I went to Seville, Spain for an industrial trade conference on diesel generators I sold and serviced. The factory sponsored the event, paying for all expenses except travel to the venue. At conclusion of the conference, I detoured to Brest France, to their corporate headquarters, for a factory tour.

These are my e-mails home.

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9 April, 2006

Brest, France

I woke up around 7:00 am and looked to see if there was a message from the front desk about my luggage. No such luck. I got up, showered, and re-dressed and headed out to find some breakfast.

It was chilly, partly cloudy, and the sun was not quite up yet. There were an abundance of seagulls flying about and off in the distance, the faint call of a peacock. Yes peacock. In the middle of this very urban 'jungle' I'm hearing a peacock. It was like waking up at the zoo. I strolled down the street toward the marina. Nothing was open. Brest on a Sunday morning was a ghost town. I walked about two Km to the port district, passing through the central public plaza. It was like Horton Plaza before the mall. All of the drunks and transients were passed out on benches or urinating against trees. I guess every city has this problem.

If that is Brest's dark point, then it's truly a beautiful town. Other than the bums, everything was really clean, and the air smelled good. I walked all the way down to the 'Pont de Recouvrance', a huge elevator bridge spanning the mouth of the river. Wow! What a sight. The entire river is banked by two fortified walls, built by Louis XIV, to defend the shipyards along the river. At the end of the eastern bank, sits a castle that’s foundation dates to the Romans. The fortification has been added to over the millenniums several times. A two hundred foot deep moat defends two sides, and there are defensive blocks surrounding the other land side. The French navy still uses the ship yards and the lower portion of the castle today. One of the moats has been filled in because of a structural weakening in the walls above, but the navy placed a tunnel in during the backfill to maintain a passage from the shipyards to the port on the other side of the peninsula.

I walked along the top of the walls (maybe 3 Km) and visited a large obelisk built by the Americans commemorating those who fought here in WWII. I climbed down a huge stair way to the sea side that had to bee 200' in elevation change. At the bottom were the piers for the public maritime and the French coast guard. Here I could see the masts of several tall wooden sailing ships, but it's Sunday and everything is closed.

I decided to walk back up to the hotel and try and eat something out of the vending machines. I walked along a slowly rising street that curved away from the castle. I did not want to have to climb those stairs I came down. I passed the train station and the court house and crested the hill to find myself in the middle of setup for a street market. Barricades were being placed by the police and at least a hundred merchants were unloading vans and setting up tents. I walked a few blocks down the market, inspecting the wares of the merchants. This looked promising but none were really 'open' yet. Alors! In the middle of a block I found a little café open. I went in and ordered a café and picked up one of the newspapers that still had wet ink. Within a period of only ten minutes, it seemed the whole city of Brest awakened at the same time and exited into the street. The café was soon filled to standing room only with the locals all trying to get an order in for tea or espresso.

I stayed for a while and had two espressos and a croissant. I finally got up and wandered out to the market. It was a hustle and bustle of hocking merchants, and people with clutches of money haggling for the best deals. There was fresh fruits and vegetables, meats of every kind, and fresh fish and oysters everywhere. There were several venders selling prepared dishes of coq au vin, paella, couscous, and even a hot rotisserie with chickens, hams, and lamb shanks. Twenty crepes for EU 1.50, goat cheese for EU 13.00 kg, and dried sausages two for EU 5.00. I couldn’t pass this up. The sausage vendor gave me samples a couple of his finest and I picked a goat and a lamb sausage. These are dried and salt cured. He told me they would be good up to three months on the table! I got some bread and a Perrier and a little cheese and sat down on the steps of the church and ate.

As I was snacking, a group of about fifty artistic musicians came along and did an avant garde performance in the front of the church. It is a far stretch to call their work music, it was more of a performance poetry piece, in fact I doubt any of them had a music lessons in their life. It was still a pleasant way to enjoy my breakfast.

After their display, they walked off single file down the market playing a slow, steady, off key beat. As the last one was moving, the noon church bells began to ring. They were right above me and they were LOUD! Hmmm...I think the 'performance' was some how a protest to the church. It appeared to be less than coincidental.

I moved off the steps and watched the congregation begin to assemble at the doors to the church. When the doors opened, two alter boys came out with trays of what appeared to be boxwood branches, and handed them out, one sprig each, to the parishioners. The Cardinal then emerged and led a song, as they paraded into the cathedral. After having walked about ten Km, and a delicious breakfast with live entertainment, I decided to go back to the hotel and have a nap. I checked in with the desk, no messages, but my suitcase was there!

I slept for four hours waking around 6:00pm. I walked about 2 Km downtown, and found a nice restaurant overlooking the harbor, 'Tavern de Maitre Kanter'. I enjoyed a Pernod liqueur in the bar and watched as people pointed out their dinners to the patron from the large aquariums. People dined on large rock crab, salmon, lobster, and oysters. I moved to the dining room and ordered a glass of red wine d'Alsacs <sp?>, and a 'butchers' platter. I was treated with a large plate of sausages, duck, smoked pork belly, and some other large bird of a very gamey flavor. Where's that peacock anyway? The meats were piled on top of a mountain of sour kraut and served on a torchere stand with an accompaniment of mustards. If this wasn't enough to feed the navy itself, they brought out a cheese plate with a chevre (goat cheese), brie, and another with a stilton flavor. The cheeses were in amongst a green leaf salade with walnuts and a mustard dressing. When they threatened me with desert, I had to fight them of with a spoon sword and a saucer for a shield! It was a noble fight, but alas I surrendered to the sorbet and 'salade fruite fresce'. All was EU 27.00, and was the most I had spent at one time since leaving the US. At the table next to me was a large group of Former Americans who after the war, married their French wartime sweethearts and never left Brest. It was a pleasure listening to the stories and I stayed for three hours sipping café.

The walk back to the hotel was grueling. It began to rain. The wind had a fierce chill, and my ankles were complaining from walking on cobble stone all day. But I wouldn't trade it for being at home right now.


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no Checked bag intro music: Rocket Power Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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