My Travel Book - I love Brittany

In Paris, people ask you all the time where you’re from because there are very few true Parisians. When in Belgium, it’s easy to answer that I’m French. But in France, where am I from?

I was born in Falaise, a small town in Normandy, known for being the birthplace of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.

I left Normandy when I was 10 to go live in Béziers (Southern France - Languedoc-Roussillon), quite close to Spain.

On my mother’s side, we all come from a couple of small neighbouring villages in the ‘Montagne Noire’, 50 kms above Carcassonne, in the region called Languedoc or Occitania.

On my father’s side, it gets more complicated. Half the family comes from Alsace, this Eastern part of France which was German or French, depending on who had won the latest war.
One quarter is from Normandy and boasts descending from Blondel, a famous minstrel at the beginning of the 13th century.
The last quarter is Basque (on the Spanish border of Aquitaine) but they all speak French. For France, it’s an interesting blend, almost explosive.

A long time ago, I chose to be from Arfons, my grandparents’ tiny village. I loved it very much. I had spent so much time there anyway that it really was my home.

Then I went to Brittany and fell in love with the area. After my grandmother’s death, that was it. I became an adoptive Breton.

I’ve already told the story of our home in Brittany. But Brittany is not «Les Tertres»!

It’s not really big but it’s got an interesting history and a language (the Breton) which is still taught in school but not mandatory.

Brittany is a Celtic region, just like my old «Montagne Noire» except for one big difference, two actually.

Brittany is surrounded by the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. Its border with main France is not very long. So it is very maritime.
Languedoc is mostly mainland even though one of its borders is the Mediterranean Sea.

In Brittany, the sea is part of lots of people’s daily working life. In Southern France, it’s mostly a place for fun.

The second difference is very important to me.
Brittany was not annexed to France. The Duchy of Brittany was offered to the French kingdom as a dowry when Duchess Anne married the King of France (actually she married two of them).
Occitania was defeated and incorporated to France after the bloody  Albigensis crusade against Cathars which lasted almost 50 years.

I love Brittany but let’s face it: Brittany is very binary.

There is Northern Brittany and Southern Brittany, both of them very different as they can be.
Northern Brittany is rocky, with high cliffs and lots of wildlife sanctuaries. Its climate is very temperate and rainy, a little bit warmer in our area because of the Gulf Stream.
Southern Brittany is more «tourist» friendly. No cliffs but beautiful islands in the Morbihan Bay. It’s also sunnier and much warmer.

Brittany is the home of seamen, fishermen who went as far as Newfoundland to fish, discoverers, adventurers and buccaneers.

But it is also the home of farmers whose small and stony fields only stop at the very edge of the sea. It is the first agricultural province in France. But during the many wars France fought, from the Middle Ages to our modern times, they became fearless soldiers and some have become legendary.

Our village is Pléneuf-Val-André. Pléneuf is farming turf whereas Val-André is a sea resort and has an old fishing port with a Newfoundland history. The two places are only one actually but some people are from Pléneuf and others from Val-André and they don’t mix very much!

I love Brittany because in many ways, it didn’t give in to the lure of rampant tourism.  It didn’t destroy Nature’s beauty, the way Southern France or the Atlantic coast did.

Brittany was the first region to create conservation areas as early as 1965.
Housing there is extremely supervised. The Nature conservation law went through in 1965. Our house was not destroyed (it had been built in 1963) but the whole area is now totally unsuitable for building development.

I said that Brittany is binary. I say it again.

So there it is, with the strongest environmental laws ever.

Strangely enough, it is the most polluted region in France. For decades now, farmers have been practising intensive agriculture (mainly hogs and cows, wheat and corn). Besides using a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, they still haven’t found a clean and ecological solution to get rid of the livestock mess which they still spread in the fields.
From the fields, the manure gets into the ground water and down to the rivers and the sea.

Brittany is therefore home to smelly fields and non-drinking water, mostly in the northern part. Some beaches are even invaded by «green alguae» bred by the surplus nitrates from too much manure. Since last year, these alguae are known to be fatal when they dry up on the beach. Their smell is awful but they also release lethal gases.

So there we go, from extreme beauty to dangerous beaches, from tough environmental laws to excessive pollution. A place where fields almost end into the sea and where the sea still provides a lot of food. A place that is almost empty from October till May and fills up with thousands of tourists from all over the world every summer because it is unique and so beautiful.

So when someone asks me where I come from, I kind of send a small message to my beloved grandparents from Arfons just to let them know I still love them but I answer with a firm voice: ‘I am from Brittany’.

No doubt in my mind!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Sometimes it is really hard to be married to a brilliant guy

Many, many years ago, when we started talking about buying a motor boat, we knew that one of us would have to get a boating licence...

At the time, there were three boating licences : Level one would allow you to steer a boat within a 2 miles limit from the shore. You only had to register into a ‘boating school’, take as many classes as needed plus steering lessons, study the maritime code, take the exam (code and steering) and pass it, of course. Quite easy, really. And mandatory for boats using a 10 horsepower engine and higher.

The second licence allowed you to go motor boating on rivers and canals in Europe. If you had already passed the level one maritime licence, you only needed to take an exam about the fluvial code (mainly different signals, etc.).

Then there was a second maritime licence much more difficult to get, extremely hard to get actually but it allowed you to navigate in open seas. You could cross the Channel from Brittany to Great Britain because besides knowing the maritime code, you’d learn how to navigate by the compass and/or the stars. You’d learn to read a maritime map, how to chart your trip, etc, etc.

At the time, this licence would allow you to steer oil tankers and freighters, with a little bit more training I imagine! But anyway...

So my brilliant and better half took boating classes.

He got his level one licence very easily, went on to get his fluvial licence and passed it very easily again.

And then he decided to take lessons and go for the third licence!

I don’t think he ever wanted to steer an oil tanker. I hated the mere idea to cross the Channel in our own boat... but this licence was very stimulating for him so he studied hard and got it with dazzling results! Brilliant, so brilliant!

We celebrated his success and we bought a boat. We had a lot of fun with our friends and children.

One year went by and then the Master of the Seas said it would be a good idea for me to get the first licence just in case he’d get sick one day and couldn’t steer the boat back to the harbour...

I answered it’d be much better for everyone aboard  to drop anchor and wait for him to feel good.

I don’t like boating this much. Actually it’s more like a ‘I-hate-boating’ feeling.

Years ago, I went down in family legend for jumping into the sea, fully clothed and for swimming back to safer ground, always for a good reason of course. I’m a very good swimmer and a rotten passenger/sailor!

Then one day, I relented and signed up at his former boating school for a course which would inevitably allow me to get the first degree licence.

I heard many words of cheer! And I went to school!

The teacher was a former captain in the marine, the real thing, rough and tough. Exactly what I needed to restore my faith in boating.

There were at least thirty students and only one woman, me.

The first class didn’t seem very hard so I went to the second one, feeling more cheerful.

Stupid me. I had forgotten that my right and left have always been completely mixed up. And knowing right from left while steering a boat is a very essential point. Oops, not right from left but starboard from port side.

Troubles ahead!

The guy had been a captain in the marine. He had the soul of a buccaneer. By the way, did buccaneers have a soul?

‘Now I shall ask the following question to the lady over there.’

‘Which lady? Oh me.’

The man was fiendish.

‘What do you mean, milady? You do not know the answer. You know what? Your husband has been my best student ever and there you are, unable to answer the easiest question correctly.’

Then he’d turn his attention to the other students, all male, remember, who were already kind of laughing at me.
‘This is quite extraordinary. Her husband is brilliant, so brilliant and she can’t even answer the easiest question!’

Sycophantic laughs from the male students.

So it went on and on and on and on until the end of the class.

Really unbelievable. I was harbouring murderous thoughts.

When I got home, I had made up my mind. Never again!

I told my husband that I was suddenly getting very tired of being married to such a brilliant man. If he did not want me to run away with our son and our dog, he had to accept the fact that I would never ever get any boating licence.

I don’t know why but he seemed to agree with me. He mentioned having a few words with the teacher and maybe, giving the course just another try, just to show the captain I had more guts than he thought.

Believe it or not but I bought it. So I went back to ‘school’. ‘I’ll show you, Henry Higgins, I’ll show you’ (famous song from My Fair Lady) ringin’ in my ears.

Actually the captain did show me...

‘So melady is back! I talked to your husband. He told me you’re complaining about me manners. Allright. So you don’t like me manners. Well, I don’t like loosing me time with you even tho you’re married to me best student ever!’

The guy sure had guts.

I left, never to return. We made sure we had a good anchor.

Now we have a new bigger boat with a much better anchor which I have yet to learn to use just in case.

I still don’t know starboard from port side. I do know one of them is green and the other one is red but which one? Doesn’t matter anyway since I’ve seen a new buoy yesterday, a big red thing with two black circles on top. I’ve been told it means there is a wreck down there so I’m wondering whether or not I’ll go boating again.

*Good luck, and Good Night*


Spooky Me

At the HAP, the waiting rooms are wide open spaces. So when you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, you get to see lots of people passing by, patients, nurses, secretaries and doctors. Some of them stop by and chat with me from time to time.

Since it is not a very big hospital and I’ve been through most ot its departments, I get to know an awful lot of people (well ‘awful’ just because it’s not a good sign when you get to know so many people in a hospital).

By the way, now I still have to go to the hospital quite often because last chemo, besides cleaning up cancer cells (which was amazing), destroyed a lot of good and healthy things... But that’s allright even though I sometimes feel like an old bike tire with lots of rubber repair patches.

Last Monday, I was waiting for an appointment and I was engrossed in a very interesting novel by Le Clézio about the birth of the State of Israel.

Someone stopped by me, this someone being a lady doctor. But it took me quite a few seconds to realize someone was intently watching me. Still kind of lost in my book, I raised my eyes. The lady was smiling at me.

I was sure I knew her from somewhere but who was she?

She didn’t seem to be in a hurry because she kept smiling at me. I smiled back, still wondering who she was.

Then she said: ‘Olive Oyl? How are you?’

She knows my name. Wow!

‘I’m fine, thank you.’

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’


She grinned at me.

‘I’ve been your anesthesiologist ever since 2003.’

It’s hard to remember an anesthesiologist’s face since you only have one meeting with him/her before surgery. Then you get to see him/her for a few minutes in the operating room and that’s about it.

She did come to check on me several times after surgery n°2 which had lasted 8 hours (2006). I was so heavily drugged during several days afterwards that my memories are kind of hazy. But I remembered her as being  a very, very nice person. And after a while, I forgot all about her because I was fighting something that seemed bigger than me!

Back to the waiting room...

‘How are you, Olive?’

Oh, oh, she does look concerned.

‘I feel fine. I really do, thank you.’

‘Do you? Really?’

‘Yes. Thank you (very much for looking so shocked/surprised).’

‘Well, how are you really doing?’

You must be kidding, dear Doctor. I am alive, very much alive. Can’t you see it?
Oops. Has someone been lying to me?

‘I’m allright, I’m allright. I feel fine, really, everything is ok.’

Then she looks at my breasts area.

‘What about your breast cancer?’

Now would I say I’m fine if I weren’t? I know that in this hospital, my name is cancer-related. I know but please, this is not a joke.

’43 months since last chemo and still cancer free...’

If she keeps looking at me like this, I don’t know what I’m going to do. She does look worried but she’s still smiling. So there is hope somewhere... Maybe she’ll start believing me!

‘You look good anyway. I’m so glad you are still alive.’

This is awesome...

I’m well past enjoying the situation but I do manage a smiling ‘thank you’.

I’m totally flabbergasted. I know she meant well but...
who would enjoy to be taken for a ‘ghost’ even for a few seconds?

*Good luck, and Good night*


Procrastination - I'm so good at it!

                                                       Paris - Le Grand Palais - ©Wikipedia

Would procrastination be part of the Olympic Games, they’d have to design a brand new medal for me - I’m talking about a platinum medal!
Gold is not enough!

Most of the time, I feel very anxious. I want to do things right. Actually, I want them to be perfect, which is a pain in the neck for those who are close to me.

Well,  yes, I am a very anxious person and I do want things to be perfect but I have a problem... lack of time.

This is my excuse for putting off things that need to be done. Always a lack of time.

I didn’t make this very important phone call today... Much too busy. Too many things to do... Tomorrow...

And the letter I was supposed to write today? Much too busy again! Tomorrow for sure...

The appointment I was supposed to make at the hospital? Oops. Too bad. Tomorrow again.

The problem is that tomorrow never comes. All of a sudden, it is today, sometimes yesterday,  almost too late or really, really too late.

I am a photographer. I'm a member of  the French Artists Society and I have one deadline every year... (and more if I ever feel like it!) It usually happens around the beginning of May. All I have to do is to submit a project every year.

I have to choose a few coherent pictures and send them for approval. Then some of them will be exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris (once a year usually in November). Which is really an awesome experience!

It’s been many years now since I was offered a membership in the FAS (truly a great opportunity for an artist, especially for a photographer).

So every year, I have to send my project on time. I have to.

Sounds easy. I have one whole year to think about it, work around it and then get the pictures ready and send them at the beginning of May.

Yes, it sounds easy but it is not easy for me because... I’m the worst procrastinator in the world or the best one!

So I start thinking about my project a long time before May. I do especially now that I’ve been elected on the FAS board. Quite a reminder. Everybody keeps talking about the exhibit to come...

So I kind of think about it all year long.

I also work a lot all year long because every year, I want my project to be different from the last one... Of course!

Then the deadline gets close, closer and closer... And guess what! I’m not ready... until the last minute.

This year, since I’ve been feeling great, I decided everything would be different. Cancer seemed so remote... Life not this busy after all. I was absolutely certain I’d make it on time. No worries whatsoever...

Oh well, procrastination is so integrated in my operating system that I almost missed the deadline... Well, shame on me. I would have missed it if I had not been in Paris the very last day I could go to the FAS office and drop my project there.

By mail, it would have been much too late!

I’m getting real bad, I know, because usually I am a few days ahead from  deadline. This year, it turned out I was one hour ahead from deadline!

A million thanks to the cab driver who made it possible for me to rush to the office and deliver my project... yes but barely on time.

And the platinum medal winner is..... good ol’ me!

Well not quite though, because while I was in the office, checking every detail with the secretary, someone called to ask whether or not he would still be on time if he sent his project by mail!

I won’t relinquish my medal though... Actually this last minute adrenalin rush is kind of fun. 

Please, don’t tell my family, they think I’m perfect!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*