Friday, February 02, 2007

Long Entry

This was written by Scott during our drive yesterday, it encompasses a lot of our French experience, about which I, personally, have been unable to encapsulate or communicate effectively. Sort of like that sentence. The point it - our time with Jacques and his friends was pretty extraordinary.
Here´s Scott:

Well it’s been a fun and busy few days. Driving, eating, fixing tires, driving, getting gas, driving. I think if there were one thing that we all wish we had on this trip was more time. By the time we get to our destination, eat, and figure out a plan for the next day, we are all wiped out. But it beats the day job!
We are currently en route to Madrid (in Madrid by the time you read this) and have a four hour drive to reflect a little on the past week. We want to keep the blog updated as best as possible so we don’t let too much of our trip fly by without writing about it. Details tend to fade and brief summarizations become more prevalent, sort of like that diary you kept as a kid (or at least mine) – January was chock full of musings and minutae of each day, by March things start to taper off. I personally never made it past April. But I tell you this, I can tell you what I was doing every January-March through most of the Eighties!
It will be a week tomorrow morning that Eddy, Mike, Kara and I landed in London and headed to Southampton, but it seems like a lifetime. Part of that is the nature of travel – new experiences at every turn, so much to take in – it makes a day seem like three days of life when you are in comfortable surroundings, living your “normal” existence. Yesterday we started the day with coq au vin in France, and ended it with tapas in Spain!
I think we can all agree that our time in Breton will be one of the highlights of this entire trip though. We got off the ferry in St. Malo on Monday morning and started the first real leg of driving. It was surreal, partly because we stayed up way too late on the ferry, and partly because we had a two hour drive ahead of us and…well this was it! This is what we have been talking and planning, and now we are actually on the bus going somewhere.
We arrived in Callac, France on time at our appointed meeting spot and immediately saw a small Citroen flashing it lights at us. Jacques and the team’s e-mails were not for naught – everything worked out perfectly. We met Jacques and his wonderful sister Marie Claude and immediately entered a maelstrom of activity that would make anyone’s head spin, let alone five weary (admittedly, the weariness was self inflicted) travelers. We stopped for coffee and discussed the day and got to know each other. We were all immediately struck by the open-heartedness of our new French friends. It was one of those far and few between times when you meet someone and everything just clicks immediately, easy conversation, laughs and cheer all around.
We headed out to Christian and Mireille’s house, where we met some of the other members of the association Solidarite Dar El Salam; Guy Guivarch, the president, Francois, Kara and I’s host for the evening, and a bunch of other people. More conversation, a bottle of wine (this would become a recurrent theme during the day!), and a beautiful presentation of a Breton flag to our team.
As a side note, to our American readers, Breton, or Britanny, is in the north west of France and fiercely independent, much like Wales or maybe even the Basque country of Spain, the language of the area (Breton) is spoken by many, if not most, residents and is taught to school children as part of their regular curriculum. It is Celtic in origin and the area has its own distinct and beautiful culture.
Time for lunch! We headed into Carhaix and had a great lunch with the whole group and got to know each other even more. Then to the local grammar school, where the kids had organized bicycles for loading on the bus. This was our purpose here – to pick up bicycles from the association and transport them all the way to Senegal – to the village of Dar Es Salam. The association has been doing charitable work with this small village in East Senegal for ten years, and we thought it would be a great addition to the bus and in the spirit of the entire idea. One of the original ideas that the team came up with was to transport bicycles during the journey…
The kids at the school were wonderful! It was so exciting to see them engaged in this project to benefit other kids. We all feel by making a connection at an early age that the individual can directly benefit the well-being of another, especially across cultures, is a valuable lesson for kids – and hopefully an impressionable one. In the U.S., where our exposure to other cultures is limited in some ways (geographically), it seems like the spirit of a global culture and connectivity gets lost a lot. Needless to say, our current government isn’t doing much to make that better either. Thanks W!
Trois Ouest, a Breton language news station, came and did a story on us (we got to see it the next day) and we just had lots and lots of fun with the kids. They LOVED the cameras, so we let them ham it up to their hearts content.
Next stop, another social hour at a local bar. We did so much on our day in Carhaix, it was truly amazing that we ALSO took the time after each stop to unwind, have a glass of wine, and chat. A lovely aspect of French culture that is certainly more apparent when we, as Americans, always work, work, work…
We ambled across the street to the mayor’s office to meet and exchange cadeaux (gifts). We gave the entire group of our French hosts Penitent Yanks t-shirts, but that was far outweighed by their generosity at every turn – food, gifts, drinks. We explained that as Americans, we are so used to paying our own way, that it’s hard to get out of that mentality and let your host be just that…a host.
The meeting with the mayor was brief, a little bit of formality, in a very casual day. He presented us with a beautiful book about Carhaix and showed us his Breton mayoral sash, different than the standard rouge-blanc-bleu in the rest of France. More wine and cheese and some photos and we were off again. Drinks before dinner and then out to the bowling alley. Bowling alley, you say? Carhaix is a beautiful farming community, and like rural areas everywhere, there is not a Starbuck’s on every corner and a Quickie Mart. Another wonderful banquet style dinner, more drinks and conversation, then back to Christian’s. We spent the rest of the evening socializing, drinking wine, and comparing differences in language, euphemisms and quirks of respective cultures. I think the highlight of the evening was trying to explain what the term “banana hammock” meant… Christian and Mireille’s daughter, Pauline, joined us in conversation, and got a kick out this wacky group of Americans in her house. Close to 2AM, Kara and I finally retired to Francois’ house for the evening (thanks Francois for the beautiful room and for being the consummate host!).
The next morning we repacked the bikes and headed out for the next leg of our adventure – south to Bordeaux. All in all, we got thirteen bikes, two wheelchairs, and a few walkers on the roof. We would have loved to take every single bicycle in the garage on our journey, but Thomas is a short bus after all.
Jacques, Marie Claude, and everyone in Carhaix were so wonderful – truly something I think all the Yanks are going to remember for a lifetime – and who knows – hopefully it won’t be the last time we’ll ever see our friends and the beautiful countryside of Carhaix. There is a HUGE music festival there in the summer and we all would love to go back. And we all hope to stay connected, and work towards the common cause, of making the world a better place by whatever means we can. So for now…
Kenavo! Au Revoir! See you again!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To S&K from S&K: We are enjoying your adventure, want to join you the next time! Much love.