Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tuesday - Ste. Anne d'Auray, Auray and Vannes

Tuesday morning brought overcast and gray rain. After a leisurely morning over breakfast (delicious as always) and a stroll around Carnac centre, seemingly deserted although the one bookstore was open and the four of us browsed lazily among the shelves, we loaded ourselves into the Ford (our close companion now, although no DS to be sure) and headed back north, this time in the direction of Ste. Anne d’Auray.

The center of this small town was dominated by an incredibly imposing bulk of a cathedral, which formed part of a large u-shaped memorial park. (photo above)

Directly opposite the entrance to the church was an odd structure even by Roman Catholic standards: a pair of stairs forming an apex at the top of which was . . . nothing. It’s the stairs themselves, the sancta scala, that are the important: they represent the stairs that Christ had to climb to meet his judgment at the hands of Pontius Pilate, and the faithful climb them on their knees, one at a time, saying their prayers, asking forgiveness on each riser, climbing ever so much closer to their God. (The “original” stairs, the sancta scala, are reportedly in Rome, near the Church of St. John Lateran.)
A u-shaped wall of names commemorating the young men from Brittany who died during the First World War dominated the third side of the park. At its center, set back about 100m or so was rotunda memorial and behind it was a life-size recumbent figure of a young man in uniform, surround in a sweeping series of male figures, all representative, it would seem, of those young men who will always be young.

Off to the side on the backside of one of the memorial wall of names, was a large statue of Ste. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, standing incongruously in her own park, seemingly oblivious of all that had suffered around her.

As we strolled around these large open spaces, deserted but for us four and a group of teenage boys hanging out killing time between classes perhaps, one got the sense that these structures had all grown up independent of one another, that little thought had been put into designing the space with any plan for integrating the theology of faith with fidelity to country. The light rain of course didn’t make the place appealing either, but still. . . .

From Ste. d’Auray we drove south a few kms to the old port town of St. Goustan Auray. After parking the car along the quai (which should be pronounced "kway" but for some reason is actually pronounced “key”) the fours of us scuttled out of the cold drizzle and into the only open restaurant where we joined everyone in town for a delicious lunch of crepes and galette.

 After lunch we walked across an ancient bridge directly opposite the quay (key) and popped into an incredible little shop run bun by a former MOF named Larnicol selling Kuign-aman pastry as well as numerous flavors of homemade caramels touched by the grace of Breton sea salt.

What looks like olives are in fact various types of nuts covered in equally various types of chocolate

We took our time leaving Auray. Pointing the car in the general direction of Vannes, the largest city in the area and the place where this adventure began, Richard got us out of town and back onto the highway. Upon entering Vannes he deftly maneuvered the Ford into a parking lot in the city center near the “ramparts,” the remaining part of the ancient wall that once ringed the city. The four of us casually strolled in and through the old part of Vannes. Unfortunately the megalith museum was closed -- the museum houses a large number of artifacts uncovered at many of the sites we had visited -- so we sought out a warm place for an aperitif.

That evening we had dinner at the Brasserie Les Halles, in the old part of the city; the recommendation had come from a young woman working the night desk of one of the city’s hotels. Our server was a young woman who was determined to practice her English and I was certainly willing to oblige. The food was quite good – I enjoyed a thoroughly delicious steak – and the atmosphere warm and inviting but we eventually had to go or rather leave the restaurant and we were soon back on the street, wending our way through the maze of rotaries, a feat that has become second nature to Richard now, and found our way back to Carnac and to bed.

Wish you had been there,


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