Picturesque Rochefort-en-Terre in Brittany is one of the most flower-filled of France's designated 'beautiful villages'. The cobblestone streets are lined with classical homes, quaint hotels, and shops festooned with colorful geraniums and wisteria like Fantasia in overdrive.
A mile outside the town is a popular lake--also nearby is the sea and mystical Broceliande Forest. Since the 1100s,
Brocéliande has been associated in literature with
palace, his k
The larger port city of Brest about 200-miles north was similar in character before WWII--when it saw brutal action, years of occupation, and widespread destruction--as shown in the bottom photo.
I was in my twenties when I often visited my grandmother and her French friend. Originally from Brest, 'Miss Colburn' lived part-time in Switzerland after marrying a high-ranking American diplomat. Even in her 80s she was slim, very feminine, animated and attractive.
The family estate in Brest was surrounded with acres of fruit trees and gardens near the ocean. When the Nazis invaded, they confiscated furniture, paintings, silver, jewelry, anything of value, and molested the housekeepers. Though barely 100-lbs and always beautifully dressed--Miss Colburn spat at them and was dragged-off to jail--a story that she retold with relish. Her husband was in Switzerland at the time but able to barter her release.
Her job at home was to tie individual drawstring bags around fruit still hanging on the trees to protect and ripen them. On a number of occasions she showed me their family's leather-bound guest book that was signed by high-ranking American and French commanders. She would enunciate the names like an incantation...running her fingers just under them as people reflexively do at war memorials.
'Miss Colburn' would drink wine while Jacque Brel records played--and she'd describe pre-war scenes as graceful as a Renoir painting. How the freshest fish arrived straight from the dock on a seller's cart at their back door for their lunch and dinner. Or how her sister--a masterful seamstress--would take even quality clothes purchased before the war apart at the seams to meticulously re-tailor them for the family--while their mother played classical piano in the background.
Miss Colburn would fascinate me by her grit towards the Nazis--then flatter by exclaiming, 'You're just like a French girl.' Perhaps her turn-on-a-dime heroics and bon mots were absorbed from proximity to a legendary land of King Arthur. I'd chant to myself Miss Colburn's words....just like a French girl...just like a French girl. But it was my son who became French!