Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The feast of the Assumption or the need for a breathe of fresh air

What should have been, as was predicited a hot summer, festered and died and we are left with an early autumn and a pervading dampness that blots out any hope of sunshine from our lives. Due to the long and rather unaccounted absence of the Chief Pattiseur who it would appear has developed an unsavoury compulsion to seek out the secrets of the perfect cheese tart , The reluctant children and I were forced ,by propriety and our elevated postion of social standing in the community, to go forth amongst the masses and represent the Loufoque family for the fete of the 15th August, the day when our Lady was assumed into heaven and the greatest feast of the Breton calendar. Normally one hopes for a fine hot day so that at least some of the festivities are able to be performed in the open air but alas and most vexaciously this year a slight drizzle and dark clouds meant the entire commune were trapped like sardiness in a tin within the confines of the chapel of St Cenyyd through out the long and tedious service.

The Breton peasants have always in my experience been somewhat lacking in even the most basic skills when it comes to the genteel matter of personal hygene and cleanliness. The men when they marry are given 12 shirts one for each month of the year, made by thier dear mothers coarse and work worn hands from linen grown on their own land, this affords them one shirt a month which is worn for that entire month then according to Madame Grognonne ,who is somewhow privy to such matters, discarded in a corner until washday, where one presumes resident mice cats and rats make themselves at home, and the dirty shirt is replaced with a clean one. Washing is done once a year at the village lavoire when the women trundle thier dirty linen in a wheel barrow and spend the day scrubbing and gossiping and, one presumes, praying for fine weather so that the wet and relativley clean washing may be dried on the hedges and bleached in the sun. Sadly this only applies to the linen, the black velvet and heavy formal dresses and clothing of thier traditional attire has it would appear to make do with a rub down with a damp cloth and a brisk brush. This may work wonders to dislodge the dust of summer and mud of winter but I can assure you that it does nothing to dislodge the smell of stale sweat and the sour aroma of clothes dried inadequietly due to inclement weather conditions.

St Cenydd if you are not aware was a rather disadvantaged and unattractive child with some sort of bodily deformity which led his father, rahter sensibly I feel, to set him adrift in a wicker basket of some sort persuambly in the hope of never having to see him agian. God being renowned through out history for having a rather obtuse sense of humour guided the little basket to the shores of an island where the birds and a rather unlikley breast shaped bell fed him and kept him alive on a diet of milk bread and rice until he grew up to be a hermit, his father on repenting prayed to God for his body to be cured however Cenydd like ungrateful ofspring everywhere, objected strongly and decided to remain a hermit on his island thus enjoying the company of birds and avoiding having to spend assumtpion day surrounded by the unpleasant and all pervading aroma of damp clothes and incontinent elderly and infants villagers. How he managed to become a saint I am uncertain but I suspect God rewarded him for his comon sense of choosing rice pudding and that of the company of seaguls to cheap cider and Breton peasants.

It eas not a day a care to remember with much joy. My only concillation through out the entire ordeal was the knowledge that the clergyman officiating at the service was none other than he whom had comsumed far too much of our cider than was good for him at his last visit to the Loufoque household and whose intestines appeared some weeks later to be still suffering rather unpleasant after shocks. His sermon was thus mercifully short and I was accorded the pleasure of keeping him corned in the cloisters after mass and engaging him in appropriately banal and long winded conversation regarding the health of the poor of the parish whilst watching his face contort and his limbs twitch in an obvious desire to escape with the utmost speed possible to avail himself of the nearest convenience Having allowed sufficient time for madame Grognonne to have prepared a decent repas for the family and feelign thsat the unfortunate priest had deonhis penance for the day I bid him aduie and left him to scurry unceremonoiusly off with the upmost haste to a place where he could safely releive himself in relative privacy which was in this case a rather uncomfortable yet conveniently planted abundance of goarse bushes. Well they do say God will provide do they not ?


The photograph shows a group of young Breton housewives watching despondently the gloomy horizon in the forlorn hope of a break in the clouds so that they may dash home, grab their wheel barrow full of dirty linen and rush off to wash it before the next storm clouds appear.