Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Deep dark and damp days in darkest Brittany


Sunday morning. Besieged by storms ,the solar lights uncharged , we are like pioneers swathed in the gloom of an ancient winter, rain lashing the house outside and casting a sombre pall over everything inside . This house was built long ago, its back turned against the wind, hunkering down into the cleft between the roundness of the hills like an old man crouching in a ditch, trees planted for protection over the centuries dwarfing it.. Outside the light cast through the autumn colours of beech and birch is golden the sky a sickly yellow like a fading bruise from the nights beating.It is 10.30 and so dark I am writing by candle light.

We are not prepared for this sudden jolt back through the centuries to a time before electricity. We have not yet ordered the wood for winter a cold wind whips beneath eh door and no one can remember how to light the oil lamp nor whether it will work on petrol , The torches batteries are either dead or running low and we can not find the matches. We have bottled gas though and candles and jumpers to keep us warm so we play at being cast aways whilst the pressure cooker hisses unkind threats at the chicken ensnared in its belly and the boys play joyfully with their toys in the dark. The last time the power died it took 36 hours to revive it but we have not learnt our lesson believing the EDF ( French electricity) that with the new lines installed it would never happen again. Meanwhile we wait and watch.

Our young neighbour arrives do we have electricity? Nope him neither we lament being at the end of the line. Can he use our mobile to call the EDF his needs charging. We sit and admire his optimism at getting anyone to answer on a Sunday. He calls, we put on the kettle for coffee the gas splutters . EDF play soothing music but sat nothing. We decide they are all good catholics and in church where there are plenty of candles or are bad communist and too lazy to work at weekends. The wind roars, the sky darkens the rain comes again. The gas dies, so much for coffee then. Still EDF plays soothing songs. Young neighbour goes home and my husband goes off in search of a new Gaz bottle in the next town to check if they have any power.The wind continues to howl.

I grew up by the sea and, with each rising crescendo of the gale, instinctively half listen for the crash of the waves as the wind rises but there is no abating and it roars on like a ceaseless argument between sky and land.


What was it like then, before ,to live in the depths of Brittany down in the hollows of the Kreizh Breizh between rocks and woods. The old houses have vast inglenooks deep enough to sit inside and in winter the family lived therein, women on one side men another in the heat and smoke of the fire slowly being kippered so that the old photographs show them dark skinned like Indians from the dirt and soot. The beds were built in boxes "Lit Clos" with doors , giant cupboards to keep out the cold and the animals lived often in the same room for added warmth. With mud and rain in winter once the day light faded people stayed in doors or gathered together in each others houses to talk and drink cidre and play music keep the dark spirits at bay. I imagine the dirt the damp and the smell and think perhaps my own kitchen which to my eyes is badly in need of gutting and replacing, and very probably smelling of cats and wet dogs isn't too bad after all.

Forget the glossy magazines which try to tempt us along the fussy path of foppish floral fripperies , this is real country living not the world of Kath kidson matching apron and oven gloves, recessed ceiling lights and the rustic furniture bought at great expense from some emporium selling lifestyles, the comfy floral sofas and artfully shabby chic cupcake stands, the colour co-ordinated Le Cruesset and the matching Aga and store bought flowers. I do not know one real country person, someone born and bred to the life who has anything but mismatched china, hand me down furniture and and odd assortment of glasses and serving dishes .


Sitting in the half light viewing my world through rain splattered windows I realise ,that as Thanksgiving approaches, I have much to be thankful for. I may not have rural dream which looks so enticing on the glossy page, but what I do have is the rural reality and even without electricity here in rain soaked mud splattered wind torn Brittany I wouldn't ask for more.
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Photograph is an old hand tinted image of a typical Breton interior with lit clos earth floors and an inglenook fireplace.

12 comments:

bayou said...

This is so well written and so the same over here. Instead of EDF we have got Electrabel, same service level. We learned our lesson when we moved in 9 years ago. 24th December, the very dinner to be served soon and then --- the dark. And the cold. Luckily Christmas candles and matches and a woodburner. As we had no central heating, it did not bother but our poor neighbours went to bed because it was so cold. We just did not eat our dinner but we were warm. I am sure you are prepared now :-).

Tattie Weasle said...

Where's the adventure if you always remebered your batteries fo the torch .. I love hunkering down with candle light when EDF, who also do our electricity over this side of the channel, fail to deliver. The fire roars, we are all together and it's just fun!

ELS said...

Found you through Tattie Weasle - what a fantastic post, so evocative and so true about Kath effing Kidston stuff. May I add you to my roll? So lovely to meet you,
E

Friko said...

Hm, not sure that I would want to have a lot of that going on for the whole winter. I hate it when the electricity fails , we sit in the dark and have to go to bed to keep warm. candlelight is wonderful, I love it, but only when I can switch the light on to find the matches.

Because we live so far away from towns we often have power cuts; if they last for more than 24 hours every bit of food in the freezer defrosts and has to be thrown out. No fun when you've been doing a lot of cooking for the freezer or harvesting fruit and veg.

Frances said...

I absolutely loved every word of this post (even as I marveled the fact that I was able to read all those words.)

Dug in so deeply in my huge city with all its artificial everything just there to keep us going (until it doesn't) it is very thought provoking to consider that on this very same day, things are quite different elsewhere, even if we can still tap keyboards to each other.

Your other side is very good. xo

gaelikaa said...

That reminds me of here when there's a power cut.

mountainear said...

I've had a lot of similar thoughts over the past few days - like you the wind and rain has crashed about us. We've not lost the power though. Yet.

The elements, water, wind, fire still remain forces to be reckoned with - untameable.

Fennie said...

Loved this evocative piece almost enough to make me wish for a power cut. I love the magic of candlelight, the warm tones and long flickering shadows. Much more human somehow than our electric glare. Do hope you are managing to keep Loic warm in this eternal dampness as the rain lashes the windows.

Elizabethd said...

And here also in another part of Brittany there are people whose lives have changed very little.

ChrisH said...

You do write well. That was a lovely cosy blog - know what you mean about the realities of country living.

elizabethm said...

YOun live in a house very like ours by the sound of it. We too are hunkered down against the weather and the only place to be is here by the stove. wonderfully written!

letters to emily said...

it is refreshing to find a blog written by such a fine writer. you made me feel damp and cold.

thank you.

-myletterstoemily.blogspot.com