|Paimpol, a half-remembered town
||[Nov. 5th, 2017|06:10 pm]
We chose Paimpol as the place to spend the second couple of days (of our four-day break) because it is well located on the north coast between Roscoff and Saint Malo, and because we had good memories of staying there on a previous visit. That time, we had booked a small hotel on the harbour front, and were disconcerted to arrive mid-afternoon and find the place deserted. But we found a café not far away, and by the time we had drunk our coffee, the proprietor had returned, and we took possession of a room whose window we opened to admire the sunshine glinting off all the pleasure boats in the harbour. I remember, too, a fish restaurant in one of the little streets of pink stone houses. There may have been an open fire; and when we asked what was the music we were hearing (could that really be Mick Jagger singing 'Long black veil'?) our waiter produced a CD of the Dubliners accompanied by their friends (and yes, it could).
I couldn't identify either of these locations this time round - and we didn't see much sunshine either. When I booked the hotel (Le Goelo) I half wondered if it was the same one, but this was a more modern (not very modern, but more so), more anonymous sort of enterprise, where you pay on arrival and come and go as you please, and our room was very snug: but it had the same view over the port, with its little pleasure boats, and there was a roundabout on the quayside. The roundabout kept turning all day, though I never saw anyone riding any of the odd assortment of beasts and vehicles of different styles and ages: an elegant wooden sleigh next to a shiny plastic Sylvester, with Tweetie Pie gripped in his forepaw, classic horses galloping past a turquoise bathysphere...
On our first evening we walked the length of that quayside, which is bordered by a series of restaurants offering variations on a theme (much like the Grassmarket in Ghent) and eventually ate at Tonton Guy, which is attached to the hotel recommended by the Routard guide. My salad was accompanied by not one but two pieces of toast with foie gras, as well as the 'cocos de Paimpol' which turn out to be a kind of bean. I don't know why I'm ambivalent about the place. I wasn't in the mood for this kind of excess, having eaten very well at lunchtime, and I didn't need the mini-soup we were given as an amuse-gueule (especially as we had been served the same thing elsewhere the previous night). It came before the wine, which is surely not right, and our server was moving through the room adding salt and pepper to table settings without any apparent desire to prioritise tables that had people sitting at them. On the other hand, her colleague, who took over partway through, emerged from the kitchen with a handful of cocos to show me, spilling the beans with their ivory sheen out of the dappled pods. I liked, too, the retro-styled carafe labelled 'Les eaux municipales' (currently unavailable from Amazon).
The next morning we started at the Tourist Office (Paimpol, like Roscoff, has an interesting new building to house its Tourist Office): the good news was that several things which my guide book said would be closed in October would, in fact, open that afternoon; the bad news was that most of the shops would be closed because it was Monday. But tomorrow being Tuesday, there would be a market, and when we asked where the market would be, the answer was "Everywhere!" (in all of the town's three squares, and the streets between them).
Meanwhile, there was a waymarked walk around the town, so we did that, backwards, because the path was so inviting:
It runs alongside the river Quinic, which had been tidied into a canal marking the edge of the old town, with frequent bridges. We crossed into the market place - that is, the square in front of the covered market, although that doesn't seem to be n use. I liked this arcaded veterinary practice:
I don't know why the pillar is carved into a lighthouse - except, of course, that this is Brittany, they are very keen on lighthouses here. Here's another kind of street sculpture:
In my mind these roadside shrines belong to ancient history, to a medieval habit of thought. Which is stupid, because you only have to look at them to see that many of them, at least, are much more recent. This is a Vierge du choléra, a 'cholera Madonna', one of four (of which three survive) placed on houses in Paimpol at the time of the 1849 cholera epidemic (because a procession in honour of the Virgin had proved so successful in turning the tide of the 1832 outbreak). I have nothing to add to this information.
Our walk took us out to the far and of the harbour, out into the mist and the chilly almost-rain, so we dived into the fish smokery on the quayside, and ate large quantities of smoked fish for our lunch. By now it was opening time for the Musée de la Mer: this is housed in a splendid brick building, purpose built for drying cod, but (and this seems apt, in yet another a museum of a trade which was everything and is now almost nothing) was never put to that use, serving instead as a joiner's and then a sailmaker's workshop. The street was too narrow for satisfactory photographs, though there are hints on the tourist board website (the museum's own website is hiding). An interior view, then:
I coulsn't work out whether this goélette, the characteristic local fishing boat, has somehow been flattened onto the wall, or whether the sails have been mounted above a mock-up. To our surprise, we spent most of our time in the temporary exhibition about eighteenth century exploration of the Pacific. There were passing references to James Cook, but most of the emphasis was on Fleuriot de Langle (a local man, of whom I had never heard), second-in-command on the expedition led by Lapérouse (whose name rang the faintest of bells). It's a great story, best summed up in a map of the Pacific displayed at the top of the stairs to the upper gallery, with a black line showing the route specified in the expedition's orders from the king, and a red line showing the route they actually took: imagine them as two balls of wool with which a cat has been playing. Wikipedia has a map which shows the scope of the actual voyage: it criss-crossed the Pacific from Easter Island to Kamchatka and from California to Macau and back again, and might yet have carried out the instruction to circumnavigate Australia, had they not sailed out of Botany Bay never to be seen again. Subsequent searches established that both ships of the expedition had been wrecked in the Solomon Islands. I'd imagined, I suppose, that you set of with the instruction to go and explore a specific place, and then come back and tell me about it, but it seems to have been more a case of there's a whole world out there, send reports when you can and don't come back until you're seen it all. So Barthéleacute; de Lesseps, taken on at the age of 19 as a Russian interpreter, was put ashore in Kamchatka with instructions to find his way overland to Paris with reports of the voyage so far. This sounded like a raw deal, but there were reasons - and the result was that he was the only survivor of the expedition.
One footnote, learned not from the exhibition but from Wikipedia: when Lapérouse sailed from Brest in 1785, among the unsuccessful applicants to join the crew was a 16-year-old Corsican named Napoléon Bonaparte. Bonaparte, a second lieutenant from Paris's military academy at the time, made the preliminary list but he was ultimately not chosen for the voyage.
Back out of this highly coloured narrative to the muted tones of autumn in Brittany:
This little house is characteristic, and I loved its blue shutters. Also, though you probably can't see this, the net curtains have a lighthouse design.
After a break at the hotel, we'd revived enough to head out to dinner. We each favoured a different restaurant, but fortunately both were in the rue des huit patriotes (the eight patriots), and I won the argument because mine was open. Le 18 is quirky and colourful (there's a pig of some kind on each table, and more on a high beam marking the divide between what were once two rooms. The menu was interesting, and this was with one exception the best thing I ate all holiday -
- crème caramel made from very fresh sheep's milk cheese, rich and creamy but with a slightly granular texture which balanced the thick caramel layer perfectly/ (The only thing I ate that was better was the quince and yuzu preserve given to GirlBear by a neighbour to whom she had given some quinces.)
Next morning being Tuesday, we had time to explore the market and watch stallholders cutting scallops from their shells, and wish that our travels didn't make it impractical to buy many, many things. Onions, for example:
tl;dr version: In which we learn, at inordinate length, that my memory cannot be trusted (I'm pretty sure it was Paimpol we visited before...), and that eighteenth century voyages of discovery are full of amazing stories.
This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.