One bitter 'victory' - A story about pollution (Part 2)

Yesterday night, we had crêpes with B. and Y. at the Bellevue, a friendly crêperie.

B. is Bernard, our farmer friend I talked about in my previous blog.

There were a lot of customers and so we had plenty of time to talk. And talk we did.

We talked about our children. They have two sons and one daughter. They also have 7 grandchildren ranging from 3 to 13 years old. Of course, since we’ve be around for quite a long time now, we know every one of them quite well.

One of their grandchildren is an amazing classical piano player. He’s a wonderful boy, so filled with a deep inner happiness one seldom sees in a child his age.

So we talked about our children and politics of course. A true french meal can’t avoid small talk about our politicians. France is going through weird times. Since we agree about almost every issue, it was a relaxing time.

Bernard was the one to open the ‘debate’ about pollution. It took a long time. But he did start the discussion about the liquid sludge waste issue.

He asked me whether or not I had an inkling where the spreading would be done. I answered that I imagined they had rescinded their contract with the city hall.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

He said that all the waste that was to be spread in our fields would end up in theirs, including the large one behind their beautiful home, very close to their well.

He sounded almost relieved to have made this decision. But we were not happy with it.

It would still be polluting, wouldn’t it?

‘Well’, he said ‘they have to get rid of the waste so someone has to do it. Why not farmers? It pays well after all.’

It always amazes me when someone who is supposed to be very close to nature can’t see the harm done to the very world he’s getting his living from.

His world before being mine.

The farmer is the closest person to the land, the soil, whatever name we want to give it. And yet he does not understand the dangers (which I don’t believe is true because Bernard is very bright).

He doesn’t want to see the dangers because he needs to make a living. Even if to make a living, he’s destroying the potential future of the earth and his own world, this world that already belongs to his grandchildren.

Of course he’s not completely guilty. There are home and world market pressures. We are greedy consumers. But the producer (the farmer) does not get as much as he should from his hard work, at least not in France. So to make ends meet, it’s obvious that an offer as juicy as the one from the city hall is to be accepted.

I’m very stubborn. I was quite relieved that the fields close to the sea wouldn’t get polluted but I had to make another point.

The government has recently conducted a study about farmers’ health, especially in Brittany (where pollution is really high both from manure and waste spreading). They have noticed that cancer rate is getting much higher in Brittany, especially among countryfolk. Life expectancy is also much lower in rural areas than in the rest of France.

They also found out that several cancers are widespread in those areas (prostate, lungs, breast and colon), all of this probably due to heavy and unchecked pollution (fertilizers and pesticides) for years and years.

Another terrible illness is also unusually common to those areas: Alzheimer’s disease.

You see, Bernard’s wife, a very wonderful and sweet woman, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The onset was very brutal. (She wasn’t even 60.)

This was four years ago. I’m very close to her even though nowadays, from time to time, I’m not even sure she really knows who I am. At least she’s still very sweet to me which I’m really grateful for. Because she’s no longer very kind to most people.

Her health and mind are deteriorating quite fast. This is really heartbreaking.

So last night, I took my courage in both hands and I said: ‘Bernard, what about cancer and...’

He looked at me, very pained: ‘It hasn’t been proved yet.’

What can you answer to this?

End of discussion. We turned to other subjects, safer issues which did not obliterate the pollution problem.

Maybe next year, he’ll find reasons to refuse the city hall offer. But if he does say no to them, they will find other farmers to do the dirty job. We’ll never see the end of this.

Unless our town council becomes more efficient in its waste control.

After all, we have one of the most beautiful golf courses in France and maybe Europe. Now we have a brand new thalassotherapy complete with first class hotel rooms... but it was not allowed to open its treatment space since the sea water they were pumping out is too polluted.

This could be a funny story but it is not. This is truly symbolic of Northern Brittany.

Natural beauty so marred by (almost) imperceptible and creeping pollution.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


I'm really, really, really going mad... A story about pollution

The sea, a legacy in jeopardy

This summer will remain in memories as being the worst ever, considering that summer is supposed to be sunny, warm, well summery... at our latitude, that is.

I’m not suffering from a tourist’s ‘wasted-holiday-syndrome’. I only needed a few more rays of sun, less wind and since the sky is always cloudy, a little bit of rain to take walks on the beach, ‘just singin’ in the rain’.

The skies are overcast, the sea is rough, the wind is cold... And that’s it! No sun. No rain.

To top it all, we’re going through one of the worst period of drought ever.

In fact, I’m in a mean mood. The least little thing drives me crazy...

So when our friend Bernard who farms our fields came to Les Tertres to tell us that he has made a deal with the city hall and that he will spread liquid sludge from the city sewage system on our fields (which are very close to our home and to the sea), I went bersek! Really bersek!

I even broke two Périer water bottles while pulling out my raincoat!!! Quite a mess... Glass shards scattered everywhere!

Ever since we’ve been living in Brittany, we have been very environmental minded. Choosing and using products that would be safer for the environment than others, etc.

Since we were not linked to the village sewage system, our waste water went through pipes and ended up somewhere (obviously in the ground, 100 meters away from the house but more likely right into the sea after a while or a rainy day).
We also had a septic tank which we took great care of!
But we felt guilty anyway because we were somehow polluting Nature.

All this belongs to the past ever since two years ago, we got a letter from the city hall telling us to get our own ‘sewage plant’!!! Which we did, of course. Guilt over.

It’s quite big for two people (over 1.500 gallons) but we decided that we had to think big just in case... for the generations to come. It’s underground and will be covered with grass anyway.
Actually we never had any other choice than to accept the city hall ultimatum plus the experts’ decisions and the contractors they chose for us more or less.

So our waste is now taken care of as well as it can be done nowadays. We feel much better, no kidding.

Our beautiful garden has always been 100% organic. No pesticides, no fertilizers. No watering (which is the hardest thing to accept for my better half) . And it grows just fine anyway. We had a lot of fruits this year by the way.

Back to Bernard and his liquid sludge from the aging municipal treatment plant. The plant is actually overflowing. They desperately need to get rid of the liquid sludge. How do you think they will get rid of it? There are a few solutions. Some clean, some dirty. Of course they chose the dirtiest one. Which they call ‘sustainable development’? This is a joke, isn’t it? A nightmare? Please, I want to wake up!

European environmental laws are tough... but obviously unheard of in Brittany. The fields are there... We used to have liquid manure spread in a lot of fields. Now we’ll have liquid manure and liquid sludge...

So if I made myself clear, we spent a lot of money, time and energy to be in line with the city hall environmental policy (and our beliefs)... quite simply to get our precious fields polluted by farmers with the help of the same city hall which seems to be so deeply environmentally involved!

I went bersek because black is black and white is white. I hate shady greys especially when applied to the environment.

The city hall gives money to the farmers to get rid of the sludge. It pays a handsome fee for the transportation and the spreading of the sludge plus the plowing of the fields.

Of course, we said ‘NO’ and offered Bernard to pay him for compensation (compensation for not polluting our environment. Let’s have a good laugh!). Up until now, we never checked his use of our fields and never asked for rent either. Our fields were mainly used to grow alfafa for his flock of Suffolks. Or they would lie fallow from time to time... which was quite allright.

But what about the city hall? Our tap water is toxic but we pay high rates for the water we use at home. We have to buy our drinking mineral water. We have to set up very costly miniature private sewage plants... And yet the city ends up being the first and foremost polluter.

We still don’t know whether or not Bernard has accepted our ‘NO’. We are long time friends but the pressure from the city hall may be too strong.

We’ll see. The first spreading should start on August 24... on the fields that are very close to the top of the cliff and to the sea...

Should we get ready to immolate ourselves in front of the citry hall to protest against a truly wicked measure? I guess we won’t go this far.

Write to newspapers? Use my Facebook network? Ah, ah, ah!

Actually, we are lost and feeling defeated, which is one thing I do hate in life, especially when I believe the issue is worth fighting for!

I’m really, really, really  going MAD!

If you want to know more about Brittany, please read I love Brittany.

*Good Night, and Good Luck* (to you because we haven't been sleeping well at all lately)


'A senhora, onde esta o mar?'

One century ago, we used to live very close to Paris. Our new (very old) house needed a lot of renovation (and it’s another long story). At one time, we needed a new building firm. Our architect hired some great guys from Portugal. Really great guys and wonderful workers. Then a recession hit. As usual, the building industry stopped dead for a while.

Les Tertres needed a new coat of paint and several other beauty treatments. We decided to give those men a chance to weather the crisis and we hired them for the second time.

They left Paris and went to spend a few weeks in Brittany. They were mountain people and had never lived close to the sea.

They arrived at Les Tertres quite late at night. The following morning, I got a phone call.

‘A senhora, onde esta o mar?’

Which meant: ‘Madame, où est passée la mer?’

I stifled a laugh. This was spring tide time. Late at night, the tide was high, very high. The sea looked very close. In the morning, the ebb had receded far away from the cliff... as usual.

Quite hard to explain the mystery of tides, especially spring tides to people who had never lived close to the Channel where those tides are very impressive with extremely high tidal ranges.

From low tide to high tide, there is a difference of 45 ft (sea depth/height).

Very impressive.

High tide covers all the small islands that can be seen all year long, at high/low water.

Low tide allows faraway rocks to spring up from the water. Vast beaches and sandbars appear. And in some places, you can stand on your own feet on the bottom of the sea, a few miles from the coast.

 It’s quite fascinating to walk through fields of laminaria instead of sailing over them, without even seeing them.

In Brittany, lots of people plan their holidays according to the spring tides. In the summer, they go boating and they explore those hidden islands and beaches and they do a lot of fishing. In wintertime, they take long walks on the foreshore.

The landscape is amazing at low ebb, that’s one thing. But why do we all love spring tides so much?

To be really interesting, a spring tide has to be over 108 (tidal range)... This happens sometimes once a month and sometimes only three or four times per year.

This year, January and February were great. So was March. There were none in April till mid-August (two days). There will be two in September and October. And then, we’ll have to wait until next year to know when the next ones are scheduled... when the ‘Almanach des marées’ gets published. (A different one per area.)

For a photographer, it’s like being offered a true treasure. The foreshore is filled with life and colors and light and all sorts of precious things  normally unseen and hidden, an invitation to a whole new world.

But most people love spring tides because they get to fish species quite impossible to catch otherwise because they live under rocks at the bottom of the sea.

Velvet swimming crabs are the favorite here. Small juicy crabs that you eat almost in one bite, shell included, so tender and delicious, cooked in salty water. They are hard to catch. You have to use a hook. I do not know one household in the area without at least one crab hook in their garage.

Spider crabs too. And a vast number of shellfishes.

Spring tide can be very treacherous. Every summer, tourists get caught on a rock at high tide. In some places, high tide comes in as fast as a galloping horse.

Most people know that it’s much safer to start walking/fishing/taking pictures when the tide goes out. You follow the water, which gives you about 5 hours to be on the safe side.

This year, I won’t enjoy this August spring tide as much as I used to since my ankle is not well enough yet to take long walks. But it’s allright.

We’ll go boating and I’ll watch from our house... and take pictures even though the scenery won’t look to me as strange and surprising as what I discover year after year on the foreshore.

Today, the spring tide will have a 112 range (in French, ‘un coef’ de 112’). Not bad.

‘A senhora, onde esta o mar?’. So lovely!

*Good luck, and Good Night*


How pathetic one can be


Last Saturday, we were invited to a ‘birthday party’. We were supposed to celebrate a neighbor’s 75th birthday, one mile away from Les Tertres (yes, this kind of ‘neighbor’).

We barely know ‘J’ except that he’s related to some friends of ours. We’ve met from time to time and not very often because he lives with his family in La Réunion Island where he’s a very successful tropical fruit grower among other things.

A lot of people from our area have emigrated to La Réunion. It’s far easier to make money there than in Brittany, because of the huge amount of funding France bestows upon its overseas territories and departments. Of course most of this money goes to metropolitan French businessmen... Based on the concept that ‘natives’ wouldn’t really know how to use it.

Yes, France is still very much into cultural imperialism.

I was very reluctant to go but Popeye said that it would be nice to behave neighborly!

When we got there, we realized there would be a very formal lunch with cooks and waitresses. We had been expecting a ‘country’ buffet from which we would easily depart after a while.

We also found out that J.’s wife would not be there and that only one of his sons (the oldest one - 27 years old) would be attending the ‘party’.

We did know a few people there (our friends). But we were a minority. Popeye and I, we started wondering why we had been invited as soon as the real guests arrived.

Distinguished guests, all of them... and the ‘party’ started.

There was ‘M. Surgeon’ who no longer is a surgeon (a good thing maybe) but owns a chain of private clinics (yes, just like in the movies) in La Réunion (where else) plus a huge estate in Northern France.

There was M. Bananas who manages all of the French bananas production from our overseas territories.

There was M. Frozen Pastries & Breads who sells his products all over Europe and actually all over the world (a few glasses of wine later).

There was M. Chicken who owns one of the biggest battery chickens farm in Brittany and maybe France. (Quite freakish - hundreds of thousands chickens all together.)

Et cetera. Et cetera.

All of them very successful businessmen in the food-processing industry...

But this is not the pathetic happening I meant to talk about.

The meal was about to start when J. announced that he wanted to give a small speech. Strange since it was his birthday and someone else could have made a little speech, preferably witty and fun.

Not at all. In J.‘s world: If you want something doing, do it yourself.

So he first told us that his family had been very, very poor when he was born. He went on saying that he had been a great entrepreneur, from his teens. And then he started crying. Tried to say a few more words. Cried again.

I was facing him. While he was crying, his legs started jumping around below the table, sort of. And I got kicked several times. But it didn’t really matter. I was aghast. I kept expecting his son to stand up and put his arms around his old father’s shoulders. No way.

Time froze so did the whole table.

After what seemed to me a very long and uneasy silence, J. calmed down and resumed his speech. And then it got really worse (for him or for me?).

For me. Because the whole speech was about his brilliant career and ventures (60 years in all). He kept on rambling and rambling until he finally got to the day of his birthday party and thanked all of his friends for being there. End of speech.
Even his brilliant friends looked ill-at-ease.

I was stuck between M. Surgeon and M. Frozen Foods. But Popeye and I, we managed to exchange glances. We were so appalled. (Obviously the only ones to feel this way... since conversation resumed on this very same theme: success, power and money.)

You see, J. never mentioned his family, not even once. Not one word about his sisters and brother. Not one word about his wife and children. Not one word about his extended family. Not one word of gratefulness about people who had lived with him, supported him, worked with him and helped him become so successful.

It had been: ‘Me, me and me’. ‘Work and money.’ ‘Money and work.’

When you get this old, you should be able to realize that the most important things you’ll be leaving behind won’t be your possessions nor your financial achievements. What’s more important than the days spent with your family, wife and children, days filled with affection and understanding and sharing?

 What’s more important than being a good husband, a good father and a good friend?

How pathetic one can be.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


The reason why we do not watch TV in Brittany

Why worry about a tv set?

As soon as we get to Les Tertres, we don't find much time to do anything else but to watch the magical scenery right in front us. Byerly has been there all his life but he still gets on top of his favorite observation post and is on watch all day long. Don't tell me he's looking for birds or rabbits.

Low tide, high tide. Every six hours, the scenery changes. Windy skies, moving clouds. Sunny weather, fine drizzle, mists... The weather changes all the time and so do the delicate sea colors, from grey to green and deep pacific blue. The sand turns golden and seconds later, it's almost dark grey.

Amazing place.

Then there is Le Verdelet, this small island almost in front of our house. I've been taking pictures for over 30 years now and none of them are the same. Magical place.

July 29th - We just got home.

July 30 - Waking up
July 31 - A very fleeting ray of sun over the garden

July 31 - A few minutes later
August 1 - Today around 2 p.m.

 (You'll find more pictures at 'Les Tertres'. )

Who needs to watch tv? I don't.

*'Good night, and good luck'*