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Monday, 18 June 2007

Keronvel, Brittany

Sun in the early hours was the last we saw on Saturday. Laurence, the Moals’ son, knocked on the door and asked if all was OK. Speaking fluent English he confirmed some of my conjecture about the farming economy, using the word ‘balance’ severally, mentioning the need to match supply and demand of vegetables by timing of crops and investment in distribution – transport and storage. I surmised he held an agricultural degree to which he’d added a Masters from Abersytwyth; lived in Brest working as an agricultural advisor. He spoke of the problem of keeping people on the land; the need to balance local and international, tourism and agriculture, town and country, then he must dash off to play the Breton pipes. In the late afternoon, I took a cycle ride along the coast towards St Pol discovering small places – an oyster farm, a château with high walls, a chapel by the shore, back roads, lanes and alleys. Out of the car the landscape was, as always, rewarding – closer and slower. The grey wet didn’t matter. NEWS FROM HOME Richard phoned. “The weather’s fine here”. Our electricity faltered and went off altogether in the evening. After an hour without power we found the main switch tripped. Watched ‘Mississippi Burning’ dubbed in French after a supper of roast chicken and one of the three cauliflowers M’sieur Moal brought us yesterday. The rain increased. Mum phoned. Ill news. She heard last week the people planning to buy her house have been let down in their chain. Mum’s going to wait and hope and not put the house back on the market at once. “X says she’s going to raise the money one way or another. The children are down for the local school.” VACCINATION AGAINST CRUELTY? Watched Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogart in 'The Night Porter' until late – in a film from 1973. The plot follows an affair in peacetime Vienna between a concentration camp victim and her Nazi torturer. To be snide, it looks over 30 years later, like a film that moves between two camps. In 1973 submission and dominance was underground, now via Punk, Madonna, Gay Lib, and myriad other routes S&M is High Street, referenced in M&S. The psychology is known. Human’s have ingeniously eroticised real cruelty into a consensual game. By 1992 Iris Murdoch (Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals: Chatto & Windus) was saying this sort of thing was sentimental. It could also mean that many people more sensitised to the vile cruelty around them have sought a substitute for denial. Of course, there’s the quiet struggle of Tutu’s conciliation commissions in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Ruanda; the work of forensic teams on the body pits of Bosnia and elsewhere, collecting evidence for the International Court at the Hague (may Phil Shiner and his colleagues bring our righteous man from No 10 there), but a local council chief executive used the adjective ‘vanilla’ the other day to decry unimaginative policy, and he would have understood what I’m saying, alert in ways I respect most deeply to a lurking folkish layer in the prosperous leafy suburb where he works. (03/01/10 See The White Ribbon on the rural roots of fascism) Is there now some collective intention to know about the closeness of evil? Is the pervasiveness of S&M imagery a way to keep our nature before us yet bearable? I conjecture, most cautiously, that large tracts of the population are less likely than the holy righteous to project impulses to do evil outwards, seeking enemies deserving punishment and elimination among decadent strangers. Are we vaccinated against cruelty by perversity? Not if you read the news. Cruelty has gone indoors and into cyberspace. This April a tourist magazine I read, while at our estate agent in Corfu town, described a moment in the Easter celebrations when believers chorus “A curse on those who killed Christ”. In Durrell’s book on Corfu he writes of the crockery smashing we’d both enjoyed last Easter Saturday as ‘a ceremony for the casting out of Judas.’(p.84). He says it happens ‘at eleven o’clock on Good Friday’. Is he wrong or has there been a politic shifting of the event to less doleful Saturday, when more visitors from the modern secular grind can assemble at the weekend just to enjoy the spectacle - another less circuitous transformation? Saturday 16 June 2007 Steady rain driven before a steady westerly dripped off canopies at the Saturday market in Morlaix. I bought some roast potatoes to eat as we strolled and tasty crumbly pâté to take home. By the time we were back at Keronvel the sky was lighter. We headed to a small peninsular between two rivers – Guillet and Horn – just west of the hamlet Kerbrat where a walk runs through shore meadows with views, under the overcast, of rocks lining a ruffled grey sea criss-crossed by tiny figures skimming the shallows inside îsle de Siec attached to colourful kites. I like these habits of pleasure that draw on the quiet power of the elements – sand yachting, wind surfing, sailing and gliding – and detest the noisy pleasures of those who get disruptive fun from the pervasive noise, smell and waste of internal combustion. A beach can provide a setting for all sorts of fun – swimming, sailing, handball, sunbathing, rowing, canoeing, diving, fishing, surfing, picnicking, strolling, sandcastle building, birdwatching, rockpooling, jogging – and then along comes a prat with an outboard motor and everyone else’s pleasure is interrupted – an insult to that idea within democracy which says ‘do what you like so long as it doesn’t stop others doing what they like.’ On Friday we drove twenty miles west towards a growing patch of blue and came to Brignogan and the coast leading north from Grève de Goulven. Boulder lined coves provide shelter from east or west with pleasant paths amid flowers and grasses close to car parks - coastal parkland made the more pleasant by the stewardship of local authorities and the care of visitors. Litter is rare, benches not vandalised. Agriculture and tourism co-exist. When we arrived the sea was distant. By late afternoon it was lapping close under an almost unclouded sky. We examined a menhir with a small crucifix on its summit. I imagined a local bishop claiming this ancient landmark for the church. It wouldn’t stop some of his flock touching it for luck, fertility and potency, but they’d be doing it beneath a cross.

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Simon Baddeley