Sunday, February 28, 2010


Part 1. French Hotel Breakfast

Oh man, it was so good! D. mentioned later that he felt like he had finally had the "complete breakfast" that cereal commercials used to taunt us with. So right! I had a little bowl of muesli with mixed fruit and yogurt, a tall glass of "jus de pamplemousse" (one of the best words in any language), some scrambled eggs (not wet!) some delicious smoky bacon, and a piece of whole wheat toast. I dined not alone, but with myself. The only interruption of my pleasures at table came when I tried to work out the coffee situation. There was no coffee in the room, just an automatic espresso machine, and a, well, not waitress exactly, but breakfast attendant zipping in and out of the kitchen and rearranging tables. I missed a chance to flag her down for a coffee before she disappeared, and after a few minutes I just decided to make myself one. I think I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. As I groggily tried to tamp down the espresso in the filter which I had clearly overfilled, the breakfast attendant suddenly appeared behind me and shooed me aside. I thought about arguing with her (I am a professional after all), but thought better of it. Banging out the handle, she completely started over. She was nice about it, I'm pretty sure that a good 85% of the judgment I felt pouring off of her was projected. Anyways, the coffee was pretty good, and gave me enough alertness to savor my meal. Before I left I took advantage of one of her lengthy absences from her post to make myself a little sandwich for later, and to grab a pear from a very rustic looking bowl of fruit.

Part 2. The Last Man on Earth

After buying some really stereotypical French groceries at a fantastic market (more on that soon), I wandered across the estuary to a street I had read about in the guidebook, Rue de Saint Malo, the only 17th century street that survived the Allied bombing of Brest during the Second World War. The Germans were using Brest as a base for their U Boat operations, you see. Here's the street.

The whole thing is only about 2 or 300 feet long, its derelict buildings adorned here and there with traces of hippyishness. Only one building has been largely restored, the elements kept out of the 400 year old foundations with a roof made of large sheets of ridged plastic sheeting.

When I got to the street, there was no one there. In fact, as I wound my way through the maze-like suburban neighborhood trying to find it, I barely saw a soul. Feeling somewhat adventurous (and partly driven by the need to find somewhere, stat, to take a terrible, terrible shit), I poked around inside the ruins. Within the walls some wooden party related structures had been built, painted garish shades of fuscia, and scrawled with anti-fascist slogans. A few impossible looking outhouses, a stage of sorts, even a bar with a smattering of found chairs arranged haphazardly around it. Down at the end of the street, at last, I found a reasonable seeming outhouse that even had about a half a roll of toilet paper in it. I thought to myself, "I will return yearly to the streets of St. Malo and stock all the outhouses with TP, in gratitude for the respite I feel this day." The system in place was that you were meant to cover your tracks with sawdust, a great idea, except it requires you to turn back towards the abominable thing you have just done. I muscled through the horror and got back out into the sunlight and brisk Atlantic wind.

I climbed the stairs at the end of the street, which led to a small car park from which you could look down on the street, and over it to the estuary and the bay, the skyline dotted with massive shipping cranes towering over the ancient embankments. I decided to go back down into the ruins to have my Second Breakfast. Heading down the stairs and back into the ruins, I found this little spot.

Thanks, hippies! It was a great little spot, up a small set of stairs high enough to overlook the main level and collect a little sunshine, but nestled underneath some larger walls. And quiet, except for the seagulls and the occasional distant sputtering of a Peugot. I unwrapped my meal, a simple ham and swiss on mini-baguette, and one of the rustic looking pears.

The sandwich was good, and the pear reaffirmed my belief in pears. The cold rush of juice in my mouth made me think about the American grocery store and its need to have shelves full of identical fruits, and how the modifications needed to make this happen have given us a hard, bland pear. The bowl I had picked this one out of looked motley, with a splotchy, misshapen collection that I instinctively knew were going to be delightful. As the juice ran onto my jacket I took another bite of my sandwich and watched the cats come and go. Washing up in the fountain, I felt the satisfaction of someone who has sated their needs alone in the wilderness, and the happiness of the last man on earth.