Destination Brittany, final part (5): The return home

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Henri and I kissed our host good-bye, told her it would be genial to see her again and vousvoied her one last time regarding her gentillesse before leaving Dinard for the 4½-hour drive back to Paris.

We would be in Paris in about six, actually, because we stopped to visit the town of Dinan, a 20-minute drive from Dinard inland along the Rance River.

Dinan. GLK
Dinan. GLK

Due to their proximity and the similarity of their names, no one who lives outside of Brittany can ever remember which is Dinard and which is Dinan. Dinard is the resort town along the coast; Dinan is the medieval town that’s inland. An easier way to remember is that Dinard is the place you go because your rich friends tell you to while Dinan is the place you go because your guidebook tells you to.

Henri and I had really been looking forward to going to Dinan, he because the ramparts of Dinan speak volumes about the efforts of the Duchy of Brittany to remain independent of the French Crown, I because I thought I could get an interesting article out of it.

The Blue Guide I had brought along calls it “one of the most beautiful towns in Brittany.” The dark stone towns of Brittany do indeed have a brutal beauty and a medieval timeliness. And Dinan’s old town is so well preserved, along with intact ramparts and a view of the Rance River, that it’s easy to understand why the guidebooks speak so highly of it. But Henri and I were both disappointed.

Dinan, view into the Rance Valley. GLK
Dinan, view into the Rance Valley. GLK

Henri wouldn’t say he was disappointed since failing to appreciate a town that was graced by a duke is bad for his self-esteem as it calls into question the very essence of his aspirations to live like one. But I could tell he wasn’t into the place because he only asked me once to take his picture, and in that picture, standing on a rampart overlooking the Rance (the view in this photo), his expression is as hard and cold as the very stone of those ramparts.

Perhaps it was the change of weather—after 48 hours of luxuriously clear skies the clouds of northwest France suddenly arrived. (Note the difference between the top photo and the others.) But it may actually have been the town itself at 5 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in September.

Empty stone street, Dinan. GLK
Empty stone street, Dinan. GLK

The old streets themselves felt like a weekend winding down, with stale kouign-amans (carmelized milkbread cakes) and fars bretons (pudding cakes) in the bakery windows, the sidestreets empty, and people milling about the main streets in the hopes that the old stones would tell them something about their past or perhaps about the direction of their lives, but the stones had nothing to say but “go home.”

It’s times like this when you realize that your guidebook can only take you so far and that the rest is up to you.

Forty-eight hours may not sound like a lot of travel, but it was indeed time to go home. We had a four-hour drive ahead of us. Before leaving we stopped for a drink a café on a grand old square that’s now mostly a vast parking lot. Our table was near an equestrian statue of Bertrand du Guesclin, a 14th-century warrior and nobleman from Brittany. Henri tried to tell me about the man but either his heart wasn’t in it or he really didn’t know himself why the guy deserved a statue in Dinan.

In any case I took the wheel and steered us onto the highway and didn’t let go, except to get gas, until I dropped myself off in front of my door. Henri made a feeble attempt to have me drive him home and return the car myself in the morning, but it was too late for negotiations.

Post Script
Six weeks after we returned from our trip to Brittany Henri called to say that a speeding ticket had arrived in the mail. One of us had been driving 57 km (35 mi.) per hour in a 50 km (31 mi) per hour zone—that one of us being me. It had happened on our way to Brittany, near Fougères. I’d suspected at the time if I’d been flashed by the radar post but I hadn’t said anything because Henri was sleeping at the time, and rather than disturb his peace, as well as my own, while driving through one of those plane-tree bordered routes that make driving in the French countryside so pleasant and dangerous, I’d continued on.

I naturally told him that I would pay the ticket—90 euros, about $135, argh!—but Henri would have none of that. He insisted on paying half. He’d received the ticket as the one whose credit card and address we’d used in renting the car, which also meant that the was the one to get the points deduced from his license. I offered to plead guilty to the authorities so as to restore his points, but Henri declined, saying that ever since he got rid of his car last year he doesn’t drive much anyway.

Gotta hand it to Henri, the man knows proper etiquette.

(c) Gary Lee Kraut

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