Friday, 15 July
To prevent my Paris-Perche Diary from becoming a cahier de doléances, the register of complaints presented by citizens to the king during national assemblies of the Ancien Régime, I did not write a blog last week as planned. The list of minor misfortunes I enumerated in Best Laid Plans had only grown longer (more vacuum cleaner problems, another puncture—bike this time—and—the topper—arrival in Paris on a quick trip to pick up our art that has been stacked and stored since Berlin to find our courtyard inaccessible).
I hoped that another week and some time away might reset our luck button, give me something positive to report.
Tuesday, July 12th was our 25th wedding anniversary—not that long given our over-ripening ages, but we are second-timers—and we’d decided to celebrate with a two-day trip to the Cotentin, a region that people kept telling us to visit.
In the Perche, we are at the southern end of Normandy; le Cotentin forms its northernmost extremity, a peninsula that sticks out thumb-like, into the English Channel. Besides a lot of coastline, the region is very rural, a patchwork of small fields, the way much of France used to look, until big agriculture ploughed in 70 years ago and destroyed two-thirds of the hedgerows (including in the Perche, though the survival rate here is relatively high). A time warp, I thought, was just what we needed, and it was about time that Tasha saw the sea.
We found a sweet hotel in Port Racine, near the tip.
We had long walks along the coast...
...and inland amidst the deep purple heather.
And of course we brought Tasha to the beach. Ever since she took a flying leap into the Seine after a family of ducks two weeks into her life with us, she has had a complicated relationship with water. For a long time she even avoided puddles, but she has regained confidence over the years.
At first she was hesitant…
…then she tried to be brave…
...but thought better of it...
…and settled for the baby (tidal) pool.
Along our route, we admired the old stone architecture, with its austere lines...
...and the light that inspired the Cotentin-born painter Jean-François Millet.
But as I have recently noted, you can only get away from it all up to a point. In Europe, you'll always be reminded of the past. In this case, of the close if fraught relationship between Britain and France through the ages. Right off the coast of the Cotentin are the Channel islands, les Iles Anglo-Normandes to the French. To quote Wikipedia on their status: "They have been parts of the Duchy of Normandy since the tenth century, and Queen Elizabeth II is often referred to by her traditional and conventional title of Duke of Normandy. However, pursuant to the Treaty of Paris (1259), she governs in her right as The Queen (the "Crown in right of Jersey")."
In practical terms, this Byzantine arrangement meant that as we were walking the western shore, my phone pinged and welcomed me to the United Kingdom.
Then there's the long and often troubled history with another neighbour, Germany. Given the proximity to England, the Germans heavily fortified the coastline during World War II. Concrete bunkers are everywhere, and though I've seen many before, today the mind leaps easily from their sinister remnants to today's conflict in Ukraine.
As for the present, smack in the middle of the bucolic bliss described above are a nuclear waste treatment station and a nuclear waste storage plant for the nuclear reactor 20kms/12miles to the south in Flamanville. The waste sites dominate the landscape at the entire top of the peninsula, making it almost impossible not to see some part of their sprawl wherever you go.
Driving by the triply fenced area is like landing at the arch villain’s complex in a James Bond film. Except it's not a movie and it's very scary. There were protest signs in every village "Stop, à la piscine nucléaire !" against a project to build yet another waste facility, a spent fuel pool, in the area. Think what you may about nuclear power, such a complex begs some questions, like how "clean" is the source of 75% of France's energy, and how will we ever manage our insatiable energy needs?
With the sun, you might well answer. For now, however, its heat rendered our gorgeous walks almost unbearable. The canicule that has settled over France will ease next week, but there's not a drop of rain in sight for the foreseeable future.
But here I am again, if not complaining then fretting (the Latin root of doléance is dolere, to regret, lament, suffer).
It was a good, glitch-free trip, and we returned revitalised to the Perche, where lots of progress on our garden had been made. Rendez-vous in September for more (positive! upbeat!) news on that.
In the meantime, wishing you all a happy and restorative summer.