It has been a little over a week since my jam-packed trip to Brittany, home to my friend Valentin, but I will do my best to remember all the details in this special three-part blog post! Kwame and I left from Gare Montparnasse at 8:47 am and it took us about four hours to reach the beautiful city of Quimper, which is famous for its ceramics and the off-kilter Cathedral of Saint-Corentin. Valentin and his cousin Marie were there to greet us at the station and we spent an hour visiting Quimper and getting some lunch a few feet away from the cathedral. Valentin was full of historic anecdotes about the city, which I found very impressive – friends really do make the best tour guides!
After lunch we walked along the river and picked up Valentin’s grandmother (and her adorable dog!) from the train station. Later that evening hundreds of people were set to descend on Valentin’s home for a concert in their barn, featuring the French rock star Rodolphe Burger, a family friend, and Kwame and I learned that we would be enlisted to help! As we drove to Penguel, the farmed owned by his mother and step-father, Valentin’s grandmother insisted that we stop at the Église de Confort-Meilars, where anyone can walk in and ring the church bells!
After 30 minutes of driving past cornfields and cows, we finally arrived at the idyllic Penguel, which was buzzing with activity in preparation for the night’s concert. After meeting Valentin’s mom in the kitchen, where she and her friends were busy making soup for the 250+ people expected that evening, Valentin took us on a tour of the property, which dates back to at least 1887 (according to the inscription on the main farmhouse).
We saw: the yurt (!) where we’d be sleeping, a collection of beehives, a swing built by Valentin’s stepfather, Bertrand, the nicest outhouse I’ve ever seen (made by Valentin!), a wooden sauna (made by Bertrand!), and a greenhouse with some incredibly photogenic tomatoes. It was so refreshing to breathe in the clean country air, to simply swing on a swing and frolic among the vegetables! Quite the change from my life in Paris. 😉
After our tour, the three of us got to work setting up the chairs in the barn, where Rodolphe and his band were practicing. They sounded great – Rodolphe’s voice is very deep and Johnny Cash-like and a lot of his songs are in English! – it was so nice to hear the music trickling out of the barn as the afternoon wore on.
After a quick dinner, Valentin’s Mom told me that I would be helping two of Marie’s Parisian friends assist the concert goers to their seats. As a long-time volunteer at the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris, this should have been the perfect job for me, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous. For a French person, encountering an usher who speaks French with a thick American accent might be bearable at an American center, but I knew no one would expect to encounter an American here in this remote corner of Brittany! But luckily for me the other girls were very encouraging and I managed to check several tickets and tell concert-goers with reservations that they could sit wherever they wanted without too much trouble. I even got a “Good job!” from Valentin, which is very high praise from him. 😛
As the sun began to set I realized I had made a terrible mistake by bringing only one sweater and no pants – it was freezing! Valentin’s Mom kindly lent me a pair of hers, which I am modeling below. My first pair of Mom pants! 😀 Once everyone was seated, all of us who volunteered received a delicious glass of wine to celebrate, and we settled in for the concert!
I loved every second of the concert, from the alternative-electro opening act, which featured the mask-wearing friend of Rodolphe’s son and some broken television sets, to Rodolphe’s set, which blended rock and roll, and a bit of country, with a French twist. Valentin later told me that about 300 people came to the concert form all over the area, and I think they loved it as much as I did!
Afterwards Kwame and I helped to pack up the chairs and served wine to the concertgoers (a pretty important job in France). The soups were delicious (one vegetable, the other Morrocan-inspired) and very much appreciated in light of the chilly weather. I was exhausted but so happy to experience my first rock and roll concert in a barn with such an awesome group of people!