After three months roaming through Brittany, it is time to go home. Home for me is a leafy suburban town, between Paris on the one hand, and the beautiful forêt de Rambouillet on the other.
Mid-June, and spring has built up to a beautiful summer. Swifts whizz high in the sky; in the evening, they scream. It is rather hot during the day. People enjoy the long summer evenings (« les longues soirées d’été »), organise apéros and barbecues. They catch up with friends at last, after months of restrictions on socialising.
L’apéro, short for apéritif, consists of drinks and finger foods before the main meal. A staple of French art de vivre, it is supposed to open the appetite. The olives, canapés, cubes of cheese and melon, savoury biscuits, nuts and dried fruits, are supposed to soak up the alcohol; it is bad manners to be more than a little merry, in France. But they all add up to a meal, if they keep on coming – then it is an apéro dinatoire. The joke, when the curfew moved from 8pm to 6pm this winter, was that the apéro therefore had to start at 4pm…
I bring back tales of my road-trip in Brittany. West of Paris, it feels like half of the people have a family connection to that region. They make up for the physical distance through stickers on their cars, tattoos of triskels and Gwenn ha du – the breton flag, or by swapping the secrets of the best crepe recipes. Other people, not of breton descent, have a holiday house in Brittany.
I find myself once again part of society, after months of solitary roaming. After a while, I get tired of all the jokes, puns (« jeux de mots »), cultural references (mainly tv) I don’t have, names of people I should know and can’t remember. I go home drunk on wine, words and company.
The next day, I visit the clearing in the wood just above my house. This is where, every year at the end of June, the local youths celebrate the end of exams, with fire, beer, drums, and a few joints. Almost every year, there is a cat-and-mouse game with the police. Tales of t-shirts torn in the brambles, as well as rumours of who-kissed-whom, come feed the legend of this rite of passage. Soon, the exam results are going to send them on their separate ways, but for that one night, they are together still.
But for now, the baccalauréat (“le bac“) exams are still to come, and I have the clearing to myself. In the heat of the afternoon, I sit on a log, facing the ashes of a previous party. Each time it rains, they melt into the beige sand, adding a touch of grey. Oak saplings are a few centimetres tall – they will be trampled soon. Above me, flies and damselflies soak up the heat of the sun. I watch their shadows through the chestnut leaves like a shadow puppet show (“ombres chinoises”). A tiny spider runs up my leg, then an ant.
As I sit, the forest adopts me.