Penn ar Breizh (the End of Bretagne)
I’ve been asking myself many questions to which I do not care to know the answer. Rhetorical games with myself, I guess. Unnecessary, perhaps, but useful. And in writing this, I should admit that I talk to myself–a lot. Sometimes I answer back, yes, and sometimes I argue with myself. Mostly I just chuckle a bit, particularly now, particularly often.
After the night on Menez Hom, a resounding inquiry voiced itself: “What are you going to do now, without your fear?”
This is deeper than it appears. A long time ago, someone who cared for me deeply stated that my politics and way of life were extinguishable from my coping mechanisms, and he was, at that time, utterly correct. On the surface, there are two clear ways of confronting fear: the first, going directly at, towards, and through that which creates anxiety. The typical opposite, in most estimations, is merely running away from it.
But, no. There’s a third way. Build yourself a magnificent castle, or a city ringed by fortresses in which you foster life inside. Invite your friends, artists, musicians, poets, priests, artisans–create a world within a wall, and enlarge those walls when needed, and never once mention to yourself the founding terror of the place. People will come from miles to visit what’s been built, what it inspires in them, but, of course, the unacknowledged core of its existence remains unspoken.
The experience on that mountain, asleep under the full moon without a tent, the dreams and visions and whispers ripped me from my fear, and, to be honest, I sort of miss it in the way that one might miss an abusive lover or a gilded cage.
I’m not explaining this well. I often don’t. My words rarely mean what I intend them to mean, and I haven’t even quite come to grips with precisely what it is I’m even trying to say. But something is missing, and it’s weird to find it gone.
September 22nd (Alban Elued/Equinox)
I left Quimper with a strange heavyness. Really–those more minded in the earth and the material will certainly find my explanation problematic or just silly, but it felt like every step towards the train station became more difficult, like the city was…pouting. Or maybe I was. I don’t know, but I made certain promises to myself and certain promises, aloud, to the rivers of that city that I shall either return or help build a world in which others come to see its beauty, come to hear the whispering of the water flowing through it like veins, come to stand in awe of the ancient, waiting spirit of the hills. Mayhaps, even, come to learn and unravel better than I’ll ever be able to its mysteries.
I’m still haunted by the woman I mentioned, behind a fence at a mental hospital. She seemed–happy, but wild. I’ve worked for years with the mentally-ill, but there’s something fiercely different in her. And she, on a hill, seemed maybe to have heard the same thing I did. This is terrifying. This is also comforting.
After these promises, my pack felt lighter, my steps more certain, and I made it to the station with plenty of time to sit and smoke. (As a side note, and as a matter of responsibility, I should mention it’s often unwise to travel on sundays in France, as there are either few–or, in the case of Quimper, no– buses. Such a thing is quite inconvenient if one is travelling, but seeing almost an entire city thronging the streets on the same day each week is the heritage of theocratic governance–not all bad, I guess). I talked at length with a Senegalese man, rolled him cigarettes (have I mention I failed at quitting?) and took the train to Rennes.
Waiting for a bus in Rennes, I got caught in the middle of a game of street soccer, happily inebriated youths laughing and only half-apologizing when the ball hit an old woman in the head. I felt lumbering (70 pounds heavier with my three bags, yeah?) and overheated and a little grumpy until one of them circled me a few times, clownishly, and then stepped on each of my boots with his bare-feet and pretended I was a statue of a giant, too-solemn and too-somber.
It’s hard to take yourself seriously after this. The bus came, I got on with almost a hundred other people, and an old woman offered me her seat as I apparently looked more needy than her. I accepted, and then found the few people who’d surrounded me in their game thronging me now, laughing and pulling out instruments. They started playing, and then others on the bus started humming along, and again, that dream from before, “did you forget your recorder? You should not forget your recorder” returned and suddenly I’m playing along with them, and old Breton song called Tri Martolod (link follows at the end, just because it’s a damn good song).
Followed them to a park (all my stuff with me, still), played some more music, drank, and then, hours later, finally set up my tent and, inadvertantly, passed out.
I spent the morning preparing my stuff to leave Bretagne altogether. The next day, I was to go to Strasbourg (from whence I’m writing this), so I wandered one last time around Rennes, my eyes lingering upon every tree in my vision, the Breton streets I won’t see again for awhile, and the people.
I wish I could better explain Bretons. Actually, look–I wish I could better explain Bretagne. I was only there for less than three weeks, and I feel like it’s soaked itself into my skin, into my lungs, into my soul.
I worry a bit, though, that the more I attempt to explain it, the more distant it becomes now, sitting here in an apartment in an Alsatian city, far away from the rivers and the stones and alder. Also, the magpies, the toads, and the (unseen) boar. The streets, the fairy-tale quality of the clouds, the setting sun torching the sky in brilliant colors. The feel of the rain, even the inconvenient rain.
In a daze, or perhaps in a dream I wandered those streets one last time, eating another pain au chocolat and an apple turnover (chausette au pomme, or apple-sock). I stumbled into a Breton book store and found a copy of an academic text concerning the legend of the Isle of Ys (for you Gaulish/Celtic reconstructionists who don’t know french, I’ll be writing a review sometime soon), and then returned to my tent, made myself dinner, and wandered one last time into the woods, sitting alone as the sun set, candles lit about me, watching the stars peer through the clouds, listening one last time to the trees and the birds and whispering my own farewell. Not adieu, but more au plus-tard, not “good-bye” but “until a bit later.”
Another question I’ve asked myself is this: at what point does a pilgrimage end? I left the place where I’ve lived for 13 years, and since I won’t be returning there anytime soon, the answer “when you return” doesn’t suffice.
Bretagne pretty much screams fairy-tale, bleeds ancient gods, rains lost knowledge. And I left Bretagne, and though I did not wish for my pilgrimage to end, I thought perhaps it must have. Alsace is not Bretagne, no ancient druidic sites or dark forests, yeah?