Don’t put your virtual suitcase down just quite yet…for after a wonderful month in “The Big D” with Susan…now it’s my turn.
Traveling is one of my favorite passions…there’s not much that brings more excitement Chez Meadows than planning one of our family road trips! What sparks us to initially visit a certain area is sometimes rather capricious…the common search for weather machinations has brought us to the winter warmth of the Canary Islands...
as well as August snow-skiing in New Zealand...
The idea of snorkeling among a colorful array of tropical fish led to a trip to Moorea…
but it was a teacup that first brought us to Brittany.
A vintage faïence teacup, not in the best condition and missing its saucer…but it was cheerful and colorful and was going to add just the right touch to our display of antique furniture. So I put it on a side table and, lo and behold, the teacup received more interest than the side table! Some antiques dealers just sell their stuff, but we’re of a different school and not being able to respond to questions about its origin and history were particularly vexing.
Initial investigation pointed to it being of French origin, yet French acquaintances visibly recoiled in horror when presented with the humble object. Research attempts in Paris were met with rather curt suggestions that if I was interested in antique French faïence, it might be “more suitable” to seek information about the great centers of production such as Rouen, Moustiers, Marseille, Nevers, or Strasbourg.
Tenacity, accented with a generous dollop of my legendary stubbornness, eventually led to northwestern France, the town of Quimper, and the region of Brittany.
To a history buff, Brittany is an old treasure chest…a very old treasure chest. Geologically, it has some of the oldest rocks in Europe, plus field after field full of mysterious megaliths systematically arranged by a culture that has yet to be positively identified.
The people of Brittany…the Bretons…are Celtic, having migrated primarily from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Cornwall beginning in the fifth century, A.D.
For centuries, the Bretons have fished along Brittany’s 750 miles of jagged coastline...
cultivated its expansive tangles of moorlands...
cut granite in order to erect structures that remain standing to this day...
and bravely ventured into the interior Arthurian forest of Brocèliande…where the sorcerer Merlin is said to have fallen in love with the fairy Viviane.
Another “magical” figure forever linked with Brittany is Jules Verne (1828-1905), the science-fiction pioneer author of Voyages Extraordinaires, and other adventures including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Five Weeks in a Balloon. Verne was born in Nantes, the historical capital of Brittany.
The adventurer Jacques Cartier was a Breton, sailing from Saint Malo in 1534 to claim the riches of the Saint Laurence River for the French Crown.
The inventor of the stethoscope, René Laënnec (1781-1826) was born in Quimper and Jean-Marie Le Bris (1817-1872), an unsung aviation pioneer, was born in Concarneau.
A seaman, Le Bris systematically observed the flight of birds during his many years working at sea; he used this knowledge to engineer and build an invention that led to the first flight controlled by man using a structure that was heavier than air.
To many, he is the true father of flight and he wasn’t anywhere near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but rather on the beach in front of the Chapelle Sainte-Anne-la-Palud in Plonévez-Porzay, near Quimper.
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), while not born in Brittany, sojourned in the villages of Pont-Aven and Le Pouldu and is credited with the formation of a post-impressionist school of art to which every modern artist is said to be indebted.
Brittany is like no other part of France. It was a fiercely proud and completely separate entity until it was officially annexed by France in 1532, a consequence of the 1514 marriage of Claude, the daughter of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, to the man who
became François I, King of France.
Brittany always retained a strong semblance of independence, however, and never quite fell into the routine dictated by the governing powers back in Paris. Distance played a role…by modern TGV train, Paris is still some four+ hours away, but it was also a matter of cultural differences.
The Bretons spoke a different language…a form of Gaelic…and they had different customs and costumes along with a strong sense of preserving their own traditions. They continue to remain acutely aware of being one of the six Celtic nations: Brittany (Briezh) is culturally linked to Scotland (Alba), Wales (Cymru), Ireland (Eire), Cornwall (Kernow), and the Isle of Man (Mannin).
That orphaned teacup has led us down a wonderful path. Since coming across it, my interest in its origins resulted in the publishing of our book on Quimper pottery, ten years of monthly articles on our website, and our annual Brittany Shop ‘n’ Tours…delightful adventures in which we are joined by five or six fellow travelers from all over the world.
Between World War I and World War II, the Knowles pottery in East Liverpool, Ohio and the firm known as Southern Potteries in Erwin, Tennessee produced pieces that were greatly “inspired” by the motifs found on genuine Quimper pottery.
I wonder…if that simple teacup had been one of those, instead of Quimper, would we be leading tours in the hills of Ohio or Tennessee instead of the Monts d’Arrée and Montagnes Noires of Brittany?
Now it’s your turn…is there an object or happening that inspired you to journey?