A Little French Country Life

Trip Start May 22, 2009
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Trip End Feb 16, 2010


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Flag of France  , Brittany,
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    We’ve  been transported back in time past stone houses with wooden shutters thrown wide open with a peice of lace in every window.  Down country roads with no name, and past more houses with no numbers.  To find where you’re going, just ask for the ‘Corlesquet Maison’. 

We are now at the Corlesquets in Brittany, NW France.  This is a large farming region, and the Corlesquets have a small dairy farm.  This is Steph’s family (Steph and Dillany who we visited in Ireland).  I am very pleased to be here and meeting some new people.  The immersion into French culture and language is one both of us have been longing for - even though it is quite foreign and a little scary not understanding at times.  But the family is wonderful and consist of Mama (Steph’s mom), Papa (Steph’s Dad), and Mami (Steph’s Grandma). 

Their house was built in around the 1690’s and is the center of a barn complex that is built into and attached to the barn.  Aspects of the barn surround the house on 3 sides.  From a time when farming was integral to life and not shied away from.  The house and the barn both reveal evidence of adaptations and additions through the years.  These wear like faded scars on the inside and outside of the home.  Mysterious and telling.  Where a house is no longer a building, but a living being that grows and changes over the years like a treasured member of the family. 

Mami grew up in this home and knows the stories behind some of these scarred remains.  Little cubbies where wash basins used to sit, or ledges where butter was cooled, and hitches for horses by the front door make this an enchanting place.  Wells that have been covered over by the ’new’ road, and scummy ponds where wash used to be done tell back to a time when things were very different.  Mami herself is an enchating lady.  At first glance you know she is a wealth of information as she putters around the kitchen.  Hands and fingers knarled from years of hard work still fly faster than a young pair when peeling apples or potatoes. 

She recounts a story during the war of when Russian soldiers came through the area searching for food.  When the family saw them coming all hid, but when the soldiers began removing the bread they all came out yelling at them to stop.  Thinking that they were under attack the soldiers fired wounding her two brothers and killing her father…

We spent a morning with Mama and Papa learning the finer aspect of diary farming  - all en Francais!  Still, it’s amazing what you can understand with a few points at various objects.  Cleaned the udders, primed some teetes, but I couldn’t manage to get the ‘sucker machine’ on right.  I tried several times, but couldn’t get it on ‘veet’ enough!  Mama took us around showing us absolutely everything!  She is such a fun lady - not put off at all that we don’t speak French.  Instead she is just excited to be sharing and talkes a mile a minute.  It’s actually helping us hear the French Language a bit better.  Brian even had a go at ear-tagging a week old calf. 

Then it was onto potato picking.  Rows upon rows to dig up while Papa took a sickle to cut down the weeds that had overgrown the fields.  I wish I was able to take a photo of him as he’s so interesting looking.  Stern in the face and unshaven with a little chapeau on his head.  He wears several shirts overlapped with jeans - all well worn for work on the farm, and carries a tiny stump of a blackened self rolled cigarette in the corner of him mouth.  He is one interesting individual.  I know he’s just bursting with questions for us (as we are him) but the language barrier keeps getting in the way.  Even so, it’s great having Steph and Dillany nearby to help with communication when necessary, but we get on quite well.  Papa uses hand gestures freely and has come sound effects that get the point directly across!

About every 2 hours or so we eat a delicious meal!  Several courses served one after another on the same plate.  From soup to salad to meat to cheese and dessert and it’s all delicious!  And in-between meals there’s tea time with bread and butter and coffiture.  Lunch is the main meal of the day, and dinner is served after 9pm at night.  With such a late dinner after evening chores, it’s off to bed and leave the dishes for the next day and off to bed.  We truck up a tiny narrow staircase with a rope to aide in pulling yourself up, to a little bed that caves in the center so we cuddle all night long - whether we want to or not!!!

Made some butter for Dillany one night.  Since this is a dairy farm, I was shocked to hear that the family doesn’t make their own butter and cheese.  So my primitive methods of shaking cream in a jar was watched eagerly.  We tried to take cream from the fresh cow’s milk, but we didn’t take enough and weren’t able to skim the cream very successfully as the layer was too thin.  Dillany’s delight in seeing the butter finally form was precious to see.  Thankfully the butter tasted good, but everyone was very hesitant to try it and only had a tiny bit on one bit of bread.  Granted, the butter produced in Brittany is superb, and I prefer that a well!

One morning the farm was all abux with a new arrival:  a petit veau )calf).  Born in the night, she needed the be picked up and separated from the mother and brought back to the barn as soon as possible.  They carefully milk the veau for 7 mo, let them rest for 2 mo, and then breed them.  After giving birth, her millk is till given to her calf until they go off to be raised for meat.  No names for these little ones. 

One afternoon we went to Tonto (Uncle) Jean Pierr’s farm.  Such a shame about the lack of language as I would have loved to pick this man’s brain.  He had taken an old stone home that was just a shell and brought it to a beautiful finish.  He has also build an old fashioned bread oven in his backyard as a way to bring back the old traditions and ways of life.  He has also built a meat smoker and has a beautiful set-up for rabbits and chickens, a very large vegetable garden and apple orchard of multiple varieties.  It’s great to see different set-ups and make my own plans in my mind about what I would like to do someday. 

Later in the afternoon it was time to make crepes!  Watching Mami mix and measure was a wonderful thing.  She told us about when they had a crepe grill that stood on a tripod over the fire as she turned pages of her old history/recipe book. 

Making crepes is much harder than I thought.  Spread out soooo thin on the hot grill, just the slightest difference in pressure when spreading can cause a thin sopt to burn.  It only cooks for a few seconds and then you need to work at loosening the edges to get it off and flip it over with a little wooden paddle.  Not a first time skill!  At least not to get something that resembles a round shape.  But it was great fun to try and I didn’t destroy too many in the process (or at least I got to eat the least appetizing ones).  All in all, I must have eaten about a dozen!  Thankfully we’ll be moving on in the morning and getting on our bikes again. A few too many croissants, brioche, crepes…..

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Where I stayed
Corlesquet Residence

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