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.

Nevez-Amzer emañ o tont / Spring is a-comin’

Cherry blossoms along the Place de Bretagne

I was riding the bus home one day this week, and out the window I spied these cherry blossoms. What a happy sight! So when I was in town yesterday, I took a couple of photos, including this one. It seems as if it’s been winter for so long now, and I am more than ready for spring to arrive.

They weren’t the first flowers to appear–some narcissus popped up in the garden a week or so ago–but for me the cherry blossom is the true harbinger of spring. It’s also a flower that brings back happy memories of other springs in other lands. I recall enjoying the cherry blossoms near the Lincoln Memorial when–as a college student in DC–I used to take walks around the monuments with my friends.  And I have many fond memories of the cherry blossoms from the time that I lived in Japan. There were many lovely trees were in my neighborhood in Takarazuka, along the ponds that faced the hotel–and in Kyoto, of course, even more lined the temple walks. On my last visit to Japan, a few years ago, I lucked out. My week there just happened to be the week that the cherry blossom trees all burst into bloom along the island of Honshu and I felt as if I were being welcomed back after my long absence.

There are also many cherry blossom trees in Oakland’s Lakeside Park, and during the years that I lived there, I was able to hop down the hill from my apartment in Adams Point and enjoy them as I took walks around Lake Merritt. And even in my childhood, there were some cherry blossoms that I’d see occasionally in my hometown. So they’ve always been there in my life. I didn’t know if I’d see any here in town. I’m glad there are a few for me to enjoy. And soon it really will be spring.

Sunrise, sunset

Sunrise in Lomener

On my bike ride this afternoon, I noticed quite a few cars in the Intermarché parking lot in the nearby village of Lomener. It seemed odd to me because the supermarket is not open on Sundays. I took a quick look at the entrance to verify that it was closed and of course it was. So what was the explanation? It was a lovely–if slightly chilly–winter’s afternoon here on the coast and many people had driven out here from other areas to walk along the coastal path and enjoy the views. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be spending so much time here on the coast, here in a region filled with sparkly white beaches and rocky outcroppings and picturesque ruins. The coast of Plañvour (Ploemeur) is a place that draws weekend visitors for afternoon strolls. In summer, people from other parts of Brittany and other parts of France, as well, descend on the shores for weeks of sunbathing, swimming, sailing, kayaking, and other water sports.

I had begun the weekend by waking up early Saturday and heading out to the beach to watch the sunrise. I brought my camera with me on my walk, and captured some lovely images. At that time of day, standing above the beach halfway between my house and central Lomener, it seemed as if all I had to do was point my camera in the direction of the ocean and I had a wonderful photo. I made my way back to Ar Guerveur, my village, but decided I had a bit more energy, so I continued along the coastal path to the field where the Shetland pony that I met so long ago lives. I said hi to the pony and the two goats with him. Then I walked over to the horse that was standing in the field across from the others. The horse came over to me let me pet him for a while. I headed back home content, and more than ready for breakfast.

Late this afternoon (Sunday), I decided that I had to get out of the house because I had spent all day inside. I got on my bicycle and took a ride east of here, thinking I’d go a little past Lomener. Once I got past the village, I looked for a path that I’d heard of that runs from the beach to the Plañvour town center. After a few false starts, I found it, and ended up following it for a while, exploring a marshy area a little north of there. I didn’t want to head out too far, as it was likely to get cold soon, so I turned around after reaching the pathway that goes under the main road. Then I noticed a small side route, and the sign said ‘Lomener’, so I decided to take this new route. Along the way, I passed through an older village that I had ncver seen before. I detoured a little to follow an old mill road just far enough to be able to say hello to some horses in a small field.

I got back to Lomener, having enjoyed my little adventure. It’s always a pleasure to explore a new road or avenue here, because there are so many old villages and there is so much nature in this area. I decided to extend my voyage a little by taking a longish route home via the coastal path, following the sun, which was by now a big orange ball descending in the west. As I was looking out over a field facing the lighthouse, I caught my last glimpse of the sun as it sank behind a mass of clouds. I hopped back on my bicycle, made my way back to the main road, and stopped in at the bakery in Kerroc’h to pick up some fresh bread and a cookie. I pedaled home the last few yards in the chill evening air, happy to have had two lovely moments this weekend enjoying the sun, nature, and the coast.

A holiday weekend puzzle

I thought some of you might like a little puzzle to get the ol’ synapses going after the holiday. This is a photo that I took near my maisonette yesterday morning. Not that that information will help you at all to solve the puzzle….

Here’s the puzzle question:

What is wrong with the photo below?

I encourage guesses as well as confident responses, so don’t be shy. Post your answers as comments and I’ll see who is able to divine/figure out/intuit the correct answer.

The first correct response will receive a prize–a picture postcard of Brittany from yours truly. Chañs vat ! (Good luck!)

The puzzle photo

Skeudennoù goañv / Winter photos

It’s winter, and I’m happy to be on a two-week break from school, and to have my sweetheart J here visiting me.

Here are some pictures from walks we’ve been taking in the neighborhood this week. To see a photo in greater detail, click on it. Enjoy!

More fall pictures / Skeudennoù diskar-amzer muioc’h

Folks seemed to enjoy the pictures, so here are a few more. These pictures I took near the school that I attend. Enjoy!

This was taken on a walk around the lake across the street from school. The lake--in truth, part of an estuary--is called Stang ar Ter.
Another view near the lake. This is a field of buckwheat after the harvest.
Some birds who live at the Stang, including a cormorant who was drying off its wings.
Close-up of a mossy wall at the Stang.

A rundown manor that sits on the hill above the school.

Fall pictures of the neighborhood / Skeudennoù diskar-amzer tost er gêr

Now that the fall is almost over, and cold weather is upon us, it seems the ideal time to share some of my fall photos with you. Here are some photos from my village and a little beyond.

The coast a little west of here, near Kouregant.
An old stone fort, perhaps, located near Kerloeiz, with a new crop growing around it.
A bird on the roof of a stone farmhouse, from photos taken on a bike ride through Kervernoïs.
A defunct tower near my house, called la Tour du Génie. I'll have to find out the story behind it.
Some cows grazing near the Tour du Génie down the street, in Ar Gerveur.
A flower in the heath near the Point du Palud.

Beaujolais Nevez hag an deiz ispisial / Beaujolais Nouveau and a special day

I threw together a bag lunch for today–I was in a hurry–and then ran out the door this morning without it. One of a number of things that had made me a bit moody as the day began.

School is not near any stores, and the only restaurant nearby has painfully slow service, so eating there is not an option. I asked my classmates if anyone was driving into the center of town today at lunchtime, and V said yes, she was. So, we hopped into her Mercedes van and headed for the center of Plañvour. A couple of other times I’d forgotten my lunch and we had gone to the newish supermarket in the town center, but V said that this time she wanted meto try the butcher shop she’d discovered right across from the church.

They have wonderful sandwiches and other foods that are excellent, she said. And, as she explained, she prefers to buy quality foods made by local merchants.

As we got out of the car, I noticed a sign  at a local wine shop across the way. Beaujolais Nouveau! I’d forgotten, but today is the day that Beaujolais Nouveau wines are allowed to go on sale to the public. I was eager to see what the store had on offer and to take part in the modern French (and international) ritual of trying the Beaujolais Nouveau when it comes out. The custom only goes back a few decades, but it’s a entertaining mix of clever marketing and seasonal celebration. I’ve picked up Beaujolais Nouveau before in the U.S., but when in France….

The store offered a handful of Beaujolais labels, none of which I had seen before in the States. They even had a few non-Beaujolais early releases, as well. A knowledgeable man in the back of the store was offering samples of the wines. We tried a non-Beaujolais first. I didn’t like it, and couldn’t finish what was in my glass–a bit too acidic for my taste. Then we asked to try the unfiltered Beaujolais. I don’t think I’ve ever had unfiltered wine before, and I was curious. He opened a bottle and poured us each a small glass. What a wonderful taste–richer and a bit drier than a typical new wine, and a pleasantly balanced flavor. V and I decided we would each get a bottle. As we moved away from the tasting, we discovered a table laden with snacks provided for the special event. Try this, a woman said, it’s also from Beaujolais. We each tried a bit of the cheeses, breads, and other treats. They all tasted very good: whether it was in fact the food itself or the conviviality, I cannot truly say, but I truly enjoyed myself. V almost had to drag me out of there. As we paid for our wines, the proprietor to ow strict the rules are about selling dates for these new wines.

They have police out on the street, you know, he told us. One of my customers showed up last night at 7:30 and asked to buy a bottle of the  Beaujolais Nouveau. I had to explain to him that we’re not allowed to sell it before the official date. That’s why some stores stay open for midnight sales parties on Wednesday nights.

We headed out for the butcher shop and bought some food. I got a quiche Provençal and a Greek salad. At the last minute, a delicious-looking apple mini-tart caught my eye, and I bought it, too, for tonight’s dessert.

Tonight, I invited my classmate and neighbor M over for a glass of wine. I found a couple of wine glasses, and even managed to open the bottle with the kitchy Breton sailor wine-opener that I’d found in the kitchen.  Then M and I toasted the end of the week and my conference paper that had been presented in New Orleans last night in my absence. We also toasted the forty beautiful roses that my wonderful sweetheart, J, had sent me today in honor of the day that we met four years ago. The flowers were a surprise that a florist delivered to me at school right at the end of our lunch break. The combination of our lunchtime Beaujolais adventure and the beautiful anniversary flowers from J had turned a not-so-great day into a very special one.

Yeched mat! (Cheers!)

Kastell Keragan

Kastell Keragan--one of the many sights I enjoyed Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, I decided to take the coastal route to the market in central Plañwour (Ploemeur), even though the market is not on the coast. It took me two hours to get to the market, but I saw many wonderful things along the way…beaches, a megalith, ancient crosses, and the old fortress in Keragan (Fort-Bloqué).

Comings and goings / O tont hag o vont

With my father’s death, I felt the need to step back for a few weeks to give myself the time and space to deal with my grief.  If you’d like to know a little more about my father, Rex Adkins*, the SF Chronicle ran an obituary that you can see at the following url:


Meanwhile, I’ve also been preoccupied with travel plans, getting ready for a trip to the U.S. to attend my father’s memorial. And of course, I’ve also been trying to get into the rhythm of being a full-time Breton language student. It’s been a busy few weeks.

On with the blog….

I thought I’d start by sharing some of my comings and goings over those days following my dad’s death.

It started with a phone call from my brother, S, on a Tuesday morning. I was awake and writing in my journal about a dream. He began to say something and then fumbled for words midsentence. I waited for him to finish what he was trying to say, but inside I knew what the call must be about—my father must have died.

Dad’s health had been becoming worse for months. The last time I had seen him before heading to France, he’d been terribly frail. As I hugged him before leaving his house, I fought back tears and had trouble speaking. Short phone conversations with him and with his wife since then had let me know he was heading downhill fast. So, I knew that it was coming. But it is always a shock, always painful, when someone close to you dies.

I don’t remember in much detail about those first few days after my father’s death. A slight sniffle turned into a full-blown cold that Tuesday, so I stayed home from class for three days in a bit of a cold-medicine-and-grief-induced haze.

A few memories from that time:

Around ten that morning, I texted my friend N, who lives not too far away. She came over, gave me a hug, and talked with me about my dad, and asked me what I needed. She also brought me lunch so I wouldn’t have to worry about food, and later that day she also drove me to her house so that I could use her wifi and phone. Her moral and logistical support at that time made the distance and isolation much more manageable: we spent a great deal of time together that day, and the day after that, she took me shopping in her car—a treat for me, as I live a distance from the main town and having no motor vehicle of my own. At her house, via computer and phone, I was able to communicate with loved ones back home those first two evenings. In the peace and quiet of her home, I was able to find out what had happened and when a family gathering might be. I was worried that I’d miss the funeral or memorial, if it happened right away, and it took many conversations with different family members for me to determine that no family gathering would happen right away. While at N’s, I even managed to upload a brief blog post and a status update on facebook about Dad’s passing—via the responses I received, I was able to feel supported by friends in faraway places.

I also got a great deal of support from my sweetheart, J, who called me often over those first few days. I’d texted her as soon as I heard, and she called me almost immediately, even though it was the middle of the night in Oklahoma, where she was. Fortunately, she’d already been awake (or had been about to get up—I can no longer remember exactly), as she was preparing for a trip. Unfortunately, that meant that in a few hours, she was scheduled to get on a plane for Japan, to attend a conference. Still, despite the time differences (-7 to OK, +8 to Japan), she called and texted me regularly to check in on me and to offer support over those first few days.

To help myself, I went on walks daily. That first day, I took a walk down to Perello Beach, there being only a handful of people there for a change. From the beach, I headed west along trail that circumnavigates the coastline. I passed the old fort, and meandered off the main trail down a dirt path to say hello to a horse and miniature pony that live in a field there. On a previous walk with a friend, we’d walked by, but this time I walked over to the field and called to the animals. A pair of older couples was walking by now and then. I was not in the mood to interact with people. Fortunately, they were too busy talking with each other and ignored me.

I also had some visitors to my house. I’ve often found one of the neighbor’s cats in my little garden since moving here, and over those days, I remember looking out the window and seeing one or the other of the cats sitting in my garden, staring at me. That Wednesday evening, I think it was, I opened my front door to find a toad sitting on my doorstep. It was the first toad I’d seen anywhere around here. (Two days ago, I found a baby toad on the doorstep, so maybe my place is a hangout.) The toad was quite still and did not move an inch—not even when I reached behind him to close the storm windows. I remembered hearing that you’re not supposed to touch toads. Something about poison. So I didn’t try to pick him up or touch him. He was so still that I wondered if he was actually alive. I checked in the morning, and he had left, so he seemed to be fine.

The third day that I stayed home, I began to feel more ready to interact with people again, and I decided to return to school the next day, Friday. My neighbor-slash-classmate, M, and his friend who was visiting from Norway, K, suggested that we all go out to dinner that evening. They picked me up in M’s car, and we drove west up the coast. I hadn’t been along the western coast of this quasi-peninsula before. The sky was clear, and it turned out to be a gorgeous evening to follow the sun as it was lowering in the sky.

We parked the car when we got to Fort Bloqué, a medium-sized tourist enclave. Fort Bloqué is named for the old fort that sits out on a rocky landmass just off the coast. The tide was out, and we could see the causeway out to the fort. When the tide comes in, the ocean submerges the causeway. I’ll have to go back soon and see how it looks when the fort is surrounded by water. The sun was just starting to sink below the ocean as we got out of the car. We walked along the coast for a few blocks, heading towards the restaurant, and paused as the big, orange-yellow orb sank into the sea.

I thought of my father as the sun set, and felt sadness in my heart. Then I remembered another occasion in which I had watched the sun set after someone’s death, many years ago: I was with my brothers and sisters and my stepfather, B. My stepmother, P, had just died the night before. We all walked from P and B’s house up the hill to an open space where the view of the San Francisco Bay was particularly good. Staring out towards the water, we stood there in silence as the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Another sad loss, another beautiful sunset—many years and miles away.

*A note: As a rule, I’ve decided to not publish full names in my blog—just initials. Not that I’m planning to say terrible things about other people. It’s simply that, given that this is a public blog, I think it’s better to leave others’ names out of it, and I’m just using initials. Given my father’s passing, I am including his name here, but that is an exception.