Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Lighthouse Keepers

Des Peintres Américaines

As guests of Keremma resident Pierre Guidetti, the eleven visiting painters were treated more like luminaries than tourists from the United States. Pierre’s imprimatur gave the group access to otherwise inaccessible sites and the warm welcome they received from the local gentry would not have happened without his caring hand. Merci, Pierre.

The Bretons showed real appreciation for the artists and often watched as they painted on the beaches and in the villages of the Finistére, meaning “Land’s End. And Land’s End it is. The Finistére is northwestern most corner of France which is framed by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Celtic Sea to the north.

Le Phare de Moguériec

Most notable among these connections was the opportunity for the group to participate in a benefit paint-out to help fund renovations of the decaying lighthouse in the fishing village of Port de Moguériec, population 400. In 2018 the Interregional Directorate of the North Atlantic Channel announced a plan to decommission and demolish the beacon but the townspeople, fisherfolk all, treasure their lighthouse and are committed to preserving it as a symbol of their seafaring heritage and of the resilience of their quaint town and its picturesque harbor. They have been given a two year stay to raise funds to rehabilitate the landmark at the request of the Save the Lighthouse Association of Moguériec. Bon chance.

Jan Norsetter above the tiny harbor

When Pierre asked if the painters would be willing to paint in Port de Moguériec and to donate the proceeds of the sales of their paintings to save the lighthouse all eleven gave a resounding ‘oui’ to the proposition. And so, began what would be a highlight of the visit to Brittany for the artists who were dubbed The American Painters and who enjoyed a measure of notoriety including a spread in the local daily. The title of the article read, “Des Peintres Américaines Au Chevet du Phare de Moguériec.” Which translates to “The American Painters at the bedside of the Moguériec lighthouse.” Hmm.

The Lighthouse in living color

The lighthouse was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel in about 1861 when Eiffel was just 29. So, its importance exceeds its diminutive size. Just 33-feet tall it’s little more a prefabricated cast iron cylinder painted white with a dark green lamp housing. It is not prepossessing to say the least. As we neared the village in early evening, we spied a small two-color protrusion on the horizon and Peggy declared, “That must be the lighthouse.” To which I sniffed, “That can’t be it. That’s not a lighthouse.” There is no house and there is no light.

Au contraire, mes amis. The modest structure in the distance was the alleged lighthouse and would be the subject of our crowd funding efforts that memorable evening.

We arrived at 7pm and were greeted by the mayor and Arnaud Lampire the president of the Save the Lighthouse Association. Both of spoke about the beloved landmark and the town’s mission to return it to its mid-19th century glory. The town’s share of the 540,000 euro cost to renovate the “phare” is the princely sum of 140,000 euro. My mouth is still agape. That’s 350 euro for every man, woman and child in Moguériec. The painters listened to Monsieur Lampire as they sat on the seawall for photographs before spreading out along the trim harbor at low tide, Peggy, Krystal, Paul and Cynthia choose the narrow beach; Richard, Vered and Jan opted for the breakwater to the east; Tia, Ellen, Nancy and Lori painted from above the beach.

Vered Pasternak and Richard Lindenberg
Peggy Immel and the boys
Krystal Brown at the easel

As the orange sky turned slate gray all the paintings were finished and the mayor invited us for drinks at a vest pocket bar just off the cove. What a treat. We all knew how special it was.  Pronouncing the town’s peculiar name was a struggle for everybody so Monsieur Lampire led us in three rousing choruses of “moh GUER ee ack, moh GUER ee ack, mo GUER ee ack.” He jabbed his forefinger at us each time we came to the syllable “Guér to emphasize the accent over the e. Then came a mayoral oration in French as translated by English Bob who came to the town as a guest worker forty years ago, married the lovely Geneviève and never left. Earlier at the harbor he told me he came from England’s industrial north between Manchester and Liverpool. I asked if he had been accepted as a local after all those years. He laughed, “Probably not but Geneviéve’s family goes back centuries so they may let me stay.” He pointed out their house. “It’s the second one in. You should come by for a drink.” I didn’t and regret it. Bob and I would have become mates.

Bob brought Geneviéve to the thank you soiree and the first thing she said was, “We were waiting for you.” with the hint of a smile. I began to wonder how it would be spend a year in Moguériec and to tell the story of life in a hamlet by the sea, of the pounding waves against the jetty, the boxes and spinvers setting out in heavy weather to catch Red Mullet, Sole and Turbot in the open sea and to harvest scallops, oysters and mussels from the shallow waters of Siecke Bay.

Beers with Arnaud Lampire

The raucous thank you celebration at the bar ended with a toast to the American Painters and with Krystal Brown fending off a shoulder rub from an attentive admirer. She kept saying, "No. I'm married. The elderly Romeo responded, "But you're not wearing your wedding ring." Krystal told him, "I'm still married so stop." Beneath the raucous laughter and the clinking glasses I could hear a disgusted Moguériec matron tell her companion "What an asshole." Apparently, some words are universal.

For you sporting types Moguériec is a surfing mecca known for its big rollers and, more impressively, is the site of the World Periwinkle Spitting Contest. There’s a sport you don’t hear much about. The periwinkle, as you know, is a sea snail the size of your thumbnail that's also called a whelk.

I do wonder if the goal of the spitting is volume or distance. And, either way, what’s the world record?

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Ah, The American Painters! Save the Eiffel Lighthouse. Mayoral accolades, Periwinkle spitting, asshole needing no translation. What an elegant and memorable piece of prose, Steve. One of your best blogs. You were so obviously inspired by your time in Brittany and Normandy, that you may need to take a page out of Bob's play book and become part of the community. Buy a house? Live there part time? You would certainly have lots of visitors. Love the profile portrait of Krystal Brown, and actually, the color image of the harbored boats. Again, we ask for more stories and memories from your trip. KUDOS on every level!