Cleaning the family grave and other Breton adventures

I just got home from a trip to France to visit my grandmother. It's something that my mother and I do about once year.

For whatever reason, this time it was really clear to me how differently we two see Bubry and the country as a whole. For my mother, Bubry is where she grew up, day in and day out. For me, it's a place full of warm and fuzzy childhood memories of my grandparents spoiling me for one month out of every year.


I have an inside outsider look at the culture and my mother has more of an outside insider one. By that I mean that she used to be very much a French person--an insider--but, having lived in the States for so long, she's somewhat removed now. It's the opposite for me since I'll never really be French like she is, and yet I have an intimate understanding of certain aspects of the culture.

chocolate aisle in a French supermarket

For example, I understand the obsession that causes the chocolate aisle at a moderately sized French supermarket to look like this.

French chocolate-flavored postage stamps

And stamps that don't just look like chocolate but smell and taste of it too make complete sense to me.

eating crepes in the basement

Of course, it's not just about being French: it's about being Breton. And there's nothing quite so Breton as eating crêpes one by one as they're made fresh in the basement or garage at your friend's house!

making crepes in the basement

In this particular case, once we were all well fed, our hosts insisted that my Maman and I learn how to make crêpes.

making crepes in the basement

Though a proper griddle and spreader are a necessity, the tools alone can not turn a ladle of watery dough into a lacey blé noir pancake.

making crepes in the basement
photo by my mother

Crêpe-making is a discipline and an art where everything from the mixing of the dough to the temperature and greasing of the griddle must be considered.

Breizh Cola

The traditional beverage for the consuming of crêpes is hard cider, and, though there was no shortage of it at the table, this bottle managed to catch my eye. It's the Breton brand of cola! (Breizh is the Breton name for Brittany.)

Breizh Cola

As the back of the label indicates, it's the cola of the far west--an American expression that's used in French and that, in this case, includes a pun on the French word for lighthouses which are plentiful in a region that is bordered on three sides by water.

Fort Bloque in Brittany

Bubry isn't on the coast, but we took a day trip to visit a cousin who lives on the Atlantic.


The tidepools at Fort Bloqué are phenomenal...


...and all the coastal lifeforms are lovely.

seaweed at Fort Bloque in Brittany


seaweed at Fort Bloque in Brittany


Annie Seemel

Ocean lover.

sand heart

I ♥ the coast too.

Bubry cemetery

While in Bubry, my Maman and I spent some time cleaning the family grave.

cleaning the family grave cemetery

I feel an obligation to do this, but not so much to my dead ancestors as to my grandmother. I know how important it is to her.

Bubry cemetery

Funny to say it, but the Bubry cemetery is very homey to me. I think it has to do with all the time spent watering plants on the Le Carrer tomb growing up.

market day in Bubry

Bubry has had an open air market every second and fourth Wednesday of the month for the last 400 years...

market day in Bubry

...though I imagine that polar fleece was not always available!

market day in Bubry

I remember coming to see the chickens and rabbits that were for sale at the market when I was younger.

market day in Bubry

At the time, I don't think I was so clear on the fact that many of them would end up as lunch.

chez Le Lamer in Bubry

By far my favorite store in the village is Le Lamer's. They sell organic products, yummy bread, and divine chocolates.

chez Le Lamer in Bubry

When I was little, I bet franc cents with my grandfather on our games of bataille, and, once I'd saved up enough money, I would come to buy candies here. I still bring home a box of chocolates from Le Lamer's every time I visit!


I went to see an old friend while I was in Brittany.


Floriane is one of my favorite people.


I love how animated she is!

photo by Floriane

I visited Floriane and her sweetheart in Melesse, a community outside of Rennes. When she told me where she lived, I made a pun on the name. The way it’s pronounced, it sounds like me laisse which translates to "me leave," so I completed the sentence and said "me leave alone." My Maman laughed at me because it wasn’t proper French (just like it’s not proper English), but Floriane said that I had it just right. The townspeople refer to their home that way!


While I was there, we went for a walk on Floriane's footing trail. Footing is the French word for jogging.


It's lovely country out there...


...and just a bit different from the area around Bubry.


The grass is always greener on the photographer's side.


These cows say meuh instead of "moo."

barbed wire fence

The trail winds between many different farms and fields.

acorn on a barbed wire fence

An acorn that fell in exactly the wrong spot.


A chestnut in a similar predicament.


We gathered a lot of chestnuts on our walk.

cleaning the chestnut roasting pan

When we got back, Floriane's honey got out the chestnut-roasting pan.

cleaning the chestnut roasting pan

It needed some cleaning since this was the first roast of the season.

roasting chestnuts on an open fire

The reason why I don't have a picture of me doing the roasting is that it's hard work...

chestnut roasting fire

...and the reason why I don't have a photo of the finished product is because I was too busy eating to take a picture!

egg yolk

We made mayonnaise while we were in France, and it's very simple to do. All you need is one egg yolk warmed up to room temperature, a dollop of mustard, some safflower oil, and a zing of lime.

making mayonnaise

You beat the yolk with the mustard and then add the oil a bit at a time, stirring all the while, until you reach the desired consistency. The lime is the finishing touch! My mother is my own private Julia Child.

lunch in Pontivy

Every day we were in Brittany, Maman and I went to Pontivy, the biggest town that's close to Bubry.

photo by my mother

Pontivy has some lovely old buildings downtown.

photo by my mother

This one was being freshened up.

photo by my mother

And this one was in colors to match my wardrobe!

grandmother, mother, daughter
photo by Françoise

Pontivy is where my grandmother lives now, in a retirement home.


Every day, Mamy and Maman and I would take a little walk.


This was much easier to do this year since my grandmother is out of the wheelchair that she was in last time we visited.

Chateau des Rohan, Pontivy
photo by my mother

Pontivy has a lovely castle, the Château des Rohan.

Chateau des Rohan, Pontivy

It's used as an exhibition and events space, and while we were there they had the 11th annual Salon des artistes peintres.

Chateau des Rohan, Pontivy

Just three of the 80 or so exhibiting artists have websites. The result of France's delayed adoption of the Internet because of Minitel? Or a function of a culture that's not as interested in self-publication? I am not sure. In any case, Danyelle Keryhuel, Stéphanie Quinot, and Annie Lagadec have definitely made it easier for me to have a window onto the French artist's world.


On the last Sunday that we were in town, Bubry had a marché du terroir where all the artisans in the neighborhood could show their products. It was a good opportunity to cousiner. That's the word "cousin" turned into a verb, and its meaning is very similar to the meaning of networking, only it's networking for life instead of for career.

old woman

At the marché we saw two Bubryates who have a special place in my heart. Madame Le Pen and...

old man

...Monsieur Le Pen. They have a garden across the street from where my grandparents used to live, so when I was younger I'd see them every time I would go for a walk. They always used to teach me little snippets of Breton. Though I haven't retained a single thing they told me, I do still have the scraps of paper that they'd dig up in their shed in order to write down phrases in Breton for me. Kenavo!

Maria and Annie

The woman who is with my mother here was also at the marché. She is friends with both my grandparents, and she made a point of saying some very lovely things about my grandfather who died seven years ago. I wasn't able to attend my Papy's funeral, but, as I listened to Maria talk about him, I realized then how important a community is for grieving. Hearing her stories about him was a very good thing for me.


This is a romanesque cauliflower, and we seemed to see them everywhere in France this year though we'd never noticed them before. As someone who loves cauliflower, I think these are magnificent!

cauliflower farmers

When the farmers who produced the romanesque cauliflower spotted me photographing it, they joked about getting credit for their masterpiece. I fully agree!

Sainte Helen, Bubry

Brittany is riddled with springs and some are considered sacred, like this one dedicated to Saint Helen. When I was little, the spring was maintained and the water potable, but today it's not.

spring near Bubry
photo by my mother

We go to the spring at Coët Diquel for our water.

spring near Bubry

I used to ride my bike to the spring, the saddle packs crammed full of six empty bottles.

spring near Bubry

The ride home was a little heavier with the bottles all full, but it couldn't have been more refreshing.


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