The title may be misleading, as slowly the snow has melted, classes have continued, and life has gone on. But as life only started going on as of three days ago, I can claim that I’ve spent nearly a month in hibernation. Hibernation in Pontivy, however, is proving much less satisfying than cookie baking, skiing, and friend visiting elsewhere. Thus my decision, this weekend, to get out of town.
By Friday night, Victo, Susi and I were in Rennes and enjoying the sense of possibility offered by a new, big, moving city. My friend Julien met us for a drink on what’s aptly called “Thirsty Street,” in the midst of Renne’s pleasant collection of half-timbered houses. The city, capital of Brittany, sits on the Vilaine River in the easternmost part of the region. Perhaps this convenient location closer to Paris than to Brest (the main Breton port, all the way on the western edge of the peninsula) explains the confused architectural styles. The center of Rennes is divided between charmingly colorful cobblestone streets and grand white Parisian edifices.
This difference could also be due to the great fire of 1720, which sent most of Medieval Rennes up in flames. The city seems to have a penchant for burning, because in 1994 the Parliament of Brittany also caught fire. I learned this through a guided visit of the building on Sunday. The history of Brittany serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made during the formation of modern nation-states. In the sixteenth century, the region (or the province, as the tour guide frequently reminded us) was a duchy integrated through successive marriages into the kingdom of France. A provincial parliament was established, although for a while it split its sessions between Rennes and Nantes. Finally, sixteenth-century voyage between the two towns not being by express highway, the parliament settled in Rennes. Its current grand edifice was built over more than half a century. A long time, you say? Maybe that’s because all of the décor was assembled in Paris and then shipped cross-country. Yet another responsibility the Bretons were not entrusted with…
One more interesting historical note: the Parliament viewed from its square is an imposing two-story block. Originally, the lower story housed the prison, and a grand outside staircase wound up to the main second-story entrance, and from this waiting room one had an elevated view of the square and town.
But in the eighteenth century when a statue of King Louis on his horse, representing the kingdom of France, was installed in the square, the grand staircase and elevated entrance was declared too imposing. The Parliament of Brittany, of course, could not be more prominent than the king of France. So the staircase was removed, and parliamentarians obliged to enter through the prisons. Although no post-king staircase now graces the building, the statue was attacked and melted down during the French Revolution, soon after its installation. Tee hee.
The rest of the weekend, it rained. We went for walks around Julien’s whenever it wasn’t raining, wearing boots and sporting umbrellas. We played cards, skipped rocks at a pond with a Medieval tower, ate cow’s tongue, the usual. I didn’t care for cow’s tongue, although it was a very tender meat, and my dislike is probably attributable to the psychological oddity of using one’s tongue to eat a tongue. To make up for it, we also ate Galette des Rois, a cake that celebrates Epiphany and contains a hidden trinket. Whoever finds it gets to be king for a day and is then expected to buy the next galette.
At the origin of my visit to Rennes was my Monday doctor’s appointment at the immigration office, required to validate my visa. It went fine, and now I have a cute X-ray to show off. Several assistants from Lorient were also there Monday, and we considered playing “Guess whose X-ray?” in the waiting room. I got a large stamp in my passport and was sent home. I suppose that means I’m completely legal, and that sounds like a reason to celebrate!