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Some Brittany holiday snaps

Earlier this week I got back from a week in Brittany. During the first few days of my stay, I and the friends I was staying with visited the island of Belle Ile. Their daughter is my god-daughter, and she was singing (very well) in a classical singing festival that happens in Belle Ile every year.

While in Belle Ile we also enjoyed other sorts of music making. In particular, at midday, in the fish market of Belle Ile’s biggest town, La Palais, we listened to a small beat combo called, as I later learned from the small print in some of my photographs, Les Gadgos. Les Gadgos are a bunch of blokes, but they have engaged a lead singer for their latest clutch of songs and their latest CD, a blond chanteuse named Mélody Linhart, who looked weirdly matter-of-fact in her days clothes. But she sang very well, in English. She did various venerable American standards, like St James Infirmary, and slightly more recent American movie tunes, including I Want To Be Like You. She made the latter piece of froth sound almost as profound and existential as St James Infirmary.

But take a look at this other Les Gadjos person, who I now know to be called Clément Lenoble:


A classic French type, I think you will agree. But that cigarette was actually quite a surprise, because Clément Lenoble was one of the very few people whom I observed during my week in France who was smoking. There were a few. He wasn’t the only one. But the basic news is, those Frenchies are no longer fumer-ing. Not the sort who live in or summer in Brittany, anyway.

Instead, this business is on the up and up:


That was just a clutch of e-cigarettes in the window of a shop that also sold other stuff. But later, I came across an entire shop devoted to this one product:


French smokers are a dying breed. No doubt, anti-smoking fanatics would reply that they’re a dying breed because smoking is killing them all off, and I do agree that this change of habit is probably a good thing. But even so, I miss guys like this, singing their gravel-voiced chansons in bars, with their whiskey glasses on the piano and their gauloises hanging down from their creased and lived-in faces. Or maybe I just miss the idea of such people, being around, in France.

Smoking is now illegal in most public places in France. I just wish les pouvoirs-that-be had been content to let the habit die away of its own accord. But that is not how such people think.

I also photoed many other more fun things.

Such as …

… cool cars:


Did you know that DS, when said in French, sounds like the French for goddess? Very appropriate.

I saw a “car” that was maybe not so cool, driven by a fan of or maybe even a member of another beat combo, Status Quo:


Note the British number plate there. I didn’t spot this at the time, but the camera spots everything.

And, I saw the biggest and weirdest sidecar I have ever laid eyes on:


It’s a two seater sidecar!

The French do love their motorbikes, small, large or huge. Next to that huge sidecar contraption was a huge Honda motorbike that looked like a larger than life parody of a Harley Davidson. The French particularly love their Harley Davidsons. I swear I saw more Harley Davidsons in Brittany than I saw smokers. French people are still willing to risk death to enjoy some pleasures.

I saw amusing signs, …:


… which seemed significant:


… or titillating:


… but which generally turned out to mean something dull.

I saw informative street name signs, such as one that I managed to snap while in a bus (hence the car reflection in the bus window):


Every two out of three street signs in France is a small history lesson of this kind, which I actually quite like. Here in England, this would just have said Churchill Street, and in due course, few would have known who that was. (For many in England now, already, Churchill is a cartoon dog who sells stuff on the telly.) In France, on the other hand, you get told the name of the bloke, and his dates, and a brief title or job description. But then again, I also like the much greater variety and quirkiness of English street names. In France, there would only be a Pudding Lane in the middle of Paris if Marcel Pudding (1470-1536) had spent the last few of those years being the Archbishop of Paris, or some such thing. It’s the difference between a world in which They decide what streets are called, and a world in which it is more randomly decided, more freely decided.

I spied, somewhere in northern France, from the Brazilian made airplane that took me to Quimper from London City Airport, a farmer who seemed to have distinctly Nazi tendencies:


And to continue with the farming theme, I saw a tractor made of straw:


I spotted trains:


That was the TGV that took me on a day trip from Quimper to Vannes (which sounds a lot like a campervan trip, doesn’t it?, ho ho). But it didn’t go very fast. The TGVs from Quimper to Paris dawdle at first, only accelerating after they get past Rennes. It reminded me of the time when cross channel trains from Waterloo to the Continent used to trundle slowly through the south of England until they were through the Channel Tunnel.

And, as I also like to do, I spotted cranes, of which this one was by far the most interesting:


That was taken from the train on the way back from Vannes, as it either approached or had just left its stop at L’Orient. L’Orient is a big naval base, having been a big German submarine base during WW2. And that, unless I am much mistaken, is a warship (of the new stealth-inclined variety) that the crane is tending to. And that crane also looks to me like a war crane. Most cranes, perched as they are on flimsy looking structures not much sturdier-looking that their big sticking out arms, look like they’d topple over in a stiff breeze, even though they actually wouldn’t. But that crane looks like only a direct hit with a bomb would stop it from craning.

And I saw lots of boats:


Seriously, lots of boats:


… which seldom seemed to be being used apart from very occasionally, as floating but still stationary and rather cramped outdoor dining rooms. Is the French economy on the slide? If so, this is because they have spent all their spare cash on boats, and I don’t mean stealth war ships.

And (as I especially like to do) I photoed photographers:


That guy was photoing Les Gadgos, whose saxophonist (Adrien Roch) you can see on the right.

However, I did not see that many photographers in action, during my week in France. There seem to be real national/cultural and national/temperamental differences when it comes to photography. One reason, for instance, why the photographer count in Brittany seemed to be quite low is that Chinese and Japanese tourists do not seem to be aware of Brittany’s existence, or not yet, and they love to take photos. I saw few orientals in Brittany, and none – not one – in Belle Ile, even though the place was crammed with holidayers, including quite a few other Brits.

Photography seems now to be settling back into a twin-track thing, that many do with their mobile phones for fun and to take notes or keep records of various kinds, but which only a comparatively small percentage of obsessives like me does with dedicated cameras, or with big tablets like the above gent was using. The photography magazines that you now see in the shops, which used a few years back to be all about how to choose your new camera, are now mostly about how to make better use of the camera you already have.

Photography, in other words, is sliding back towards the days when a few hobbyists used cameras like the one in this picture …:


… and when regular people did not.

Could it be that only certain people care more about how their pictures look than they care about how they themselves look? That is part of it, I think. But then again, many good looking people also like taking pictures, of themselves and of their good looking friends, perhaps partly because this draws attention to how good looking they are.

One thing has definitely changed for good, in both senses. Time was when people like me would bore their friends and neighbours with appalling holiday photo evenings, which could not be ignored without risking unfriendliness or unneighbourliness. Now such snapathons are on the www and can be ignored at will with no social cost.

If you got this far with this snapathon, you must have been enjoying it, or you at least never quite gave up hoping that you might. If such hopes were never realised, my apologies.

17 comments to Some Brittany holiday snaps

  • I enjoyed it very much 🙂

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Me too. But then, I am the sort of weirdo who used to quite like seeing other people’s holiday slides in the old days.
    My own favourite amusing, significant and titillating French road sign which turns out to mean something dull is “Déviation Obligatoire”.

    That is one of the (French) page of rude and funny French road signage here. Just to show that the British penchant for vulgar double meaning is not completely foreign to them!

  • eCigarettes will show up a lot of people for what they really are, I think. See here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23196369

    “Some pressure groups fear that electronic cigarettes may “re-normalise” smoking”

    “red-glowing tips might prove enticing to children”

    “The real risk is if they start using e-cigarettes and this acts as a gateway into smoking.”

  • It gets worse: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18734753

    “some airlines have decided to ban them. There is a fear that they might unsettle passengers”

    “perception, not only health, is a factor”

    “Even someone putting an unlit cigarette in their mouth can upset people nowadays”

    There’s something about all this that makes me think the end of Western civilisation is nigh. Especially when you see the response to an e-Cigarette on a coach on the M6: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-18738402

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Rob Fisher – “eCigarettes will show up a lot of people for what they really are”. Yes, and for what they really aren’t – interested in anyone’s health.

    It infuriates them to see people being able to give up tobacco so easily. Dammit, they ought to suffer!

    It infuriates them to see people go through the physical motions of doing something that they, the enlightened ones, had forbidden. And worse, to enjoy it.

  • Midwesterner

    So much wonderful fodder for discussion. I have friends who smoke eCigs and I’ve noticed they seem to be even more timid of getting caught than tobacco smokers. They have eCigs designed to look like ball-point pens and other ubiquitous devices. I would like to try an ePipe. I gave up tobacco pipes because even a week after my last smoke, I would get random assaults in my nose and mouth of “yesterday’s ashtray” taste.

    Citroen. When I was young, my dad’s cousin had one. He demonstrated how by switches on the dashboard, he could make it lift one wheel off of the ground. That automotive gymnastic feat fascinated me.

    Sailing. I’m active in some sailing clubs and one of the things I’d never thought about was that one needs to learn to “sail in French”. Anglo sailing is choreographed in a lexicon of esoteric and archaic terminology that is called out to keep the crew safely pursuing the same maneuvers in synchrony. French sailing has followed a similar course but their lexicography has arrived (understandably) at an entirely different result. Several of my friends have sailed in France and had to first learn to sail “in French”.

    Cameras. My brother is one of those who has an arsenal of various Canon camera bodies and a large battery of lens that strain one’s back. My camera is a cheap little Nikon Coolpix that I bought to do just a little more than cell phone cameras do. When I got it home and started looking it over I was amazed to find it drop resistant to 6+ feet and waterproof to ~60 feet. I turned it on and after performing a ritualistic figure-8 motion in the air (like granting some kind of benediction with a hand full of camera) it reliable told me which direction I was pointing it. Another button on the side and a GPS screen materialized and informed me that I was at the foot of my brother’s driveway. I’m still finding new capabilities in it. It was the second cheapest camera Sam’s Club had. Amazing.

  • Kevin B

    Brian, if you’re a fan of interesting cranes be sure to take in the latest production of Aida at the Arena Di Verona. The set consists of two cranes with a third one erected behind the Arena to hold the sun, (or moon depending on the time of the action).

    To be fair to the producers, they do have some inflatable sand dunes scattered about the place and they use the cranes to build a shiny representation of the Temple of Isis. They then lower this construction down on top of poor Aida and Radames, (still singing valiantly), at the end of the final act. Mranwhile Amneris, balanced on top of the construction, sings a very apt Requiem in Pace.

    After we’d seen the show as we travelled round northern Italy whenever we saw a contruction crane some wiseass in the party would remark, “Look, They’re doing Aida.”

  • From what I’ve seen, the French are still smoking reliably in huge numbers. It’s certainly the case I. Paris, where my British visitors noted it a couple of weeks ago, and it seemed to be the case on the Atlantic coast and Normandy. And there are lots of boats because Britanny is the main place for serious sailing in France (as opposed to drinking gin on a power boat).

  • The crane looks different from most cranes because it is a permanent fixture. It’s not actually as sturdy as it looks (the cylinder is hollow), and would looks to be a mix of pedestal crane and tower crane. Most cranes on offshore platforms have a single cylindrical base: makes maintenance a lot easier than a latticework.

  • Cell phone cameras – even the best of them – are not adequate for decent pictorial photography, in my opinion. They are very useful for lots of things, but if I want to take photographs to use on this blog, or to show to my friends after I go traveling, or possibly even to blow up and mount on my wall, I need something better. About a year ago I decided that my D-SLR was too heavy, though, so I switched to a tiny interchangeable lens mirrorless camera. The one I am using is a Pentax Q. No, it is not as good as my D-SLR, but it is 20% of the weight, or less, and it is still very good. I’m very happy with it.

    As far as I can tell, get rid of the smoking, and you turn nicotine into caffeine – something that can be consumed for pleasure, which is addictive but not especially harmful. We glorify caffeine consumption. At least, there is no stigma whatsoever attached to using it. Nicotine has been demonised, though, so using it the way people use caffeine is out. We will see if this holds. Of course, there is no rhyme or reason as to which drugs have stigma attached to them, which are legal, and which are banned. We could end up anywhere.

  • It’s normal for very fast trains in France to go very fast down special new lines (lignes a grande vitesse) that have been built specifically for the TGV, and then to leave those lines and go down older, more local lines at slower speed to get to their final destinations. This is also true in Germany, and in the UK (where there is only one fast line, but fast trains go down it from St Pancras to Ebbsfleet or Ashford and then leave it and go at slower speeds down older lines to various places in Kent). This is not true in Japan or in Spain. In both those countries traditional railways used non-standard gauges (a narrow gauge in Japan and a broad gauge in Spain) and the new high speed lines were built using standard gauge, meaning that the fast and non-fast trains operate on separate networks to each other.

  • William O. B'Livion

    “Sure, nine out of ten people would want a Harley if you asked them,
    but then again, nine of ten people don’t know shit about bikes.”

  • Trofim

    Re smoking. I answered an ad on Birmingham Freecycle today – some chap had given up smoking, and was giving away what smoking materials he had. I enjoy a cigar 2 or 3 times a year as a special treat, and occasionally puff a pipe. I expected perhaps an old pipe, half a packet of some pipe tobacco, and some pipe cleaners. As it turned out, I’ve now got enough high-class cigars to last me the rest of my life. I’ve never smoked an 8 inch cigar before.

  • Trofim,

    Get them in a humidor, ASAP.

  • Trofim

    Where do I get a humidor? Can I make one?

  • Surellin

    Wow, that Clement fellow really WAS a left-handed guitarist. I’m left-handed and play guitar, but trying to play left-handed makes my head ache.