it in conversation. My desire to be able to really speak the language had been one of the major motivators for me to pack up and move to Brittany to participate in the immersion program. And so, at the end of the six months, it was quite satisfying to know that–not only did I have a solid basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary–I could now hold my own in a conversation in Breton!

Skill in the Breton language was not the only thing that I gained. After six months of studying together, five days a week, 8 hours a day, with my 9 classmates, and the 10 students in our sister class next door, and the teachers who guided us through the process, I felt that I had gained a new community of friends. When I had shown up for the first day of classes, I’m pretty sure my classmates did not know what to make of me: why would an American adult pull up roots and move to a small town in Brittany, France, just to learn their local language? By the end of our six months together, they seemed to have decided I was okay, and I found myself spending my free time with a number of them. And since moving back, I’ve kept in touch with many of them to one degree or another– via mail, phone, and facebook. I’ve gone back for visits and seen some of them, which has been great, but I never have enough time on my trips to see everyone I’d like to. But to paraphrase Bogart in Casablanca, we’ll always have Plañvour.

After those six months of sweat and struggle–and laughs–we did create a bond of experience, and I feel very lucky to have gotten to know my classmates and my teachers. (The picture above is of me and a few of my classmates, dressed up for Malarde, known in the U.S. as Mardi Gras. I’m not sure who took the photo for me on my camera. The photo below is of me and some classmates and teachers, taken by Michel Thierry at the end of our graduation day hike along the Intel/Etel river.) I’m glad that at least some of us have been to be able to keep in touch. And even visit occasionally, even if it never seems to be often enough or long enough. It was an incredible time for me, and I’ll always have fond memories. Thank you, and happy anniversary, to my classmates and teachers! Bloavezh mat deoc’h, an holl stummerien hag an holl stummadurien!

Stumdi graduation day hike