St. Enogat

Saint Enogat was a Breton saint who was the fifth Bishop of Saint Malo.

It is from the tiny fishing village of St. Enogat that Dinard began to expand during the nineteenth century to become the resort town it is today. That is why St. Enogat is called The Cradle of Dinard. It was originally it’s own separate town but was incorporated into Dinard proper in 1858. Downtown Dinard, where you find the Casino and the main tourist beach is about a kilometer away from this little enclave where our rental apartment sits. It has its own beach, separated from the main Dinard beach by a promontory. We are very happy to be in the less crowded part of town. St. Enogat feels very much like its own little village. It reminds us a little of Carmel.

Morning in St. Enogat

Meanwhile, we have been studying the history of this place. A plaque posted in the center of town piqued our interest. In rough translation, it reads:

Until 1850, St. Enogat was a small fishing and agricultural town. During the Belle Epoch, St. Enogat became the place where artists and intellectuals met. Albert Lacroix, famous editor of Victor Hugo was a big promoter of the St. Enogat beach. In 1875, he purchased a large piece of land and began to construct a compound where artists could meet, live together and create. He called it “The Ocean Villas”. Many contemporary artists were charmed by the location, including Judith Gautier, daughter of Théophile Gautier and first woman to be accepted into the Goncourt Literary Academy. She regularly invited friends like Debussy, Yamamoto, Paul Valéry and John Sargent to her villa called “The Bird’s Meadow.”

This brief summary turned into a research project for us. We knew some of these names, but who was Judith Gautier, who figured so importantly in the town’s history? We had never heard of Yamamoto either, someone so distinguished, apparently, that he only needs one name.

Portrait of Judith Gautier, painted by Yamamoto.

If you have any interest in 19th century art or literature, you may have heard of Théophile Gautier. He was an extremely important French journalist, art critic and poet in his day. He wrote the libretto for the ballet Giselle. He was a Bohemian iconoclast who was at the center of the important artistic movements of his time. He was friends with Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Delacroix, Manet and influenced Baudelaire, Proust and Oscar Wilde. He coined the expression “Art for art’s sake.

He had two daughters, the eldest of which was Judith. She was a poet and novelist in her own right. She was the first woman to be admitted into the esteemed Académie Goncourt. She also was a translator, fluent in Chinese and Japanese. She was responsible for introducing Europe to the poetry of these two countries. Yamamoto, a Japanese artist who studied western art in Paris was her friend and a frequent visitor to the home she bought in St. Enogat. I found it amusing to think of Yamamoto painting a western style portrait of Judith during the same years that Monet, Van Gogh, Whistler and Degas were furiously collecting Japanese art and falling under its influence.

Albert Lacroix, the first of the literati to discover St. Enogat in the mid nineteenth century, was a highly idealistic editor who published Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables when no one else would touch it. It was, in fact, on his way to visit Hugo, who was exiled on Jersey Island, that Lacroix spent a night in Dinard. Before catching his ferry, he took a walk and discovered St. Enogat beach which captured his imagination. Within a few years, he had bought a large parcel of land and began to build a kind of utopian artists’ retreat on the bluff above the sea. He wanted to create a community where people could create together. Judith Gautier was an enthusiastic participant in this plan. On her parcel she built a modest home within a huge garden, which she named “Le Pré des Oiseaux.” She was, like her father, a free-thinking individual. She was married briefly, but divorced. She was the lover of Richard Wagner, in whose opera Tannhauser, she and her house in St. Enogat are, apparently, obliquely mentioned.

Le Pré des Oiseaux, St. Enogat

Later in her life, after retiring permanently to St. Enogat, she lived with a much younger woman named Suzanne Meyer-Zundel, who inherited the house and lived in it until her own death in 1971. They are buried together in the St. Enogat cemetery.

As far as we know, the intelligentsia have moved on, but it’s satisfying to imagine their days on the beach of St. Enogat. Judith, we understand, wandered just under our windows in her kimono. The house we live in was built 11 years before her death.

Plans for Les Villas de la Mer.

Discovering Dinard

Dinard is across the Rance estuary from St. Malo, along the same coastline. It is a city we did not know at all until recently – a fashionable resort town, with a film festival, casino and high end shops. Originally a sleepy fishing port, it was discovered by the British aristocracy in the 19th century and the newcomers built extravagant Belle Époque mansions on the hills overlooking the sea, which remain today, giving the town its distinctive personality. It was perhaps the most popular and prestigious seaside destination in France before the Côtes d’Azur was discovered by the rich and famous in the 1930s. Dinard is now sometimes called The Cannes of the North, although it might be more fitting to call Cannes the Dinard of the South. Famous visitors and part-time residents included Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, Picasso, Debussy and Oscar Wilde. Because of its reputation we had not paid much attention to Dinard. It didn’t seem like our kind of place.

While searching for an apartment to rent in St. Malo, our first choice of locations for our retirement, I came across an ad for a seasonal rental in the western, quieter part of Dinard. I immediately fell in love with the house and location pictured on the site. I wrote to the owner asking if he would consider renting his apartment, the upper two floors of the house pictured below, for the off-season. To my surprise and delight, he answered in the affirmative and quoted us a very reasonable price. We are welcome to stay until his first returning summer clients arrive in mid-June. 

Besides the charm of the house itself, it has direct access to a wonderful intimate beach and magnificent views out the windows. We are able to watch the ships and boats coming and going, and look across the water to St. Malo and various islands.

The house was built in 1906 by the great grandmother of our landlord. During his mother’s generation, the house was divided into three apartments, one on each floor and one given to each of three daughters. The bottom two floors were eventually sold to people outside the family, so that now just the apartment where we are staying is still in the original family. They don’t seem to use the house at all anymore, as they are scattered far and wide, so the apartment has for some years been a vacation rental. They have a set of summer clients who return year after year, and the house had just been shut up during the off season, as is much of Dinard, so it seems that the owners are as happy to have us as we are to be here. Dinard has a permanent population of 10,000, but during the summer it swells to 50,000, so many of the houses along the shore are shuttered much of the year. In truth, for us it seems wise to leave Dinard during the summer high season, even though our original thought was to rent something permanently. We have seen photos of the beach below the apartment in July. It is jammed with bathers and sun worshipers. We prefer the more or less empty expanse of sand they leave behind at the end of summer.

We are just beginning to get to know our neighborhood and discover the market, local restaurants and the routines of daily life in this corner of the world. So far we are still preoccupied with the view out our windows, the tides rising and receding, the colors of the sky and water changing, all the activity that takes place below us.

I am learning about natural phenomena that I have thought little about before. For instance, there is a lot more to know about tides than that you have low and high ones twice every day. We have our chart that lets us know which way the water is flowing, but we begin to observe that not all tides are equal. On the tidal chart is a number which we didn’t at first understand. It is called the coefficient. The tidal range varies considerably according to the relative positions of the earth, moon and sun.

Yesterday was one of the lowest and conversely highest tides of this year according to our chart. The beach became enormous when the tide reached it’s lowest ebb revealing tiny islands and sandbars everywhere.

We walked on the wavy sea floor to the water’s edge just as the tide was turning back. Our house was far in the distance.

Six hours later, the sea came right to the wall below the house. This dramatic displacement of water in a relatively short period of time makes me marvel at the movement of the ocean around our planet. If I stop to ponder this natural phenomenon it seems miraculous, as does most any encounter with the power of nature.

We have learned that not only do the tides have a monthly cycle influenced by the phases of the moon but also a yearly cycle related to the earth’s orbit around the sun. So, living by the ocean gives us plenty of opportunity to observe and question phenomena we were hardly aware of a week ago. It provides a nice break from watching the nightly news.

The world will never starve from want of wonders; but only want of wonder.
— C. K. Chesterton

Retraction!

I received many messages from friends and followers telling me that they could not figure out how to subscribe to or comment on my new Blogger site. I’ve spent some time trying to find a solution only to discover more problems. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that changing too many things at once is a mistake. Therefore I’ve decided to renew this site and let Blogger go. If you subscribed to my original blog here on WordPress, you should receive a notice on Sunday for my next post and for all future posts..

Swan Song

This will be my last blog post here on WordPress, as I am not renewing this site. I thank all of you who have read my words, followed my ramblings and commented on my stories. It has been a great pleasure and honor to know you are out there. I will continue recording my adventures at https://nancypattonwilson.blogspot.com/ so if you want to follow me there, I would be delighted to see you. You can subscribe right on the site. There is a post already awaiting you, which describes the beginnings of a new phase of our lives.

Meanwhile, stay safe and healthy, think hopeful thoughts and appreciate the small pleasures of life.

St. Malo Calls Us Back

Cobbled streets of St. Malo, inside the old walls.

During the last week of September we had a little vacation planned to our favorite sea-side destination, St. Malo. This time we decided to spend four nights intramuros (inside the walls) and four nights outside in a different neighborhood.We have just returned from a very pleasant visit. In early September the weather was hot, in the middle it was just perfect, neither too hot nor too cold, however the week we left home the temperatures dipped and it was both cold and rainy the entire time we were gone. We didn’t, however, let that stop us from having a good time. They say that in Brittany you can experience all four seasons in a single day, and that is not a joke. While there, we would simply wait inside for the downpour to pass and then walk out into a perfectly nice and sunny day.

Space is at a premium in the walled part of St. Malo. We had a tiny apartment that looked out onto a pretty little patio. Set back from the main street, it was absolutely quiet once you passed into the courtyard. Even if our timing for the weather wasn’t brilliant, we did pick a good time to avoid the usual crowds. The city was relatively quiet while we were there.

Finding the sun inside the walls of the old city during winter months must be a challenge. The density of buildings makes for shady walks, punctuated by a few open spaces, a garden, a town square, and of course the grand promenade on top the walls themselves.

There are numerous shops and restaurants in the small walled area of the city. We had several excellent meals while we were there. We may not have walked on every single street, but almost. It is not a huge challenge to become very familiar with this little jewel of a city.

For those who have read the Pulitzer prize winning All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which takes place partly in St. Malo, the photo above shows the route Marie-Laure took down to the beach. We visited her house as well, and other locations written about in the novel.

A special feature of the coast around St. Malo is all the islands, many of which appear and disappear with the tides, which are some of the highest in the entire world! The photo above shows the Petit Bé at high tide. During low tide one can walk to this fort, but when the tide rises it is completely cut off from land.

On our last evening staying inside the walls, we sat and watched while the sun set over the sea.

Beach, Port and Dinard in the distance.

For the second half of our vacation, we stayed in an area of St. Malo just outside the walls called Saint Servan, a part of the city that we had never really explored. We stayed in a truly spectacular airbnb right on the port. The view from our bedroom window was mesmerizing. We watched sailboats and ferries come and go, swimmers, dog walkers, children collecting shells and splashing in the surf, joggers, rowers, paddle boarders. The wooded point in the photo above made for a wonderful stroll with a 180º degree view of the serpentine coastline.

This photo, back towards the walled city, was taken from that spit of land just mentioned. We spent a very pleasant morning simply gazing out to sea as we ambled along the point. This is also the location of a large German bunker complex. The area was occupied and heavily fortified by the Germans for years before the Allies routed them in 1944 and in the process completely leveled the old town and much of the surrounding area. The beautiful city you now see was actually completely rebuilt from the ground up in the 1950s.

Mostly we stayed out of our car while we were on vacation, but we did take two drives along the coast, to the west one day and to the east on another. All the beaches are quite remarkable. One day we drove as far as Cancale, another town we feel very comfortable in. Oyster farming is a huge business here and restaurants all along the Côte d’Emeraude (the Emerald Coast, which stretches from Mont Saint Michel to Cap Frehel) feature Cancale oysters. Olivier Roellinger, a renowned chef, was born here and still lives in Cancale. He makes a famous line of spice mixtures which is widely available throughout France. He is a Michelin starred chef and with his son opened Le Coquillage, where we ate one of the most memorable meals of our lives about ten years ago.

The drive went through some beautiful farm land as well as past lovely sea views. This is a land of many riches.

We stopped along the route several times, always with interesting rock outcrops and turquoise waves lapping at the sandy shore.

We said goodbye to this wonderful little pause before coming back to the Maison Conti, where we welcomed a house full of clients this weekend, but they are our very last ones for the foreseeable future. We will return to this delightful area very soon, next time with warmer jackets.

Monotype

This week I had some fun in the atelier making a 9 panel monotype. I am attracted to the format of panels and I’ve done etchings, collages and drawings that use this layout. It was a fun experiment and I enjoyed the results, so after I was done with the one above, I thought I would do another and this time document it with photos to show you how it is accomplished. So here’s a quick tutorial.

You begin by cutting out a nice plastic template to create your panels. Of course when it comes to this kind of precision work, Rick handles that for me. I know I’m lucky that way. You lay it over your paper and tape down the sides to your table. Even though the plastic floats freely above the paper, it does seem to keep the paint from going in between the panels. I think the plastic film tends to cling to the paper. A similar paper template would not work so well, I would posit. Before putting any paint onto your image, you cut out random little bits of scrap paper and place them over the various panels to protect some white spaces.

The paint I used was acrylic and I applied it with plastic wrap. Tapping it down variously around the image. That makes a nice texture.

This is repeated for as many colors as you want to apply. One on top of the other, each using simple paper masks rearranged for each layer to protect parts of the former colors. I also used a piece of tracing paper which had been covered in pastel on one side and inverted onto the whole image and I drew lines on the back which transferred pastel lines onto the paper.

Of course you have little control over the final image and at a certain point it just looks like a big mess, but once the plastic is removed, it seems to come together as a coherent and interesting whole.

Change of Rhythm

We’re back to the time of year when the sun rises when we do!

July and August are always busy months for us at the Maison Conti, but this year they were particularly intense. Of course everyone wanted to get out of town and most of them were headed straight to the beach. Our house is conveniently just about halfway along most of our clients’ trajectories. We generally work seven days a week from morning to night trying to keep up with the comings and goings of our guests. The work is quite physical. Of course each year I get a little older and this year I really noticed the physicality of muscling large quilts around and carrying huge stacks of laundry and dishes. In fact I pulled something in my right shoulder one day while stripping the bed linens and I am still in pain.

September, however, brings with it a real sigh of relief. For one thing the weather cools way down, and for another the clients arrive in smaller numbers and less often. It gives me some time to focus on other things and to spend more hours in the atelier.

I hadn’t done any of my usual cyanotype projects or eco-dyeing this summer. During this last week I rectified that.

My favorite material to work on, for any of these mark-making activities is silk. It takes the colors so beautifully. I happened to have a few little pieces left over from my wall hanging project completed last spring, and I painted one of them with the photosensitive concoction used to make a cyanotype exposure. The chemicals, when painted on paper or fabric, must be left to dry in the dark before the support can be used.

When the silk had dried over night, I arranged some flowers on it, clamped it into a glass frame and brought it outside to be exposed in direct sunlight.

It takes about 10 minutes for the exposure to be complete. I then developed the image in running water for another 10 minutes. I love the way the flowers turned out looking almost like x-rays. The parts exposed to the sun turn blue.

My next activity was to do a little rust dyeing. I have lots of rusty objects which make interesting red patterns on fabric or paper if left in contact for a few days. I used a piece of cotton, a piece of netting and one of silk. I wrapped them in different ways. I spray the rusted object and the fabric with a mixture of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, put them in tight contact with a rusty object, cover them in plastic, so they don’t dry out too quickly, which I hold down with river stones, and simply wait 2 or 3 days for the rust to do its magic.

I have a beautiful decorative object I got at a local antique store which I have tried using for mark making before, with limited success. but this time, when I took the plastic off, my piece of silk, which I had laid over it, was very richly rusted. Again, I think the silk itself is the special ingredient, since the cotton fabric I used on another rusty object, wasn’t nearly so affected.

The front of the silk, on the left, almost looks photographic. The back, on the right, is even darker. I found that curious.

Next up was to do a little eco-dyeing, using flowers from the terrace. I had intended to use the rust dyed fabric as the base for the eco-dyes, but since the silk was so deeply rusted, I couldn’t and didn’t want to use that piece. The net fabric failed, as the rust washed out completely when I rinsed it, but the cotton was rusted only around the edges, so it was perfect for my experiment.

I liked the result very much. The rust adds a color you don’t usually get from a plant and the purple petunias, which make a fairly strong purple impression once dyed into the fabric, look good with it.

Another piece of cotton, not rusted, was eco-dyed using Virginia Creeper and some little bright pink flowers we have in our planter this year. I don’t know what they are. They almost look like little begonias or perhaps malvia. They turned out to release a blue color.

Ah! The mysteries of plant dyes. The results are always a surprise. I haven’t found too many species of plants that I can rely on for the results I want. I prefer plants that leave a strong impression of their shape.

The one thing my experiments convinced me of is that working with silk is my preference. Why screw around? I sent off for a nice piece of my favorite satin silk, from my favorite online vendor, Ma Petite Mercerie. A package arrived yesterday presented, as always, so beautifully and, as always, included a piece of Carambar which Rick does appreciate.

Speaking of wonderful things arriving in the mail, this week I got a letter from my son who lives in California. He sent it on March 17th. It only took 5 months and a week to get to me! Inside were some spring flowers and they were in amazingly good condition, dried and pressed to perfection. I really enjoy looking at them.

The last thing I have to share for the week is a gift given to us by our dear friend Nelly the last time we saw her a few weeks ago. She is the master of old papers and old paper markets. I have been the grateful recipient of many of her historic documents. On one of her recent expeditions she found a very old map of our departement, la Sarthe, and she bought it for us.

This is a marvelous object, obviously handcrafted, dated 1836. The cover is made of some kind of thick paper that feels lusciously soft, almost felt-like. The map inside has been cut into nine sections and carefully mounted so that the user could fold up the map and take it with them. It is a road map in origin, but for roads with horses, carts and carriages, not cars. Someone has gone to the trouble of adding their own elaborate cover, presumably to preserve it for strenuous use. The label on the outside is lettered in that beautiful old fashioned script and then cut by hand, obviously, as the shape is not symmetrical, and pasted onto the cover. And why label the map “Sarthe” at all? Unless this was not the owner’s local area? There was meticulous effort extended to make the map durable/portable, suggesting to me that the map users were on a pursuit, not just a one-time journey. And what were they after? It is a mystery. There are little handwritten notes sketched on the top right, bottom left and middle right. They are mostly faded, or erased and difficult to decipher. At least some of them are directions. Some red route lines have also been added by hand to the map, to show that the users were going somewhere special, doing something important. A few red “x”s are also scattered here and there, some in the middle of nowhere, looking, for all the world to my imaginative mind, like spots to hunt for buried treasure. “X” marks the spot. Montmirail was not one of the places they seemed to be interested in, but I do want them, whoever they were and wherever they’ve gone, to know that we value their map very much, and are thinking and wondering about them!

Gin and Tonic

This spring we had a Brew Pub open up in our village. Nicolas, pictured above, has owned a house in Montmirail for many years, but it is only last year that he retired from his corporate job in New York City to our village. He is an extremely energetic person and began to contemplate learning how to brew beer. He had already purchased a small shop across from his house when the confinement began back in March. In June, despite the set backs, he opened up his new pub, just in time for our summer season here in town.

The pub has been a smashing success. Every time we have walked by, it is full and over flowing with customers. The shop is very attractively arranged as well. Nicolas serves tea, coffee, snacks and other alcoholic beverages besides his home brewed beer.

Nicolas has found local producers for the products he sells. He has created a wonderful and warm place for people to gather. He has both an indoor and an outdoor space.

One of my favorite features of his shop is a poster of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We may be the only locals who know who she is. Nicolas lived in the U.S. for years and has both French and American citizenship. AOC is his representative. The shop has a real Brooklyn influence, here in this very obscure little French village.

So far he is making a pale ale and a white beer, and soon an amber. I don’t drink beer myself, but Rick says his pale ale is quite good. He has yet to try the white.

Nicolas is beginning to gear up to bottle his brew. His labels feature a photo of the castle of Montmirail. Our house appears there too, as it sits just below the château.

We were invited to his place this week on a day he is not usually open. He gave us the grand tour and we had a private gin and tonic tasting. We had tried some of his Coqlicorne gin earlier in the summer and liked it very much. It is made by a local team, a French man and a Scottish guy who produce the product not far from our village. The symbol of France, of course is the rooster, or Coq and the unicorn is the symbol of Scotland, thus the name and logo. It comes in three varieties.

The reason we got this invitation was that we were telling Nicolas about our German client who comes once a year and brings us various gin and tonic supplies every time. Last year he brought a Japanese gin and this year it was an Italian one. He also brought us a special tonic syrup to mix with sparkling water. We decided to have a tasting together.

Nicolas was the gracious bartender. We tried each gin, all flavored differently. The syrup added a nice taste and color. After three rounds we were all feeling rather jolly. It was a very pleasant evening.

Mid Summer

We have been very busy with guests at the Maison, but even as the days are filled with activity there is a sense that summer is passing rather quickly and fall seems just around the corner. This week it has been hot, but days are markedly shorter and the momentum is towards the future season. From our windows we have such a pretty view of the landscape and the big sky with an ever changing tableau. The full moon this week has been an occasion to bring out the telescope again. The moon as it rises, about our bedtime, is large, golden and low in the sky. We tend to want to give it a close look before heading to bed each night.

While we don’t have hummingbirds here in France, we do have hummingbird moths and they are a positive delight. They are insects, not birds, although they look and behave very much like their namesakes.

I was able to finally finish my silk eco-dyed wall hanging, which I have been working on for almost a year. We hung it in our office. The silk, which I purchase from a Parisian supplier, is satin silk, very pleasant to the touch.

Emily and James sent us a recipe for a delightful summer treat, pickled zucchini, which I am passing on to you. I’m not normally a huge zucchini fan, but I do like pickles and these ones are easy to gobble up next to almost any luncheon or dinner meal. And they’re healthy too.

Zucchini Pickles

Ingredients

  • 3 medium zucchini (16 oz), thinly sliced
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fine grain sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (small handful) fresh dill sprigs
  • 1 small fresh red chili pepper, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup natural cane sugar

Instructions

Toss the zucchini, onion, shallots, and salt together in a colander and place over a bowl to catch the liquids. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. Toss once or twice along the way. Get as much liquid out of the zucchini as possible. When you’re finished draining the zucchini, shake off any water. The zucchini should be as dry as possible. Place in a 1 quart jar along with the dill, chili pepper, and mustard seeds. Combine the vinegars and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and continue to boil for a few minutes. Pour the liquid over the zucchini and seal the jar. Let cool, then refrigerate. The pickles last for a week or so in the frig.