Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part thirty-four)
Annie furtively wiped her eyes. Patrice, seeming not to notice, exclaimed, in a tone of horror: “Look out! Here is a troop of Philistines come to insult our evening’s beauty and profane the peace of a sacred place! Let’s escape.”
A band of tourists in bright dress chattered and laughed while spreading themselves among the menhirs. They gushed comment, denigratory for the most part.
“This is all there is to it! Like Joanne said.”
“Flaubert put it well. The stones are big pebbles,” cited a wise fellow full of himself, his Adam’s apple bobbing above his open collar.
“Kilometer posts!” said a woman round as a barrel, wearing a yellow skirt and green jacket. “I’d expected to see something like the pyramids! This is very disappointing!”
M. Conan grimaced, took Annie’s elbow and walked her at speed towards the waiting car. “And off we go! I understand, at times, how murders are committed.”
Before it was lost, Annie filled her eyes with the view, still moved by it. The distant sea was a living line between the rough-edged banks and the sky, colored by the sunset’s fire. Above the trees was the belltower of Carnac, and the roofs of the village. Then at the summit of Mont Saint-Michel the little chapel, bathed in this brilliance, looked golden as a reliquary patinaed by ages.
And in the valley, where the heedless mists gathered, the stones grew pale as specters, a vision that compelled, that could not be forgotten.
Garlands of Venetian lanterns extended from one house to another, and along their façades; flags of all colors hung from the rigging of boats assembled in the harbor, and from masts jutting along the quay. A swarm of young people were on the dock, admiring the Fish Warden’s boat, delegated by the state to fire the starting cannon for the races. Automobiles filled with tourists, horse carts surmounted by large hats with floating trains of velvet, and light bonnets whose wings were lifted by the winds…this was the Sunday regatta.
And if anyone were ignorant that today was a great festival, the penetrating dominance of the pipes would soon have warned him. A magical effect…the crowd in a quiver of excitement rushing to the side where the Breton players of biniou and bombarde advanced.
Wailing and whistling, expending a superhuman energy, conscious in representing their immortal art, two solemn minstrels in short blouses marched firm and upright to an inviolable safe haven, the back of the cider-wagon. They would not emerge until the end of vespers, for it took a deal of libation to maintain the musical muse.
Mme and Mlle Le Goël left for church impressive in their rich ensembles, that won Annie’s praises. “You are both beautiful as queens! Like the noblewomen in an illuminated manuscript, with those full skirts and embroidered veils!”
Annik answered, laughing: “Open the window! You will see far more elegance! We are among the most modest…everyone goes all out with their costumes today!”
Annie had the chance to judge on the way to mass. The opening of the church door let in an outside breeze that passed overhead like a wave. All eyes were on the newcomer. What a contest of shawls, guimpes, aprons, among even the maids of humble farms! And the competing jealousies, humiliations, studied critiques!
Ah! My gold satin, that produced such a good effect at home, how does it look near the paprika velvet of Marie-Louise, embroidered all over with raised flowers, like a chasuble? Annie thought despairingly. All the same, who could think of such a thing! And this Maria, with her velvet bodice, swan collar and cuffs, gold foil in the tulle of her guimpe, an apron worth at least six hundred francs!
All the gossips went pale, and lost courage, when a powdered and perfumed girl, certain to outshine the others for the thoroughness of her efforts, arrived preening with the pride of a young guinea fowl.
Annik clapped her hands when at lunch Annie, with creative flair, recounted these scenes.
“That’s it! Oh, how right you are! Each one would like to be the most beautiful!”
“And the most beautiful is all simplicity, and charms without meaning to,” answered Annie.
And below, from Bon Repos Gites, a collection of paintings with Bretagne as their subject. Lucien Simon (1861-1945) is a good artist to discover, his style similar to the post-Impressionists.
(2021, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)