They never issued a warning...

Last Thursday night, we woke up around 2 a.m. The winds that had been blowing quite hard ever since we arrived in Brittany were getting stronger... Much stronger.

I do not fear winds nor storms any more ever since we (and our house) survived the 1999 hurricane that leveled so many houses and uprooted thousands of trees on its path from the Atlantic coast to Belgium. Once you have heard howling winds battering your walls while blowing well over 125 miles/hr, what’s a wintery storm after all?

Ever since 1999, there is this thing going on in France - they call it a “precautionary measure”... which means that they try to scare the hell out of you... just in case!

I have seen old people in Brittany scared to death because they had heard on tv that very strong winds were about to sweep through the area. They’d rush to get the car into the garage. They’d lock all the doors and secure the shutters. And then they’d spend the night and/or the day locked up in their homes while a nice breeze would be blowing outside. A vigilance weather forecast had been issued. All was well.

I always wonder why our goverment weather agency does this again and again. To me it sounds so much like crying wolf! And it did happen several times that our meteorologists were very wrong, so very wrong...

On the 27th, we did have some interesting stormy weather in Northern Brittany... A few roofs were blown away... Some trees were uprooted and several boats including a trawler broke loose from their moorings.

Normal life in Northern Brittany, that is.

We have done some extensive renovation work on our house ever since 2008. The house is as secure as it can be with very thick walls!

And yet...

Thursday morning, from the top of the stairs going down to our basement... You’ll notice that the shutters are closed but listen... And try to imagine what it was like outside!

And watching “the real McCoy” on the beach at the very moment the tide was starting to rise. How lucky we were this was not a spring tide... 

But it was nevertheless very impressive.

It took all of Popeye's strength to try to secure me while I was filming the sea... and he couldn’t even hold me tight enough... Gusts of winds up to 59 miles/hr. (We have a small wind gauge we love to play with!)
I love to live dangerously! But I learnt that even though it’s hard to keep me steady, I am not light enough to fly away either. 

Popeye was lost in thought in front of the raging sea.

0n our way back home, he’ll admit he had made a very good choice when he decided to get our boat out of the harbor, late November...

The storm generated foam from the waves besides getting us all wet with spindrift. And the foam flew around, hitting my Canon lens in passing.

I was so much more careful with my Nikon though... luckily! I am so used to taking pictures while boating that I have a special plastic sleeve to protect it from the waves and sea spray.

Which explains why I kept on taking pictures quite safely, safely for my lenses, that is because by then the wind had turned into a force 9 to 10 gale.

The sea was turning amazingly white. The waves were breaking wildly  against the cliff and the beach. Cap Fréhel was barely visible behind a curtain or sea spray.

Quite a staggering sight!

Ever since the 27th, the winds have abated but from time to time up they go again... Force 7 to 8 gales. And it is getting very exhausting...

Oh well, don’t I love Brittany for this very reason - its wildness? So let’s stop complaining! Let’s enjoy this weather as long as it does not brew disaster...

And let’s learn to be patient! A few freighters have dropped anchor a few miles away, waiting for calmer seas to get into the Saint-Brieuc harbor. Waiting... 

While we take long walks on the deserted beach and actually enjoy them!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Sun, Where Art Thou?

I am spending a few more days in Paris since our son finally landed there from Los Angeles on his way to... (This is his story after all.)

He had been living in California for the past three years. He did land in Paris at the worst time ever... for him, not for me because I am very happy to get to spend some time with him after all those years he’s been away... Five years actually. And before he flies away again to faraway lands as usual.

Ok, this is not a post about the loneliness of a mother because I do not feel lonely and I am pretty happy I have raised a son who is happy to live and travel all over the world.

No, this is a post about “the worst time ever”. Why do I choose to use such a drastic stock phrase... The worst time ever!

Well, I was hoping that this year would be a lot like last year... No real winter except from time to time and only for the shortest time!

Swee’Pea landed in Roissy some time during the last week of November.

The weather had been so sunny and nice almost all the time for the longest time... even in Brussels. We had enjoyed a lot of wonderful rainbows in Brittany which meant that even though it rained from time to time, the sun did shine a lot!

The very week I was expecting my men to fly back from California, the nice and bearable Fall weather suddenly took a turn for the worse... Winter was there, everywhere... in Brussels and in Paris!

No snow but very ugly and distressful grey skies bringing a lot of cold weather and chilly winds all over France and Belgium.

Well, we are not living in California. What do you expect early December in Northern Europe? A miracle, I know.

I am so used to dreary weather that the only thing that bothers me is the shortening of the days...

I did know that Swee’Pea who has always hated wintry weather would have the hardest time to get adjusted to the Parisian December weather... But add wintertime to jetlag and you get quite an explosive mixture!

I have been staying with him and every day brings its share of surprises!

Which are not really surprises after all...

“I am so cold, mom. I am so cold!” Well, is 42°F to 50°F this cold? 

Let me reassure you, we enjoy a rather mild temperature in the apartment after all. 50°F is outside! 

(And then I made sure not to remind him that last week, his roommates had turned the air conditioning on in their house... I hate air conditioning! So cold!)

Yesterday was quite sunny, if I remember right. At least, we had rays of sun shining down on the building for quite a long time. We spent the whole day with the lights on though... When I pointed the sunbeams, he said: “But it is so cold, mom.”

Great answer. The center light did substitute to summer sunny days, I imagine.

This morning, he left very early to go visit a friend in Germany. To go there, upon hearing that they had been having a lot of snow there, he packed part of his snowboarding equipment... not to go snowboarding but to make sure he’d be warm!

I did think we were having a problem there but tonight on my way out of the building, I met one of the neighbors...

The day had been cloudy alright but not this cold after all. The snow they had forecasted (safety-first principle) never really hit inner Paris. It rained instead and it was much less cold than anticipated.

I had been shopping earlier and I had felt much too warm in my down jacket...

“Watch out,” said the neighbor on his way to the elevator. “It is awfully cold out there.”

I smiled a warm thank you and refrained from telling him that I had been outside already and that it was not this “awfully cold”. But it sure was dark and cloudy outside.

On my way to the bakery, I couldn’t help thinking about the past week and this last remark. Actually what we need here is a bright sun shining over Paris. It will bring quite a chill, of course since we are getting close to mid-December. But it will be sunny outside.

We need light. I have heard so many people say again and again: “Oh, what a beautiful day...” It is actually freezing. It is really, really cold but the sky is blue and the sun is shining.

Winter is so much all about lack of sun and darkness after all and our ancestors spent so much time fearing this very gloom. “The sky is going to fall over our heads,” they kept saying.

I may be wrong but I doubt that this complaint was heard during the summer months.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Belgium - The Middelheim Museum in Antwerp

I do not like my life in Brussels. I really did give it a good try though - for more than fourteen years now. But living in Brussels and Belgium is still very hard for me... I have expressed the reasons of my deep despondency in so many posts now that most of you won’t be surprised by my opening statement.

There are a few places in Belgium I do like though... If you mention a trip to Bruges (Brugge), I will be delighted. And if we decide to go and spend the day in Antwerp (Antwerpen), I’ll be overjoyed. The amazing thing is that both cities are in Flanders and I have met natives of Brussels and Wallonia who have never set foot in Flanders. Never once in their life. Belgium is a very strange country indeed, Brussels being 28 miles away from Antwerp.

I’ll have to write a post about Bruges one of these days because it is such an enchanting medieval town. “The Venice of the North.” (One of them.)

Antwerp is quite different. Almost aggressively well-to-do compared to Brussels. It is the second largest port in Europe and it is renowned for its diamond trade. Antwerp is the capital of the Antwerpen province but not the capital of Flanders. May I remind you that Brussels is the capital of Flanders, strange as it may seem?

I like to go shopping in Antwerp even if you have to speak English all the time there since people refuse to speak French, even shopkeepers. But I don’t mind. Belgium is such a very strange country, you know.

I am pretty sure that within a few years, we’ll need papers to cross the border since Flanders wants to secede from Belgium more than ever now. Or maybe we will be Flemish, Brussels being the capital of Flanders. Or hopefully, we’ll be back in France. No problem then!

There is a place in Antwerp I really like. We’ve been there over and over again.

It is called The Middelheim Museum.

Oh, another artsy thing... I can hear you loud and clear! But this one is different.

The Middelheim is a thirty hectares park. A huge landscaped garden with clusters of tall trees and thickets. A small brook adds to its charm. And then there are delightful paths to walk around.
And hundreds of sculptures to discover too! Some belonging to the Middelheim permanent collections. Others being there for a special exhibit.


Some paths being totally dream-works of art...

Some sculptures are hiding among the trees!
 It is so easy to fall under the Middelheim’s spell.

'Belgian Funhouse' by Dan Graham

'Orbino' by Luc Leleu

The Middelheim is an open-air museum filled with sculptures but it is also a place where you can sit and read and chat while children run around on the lawns.

From time to time, the Middelheim houses contemporary art exhibits. Some of the works will stay there permanently since the museum buys at least five sculptures per year adding contemporary art to modern art and more classical works.

It is quite surprising to go from Rodin to Henry Moore, Gargallo, Calder and more recently Al Weiwei and Dan Graham and Erwin Wurm. So many works and so many artists.

'King and Queen' by Henry Moore

'Balzac' by Auguste Rodin

'The Bridge without a Name' by Al Weiwei

A Weiwei sculpture that you can actually walk on to cross the brook...
'Misconceivable' by Erwin Wurm
 It is one thing to go to a museum and a completely different experience to take a walk through the Middelheim Museum. We have been there at different times of the year, mostly winter and spring. It is much quieter then.

I love some sculptures more than others but after a while, they all become so familiar and they merge so well with the landscape that I don’t even bother to think: “Here is ‘the’ Gargallo.” I just enjoy walking by the “Prophet” and this is true for all the sculptures there.

The Prophet by Pablo Gargallo

Some sculptures are quite funny. And children love them. Which is a good way to learn to love art, don't you think?

In the Middelheim, there is no artsy intellectualization. Art does not 'drive you crazy' because it blends in with life and nature. And a few hours in the Middelheim become an exciting adventure.

Good for your body because of the long walk and great for your mind because it never hurts to meet with genius once in a while.


*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Sand, Sand and Sand... in Northern Brittany

When I look at the beach below my house in Brittany, a vast sandy expanse stretches out before my eyes - at low tide, that is. It is golden when the sun shines. It turns to light brown when clouds sweep across the sky.

Then I go down to the beach and start my long daily walk there. I walk on this very sand that fascinated me from above. And you know what? It still holds me spellbound.

When you look from above, the colors are different but as soon as you start walking there, the hues do change but the surface, the grains and the texture vary too.

Walking on the beach in Brittany is always an enchanting moment. Because of the metamorphoses, probably.

Today, I won’t talk about low or high tides. Today will be all about sand, so different from the sandy beaches on the Mediterranean sea. Beautiful too but for me a little boring... it’s a matter of opinion, I know.

Like in Barcelona, after a downpour...

In Northern Brittany, this is how dry the sand will get even at low tide... on most beaches.

Except when a southern wind blows. It dries the sand much faster than usual. And the sand flies around like powder trails.

Most days, we have those beautiful ripple-marks all over the beach, more or less pronounced, depending on the wind, the currents and the waves.

Those two pictures were taken at the same place but at a different time, a couple of days apart. No monotony there.

The scenery changes drastically and the sea draws amazing landscapes. Sand is a very malleable element.

But where does it come from? You can’t help wonder sometimes even if, like me, you are far from being a science buff.

To make things short, sand is a lot like the outcome of cookery. Cooking takes time. So does sand. A few centuries, I’d say.

It takes ingredients. Sea water. Currents and waves. Rocks and shells.

.I am well aware that my explanation is quite simplistic. There is a much better and more scientific one in your encyclopedia. This is what I found in Wikipedia, of course...

The two short films I shot a couple of months ago show what’s going on. The water runs the shells against the rocks and then works the broken shells over and over again. This was filmed while the tide was rising. And once again, this is very basic. But the concept is right.

And tides keep rolling in and out. You’ll see on this picture that the sand keeps being “kneaded”... all the time.
If you are reading my blog regularly, you probably know that even though I love to watch the sea and I am quite a good swimmer, I don’t like boating very much and I would never ever go diving.

And yet, I am terribly attracted by the bottom of the sea, part of it unveils a few times every year during spring tides.
Last time we were at Chausey, the spring tide had a very high amplitude. Which meant that low tide would unveil sand bars and beaches that very rarely emerge.

I wanted so bad to go there to check what the bottom of the sea and its "primeval" sand looked like.

I had to ask my son to do it for me. He left on the dinghy with a small camera and went there for me. And he came back with pictures I want to share with you. Because this is what sand looks like at the bottom of the sea in Brittany! Evolving sand...

Amazing, isn't it?

Yep, amazing. Definitely amazing.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*