When I’ve been in Paris for a few days, national vacation month begins. Slowly stores close, and people greet each other like misplaced apparitions—“But aren’t you at the beach?” The sounds of farewell dinners come through the lighted windows.
It’s time for everyone to go toward water, whether it's the "Paris Plages," sand dumped along the banks of the Seine, or the Côte d'Azure. As I leave for Brittany, the Gare Montparnasse is an absolute zoo—screaming children, spilled coffee, women running after trains in their stilettos.
In the town of Tréguier, on the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany, I meet up with Alice Kaplan, one of my French professors from Yale. Some childhood friends of hers have a house there, and they’ve kindly invited me to join their gathering.
The house is made of stone, which looks imposing from the outside, but it opens onto a garden of hydrangeas and rose trees. Since it never gets very cold in Brittany, palms grow alongside apples. The steps from the house down to the garden form a kind of amphitheater, which poet Tony Hoagland and fiction writer Kathleen Lee use to perform a play they have written during their visit. It’s called “La Maison Rouge,” and it includes stolen posters by Toulouse Lautrec, the adventures of fading rock star Jimmy (Jimmi?) Storm, and many sandwiches. The casting draws from the pool of guests—my job is to be the laugh track.
During the day, Alice and I sit in the living room (which we have nicknamed the study hall) and trade translation queries. She is working on a translation of Roger Grenier's Le palais des livres (the English title is Palace of Books) for University of Chicago Press.
The last morning, we swim off the rocks behind Castel Meur, a house built between two massive granite pilings by an engineer who went to school with Eiffel. The tides are huge here—twenty or thirty feet, and massive rocks jut out of the water. It’s COLD. But once you’ve dunked your head under, swimming seems possible.
As we navigate between boulders, Tony yells out book recommendations for me. I’m laughing and trying not to gulp seawater. “This,” says Alice, “is as close as I get to The Odyssey.”