Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Since November 2020 we live in Brittany in France. We have exchanged urban life for a green living in the French countryside. With the blog we share our experiences. The theme of this summer edition is 'the beauty and the beast'.
We live in the midst of hard-working farmers who grow grains, rape- and mustard seeds and maize. The rolling landscape is a patchwork of fields, all kinds of (wild) flowers, hedgerows and forests, sprinkled with hamlets with natural sturdy stone houses decorated with flower bouquets. The many brooks complete the idyllic picture. The Breton coast is iconic, but the countryside is also breathtaking in many places. Anyone who has been to Brittany will agree.
Brittany is also a real livestock department. The cows, sheep and chickens have a good life here with large (range) stables, they spend a lot of time outside and have plenty of space and shade. The many pigs are significantly worse off. The pig farms are real bio-industries with large closed stables without any daylight and with mechanical 'air exchange'. Terrible to see and smell. Luckily there are also some organic pig farms, with piglets frolicking around their mother and roguish pig snouts rooting in the ground. But the many cattle trucks we see driving make it clear how extensive the 'vibrant' cattle economy is, which crosses borders in many ways and takes its toll. This daily reality, seeing Netflix documentaries like 'What the health' and 'Rotten' and reading 'What are we going to eat?' by Carolyn Steel have spurred us to take the step from a vegetarian to vegan diet. Seeing and hearing a cattle transport with 3 levels of roaring calves on the way to Italy was the proverbial last drop for us. Because that delicious French butter, cheese and 'lait battu' is the reason that calves have to be born again and again, with all the consequences that entails. What we eat and how the food is produced and comes to our plate determines to a large extent the future of the Earth, and of course our own health. However, it is not easy to become vegan, we are not yet halfway on the right track. To be continued…
Back to the beauty; we also see this in the people around us. We are surrounded by special characters. Eugène, the oldest inhabitant of our hamlet, mentioned in our 1st blog, regularly invites us to everyday and special events. Also for a memorial meeting for 7 local resistance fighters from the second World War. Every year at the place where they were executed, in the middle of the forest, the Cérémonie de la Seilla takes place, with priests, veterans with medals pinned on their chest and their regimental flag in hand, a shortage of folding chairs, a creaking and failing microphone, speech by the mayor and flower laying by children at the monument. In addition to his always connecting role, the 91-year-old Eugène plays the electric organ during the Mass and communal chants. The ceremony doesn't just pay tribute to the heroic past, but also is a call for solidarity and a warning that we must constantly watch for the danger of the beast in the form of violence.
Another not-to-be-missed special character from our hamlet is Damien, a somewhat eccentric collector of beautiful things. He lives in his parental home with a (former) retail space on the ground floor with an enormous shop window in which he has displayed in his own unique way his collection of analogue photo cameras, tin antique wind-up birds, enamelled advertising signs and coffee pots, haberdashery and so on. With some local help, Dennis made an intimate booklet entitled 'Damien collectionneur'. Enthusiasts can view a selection of the photos on his site - see collectionneur- and order the booklet in the shop. The edition is 25 copies so be quick, the booklets cost 10 euros including shipping costs.
Garden pickings: green tomato chutney | potatoes with rosemary and garlic from the oven | rainbow chard tart | elderflower jam | sweet and sour pickles | pickled cucumbers and peppers | beet spread | nettle and arugula pesto | broad bean salad | mint tea | verveine water | gooseberry breakfast | green elderberry capers … and more to come.
Erika maintains the vegetable garden, with a large growing bed, 4 raised beds made of recycled wood and a large polytunnel for edible plants, and processes the harvest. She is more than happy with it. Meanwhile Dennis focuses passionately on the construction and maintenance of various flower beds. Horticulture as an enrichment of 'wild' nature to increase sensory delight and biodiversity. The trees that have been planted are already doing well; the fig is sprouting well, the Japanese dogwood has flowered profusely and is producing edible berries, the crabapple has small orange-red coloring apples (for jelly) and the quince is also growing well. Gardening is a day job for us, physically hard working but a great pleasure and as is known, green promotes well-being! We do everything organically in connection with nature and the seasons: “for the sake of beauty and vitality”.
We share the seeds and harvests from the vegetable garden with our neighbors. A barter trade started naturally, we get eggs from Eugène's chickens, he from us seedlings of kale and cardoon. Neighbour Jeanette enjoys our lettuce and potatoes, we enjoy her fruitcake 'clafoutis à la maison'. In this way, the garden nourishes the neighborhood in a double sense.
We are also discovering more and more edible greenery in the roadsides, forests and along the coast. We are getting ready for a busy fall with all the preserving, juicing, gelling, baking and cooking. And then we also get baskets full of hazelnuts, given the top-heavy hazel trees that have sprung up everywhere 'like weeds'! And we are going to build a few more naturalistic flower beds in September. The upcoming 'autumn blog' is, how could it be otherwise, about the many Ty-Vert harvests.
Hope we will meet again soon!