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.

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.

Breton then and now

The words are so optimistic: the speakers live in a compact area and the language activism strong. You could almost mistake it for a modern essay on the state of the Breton language. Except for the slightly archaic tone. And that half of the speakers are monolingual. And the statement that there are over a million Breton speakers.

Reading this is at once inspiring and heart breaking. This text comes from Celtia journal, and was published in 1901. In just over a century, the Breton language has essentially lost 83% of its speakers–there are now around 200,000.

Language revitalization isn’t for the faint at heart. And still, so many wonderful things are going on in Brittany nowadays that are making Breton stronger.

Brittany has the advantage of the largest and 
most compact Celtic language area, with its 
1,300,000 Breton speakers, only half of whom 
speak French at all. The Breton language 
movement has, however, only comparatively 
recently taken up a prominent place in the 
national life and aspirations of the hardy 
Bretons. The process of Gallicisation — a 
ruinous policy for France as well as Brittany — 
has been going far and fast of recent years. 
The policy of centralisation bids fair to sap 
those springs of vitality which might save 
France from that "painless death" so lugu- 
briously prophesied for her. But there are 
signs that Brittany will have her own say in 
the matter. The vigour of the new language 
movement, the constant stream of new verna- 
cular literature, the spirited fight for recognition 
of Breton in the schools, and the steadily- 
increasing number of distinguished adherents 
of the Breton cause — all these elements make 
us believe that the future of Breton language 
and nationality is safe. 

I don’t think I’ve encountered Celtia before, but thanks to a Facebook posting by Diwan Bretagne, I discovered both this paragraph and the journal. It seems to be a rich resource to those of us who work with and love the Celtic languages. To quote Celtia‘s mission statement:

Our own special task, and that to which this 
Journal will be steadily devoted, is that of 
fostering the mutual sympathy between the 
various Celtic nationalities.

The full text of Celtia journal is available online here.

Bloavezh mat! / Happy new year!

I know, I know. Here at Blogging Brittany, things have been pretty quiet. Well, silent. For many months. It was never my intent to drop the blog so suddenly and so completely. Life just took over for a while.

Yes, I’m back in the US. And yes, I’ll be posting more here on the blog in the new year. There are stories that I haven’t had a chance to share and background on Breton that I still want to give you all. And, yes, a few more photos. And more about the language–of course!

Best wishes to all of you in the new year. May your languages be spoken, may your culture be appreciated and enjoyed by many, and may we all have a peaceful, healthy, and happy new year!

Madalen/Madeleine

In the news….

Hi All,
I haven’t meant to be away. Life has been busy. More later. Meanwhile, I’m excited because I just found out that I’m featured in Ya today. Ya is a Breton language weekly newspaper–probably the only Breton language newspaper, actually. So quite a lovely thing for me that they wanted to profile me. I’m about to run out to the fest-noz in Locoal-Mendon, so I’ll try and write you more about it tomorrow.
Madeleine

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.