Glav, glav, glav ! / Rain, rain, rain! Or, sometimes fieldwork just happens

I woke up to a ray of sunshine on my wall this morning. Exciting, given that the weather here has been three nonstop days of rain, howling winds, and dark clouds. I’ve learned here that all storms come from the west, so if I look out my bathroom window, I can see what is heading my way. I checked, and I could see a mass of heavy gray rainclouds to the west. So much for my sunshiny Sunday morning!

How to take advantage of this brief moment of heavenly rays?! I decided to do something I’ve never done before—that most quintessential of French morning activities—head out to the local boulangerie to buy a fresh baguette before breakfast. My normal breakfast is cereal, or on a lazy weekend morning, scrambled eggs; and in truth, I’ve only been to this boulangerie maybe three times before. But a quick walk one block up and back in the sunshine and before the rains hit again was reason enough for me to try something different.

People tell me that November weather is usually sunnier than this, but we’ve had a lot of rain and wind and gray days so far this month. November is called ‘the black month’ in the Breton language (miz Du), but that’s supposed to refer to the shorter days and not to the weather. My whole four-day weekend so far had pretty much been one big rain or wind storm after another—not a bad thing for a weekend of catching up on work, but I’m one of those folks who craves sunlight. I couldn’t take a chance on missing this brief moment of sunshine. So, I brushed my wild hair, threw on some clothes (not clean, perhaps, but not too dirty either), grabbed my wallet, and headed out.

How nice to be out without a raincoat, and without the wind howling down the road! I made it to the bakery without a drop of rain, but without actually seeing any sunshine either. A fresh baguette, a mini quatre quart cake, and a loaf of whole wheat bread later, I headed back to the house. Still no rain, but the gray clouds seemed to be taking over. Then, just as I got to the path that leads down to the beach, I saw it—the sun, starting to poke through. I lingered there for a moment in the sunshine, watching a woman walking with her dogs. I was apparently not the only one trying to take advantage of the break between storms. Slowly, I crossed the street over to my house. The sun was still shining, but the gray clouds were getting closer.

An older gentleman appeared across the street. He was calling something out to me as he zipped up his jacket. I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying, but nodded politely in response—it was no doubt a comment about the weather. He surprised me by crossing the street and walking over to where I was standing. I said I had been trying to make the most of the sunshine, and gesturing toward the bakery-wrapped breads and cake in my hands.

I’ve heard of you, he said. You’re a Breton teacher, or you’re learning Breton?

Yes, I told him, I am studying Breton right now.

He told me that the local newspaper has a weekly Breton language column in it and offered to drop it off in my mailbox.

I’m a Breton speaker, he said, from the Cornouaille region.

Different from the Breton around here, I said.

He offered me his hand and I moved my baked goods to my left hand so that we could shake.

Are there many Breton speakers in this area?, I asked.

No, he said, there aren’t many here. But lots of Breton speakers in Finistère.

I told him which mailbox was mine, and we exchanged names. His was a Breton name, he said. He told me where he lived, just a few doors down the street.

The sky was a dark gray by now, and drops began to fall on us as we stood there.

I’d better head home to get a raincoat, he explained. He’d been heading to the bakery as well, but at this point he needed more than his cloth jacket.

We said our goodbyes and he began to head back across the street. Then he turned back towards me to say something.

Perhaps we could speak Breton together sometime.

That would be great, I said.

Goodbye, we said again, as the rain began to pour down.

I’m really glad that we got to meet, I tried to say in French, nervously fumbling for the words as he headed across the street.

I headed through the gate and towards my front door, smiling to myself. I had been wanting to meet older Breton speakers in the area, both to converse with and also in hopes of gathering some data. I’d only met one so far at the beach, and she lived somewhere in Lorient, so I wasn’t likely to run into her again.

Some people in Brittany will tell you that Breton speakers are embarrassed to admit that they’re Breton speakers, and that it’s hard to connect with them as an outsider. But today, happily, was a wonderful example of the opposite.

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