Chasing Matisse: The Book
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April 3, 2003
The Ancient Forest of Brocéliande
(and the Enchanting Sunday Lunch)
I went shopping for Blair's birthday and filled a box with goodies for her-meats and sweets, crackers and cookies, books, bijoux, and clothes. I wrapped every gift with fuchsia, chartreuse, and purple crepe papers (and a few plastic sacks) and tied them with red and green bows. We piled the cache of birthday booty in a carton I'd snagged from a store and mailed it through the French postal service paying for priority delivery. This was my daughter's first birthday in 22 years that I haven't thrown some sort of party, and it was important that our good wishes and surprises arrive on time. It was a festive cadeau!
But there was one thing I'd wanted to include that I didn't have-a lore-filled gift of some sort from the land of Merlin and Viviane. I had been determined to see the ancient Forest of Brocéliande (also called the Forest of Paimpont), land of legends and fairies and magic, where Merlin the Sorcerer conjured up an invisible crystal castle for his great love, Viviane, the whole time we'd been here. There is a good bit of King Arthur lore in Brittany. We'd skimmed by it when we were here several years ago, and being a lover of unreality (or reality for me), I wanted to jump into this spoil that troubadours and poets melodiously sang through the Middle Ages and has lived on in the annals of knights and chivalry. But Blair's package had to go before we got there-which we did later in the week.
Our first stop was the tiny village of St. Léry which did not disappoint. St. Léry was pristine with beautifully maintained houses, mas, and a glorious mansion just across the lane from the lovely 14th Century church with its smart Renaissance porch. The sky spit rain at us, and we didn't care. We were just happy to see and be in such a place.
The next point of interest was the Cháteau de Comper, where Vivian the Priestess (and Fairy), was said to have been born and where she raised Sir Lancelot, the most gallant of Arthur's Round Table knights. In other words, this was Lancelot's boyhood home. (How can it get better than that?) The chateau loomed over the countryside with its great walls, tower, and mystery. The gate was closed, and we couldn't tour it, but Frida, Jim, and I peered in the gate and walked its line of walls. Viviane saw us, recognized good souls and other temperamental women, and blew up a storm to say hello. There was no wind at all, and when we started taking photos, the gusts nearly knocked us down (which would be quite a feat for me). I'm not kidding. It was weird. The Lady of the Lake created such a breeze. Her lagoon rippled with her breath. I told this to a French friend, and she said Viviane was jealous of Frida. (But what about me?)
Did Merlin understand what he was getting into with this powerful pixie? I think he did, but we drove on to the Tombeau de Merlin to ask him. The earth here was red with clay and two slabs of schist marked the spot-not a fancy French monument like one might've suspected but simple and natural. Merlin's response basically was, and I quote, "That was it? You got off lucky." Frida and I both remarked that Viviane had certainly found her calling with the world of enchantment, and Merlin replied that he was the one who taught her. We ambled down the path of the Fountaine de Jouvence which has magical powers as well. I stuck my hand in the small and still, unassuming pool. Leaves were strewn across the top of it. I dripped the water across my head and neck and Jim who did the same. I certainly want all the extra power and charm I can get-not to mention any age-defying minerals that it might hold.
The forest itself is quite serene with towering trees and a carpet of wild flowers and leaves and such. The town of Paimpont is in the heart of it-beside a sizeable lake which adorned the abbey church and square as a shimmery, liquid skirt. Jim was a little cranky here and didn't follow me down the street, where I'd spied an interesting Merlin shop with lots of Arthur-related paraphernalia as well as kitschy tourist junk. I had to have a souvenir and preferably a meaningful one. One of our dear friends, Greg, once told me that he knew I was half-fairy, which made Blair and Bret a quarter-fairy each. Of course, I loved that idea since I've always longed to fly and make magic in my own right and happily claim the heritage. I found the perfect fairy earrings and have worn them ever since. I also found a silver Holy Grail to hang on my necklace of icons that I've collected all over the world. Oh, rapture! I'd lacked a Grail, and since we're on this quest, it couldn't have fit more flawlessly.
Our next pool surrounded the Cháteau de Trécesson, a 15th Century castle that is medieval through and through, a lovely abode for a knight and his lady. It looked like it might be a little dark and gloomy inside but what romance, and it was in impeccable shape. After this, our last prestigious stop was the Val Sans Tour, the Valley of No Return. This is the land that Morgana, the fairy witch, made it impossible for anyone who had been unfaithful to leave-except for Sir Lancelot who remained stalwart for his love, Guinevere. We returned from our venture, but Frida wouldn't go in. The Diego stuck in her head would had to have stayed, and she didn't want to take up residence.
It was a lovely tour through tales and legends, and afterward we arrived in Vannes in time for a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called La Gavroche. The décor, ambience, and dinner hit our spots. We didn't do so badly the next night either. We'd gone to the LeClerc and found beautiful veal chops which Jim succulently grilled in a skillet, while I simmered a pot of Southern turnips and greens.
The whole weekend was a feast. We were invited for a Sunday birthday lunch for our friend Alice and her and Guy's friend, Jean-Pierre. The soirée was to be at Jean-Pierre and his wife Veronique's maison. We'd met them before and enjoyed their delightful company. I dressed up in my black leather skirt and jacket and off we went. Our contribution to the event was Mint Juleps made with Jack Daniels. Jim is a master at stirring them up, and the crowd agreed to their tastiness. Veronique set her table beautifully with napkins and candles of blue and green, and we were presented the hugest platter of what must have been seven dozen oysters. Wow! They were of the sea, fresh and briny. A perfectly cooked salmon came next with lots of good wine, a berry cobbler I made for dessert.
It was one of those amazing French lunches that went on for hours with long conversations and laughs and incredible food and wine. We talked about some of the stories and press we'd been hearing about how terribly Americans were being treated in France, not even being able to travel around the country. We were a group of two Americans, one British, and three French having a marvelous time together and grateful for our new friends. We couldn't have been welcomed more graciously.
posted by Beth on April 3, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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