Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Best of Brest

In Brest this week for a commissioned piece on all the city has to offer. I have to say the place is looking much more appealing these days: the smart new tramline has been adorned with striking works of modern art and an increase in verdure up in the Place de la Liberté has considerably softened the ugly lines of that concrete jungle around the town hall, so off-putting to visitors in the past. It's also a lot less scruffy, and the calming effect of keeping traffic - apart from the sexy new tram-cars - out of much of the Rue de Siam should be a good thing. But the centre does seem almost deserted - surely everyone can't be in IKEA?
There are also lots of interesting initiatives to develop understanding of Brest's tragic past, with a shelter used during the terrible allied bombing in WWII now opening to the public, and the Rue St-Malo, a rare survivor of that ghastly onslaught, being given a place of honour on the tourist trail. It's true that there's abiding interest in the war from my generation, whose parents fought and suffered, but also a more detached curiosity  on the part of younger visitors of many nationalities. No war they ever experience will be fought in quite that way.
Together with the sensational location of the city on the Rade de Brest, a glorious maritime history outlined in the excellent chateau museum, the development of new marinas and a general air of sleek modernity, Brest is looking good as a competitor for that lucrative European city break market.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shades of grey...

Today I was working around Douarnenez and Audierne before moving south to the coast of the Baie d'Audierne, checking routes for InnTravel. Wonderful autumnal weather in Pays Bigouden.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Alan Stivell

Last night I went to Alan Stivell's concert at the Glenmor in Carhaix with English friends, one of whom has been following this remarkable musician since the 1970s when she had close contact with Brittany through a pen-pal connection. It was an impressive performance, but almost more impressive than that wondrous talent was the warm emotional devotion of the audience - several thousand people from babies to elderly grand-parents - to a man who has symbolised the revival and evangelisation of Breton culture over the last forty years, by virtue of the transfer of traditional music to the electronic age. He also stands as a quasi-political figure for the devolution of Brittany and French acknowledgement of the Breton entity, including a long overdue recognition of the language.
What I particularly liked was the fact that all his band were young musicians, clearly being nurtured and offered the opportunity to develop as individuals through working with someone of such international stature and vast musical experience. The violinist was sensational - no programmes and no detail on websites, so I can't give his name (and couldn't hear it announced in the thunderous noise of the auditorium).
It was an emotive evening, powerful enough to ensure an almost sleepless night. Wow.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The spice of life ...

This week has been a typical reflection of my current varied and pretty intense workload. I had a very short time to produce an essay and exercise for a new volume of the Now Write series (Penguin/Tarcher) on the theme of fantasy (legend/landscape from my point of view). These books have had great success in the US as manuals for budding writers wanting to develop their work by learning from the experience and practical advice of established authors. I hope someone somewhere will benefit from my offering when the book is out.
Next I spent a day at my desk on the Saints Shore Way project, researching and writing background features. Research always leads in unexpected directions - at one point I was emailing to India to consult an expert on a famous British lawyer whose wife revamped a manoir in northern Brittany in 1903. Small details, but I like to chase everything up. This work was followed by a day 'in the field' for the same purpose. Unfortunately it proved a very wet and fairly unrewarding time, although I had a good lunch with a friend in Carantec at the Abri du Pecheur, a very reliable restaurant on the sea front by the causeway to Ile Callot.
Another day was spent in Lannion, for a Brittany Walks outing, with a brief visit to the historic town centre (photo), then a country walk nearby in the LĂ©guer valley, including an abortive diversion to seek out a ruined castle, now well-barricaded as private property.
Other than that, I began to plan the updates on Finistere cycle holidays for InnTravel, a UK company I've worked with twice before, and to prepare the new History of Brittany course that begins in Huelgoat on October 15th. Just when I thought I had October quite well under control, yesterday I received new commissions to write city profiles for Nantes and Brest for the end of the month... Not to mention that the new term started this week at ORPAM in Morlaix, where I teach three classes of retired French people.
Luckily, I love my work and it's all good.