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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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February 10, 2003

Life, Bretagne, and Thom

We received a thoughtful, beautifully-written email from our friend Thom Hall, catching us up on his remodeling project (which sounds very glamorous) and himself. Thom paid us the great compliment that we inspire him, that our passion is apparent. He reflected on our friendship and where he finds himself at this moment in his life, in this space that we call time. Thom is a fine painter and just had a very successful show, and we're happy for him. Our artistic inclinations have drawn us together for many years. We speak the same language. We survive the same struggles. We've had lots of laughs and many good times together (there's a classic story in one of Jim's previous books, If These Walls Had Ears, that we call "The Monet Lunch"). Thom is hilarious, and with (or without) Thom's permission, I'll use the word "outrageous"-only in the nicest way, of course. Thom's note made our day.

It's responses like this, events, meetings, a charming street, a sunshiny day-a moment of beauty whatever form it takes-that propels us forward, when we have a second of doubt. Something wonderful happens that dissolves the barriers placed in front of us, or that we have placed in front of ourselves. (That's a whole other riff but not for today.)

Our realtor wants to drop the price of our house. We grudgingly said okay. The Universe is full of abundance and bountiful, so how about sending some of it to us! We get Fed-Ex in France. Do you have our new address?

We were driving through Brittany starving and finding no place to eat. I know that sounds like I'm making it up, but I swear it's the truth. We detoured through a tiny village called St.-Nicolas-du-Pélem and spotted a boulangerie. I walked in and asked if they had any sandwiches. No. Can you tell me where we could find one? The two kind women made us a baguette with ham and butter. (This is what I'm talking about.)

We arrived in Quimper looking for a printer and a hotel. We've needed some printing done for weeks-business cards and a packet of project materials. Quimper is a hard city to drive into-the River Odet in a canal between two one-way streets-the centre ville to the right from the direction we were coming. I don't know why, but it was difficult. Jim and I were snapping at each other as the requisite wrong turns were made, and we made the same loops. We finally found the Tourism Office-which is a very helpful place in France. We found a printer fairly close by and parked. I rolled my computer case in.

I could see immediately this wasn't going to work, so why did I stand there like a fool? There was a long line of people and one guy at a copy machine. I waited my turn, knowing he couldn't do this job and we didn't have days to wait, but we discussed it, sort of. I pulled my computer case back out the door. Forget the printing in Quimper. We checked into the Gradlon Hotel, which first seemed questionable even with its three stars, because the street it's on is not quaint. But our nerves we frayed, and we needed to light somewhere. So far I've been able to plug into all the three-star hotels, which is a necessity, and worth the extra money when we're tired, have a lot to do and see (I mean see) rather than hunting for a cyber café in the middle of the night. The desk clerk was a young, attractive woman who showed us a small though pretty room on the first floor. Hooray! The proprietor was British and had that charming trait of appearing a little dotty, though he probably wasn't at all. I prefer to think the first.

There was a handsome salon and bar-very British, and we ordered a double Jack Daniels to cut the road's wear and tear. This is the farthest in Brittany that we've ever been. The Celtic influence is all around, and the Breton language is making a comeback. The French and Breton words are on every road sign you pass. (They look rather Scotch-Irish and like Bilbo Baggins might say them.) And, thank God, Jack Daniels is a universal phrase.

We walked five minutes to the old town. This was better-a huge square with cathedral on one side, restaurants and shops, and a carousel, cobblestone streets. We consumed the best savory crepe we've ever eaten-egg, ham, cheese, tomato, and mushroom. We split one with caramel and pears, ice cream on top for dessert. How will I ever lose weight?

The next morning we were presented with a delightful breakfast in the same salon as our drink. Suffice it to say that I like this hotel.

The one other thing I wanted to do in Quimper was visit the Musée de la Faïence. It was closed. We walked over to the square and went through the Cathédral St-Corentin, which was quite interesting. King Gradlon sits on top. The legend is that he built the city of Ys for his very spoiled daughter who never went to church. The devil took the village, and the sea flooded it. King Gradlon was only saved from the waters by letting his evil daughter go. (Let this be a lesson to you evil daughters out there. You know who I mean.) She was dashed on the rocks. We tried to go to the Musée Départmental Breton, but it was closed too. We looked through the book store. Isn't that the same?

Our real treat was in store. We drove to Landudec to see the castle of Guilguiffin, which has been owned by the same family for almost 1,000 years. The first manor was built in 1010. The current owner, Phillipe Davy, restored the chateau to glory and has made it into a luxurious Bed & Breakfast. He and his wife (whose family owned Guilguiffin) live in one wing. It was closed, but Monsieur Davy invited us to take a look. All I can say is, wow! We were knocked out by every single, sumptuous room. The scale is amazing, the colors-blues, pinks, yellows, and greens-stunning, every detail divine. Some rooms were favorites, but it would be hard to choose. We could live in a suite. The park surrounding the chateau is thoughtfully and beautifully done as well. This place is a find.

Frida wanted to ride the Irish Wolfhound, but the Wolfhound declined. And she pouted about not staying. She'd selected the pink room to go with her red frame, but we had to move on. There were Matisse sites to see along the coast.

We motored to Audierne, which reminded me of Granville, the layout of its harbor, merchants houses, stores and restaurants lining the street. A seasidey town and port. We drove up the highway to the point where the bay meets the sea and to a great local bar/brasserie, Le Grand Large. We went in and ordered our second soupe de poissons and a ham and cheese baguette. It was rich and tasty with garlicky croutons instead of plain toasts-a delicious, cheap lunch. Those are the kind of places we like too find.

La Pointe du Raz was next. It is a wild and massive headland. I read the road was jammed with tourists in the summer. Not today. There are some advantages about being off season, although you miss some of the vibrant charm when business is shut up. It's a long walk from the parking lot to reach the land's end, which is the right buildup for this expansive view. The breeze was brisk as the sea thrashed below. We could see the island of Sein in the distance, although Frida stayed in the car. She was still sulking.

The last Matisse site was not far, Pont-Croix. It was quaint and pretty, a real town-not waiting to come alive with the summer people. A lazy river flows by with an inviting park to have a French pique-nique. The town square reminds me of Paris's Place des Vosges (more so, if it hadn't been turned into a parking lot).

We finally "get it," why painters and writers go to the places they do (and often together). They are beautiful spots on the earth, where they can find inspiration, where they have space to see and feel and think. They find it in themselves-like our friend Thom Hall, wherever he finds himself.

posted by Beth on February 10, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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