Original title and publisher: Deux étés – Paris : Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1997
The first sentence of Deux étés is made up of no less than 175 words. After reading it, I was somewhat discouraged and put it aside, at the bottom of my ‘must read’ pile. After a week or two, I picked it up again for a retry and found myself reading it in one go. And since then I can not help but wonder why this book was never adapted for the screen.
Place of action is an idyll : île de B., a Breton island, ”deterring the clouds; they keep their distance, as if they’re attached to the mainland. An irresistible smooth sky, it must be the caress of a sidetracked Gulf Stream. Flora from different climates, aloes, mimosas, palm trees, a piece of Sardinia in in the middle of the Channel.” Orsenna’s visual and colourful language makes you experience the blue of the ocean, the green of the trees and the variegated flower splendour.
To enjoy the best view of an island it’s usually best not to actually live on it. At least that was Eugène Schueller’s opinion. Therefore the French pharmacist, founder of the l’Oréal empire and inventor of colouring shampoo, had his summer house built on the mainland coast of Brittany, at Pointe de l’Arcouest. From which he had fabulous views of the archipelago of Bréhat, a group of small islands at only 10 minutes from the Breton north coast.
Rugged bays, small and tiny islands, water in a hundred shades of shimmering blue, bobbing sailboats, a craggy coastline of granite rocks and a tidal range of 12 metres minimum. All these elements made up Eugène Schueller’s view when he opened his curtains in the morning. On a clear day he could even spot the ‘en pierre’ houses on Île de Bréhat, the largest island of the archipelago and its name giver. His daughter Liliane de Bettencourt inherited the holiday villa at Pointe de l’Arcouest. Until late in her life, the wealthiest woman of France would come in summer to enjoy the view and to swim in her private swimming pool, filled with seawater.
For the best views of the island, you can also sail around it. A pleasant alternative for when you are less well-off than the l’Oréal family. Sailing from the Trieux estuary, you will soon spot the first islets of the archipelago: Île Lavrec, Île Raguenès and Île de Bréhat. Into view come pinkish granite rocks, randomly scattered in the sea, dotted with some groups of trees and the occasional building. Only Île de Bréhat has a proper village, with a village square, a café and a church. And lots of tourists in summer. The villas, where the rich spend their holidays, are hidden behind trees and gates, just like the clinic for people suffering from Korsakoff’s syndrome.
Two other islands of the archipelago are privately owned: Île Logodec and Île Béninguet, where French writer Colette wrote two of her novels.
Like New Zealand, the ‘large’ Île de Bréhat encompasses a North and a South Island. The islands of New Zealand are divided by a 24 km wide strait; Île de Bréhat’s two islands are connected by a short, raised dam road. The entire island is only 3.5 km long. Boats can be moored in the small harbour and a couple of hours is plenty of time to stroll around the island. Pure bliss thanks to the scents and colours of the amazing and varied flowers. Blue and white agapanthuses thrive in enviable height and quantity. Echeum pininanas soar above the roofs of houses and sway in the soft westerly wind. Soft green agave, pink hydrangeas and yellow mimosa add their colours to nature’s palette. A short climb to the cross of Maudez or to the Paon lighthouse and the archipelago is at your feet.