Memories from childhood, how real are they?


It all started with a visit to Combourg, two years ago, on a rainy summer day.

Why Combourg? This had been François-René de Chateaubriand’s childhood home. He described the castle when he talks about his childhood in his Memoirs which I had read while I was spending my teenage years reading, reading and reading.

Of course, reading Chateaubriand’s Memoirs was almost compulsory for someone like me. Among quite a few other things, I had been studying French classical litterature from the Middle Ages to the XXth century. Chateaubriand is one of the greatest and most interesting writers of the Romantic Movement which took place in the XIXth century. He also was a seasoned traveller and even went into politics.

Combourg is on our way to and from Brittany. It became quite obsessive.  
I wanted to visit the place... I had to wait long, long years and then of course, I felt quite disappointed.

The castle is a dreary place. You feel sorry for young René... But life is not always easy, is it?

As soon as we left Combourg, something long forgotten came back to my mind.

When I was a little girl (from 3 to 10), I used to spend the Easter break in Brittany with my aunt Monette and my cousins. I have to admit that my memories only go back to the time after I turned 5 or 6.

Leaving Combourg, I suddenly remembered the holiday house in Saint-Lunaire, very close to Saint-Malo where Chateaubriand lived and has been buried after dying in Paris.

I remembered taking walks with my aunt and cousins to a squat granite cross where some years, there were thousands of ladybugs.

Since we used to go to Saint-Malo all the time, it made sense to me that the cross had to be Chateaubriand’s grave. Chateaubriand has been buried on an island you can walk to at low tide, right by the city walls. His grave is very simple. One cross facing the ocean. No name.

Ever since we started living in Brittany, I went many times to Saint-Malo but I never walked to the ‘Grand Bé’. At the time, it didn’t seem very important.

I started feeling very frustrated when the memories came back. I had to go to the ‘Grand Bé’. I had to.

Of course, being married to Popeye, we went to the ‘Grand Bé’ several times, this summer... by boat. Very, very frustrating even if Saint-Malo is such a beautiful city from the sea... a city haunted by so many seafarers like Jacques Cartier who discovered Canada, so many bucanneers and pirates even.

The 'Grand Bé'
Then last week, the weather was too foul to go by sea, even for a sailor like Popeye... who happens to be married to Olive who hates boating anyway!

We drove to Saint-Malo to explore the ‘Grand Bé’. My heart was fluttering while we were climbing the steps to Chateaubriand’s grave. Memories, memories flooding my mind. Those had been very happy times.

On top of the ‘Grand Bé’, facing the raging sea, the grave. I held my breath, looked at Popeye and remained voiceless. This was not the ladybugs place from my childhood.

How could I have made up those beautiful and happy memories? I remembered so vividly those walks, the wind and the clouds and the ladybugs and such a deep happiness. There was no one I could call to ask. Too many ghosts around me.

I felt so lost and disturbed. But I’m married to Popeye. And Popeye said: ‘No problem. We’ll drive to Saint-Lunaire. It’s only 5 miles away. We’ll find your childhood holiday home and the ladybugs cross. It’s got to be there.’

We first came upon the tennis courts where he’d played several years in a row for the Brittany tennis championship cup. (A lot of young champions to be came from all over the world to play for this cup.)

Popeye was extremely happy but did not forget why we were in Saint-Lunaire after all.

We started looking for the house and we kind of found it. Well, several of them... Those stately XIXth century very British homes all look alike... 50 years later. This was a good start though. I was starting to feel better.

Saint-Lunaire - the beach
And there it was... the squat granite cross outlined against the sky. So my memories had been real after all. It’s called the ‘Pointe du Décollé’. The cross stands on a rocky overhang. The view from it takes your breath away.

The 'Pointe du Décollé'

I suddenly realized why this part of Brittany where we live has always been so familiar to me. I have seen it so many times from the ‘Pointe du Décollé’. So long ago. But kept alive somehow in my mind.

Two days later, the weather was much nicer and we went back to Saint-Lunaire by boat which was a brand new experience for me. It was truly lovely, so lovely we even forgot to eat lunch!

Memories from childhood are not this deceptive after all.

Oscar Wilde wrote: ‘Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us.’

So true.

All my gratitude to François-René de Chateaubriand...

*Good luck, and Good Night*

All pictures ©Mammodouy's Pictures

1 comment:

Myrna said...

I loved this post! Thank you for sharing it! Oh, how I long to go to France! And Popeye is such a nice guy. I like him so much, even though I have never met him.