Partout où tu vas, tu croises toujours un breton. “Wherever you go, you always meet a Breton.” I thought I should write an article about Brittany and I was highly excited about it. But then, I got stuck. What about Brittany should I write? Could I be funny while being “educative?” It appeared not, so pull out your notebooks and pens (I refuse technology) and get ready for a lesson on Brittany!
Often, when people think about France, they only picture Paris, the French Riviera or — if we are lucky — Normandy. Well, la Bretagne is a bit different (and better!). It is surrounded by the sea, has a lot of countryside, and does not have a lot of big cities. The biggest, Rennes (where I come from), is the capital of Brittany and counts only around 200,000 inhabitants. Brittany is divided into four parts: (départements, created after the French revolution) Ille-et-Vilaine (35), Côtes d’Armor (22), Finistère (29) and Morbihan (56). In France, each départements has a number, which was given by alphabetical order (Paris is number 75; you can find these numbers in postal addresses and on license plates).
What can I say about my region? Well, Brittany is the most beautiful region in France, possibly in the world (Me, exaggerating? Never). I love to be Breton because we have a very strong culture. We used to have our own language, not a dialect derived from French, but a real language. The French government forbade it at the beginning of the 20th century and nowadays very few people speak it (I do not). Some bilingual schools were developed starting in the 1970s, but a limited number of parents send their children there.
We have a lot of folklore too: dances, costumes, music. Brittany was divided into numerous districts and each of them had a particular costume and coiffe (headgear). Brittany also has particular musical instruments like the bombarde or the biniou. The Breton culture is still very strong and proclaimed. All over Brittany are organized what we call festoù-noz (Breton word for night festival), where people gather to dance to Breton music. Under this article, you can find a few videos showcasing these festivals. Even in Paris you can find a strong network of Bretons (after all, only 30% of Parisians were born in Paris).
The other best part of Brittany is its food. The whole world thinks crêpes are French. Well, the whole France knows (hopefully) that crêpes are from Brittany. If you find street vendors selling crêpes in Paris, do not eat them. You have to go to crêperies to eat real crêpes (sweet) and galettes, (savory) like crêpes but with buckwheat flour and water instead of milk. In Paris, I do not go to crêperies (heresy!), I prefer to make my own or eat the ones I bring back from Brittany. In fact, I did not cook crêpes nor galettes before I was out of Brittany because we would always either go to the crêperie or eat fresh crêpes and galettes bought at the market. But this is not the only things we eat in Brittany. Since we are near the sea, we eat a lot of seafood (shellfish, fish, etc). The kig ha farz is a traditional recipe, a main dish also with buckwheat flour, meat and vegetables. For your sweet tooth we always have something, for example the far Breton (with prunes) or the kouign amann (one mouthful and you’ll feel every single one of your arteries shutting down). And not a single Breton dish would be complete without salted butter. I may be the only foreigner who has lost weight while living in the US. Why? Because I did not eat any butter. For 10 months. I still do not know how the Breton in me survived.
Is there a Breton fashion for clothes? Not really — we have the same shops as in Paris. Although, people say it rains all the time in Brittany, they are so wrong! A proverb states, “in Brittany it only rains on stupid people” (En Bretagne il ne pleut que sur les cons).
Lots of clichés depict a typical Breton wearing a marinière (Breton shirt with stripes), rubber boots and a ciré (oilskin coat). Funny thing is, it seems only Parisians on vacation in Brittany actually wear this, but it is only credible if worn by real Bretons. I created a mood-board of what to wear during the summer in Brittany, because it does not rain all the time. Enjoy!
Visit Bénédicte’s blog: Tribulations Bretonnes.
Recipe for far Breton
– Dried prunes, 2 dozen maximum
– 3 eggs
– 100g sugar
– 125g flour
1. Put 2 dozen of dried prunes (maximum) to soak into rum, then prepare the dough by combining three eggs, 100g of sugar and 125g of flour until well mixed.
2. Add little by little the milk.
3. Put a generous piece of butter into a cake pan (preferably earthenware) and warm in the oven. When melted, place the dried prunes at the bottom of the pan then add the dough (the butter will then surround the pan and the dough).
4. Cook for 30 minutes into a well heated oven (around 350°F).
A useful tool to convert cooking measurements: http://allrecipes.com/howto/cup-to-gram-conversions/
Dances and music
– fest-noz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fest_Noz
– a piece on the bombarde (like a flute) and on the biniou (like a bagpipe): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDwfBx2MzYc
– music and dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCpa8b5XSww&feature=related
– big event in Brittany (during the summer): http://festival-interceltique.com/
– my favorite: http://www.danserien-sant-ke.com/actualites/index.shtml
Breton language and way of life
– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Horse_of_Pride (based on the book Le Cheval d’orgueil) http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Cheval_d%27orgueil_%28livre%29 )
– crêperies in Paris: http://www.lefigaro.fr/assets/pdf/classement_galettes_completes.pdf
– crêperies in Paris (2): http://www.linternaute.com/restaurant/thema/109/creperies-paris.shtml
– recipe for kig ha farz (in English): http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2007/03/kig-ha-farz-2/
– recipe for kouign amann (in French): http://www.kouignamann.com/recette-kouign.html
Fashion & other accessories
– my favorite: http://www.kanabeach.com/
– handbags (made in Brittany): http://www.maroquinerie-renouard.com/fr/accueil.html
– jewels and decoration: http://www.hb-henriot.com/fr/actualite/index.php
How to get there
– 2 to 3 hours by train from Paris, departing from the Gare Montparnasse
Bénédicte Mahé was born in Rennes, in the French region of Brittany. She has studied abroad many times, speaks four languages (French, English, German and Italian), and is finishing her studies in Paris in cultural management. She wishes to work in philanthropy for cultural institutions. Among her interests are tap dancing, cooking (with or without success), reading, watching TV shows, and — of course — shopping. She opened her blog Tribulations Bretonnes in 2010 and has been updating it (more or less regularly) since then.
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Text copyright ©2012 Bénédicte Mahé. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.