Friday, July 8, 2016

July 4 ceremony, danse bretonne & the last excursion before Paris

July 4 is of course not a holiday in France. The national holiday here is July 14 (storming of the Bastille and all that). But a small number of French people helped us put on a ceremony to mark America’s birthday.

We met at the American War Memorial, which was erected to honor the American soldiers killed in WWI, with a separate small plaque to honor those from WWII as well. There was a French color guard made up of veterans along with military reservists who presented arms. The mayor, the sous-prefect and an admiral were all present. French veterans presented floral wreaths as did Angélique and Camy.

Our group then sang both the Marseillaise (the French national anthem) as well as the Star Spangled banner. It was very moving. The sous-prefect said that he enjoyed hearing the Marseillaise sung with a bit of an American accent. Emma Boyer led the group in the Marseillaise and Sofia led the Star Spangled Banner. (Four weeks ago when I jokingly asked if anyone would like to sing the Marseillaise for us, Emma volunteered and sang acapella, from memory, in a way that took our breaths away.)

After the ceremony, we attended a small reception the sous-prefect had for us at the sous-prefecture building. The mayor attended (for just a few minutes) as well as the conseil-régionale. As the sous-prefect explained to the students, a conseil-régionale is like an American governor – but with less independence. The sous-prefect of Brest is in charge of the local brigade of the national police and oversees the general political system. The sous-prefect was very gracious and welcoming.

The admiral also attended. The French Atlantic fleet is based in Brest. France only has three fleets; the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the North Sea. So this was one of the top three officers in the entire French navy. But he was very down to earth with the students, expressing great interest in the program. He was a bit awed by the total language commitment and went out of his way not to speak English.

French has two words for the pronoun “you.” “Tu” is the word you use with close friends, family and small children. “Vous” is the word you use in formal situations with people you don’t know or people deserving respect.

It was absolutely adorable when Emma Boyer used “tu” when speaking to the admiral. He had asked about the story of Jeremiah Johnson, and Emma was the only one who knew of the story. She began to speak animatedly with the admiral and just slipped into the “tu” usage. He didn’t miss a beat. He continued the conversation, ultimately explaining the stars on his sleeve. It couldn’t have been a more perfect moment. Emma didn’t realize her faux pas until someone pointed it out later. The joke now is that Emma is BFFs with the admiral.

We returned to L’Aile Michelet for a reception with the host families. The French seem to love this kind of thing. There was much talking and laughing as well as eating and drinking. It was a wonderful time for the families and students to spend together as a group and share. It was a very successful evening.

The American Monument is quite
impressive and may well be the tallest
structure in Brest.

The admiral was very engaging.

Ah, you do know the story of Jeremiah Johnson?

And now, Best Friends Forever!

Schmoozing with the sous-prefect.

The SP is a pretty cool guy!

All the little French girls know...

Is Jamie taking a picture of me taking a picture?

They seriously did not plan this.

Grant and the posse.

Ashley just defeated Nicholas in our ongoing game,
and he was in the lead! (Note the look of sad resignation
on Nick's face.)

Seriously, they now all talk with their hands!

We have spent our activity time this week preparing for the program we are going to present on Tuesday evening for the French families. The kids are going to present sketches they have written, play music and sing, dance and even lip-sync. It’s going to be really cool. They have really put their hearts into it. I promise videos.

Last night (Thursday) we got to participate in “danse bretonne.” This is the traditional folk dancing of Bretagne (Brittany). Jean-Paul, our one of our onsite coordinators has been an active folk dancer for 16 years. He and one of the French mothers taught the lessons.

We met in a meeting hall of a junior high school that teaches in the ancient Breton language only. Our teachers started slowly and the students learned quickly. Nicole loves to dance, so she was chosen to help present the dances with three or more people. Amanda has also done danse bretonne, so she helped the students.

Everyone had so much fun! We (they) danced for nearly two hours, but it seemed like less. We departed with tunes and dance steps in our heads. The pictures and videos really tell the story. 

Many students returned home to parties, as it was France vs. Germany in the final four of the European tournament. There were bound to be sleepy eyes in the morning. (France won, by the way. Allez le Bleus!)

How cute!

They are getting the hang of it!

Girls, it's not tango!

This is, apparently, serious business.

I forget who is leading!

Nicholas! Rule #1 - Don't look at
your feet!

Grant, lighten up!

Today (Friday), we went on our final excursion before Paris. We visited the Medieval city of Locronan and the city of Quimper, the regional capital. Locronan is a town of 800 inhabitants that has preserved its buildings built from the 1200s to the 1500s. People live and work in these old buildings. There are shops and restaurants, a really quirky bookstore and a fantastic church.

Nicole arranged for us to visit a boulangerie (which is a bread and pastry bakery) to learn about the making of a kouign amann, a traditional Breton pastry. We got to go into the kitchen where one of the bakers explained the process. He took a dough he had made of flour and water and added butter and sugar. This doesn’t really begin to express it.

He had 300 grams of dough (about 10 oz.) and covered it with 250 grams (about 8 oz.) of butter. And this is Breton butter, called demi-sel. It is slightly salty which comes from the cows that eat grass grown in slightly salty soil and the salt added for preservation. The taste is heavenly and makes other butter seem tasteless. He covered that with 200 grams (slightly less than 7 oz.) of sugar.

He then punches the mixture flat then folds it over onto itself. He then runs that through a set of rollers that turn the dough ball into a long flat dough. He then folds that back onto itself. He does this several times. The dough is then left to rise for half an hour. Finally, it is introduced into a very hot oven for 20-25 minutes.

What comes out is a very flaky, very sweet pastry that is absolutely dripping with butter. The students were absolutely blown away. You must ask you students about this heavenly experience.

Afterwards, we toured the little town soaking up the rare sunshine and doing a bit of shopping. We had a picnic lunch and headed for Quimper.

Quimper is the capital of the Finistère region, although its population of 63,000 is less than half that of Brest (141,000). It is a very old city, its “modern” version dating from as early as the 1200s. It escaped the destructive bombardments of the Allies in WWII because it was home to a POW camp that housed some 7,000 captured French soldiers. It was also an important communication hub for the French Resistance and the Allied Forces.

It is a port city that straddles an estuary. It has more pedestrian-only streets than any city in northwest France. So it is a center of the import-export trade, but more importantly for us, it is a shopping hub. 
Once we visited the beautifully restored 14th century cathedral, we ventured out in small groups to window shop, or really shop or to take in the sights. Several of us found welcoming cafés for a late afternoon coffee or cup of tea.

It was a delightful way to end what has been a very intense week. Unfortunately, we returned to a chilly, rainy Brest. …And we were early returning…And where we meet is right on the sea…But they are promising sunshine tomorrow!

How cute!

Amanda holds court in front of the

Les cinq mouquetaires

Yes, that's a half pound of butter!

And over a third of a pound of sugar!

Smoosh it all together...

Wasn't there a song, Anticipation,

Is that...? Yes, Mickinleigh is eating!

A city on the water.

Mickinleigh helps keep Anna warm...

Whatever it takes to keep warm. That brown blob is

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