My partner, Pam, and I had visited Sardinia last year, finding it full of fascinating rocks and archeological sites. So I figured this year we should look for the same in Corsica, situated just north of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. This island, about a third the size of Sardinia, turned out to be even more provocatively geological, along with its share of Bronze Age archeology, despite also being a major tourist destination for Europeans. It apparently hasn’t been discovered yet by American travel agencies, although many in the hospitality industry there speak good English. But I decided that before landing on the island, we should investigate at least two geological locations that were significant inspirations for Surrealist painters: Ploumenac’h which is supposed to have influenced French Surrealist artist Yves Tanguy (1900–1955; see examples of his paintings on the web) and Cap de Creus, continental Spain’s most easterly point, located on the Costa Brava, which Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) enthusiastically speaks of as influencing him.
So we flew into Paris, arriving August 1, and gave ourselves two days there seeing old and new friends in Paris and little else, other than an evening walk along the Seine and a visit to the construction site of Notre Dame cathedral.
I had come across a photographer’s website featuring images of the rocks on the Isle of Ouessant, (Ushant in English), France’s westernmost point. I had hitchhiked around Brittany with my French girlfriend in 1969, including an overnight visit to Ouessant, so this was my 50-year anniversary return. I wrote to the photographer, Elisabeth LaPlante, and she and her husband Thierry agreed to meet us in Paris for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, Böl, which turned out to be excellent.
We spent about 3 hours together; I gave her my book, and she gave me hers, a small paperback of images of the face-like rocks on Ouessant. She also told me where to find them on the island.
On August 3, we took a train to the medieval city of Dinan, in central Brittany where we would rent our car. We couldn’t just see one place in Brittany; there’s too much to see. So besides Ploumenac’h, we decided to visit Dinan, where we’d rent our car, the Island of Ouessant, and then on the way back, another medieval city, Locronan, and the give ourselves time to see Dinan by spending the night there before returning to Paris to fly to Barcelona for the next phase of the trip.
We arrived in Dinan at 11:17, took 30 min to walk around the city to find the small car rental agency, then waited in line for a modern Fiat 500 that had AC, but we couldn’t figure out that we had to press the button in the middle of the fan dial, so we drove a lot with the windows open. While waiting for the rental guy, a woman in a party of 3 recommended that we visit Cap Fréhel which was not far off our route to Ploumenac’h. I figured we had time, so we left Dinan at 12:30 pm for there, arriving around 1. We went up the lighthouse for 6€.They had an old elevator that wasn’t working. We got an overview of the bay and the rocks, which seemed quite interesting, especially a large cliff wall. We walked all over the paths through the gorgeous heath, fill with tiny flowers.
Cap Fréhel. Click on an image to see its caption.
We managed to leave Cap Fréhel by 3:40 and found our way using the large Brittany map, to Perros-Guirec, where we had lodging. It is a touristy town with a marina full of sail boats and a chichi downtown, crammed with cars and people. I took us the better part of an hour to locate our hotel, Au Bon Accueil (two stars), where we checked in at 7 pm and collapsed onto the bed after eating two salads we had bought in a supermarket on the way. After an hour’s sleep we headed to Ploumenac’h on the other end of the cape, arriving at 8:30. It was amazing, more and better than I had expected. I was looking for small, discreet standing rocks of rose granite, instead we found high “piles” of rocks, which Tanguy seems to have painted literally. He didn’t invent them. The light was soft and beautiful. We stayed until 9:40, about 10 minutes before sunset, and got back by 10. We were asleep by 11.
The Rocks of Ploumenac’h by Evening Light
The following day, August 4, we ate breakfast at the hotel, checked out and arrived at Ploumenac’h by 11 am, entering the Sentier des Doanniers at a different point, farther west, than we had the previous day. The rocks were even more impressive here. Large, complex formations occupied whole points extending out from the shore. Whereas the previous evening we had seen one impressive “pile” formation, now we saw several. We took the paths out to these points and climbed the rocks, or descended towards the sea. There were configured walls as well as discreet rocks in piles. It was very easy to see how these formations could have inspired a whole roomful of Surrealists, not just Tanguy, though who knows if any other painters saw them. Elaborately sculpted and only occasionally suggesting recognizable objects (faces, sharks, body parts), they seemed poignantly expressive of something, but who knew what? Thus they were perfect visual foils for Surrealist notions of unconscious or automatic creation.
The Rocks of Ploumenac’h by Mid-Day Light