My Days at the “End of the World” in Brittany, France


I like this.



By Mark Greenside

It is seven in the morning and I can hear doves cooing, magpies complaining, occasionally bees buzzing, as the light zooms into my room.

I’ve awakened in Brittany, France, the land of Merlin and Gaugin, where Monet, Signac, and Seurat came to paint the water and sky where they meet the land.

My house is granite, over 140 years old, in a village of 500 in the department of Finistère (literally translated as “The End of The World”), next to a town of 5,000. I’m the only American in the vicinity, though there are a number of Brits.

The house sits in a valley with a pasture and sheep behind it; a little park, farmland and a river are in front. From here, the river ambles its way to the Bay at Brest and then folds itself into the ocean. Boats sail and motor past the house at high tides twice a day. The Atlantic is 15 miles away.

Sheep munch on the grass in the park across the street; hundreds of trees dance in the breeze or wind or rain on the hills across the river. Cobalt, maroon, and snowball-white Hydrangeas bloom aside the road.

I go downstairs and brew a pot of coffee, then go upstairs to my study, facing the park and river and hills, and write. (I wrote a book, “I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do)” about my experiences here.)

Once or twice a week, my French friend Monsieur Yvon drops by. He speaks French, and I try. Mostly, we laugh. (Mostly, I think, about me.)

People here have a dark sense of humor and a fatalistic acceptance of the absurd and are curious, helpful, courteous, and kind. Another friend Sharon brings me flowers from her garden. Yvon brings me eggs.

Every few days, after noon, before everything closes for midi, and the stores are least crowded, I drive two miles into town and shop. I’m not a foodie, but I love the food here: the warm, freshly baked bread at the boulangerie, a flûte, dark raisin-nut, sesame, or zigzag; at thecharcuterie, more than half a dozen hams…sausages, and pâtés…homemade salads…free-range chickens…and cuts of pork and beef I’ve never tasted.

At the poissonerie, I choose from living crab…mussels, and langoustine…sole, trout, cod, and halibut; and at the market, I savor the fresh veggies and fruit, especially the tomatoes that taste like tomatoes should, and melons that are sweeter than sherry, and strawberries that make the melons taste like paste.

Once a week, I stop at the Maison de la Presse to say bonjour to Muriel and Fred and buy a Herald Tribune. Once a week is all the world news I can take.

After lunch, depending on rain or sun, hot or cool, wet or dry, I go out. It could be a drive in the country, over roly-poly, green, lush, hilly land with cows and sheep grazing, punctuated with small stone houses and their black slate roofs, or amber fields of corn and wheat.

It could be a visit to old Quimper, the 13th-century, double-spired cathedral, the art and history museums, or just a walk through the cobble-stoned town.

I could go to Carnac and see megaliths, visit Gaugin’s painting grounds in Pont Aven, take a ferry to Belle Isle, where Sara Bernhardt lived, Toussaint L’ouverture (the slave who drove Napoleon out of Haiti) was imprisoned, and Monet and Matisse painted.

There are also parks and zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums, as well as a multitude of Celtic music and cultural festivals and the enclos paroissial—an area of a dozen or so medieval chapels and their medieval calvaries (crucifixion sculptures) guaranteed to scare the hell out of me and everyone else.

But my favorite place to go in any weather, day or night, is the sea.

The water is pristine: emerald, turquoise, or opal, depending on the time, light, and weather; beaches are strands of endless linked coves, some craggy and rocky, others fine, with white sand. There are boats, bathing, sea-sports, fishing, fresh sea food, grand horizons, and the freedom that comes from open spaces.

In the evenings, I eat dinner with friends visiting from the U.S. and with my French friends who live in the village year-round. Mostly, we eat long, chocked-full of conversation meals in people’s homes, occasionally in restaurants, mostly local crêperies.

This far north, the earth turns dark and the stars become crisp around midnight. That’s when I usually excuse myself and go to bed to sleep the sleep of the content and fulfilled, looking forward to the next day.

I’ve been doing this for 22 summers now and plan to continue until I can live here longer and more.

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