Farewell

As the sun sets, the lighthouse is illuminated

When we first arrived in Saint Enogat it was the beginning of October. Eight months seemed like a very long time. Yet here we are at the the end of our adventure; we can hardly believe how fast the months have flown past. Especially during this time when we have mostly been on lock-down, it has certainly proved to be a refreshing change from our normal life at the Maison Conti. It hasn’t felt like a vacation, much more like a second home. But our experiences have been during the off-season, when the pace of life is pleasantly slow. Last weekend, which was a holiday, convinced us that being in Dinard in the high season would not be the same at all. The number of people on the road and on the beach has at least tripled and camping cars are everywhere. We feel lucky to have chosen this particular slice of time. What a wonderful experience we have had!

During the entire time we have been living here, we have been looking forward to May, the month we expected to bring the most sun and the greatest warmth, real beach weather. We imagined ourselves spending hours on the sand, well before the crowds arrived. We’ve had some spectacular days, weather-wise, through out the months we’ve been here, but May has without any doubt been the most rainy, the most gray of all the eight months. It has not offered warm and sunny days at all. Perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise. It makes it easier to leave, I suppose.

The Paris family came to visit last weekend. We had a few brief moments of clear skies which we took advantage of. At one moment we packed a picnic and left the house with the sun streaming down upon us. We drove 10 minutes away, but by the time we reached our destination, the clouds had blotted out the sun, a frigid wind had picked up and the rain began to fall again.

We didn’t even bother to take our walk along the cliffs, but just found a parking lot and ate our sandwiches on some benches quickly before hurrying back home to play several rounds of Oh Hell, which was actually quite a lot of fun.

There was a rather dramatic at-sea rescue a few evenings back. A couple of kids capsized in their boat which must have sailed away, leaving them in the drink. Two ships quickly appeared. The small one plucked them from the water and wrapped foil blankets around their shoulders. The life boat ferried them to the bigger ship, where they were examined for hyperthermia I suppose (it really was like-winter weather) They then got back in the small boat which delivered them to shore, where a policeman was on hand to ask them questions, and jotted down the answers on a little note pad. We watched from the window and caught the scene midway, so most of what I’m saying here is conjecture and not the hard facts of the case. The thing we found curious about the incident was that the water at the distance they were rescued is about thigh-high, even for children.

I finished my eighth and final book for my seaside project, entitled A Sense of Place. I’ve enjoyed the format very much.

There are photos, drawings, some prints, my handmade stamps and this month even a rock “page,” with a beautiful heart-shaped rock Rick collected from our beach.

Just in the last two days, the weather has jumped from the low 50s to the 70s. We decided, like many others, to get on the road and take our last local tour yesterday. We drove down the Rance past Dinan to the charming hamlet of Léhon. We had never visited. It is a picturesque setting with an ancient bridge over the river. The town was settled by the Romans 2000 years ago, 1000 years before Dinan. The town is quiet and picture-perfect, with lovely gardens. It’s a 30 minute walk from Dinan to Léhon along the river path.

I began this blog to document our monts at the sea. Now that adventure comes to an end, since we leave here tomorrow to return to our normal life in the countryside. As we say farewell to our adventure here, I am saying farewell to this blog. Thank you for following along with me and I wish you all bright days and happy adventures.

Another View

At the end of last week, we drove southeast from the coast. The further inland we went, the greener the landscape became. It is a glorious time of the year for a short road trip. Instead of the rolling blue ocean, we enjoyed the rolling emerald hills and found them just as wonderful.

This weekend we have a full house of clients at Maison Conti for a party that has been planned since last year. Although our stay in Dinard is not quite over, we had to come back to Montmirail. Since the house has essentially been empty for eight months, we needed plenty of time to renew the space. We have been here washing windows, dusting, vacuuming and polishing. After days of hard work, something we’ve grown entirely unaccustomed to, the maison is ready again to welcome guests.

We are lucky enough to arrive just at the moment when the roses, clematis and wisteria are in bloom on the terrace. We would have regretted missing their displays.

Our detached garden behind the château is completely out of control. The weeds are thigh high. Reclaiming it will have to wait until we get back definitively in June.

Later today we drive back to Dinard for the final two weeks of our seaside adventure.

Saint-Briac-Sur-Mer Up Close

A few weeks ago on this blog, I posted a photo of the charming village of Saint Briac, which is just a few kilometers west of our apartment in Saint Enogat. We have driven through several times, and stopped to snap a photo of the port and ocean beyond, but had never really explored the village on foot. Last Sunday we rectified this situation with a very nice ramble through the town above and the beach below.

I’m not sure how it is decided which villages in France are to be classified Les Plus Beaux Villages (prettiest villages of France.) There are only 159 of them in the whole country. At least 10 of them are here in Brittany, including Saint Suliac, one of our favorite spots on the Rance. When we first moved to Montmirail, the mayor asked us to host a visit from the folks who make these decisions, as the town was aspiring to gain this label. After the meeting, which took place in our dining room, one of the city councilmen told us that there was almost no chance for Montmirail to receive this distinction, as the criteria are very stringent. I wonder if Saint Briac isn’t on the radar. To my eye it is almost perfect in every detail, so picturesque, so pristine and so very high class.

There is not a building in the village which isn’t both lovely and well maintained. The streets were quiet on Sunday, except for the other tourists who were taking in the atmosphere. It has about 1000 residents, but we encountered only one.

The town was founded in the 4th century by an Irish priest, Briac, who crossed the Channel, as so many other of his countrymen did, to convert the locals to Christianity.

Both the church, with its ornate and unusual steeple, and the little chapel located between the port and the ocean, are very attractive. I especially like the honey-colored stone which give the buildings a sense of warmth.

The town is built up on a hill above the sea. At port level there are some very extravagant homes as well as a sheltered beach on a small bay, where most of the pleasure boats are moored, and a wilder beach facing the open sea.

Even though the day was not very warm, there were plenty of people sunbathing in both locations, as well as many, like us, who were simply enjoying the views.

Photo credit: Booking.com

The Château du Nessay has a commanding position and a storied history. Originally is was a château fort, a defensive castle to protect the coast. The British often raided the Brittany coast, and the town was burnt to the ground in 1758. The château was rebuilt in the 19th century and used as a private residence up until the Second World War. The Germans occupied it until the town was liberated by the Americans in August of 1944. Three Americans died in the process and the town has a memorial to them. After the war the castle was converted into a summer camp, mostly for school children. By 2016 it was essentially in ruins and the town did not have the funds or appetite to rebuild it, so after a certain amount of controversy amongst the townsfolk, the building was sold to a hotel consortium. 8 million euros was spent to renew it. It opened in July of 2018 to the public. Of course it has been mostly closed for over a year due to the pandemic.

Saint Briac also has the distinction of being home to the second golf course built outside of Scotland. It was created in 1887 by the Brits who were building their extravagant homes on the cliffs of Dinard. At that time they were invading the French coast with more peaceful intentions. The whole area was their playground. They also installed the first tennis court in France. Even if they are mostly gone (we have heard no English at all while here), they have certainly left their mark.

We really loved this street name found in the upper village. It amused us even more than one in St. Enogat.

Along the River

Last Sunday was another perfect day for a little adventure along the water, this time the Rance River over the barrage on the left bank. The blue sky, the green grass and the turquoise of the river were all intense, almost dazzling. It was one of those spring days when one is enchanted by nature’s variety and fecundity. In other words, spring is in full force.

The main objective of our outing was to visit the Chantier de la Passagère (a shipyard near Quelmer, a charming little bourg along the Rance) where an old tug is moored, awaiting refurbishing. Our Breton friend Bernard has told us about the history and bright future of La Mouette (the Seagull), which began its life in Holland and has recently arrived in France to be converted into a green energy commercial ship. A French association that Bernard works with has the ambitious plan to enable low carbon delivery of goods throughout France. La Mouette is the first step towards realizing this goal. The idea is to create a fleet of ships which are powered by wind, with sails and green electricity. Goods will be loaded onto ships, taken to other French ports for unloading and then transported inland by electric or hydrogen powered vehicles. La Mouette is to be the guinea pig for this pioneering operation. Once converted the ship will be taking goods between St. Malo and Dinan along the Rance. Big Plans! Exciting stuff!

The yard, which we had actually visited before, is also a ship graveyard, boats in various stages of decay, lie akimbo here and there, making it a very picturesque but somewhat spooky place.

While we were looking around, we noticed that lots of people were walking past us, ignoring the boats altogether. We realized there was a path leading along the riverbank and since the day was so pleasant, we found a trail head a little further down the road and joined the throng. A Sunday walk after lunch is a French tradition.

The path was quite narrow in many places so we were required to pull over when we met another group traveling in the opposite direction. On the way out the river was on our left. The path followed its sinuous direction. At every turn a beautiful new view.

France has a long history with walking and many of the 180,000 km of trails were made centuries ago when much travel was done on foot. These same trails are very well used and maintained today.

Before entering the copse that made up the greater part of the trail, we walked through a field capped by a border of shrubs, called a bocage. These hedges were the traditional way to divide fields and were ubiquitous all over northern France before the Second World War. I became very interested in them when I learned that the German and American armies destroyed many of them in the pursuit of their fight. As with the many bombarded villages, this decimation caused the complete destruction of a certain way of French rural life. After the war the bocages were not replanted, as agriculture became mechanized. They were no longer practical or desirable. But a bocage is a marvelous thing. It is an protective environment for birds, of course, and it effectively and beautifully separates one space from another. This one had flowering hawthorns and was glorious to behold.

Wild iris and other delights greeted us along the way.

If I could freeze a moment in time and put it in my back pocket for a rainy day, I would definitely choose a spring afternoon just like this one.

10 Kilometer Radius

In our latest lockdown in France we are allowed to travel within 10 km of where we live. Feeling a little cooped up last weekend, we decided to explore to the limit of our sanctioned territory. A lot of it happens to be in the middle of the ocean or the Rance Estuary. We weren’t really in the mood for a swim, so we took the car and limited ourselves to land. There are quite a few pretty sites along the way which made for picturesque photographic opportunities. We made a large counter clockwise circle, although we did not cross the Rance. St Malo deserves its own day out. Hopefully we will make it there very soon. The rest of this last week has been swallowed up by various uninteresting mundane activities, but we have promised ourselves to get out more often before our time to leave Dinard arrives.

Our first stop was the Pointe du Décollé in St. Lunaire, the next town to our west. From the photo above you can imagine why it has the name, “the unglued point”. It does seem that the tip of the spit of land just drifted away a few meters. It is a short walk from the parking lot to the end of this narrow peninsula that offers fabulous ocean vistas on both sides. I sat in the sun on a bench and sketched a few islands while Rick scrambled down the rock.

At high tide the waves crash dramatically against the rocks, but even at a relatively low tide as it was while we were there, the water rolls in and swirls around the rocks making for mesmerizing viewing.

Past St. Lunaire, not much further down the road you find St. Briac-sur-Mer, one of the prettiest villages on the coast. The port is in a small natural bay which is protected from wilder waters in the open Channel. On the presqu’île (almost island) there is a gorgeous villa, hidden in the shadows. The town itself is charming, with winding streets, ancient stone houses, shops and restaurants made for and frequented by the privileged classes. Nothing is out of place here, everywhere you look is something appealing to see, although it felt to us as if “you can look, but you better not touch.”

We passed through several less memorable villages as we swung south, away from the coast. In the middle of a rather ordinary neighborhood, we discovered the lovely Moulin de Buglais from the 16th century.

We turned east, to reach the left bank of the Rance. In Le Minihic-sur-Rance we stoped, at low tide, on the banks of this tidal river and had our picnic lunch. It’s a quiet corner with only a few other people around. We enjoyed watching one little terrier chase a stick about his own length along the beach or into the water as far as his master cared to throw it. We noticed that after retrieving the stick he would immediately drop it back at the master’s feet, waiting at rapt attention for the next toss. Good dog! Our own deceased dog friend, Morgan, who was a ball chasing maniac would usually make us play tug-of-war in order to get the ball back once he had it.

Le Richardais is one of the bigger communities on the Rance, just down the road from Dinard. It isn’t a particularly attractive city but it does have a nice moulin à marée, a mill that is powered by the tide. As Wikipedia explains it: A tide mill is a water mill driven by tidal rise and fall. A dam with a sluice is created across a suitable tidal inlet, or a section of river estuary is made into a reservoir. As the tide comes in, it enters the mill pond through a one-way gate, and this gate closes automatically when the tide begins to fall. This is the action that drives the mill wheel. Most mills simply use the movement of a flowing river to drive the wheel, but on a tidal river, such as the Rance, a different system is needed.

As we were driving along we were able to enjoy some safflower fields which bring such a bright burst of color to the spring landscape.

My Father Always Advised Me to Buy the Best Tools I Could Afford

It sometimes takes a very long time to identify the best instruments for one’s chosen craft. Unfortunately for me it has taken about fifty years to discover exactly everything I need to effortlessly enjoy making my artwork. But better late than never. For years I struggled with pens that bled, paper that was too textured, too thin or too absorbant and paint brushes that just weren’t up to the task. It is only this year that I have finally found the perfect instruments to accomplish what I want to do in my image-making. Μy father always told me that buying cheap tools was false economy. There is no question that quality supplies are worth the price; they make life so much easier.

I recently received a Namiki Pilot Falcon fountain pen as an early birthday present from Rick. It is an object of great beauty and one of the finest drawing pens available. The nib is made of 14 carat gold, plated with rhodium. The fine lines that one can achieve with it are very gratifying, and the nib glides over the paper like butter, never skipping. I have been using it every day since getting it and really enjoy the detail that it allows me. I always long to create brilliant loose and expressive work, but in the end I think my more natural inclination is to noodle.

With it came some de Atramentis document ink, also the best on the market. Using the higher quality ink was recommended for the pen because there are no harsh ingredients which could degrade the pen point, but I didn’t realize that the ink would also affect the drawing process itself. It dries almost instantly on the paper so that one doesn’t risk smudging a line that isn’t quite dry yet.

I have been using Schmincke watercolors for several years. I love my little wooden paint box with its porcelain palette. It cost a small fortune but I think I have gotten value for money. The colors are vibrant and the variety of colors, especially when mixed together, is almost infinite. I particularly have concentrated on mixing various greens in some of the illustrations I have been working on.

Paint brushes can be quite expensive but I have been collecting a few at a time over the months. Sable brushes are still considered the best and the reason is that they hold a great deal of paint so that you don’t need to keep dipping them into the color when you work. I find that if I throughly wet the brush first before putting it into the paint, I can color with it for most of a full minute before having to get more paint. All these little motion saving gestures add up and definitely increase the efficiency and pleasure of the task.

The last piece of the puzzle for me was finding the right paper. Arches 90lb hot press watercolor paper turns out to be so wonderful to work on for little detailed drawings like these that I can’t imagine ever buying any other kind. It is thick enough to absorb the watercolor without buckling and yet entirely smooth to take the pen lines effortlessly.

I am working very small, 12 X 16 cm, about the size of a postcard, since I am still creating these images for the monthly book project I tasked myself with when we first moved here in October. I have six months worth of little images of various kinds which add up to the story of each month we have been here. The process of making the drawings, even if they are not big, takes several days.

Five of the finished books, which I brought back to the Maison when we visited there in March.

Out and About in Dinard

Les Roches Brunes

We have enjoyed some glorious weather during the past week. One could have imagined that summer had arrived, but it hasn’t lasted of course. Still, during the few days when we had shirt-sleeve temperatures we took advantage and spent a lot of time out of doors.

Dinard is a town with several discrete neighborhoods. Over the winter we have mostly stayed in our own sector of Saint-Enogat for our walks and explorations. With the sun, however, we ventured further afield and spent an afternoon in the more emblematic part of Dinard, the main beach called Plage de l’Écluse, and its environs. Downtown shops and the marché are at sea level, but the extravagant villas that Dinard is famous for are perched on the rocky promontories on either side of the beach. The most famous of all is perhaps Les Roches Brunes at the tip of la Pointe Malouine. Built in 1896, it commands a panoramic view. In 2007 the house was donated by its last owner to the city of Dinard and it is now a cultural and artistic center.

On the opposite cliff on la Pointe Moulinet is the Villa Saint-Germain, built in 1888. It was in the same family for several generations but has just sold this year for a price rumored to be around 15 million euros. It is still a private residence.

Villa Saint-Germain

Another marvelous mansion in this neighborhood is the Château des Deux Rives built in 1878 by the wonderfully named Count Dahdah. This property has been divided into apartments.

I wrote about the mansions on our side of Dinard last fall. Saint-Enogat was discovered by artists and the intelligentsia and began to be settled in 1875. The central part of town, however, attracted the industrialists, so the homes here are grander and more celebrated. On a recent walk Rick met a fellow who has written a book about one of the grand old homes of Dinard. He explained that there are over 400 villas or châteaus in town. To have this label implies a kind of size and pedigree. A chalet is a bit smaller but still with historic roots. There are no ordinary or modern houses erected on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Château des Deux Rives

On another afternoon we took a stroll along the sea wall. Our aim was to go from our beach all the way past the main Dinard beach to the Port of Dinard. The walkway, carved out of the cliff face, is pummeled at high tide by the waves but at low tide leads all around the coast line. It should have taken us about an hour to traverse from one side of town to the other.

Unfortunately we discovered that the path has been blocked going both east and west from St. Enogat due to the collapse of parts of the walkway. It’s unclear if this erosion happens every year or if this winter has been particularly destructive. Hopefully there will be some rebuilding, although it is a law of nature that cliff facings aren’t replaceable.

During the warm days there has been plenty of activity on the beach, sun bathers, ball games, wind surfers, joggers, tide pool explorers. In the evenings, when people go home, the sea birds comb the sands to find anything left behind.

This week also brought the full moon and with it the high coefficient which translates into high tides crashing on the garden wall.

Diversions

Linoleum print with a nautical theme, made this week.

The week in Dinard was mostly clear but windy and cold. We took some walks, did our usual errands, visiting the markets in the area, which we have really come to love. Still, there was a lot of time spent indoors as well, doing a few art projects and watching the world go past. Parts of France are on their fourth lock-down. Here the prognosis is good, but we live relatively quietly nonetheless. Until the weather gets much warmer, it is not difficult for me to remain inside.

We enjoyed watching a crew clean out the drain line on the sand right below our garden steps. They have been working here on and off for months. We were impressed when they left their truck overnight on the sand for a couple of nights. They seemed very well versed in the limits of the high tides. During the evenings the trucks remained on the beach, the tide did not come close, but on the evening of the day they finished their job, it was crashing on the wall and their truck, had it been there, would have been washing away.

It’s impossible to drive on the sand without a system. Theirs is to drag big heavy rubber mats one at a time to make a road for the truck‘s tires. You can imagine the time consuming and I would think exhausting nature of this process, as the truck can drive only a few feet before the mats have to be dragged again. The beach is long and there is no way off the sand at our end.

With the end of winter comes much more activity on the beach. Kite surfing is a favorite. You often see two or three at a time, but this week there were more like a dozen at once.

The same is true for the water walkers. Some hardy souls have faithfully done their ocean walk all winter long, but their numbers are increasing as spring arrives.

I am continuing to make a little collection of hand stamps that I cut out of inexpensive erasers. I’m building my marine imagery.

The shy egret flew away as I approached, but the Brant geese weren’t bothered.

Dinan

I have taken you to the riverside village of Dinan before on this blog. It is sometimes called “the prettiest town in Brittany,” so it certainly holds an allure for us. It takes about 20 minutes from our Dinard apartment to drive to Dinan, located on the Rance, where the river narrows. Earlier in the week we took the pilgrimage for the first time since moving here. Rick Steves recommends that if you have the chance to visit only one place in Brittany, choose Dinan. Here the tourist destination is not particular buildings, but the whole town itself. It is one of the most authentically preserved places anywhere.

The old town is filled with half timbered buildings, many dating from the thirteenth century. The cobbled streets add charm and atmosphere. Most of the original city walls are still standing and there is a fourteenth century castle open to the public. If it weren’t for the cars, one could certainly be transported back to the Middle Ages without having to exert much imagination. Many of the buildings have upper floors that substantially overhang the ground floor, adding a lot of interest. Apparently taxes for home owners in Medieval times were calculated from the square footage of the bottom floor only. I wonder how many clever solutions have been developed down through the ages to save on taxes?

Historically, Dinan was a strategic Channel port, connecting France with England and Holland. The Rance River at that time was open to the sea, of course, and existed before the port of San Malo. As ships got bigger, however, Dinan became impractical, St. Malo built up it’s port and became the primary landing spot, which it remains to this day. It wasn’t until the port of Dinan lost relevance for European trade, in the Middle Ages, that the walled city on the hill, now the main attraction, began to be settled. The town now overlooks the river, rather than being built on its shores, which is perhaps more typical.

The rue du Petit Fort, a 750 meter long street which leads from the town above to the port below, drops 75 meters (300 ft.) in that short distance. It is a very steep but agreeable stroll past charmingly preserved buildings along well maintained cobbles. Dinan is designated a city of art and history. Many craftsmen make Dinan their home and there are dozens of galleries and crafter’s shops along this road. Dinan began a concerted effort to preserve their town and historic buildings at the very beginning of the twentieth century, before most cities and citizens were thinking about such things. During WWII the town was spared. While St. Malo was turned into a rubble, Dinan was not touched. This good fortune, along with the inherent Breton pride of its inhabitants, has kept the town as a true authentic relic of the past. But at the same time, it is also a living, working town where 11,000 people make their home.

I particularly like the port, which is relatively quiet. There isn’t room for many boats, so the scene is down to earth, not flashy or show-offy. We took a nice long stroll along the water’s edge and watched as the local sailors worked on their boats. We met a dog who was lying on deck and greeting people as they strolled past. The restaurants were all closed due to COVID, but one can imagine the happy tourists as they lounge on the riverside once the weather and situation permit. We actually talked to the harbor master in his office, which was open when we walked by. We were trying to discover if it would be possible to launch our kayaks from the port. He assured us we could. It’s pleasant to imagine a paddle either down or up the river.

Dinan has a completely different ambiance than Dinard, just a few miles downstream. Ocean and river towns. I like them both. I’m “saying my gratefuls” as my grandchildren sometimes do, to live, at least temporarily, in such a rich environment. It’s so nice to be near water.