Advertisement
  1. Archive

On a clear night, Camelot appears in French countryside

Here in the Breton countryside, say the locals, it has been the best October in years. And so was the warm and sunny summer, so in contrast with the spitting crachin for which Brittany is also known.

On the clear nights, I walk up the hill behind the house to watch the bright finger of the lighthouse on nearby Cape Frehel sweep across the sky and on the next hill, nearer still, the bright and shining towers of Camelot.

You can easily imagine the clattering of hooves announcing another arrival to join King Arthur at his Round Table. Others, of course, say it is farther away, perhaps in the forest of Broceliande near Merlin's tomb and the Vale of False Lovers here in "lesser Britain," rather than across the channel in Cornwall or Wales.

Tourist agents are always busy with scholarly research on the true locations. A few years ago, in the early days of President John Kennedy, Camelot was even said to be in Washington, D.C.

But in the magic of the night, its towers are clearly visible from here. By day, of course, they are Pleboulle, population 711, with its 17th century church and one remaining convenience store. By night, no one who has seen the view from my hill can doubt that Pleboulle is Camelot, shimmering ever brighter, it seems, with each glass of Muscadet or cider, especially when the church tower is illuminated on winter weekends.

If the sound of hooves do not signal Arthur's knights clattering out of the fifth century, why then maybe they are those of the Knights Templar who built the small chapel beside our house in the 12th. Their ghosts also linger hereabout.

Again by day, however, the season for hunting rabbits, pheasants and other small game and fowl began last weekend, accompanied by the sound of shots and the barking of dogs. Driving on Sunday, I suddenly came upon one frightened rabbit running down the middle of the road. The hunters were just on a crest opposite.

Sometimes farmers still beat the countryside for foxes. They are said to pick off small farm animals and destroy crops. And the next two Sundays are the two days of the year for hunting hare, a much awaited national delicacy.

One of the many ways in which France is divided is between those who like their hare a la facon de Senator Couteaux, as they do in the old province of Poitou, or a la facon de Careme, as they do in Gascony.

The first way is said to be more sober, the second very rich and said to have been favored by the likes of both Henry IV in one age and Talleyrand in another.

While I grew up eating the occasional rabbit from the gun, I have never tasted either of these delicacies and so will pronounce no further.

October to May is also the season of the coquille St. Jacques. The capital for their fishing is the nearby port of Erquy. Outside of France and French restaurants, they are known as scallops, and we have been dining on them for a week, along with oysters, mussels, mackerel and sole _ all products of the famous fishing waters off Brittany. The dorade is just coming on to the market.

Le Temple is an outlying hamlet of Pleboulle, which in turn is one of France's 36,551 communes. Several thousand have lost their bakers, butchers, pharmacies and primary schools, and more do every year as the number of farmers decreases and young people, once having seen the lights of Paris or even Rennes or Nantes, never return.

As the mayor of Pleboulle, Michel Vighetti, was explaining when I went to see him the other day, young men no longer have to find their wives, or vice versa, within walking distance or bicycle range, as they did before the age of the automobile. Those long years cemented many of the family names into each commune along with the alliances and feuds that persist even when their origins have been forgotten.

Even so, old customs are disappearing along with the Celtic Breton language, akin to Welsh, which despite some revival is now mostly spoken by a diminishing number of increasingly older people farther west in the department (district) of Finistere.

Until the 16th century, Brittany (la Bretagne in French) was an autonomous duchy. And here we are already in la Bretagne profonde that for all the little differences mirrors the France profonde farther south. They are as different from Paris and its worldly Frenchmen in a way of speaking as Ocala horse country is from New York and New Yorkers.

All this comes to mind just now because I've just finished the fall pruning, cut the grass for the winter, clipped the hydrangeas, picked the apples and wrapped up the house until Christmas at least. And we're off for our annual visit to a far different world in Florida and St. Petersburg, where we'll doubtless see some of you next week.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement