A snapshot of Brittany, written by Annaliza Davis, one of the finalists in our 2014 Writing Competition.
Probably, what you’d love about him most is his posture. That’s what draws the eye: something about the way he’s standing right now.
A typical Breton man, he looks about five foot eight inches, but is possibly as tall as five foot ten. His slight stoop seems to be the result of sixty years or so of compounded Breton nonchalance. So what if you lose a couple of inches of height? A lifetime’s worth of shrugging eloquently in bar-tabacs will do that to a man.
On his head, a cotton flat-cap, pure Breton, hinting at rural decades living near furrowed fields with jays and starlings overhead. There’s also the suggestion of weekly visits to the market for fresh produce grown simply, locally; regular trips to the fishing port for fresh mackerel straight from the salted fishermen; twice-daily walks to the boulangerie for pains de campagne. The locals of his generation do not eat bread more than four hours old, of course.
Standing in the village square, he is laughing elbow-to-elbow with four other men, all about the same age, who have probably known each other since their youth. They have the ease of body language that suggests friendships of long-standing, stories shared and retold, to be chuckled over as their wiry, nut-brown arms lean on counters of the café-tabac. They have an unspoken uniform of cotton shirts of large check over stretched vests that show in the gap between shirt and belt.
Across the square, near the white-and-blue van selling fresh fish, there are perhaps five or six women of a similar age to our Breton; you half-wonder if one of them is his pair – perhaps that one smiling slightly at the gossip, a wicker basket and small dog at her feet. There is much raising of eyebrows, low voices and conspiratorial leaning as the story unfolds, so that even at a distance you feel intrigued to know the details.
The men are apparently concluding their own discussions. One of them heads to an ancient motorised bike and tucks his baguette across the handlebars; the others linger. Our Breton breaks away from the group and heads for one of the three cafés. His walk is measured, deliberate, each footfall hitting the ground with rhythmical certainty. It is the ponderous, rolling yet graceful walk of an elephant, and with almost as many accompanying wrinkles.
As he passes me, he nods very, very slightly and wishes me bonjour, madame. It is barely above a whisper; it is subtle and respectful. It is acknowledgement and inclusion.
In the slow, careful walk and the tilted posture; in the tiny glasses of rosé cradled in knowing hands; in the gentle, genteel greeting of familiar faces on a village square, I find a home in Brittany.
Annaliza Davis was previously a full-on career woman in marketing, 2004 brought motherhood and a move to Brittany. Instead of a company Audi and motorway miles, she now lives surrounded by fields, with her family, chickens, two dogs and an adopted cat.
More details of all the winners in our 2014 Writing Competition and their award winning stories