A Fading Jewel on the Emerald Coast

Rothéneuf, a village near St Malo in Brittany, France, is among those enigmatic coastal spots where the well-polished boulders have given way to a transfixed colony of people and animals.

From 1894 to 1910, abbé Fouré, a local priest who became partly paralysed and deaf at the age of 30, sculpted the rocks into a semi chaos reminiscent of Easter Island silhouettes, fallen gargoyles and bas-relief. Mostly inspired by the news, he portrayed real people, some of whom are famous. (Jacques Cartier, who was born at Rothéneuf, is thought to be represented twice on the site.) A few animals and strange creatures also appear in places.

The monumental and extravagant display evokes a creative delirium, mixing the fun and fantastic of the setting and odd creatures with an element of meditation with the motionless characters forever contemplating the sea.

Over a century later, the ebb and flow of 40,000 pairs of feet a year have added to the erosion of this once colourful crowd to the point of endangering the art work’s existence. The association Les Amis de l’œuvre de l’abbé Fouré was founded in 2010 to campaign for the preservation of the site.

(The 8th June is World Oceans’ Day.)

Photos: gardenvisit.com, trivago.co.uk

The Invincible Celtic Spirit

Where there is a strong cultural identity, the related language dies hard. And the Celtic culture seems “indomitable” (see Asterix books). Despite having been pushed to the edge of Western Europe centuries ago and banned as minority languages, Celtic languages are still alive and, when given the slightest opportunity, kick back with a vengeance.

Despite the French Revolution’s attempt at eradicating all regional languages in the name of “equality”, Breton is one of the few that have survived to this day. In 1950, about 1 million could still speak Breton, including 100,000 monolinguals. Since then, the numbers have dwindled and Breton is now classified as “severely endangered” by UNESCO, but this has only triggered a sense of urgency and prompted efforts to preserve the language: some universities offer the possibility of doing a degree in Breton and more parents have placed their children in bilingual schools in recent years. As for the culture, the strong, determined and proud Celtic spirit shows no sign of relinquishing, as the many events, celebrations and Fest Noz testify.

In Scotland, although the School Establishment Act of 1616 banished Gaelic, the 2001 census revealed that 60,000 people could still speak it. Then the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, which made Gaelic an official language of the country, granting it “equal respect” with English, sparked a keen revival: in 2008, BBC Alba was launched; there has been a surge in demand for Gaelic speakers, translators and teachers; the creation of learning materials for students of the language is a developing market; and the new requirement for making provision for Gaelic has created new jobs. The focus is now on bringing Gaelic up to date with today’s lexical needs.

In the 1990’s, a couple of acts provided that Welsh and English be treated equally in the public sector in Wales, and last year the Welsh Language Measure 2011 gave the Welsh language official status. It is estimated that just over 20% of the Welsh population can speak the language today. Time will tell what this new official status brings to Wales, but the strength of the Celtic genes should not be underestimated.

Photos: filetsbleus.free.fr, scotland.com, planacruise.net