Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Phantom Recital: The Ruins of Ys

Our European holiday continues, and we're making a stopover on the wild coasts of Brittany.

Our group has checked into an inn in a fishing village, and some go to the beach, some ramble the town, and I'm taking off to sketch on the headlands, and anyone who wants to join me is welcome.

In the evening, as we gather in the inn's dining room to share experiences, a well-dressed gentleman comes by. Oh, we are the Americans he's heard about? He lives in the mansion near the town, won't we do him the honor of being his guests tomorrow night? We accept, enthusiastically.

We dress in the best we brought with us, and the evening is lavish. Wonderful food, good conversation, our host and his household are gracious and welcoming. He tells us legends of Ys, a sort of French Atlantis, a city off the coast that was flooded when a mysterious stranger convinced the princess Dahut to open the gates of the dike that kept the sea away from the city. That stranger was the Devil, and the opened gates destroyed the city...

Our host invites us into the parlor where he plays the piano for us...

Strange visions flood our minds; we all see sunken cities, artifacts of the long-deceased lying around, the skeletons of ancient ships, artifacts from all over the ancient world. It's a strange, surreal experience.

Would we like to go on his yacht in the morning? Why, yes, of course, we all say....and what adventures await us?

Megaliths at Carnac, in Brittany.
Brittany is on my list of Places To Go, and everything I've read is that it's a lovely place with a folklore and culture uniquely its own. Ys is a real legend, one that's been recycled and retold numerous times, and inspired not only the Debussy piece above, but also an entire opera by Edouard Lalo. I've always been intrigued by the stories and folklore of the region; every so often you can come across a piece by Anatole la Braz, who was a doctor who collected Brittany's bizarre folklore, which makes for vivid and memorable ghost stories. Breton music has all the familiar elements of Celtic music, but with its own twists. And last year, doing a little research, I found out my family name may very well be Breton as well. This may be Fate.

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