The Energy of QuiberonBy Emmanuelle DE BOYSSON Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa
“We’re going to Louison Bobet’s.” The words echoed through my head. I heard my grandfather’s voice, with its Midi accent, issuing the invitation to all and sundry. Louison Bobet. The name was a key that opened up a world of legends. I imagined the triple Tour de France champion to be a warm, good-looking man: a charmer, storyteller, bon vivant, daredevil, sweating through the race, his calves lean like cured ham. In the car that took me through Auray woods to the wave-battered Quiberon peninsula, I felt as if I was joining a country house party; returning to where I belonged. My grandmother, Catherine Daniélou, had grown up in Locronan, in this Breton landscape at the edge of the earth. I was floating between sea and sky. It was October, and chilly. “A stay at Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa to prolong the summer,” was what the the charming young woman who had asked me to sign my latest novel, Blanche’s Revenge , had said. That summer, our
house had been invaded by friends, children and cousins. I was exhausted; running on empty. For this one autumnal weekend, I was finally going to have some “me” time and pamper myself. The taxi driver, a pale-eyed rogue, announced, as if it was an exclusive, that Gérard Depardieu would be here. Johnny Hallyday had just spent a few days here with his clan, as had Gad Elmaleh, Arthur, Roger Hanin and Mireille d’Arc. In the lobby, I was welcomed by a smiling brunette called Claire who took me to my room, number 285. It was eight o’clock in the evening. I was so tired that I struggled to find the slot to insert my keycard and turn the light on.
A wonderfully comfy bed, luxurious mattress, chocolate brown sofa, flowers and fruit: a real haven. From the balcony, the lighthouses of Houat and Belle-île swept across the inky black sea. A strong gust of air, redolent of kelp and sea spray, invigorated me. I went down to dinner at the restaurant, La Presque Ile . On the menu were oysters and steamed cod on tomato coulis – delicacies by Patrick Barbin, master of the Paris-Brest pastry. That night, I fell asleep as if I was on a boat, rocked by the rolling and murmuring of the waves. In the morning,
after a breakfast of fruit salad served in glass verrines, Gwenaëlle gave me my treatment plan for the three days. At ten o’clock, relaxed in a fluffy dressing gown and flip-flops, I was making my way to the Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa when my attention was caught by a symbol on the red carpet.
What was the meaning of the two spirals, interlinked to form a sort of cross? Claire told me it was a quadriskell, a cosmic Celtic symbol representing the sun, earth, fire and water. Marc Hertrich and Nicolas Adnet, the French architects who transformed the two hotels side by side, chose it as the emblem. Their idea was to open the space to the sea and blend sea colours with warm, natural ones. The maze of the Thalassa Sea and Spa , was adorned here and there with ganilles, pebbles and driftwood, and flooded with light. I slipped into a cubicle where a therapist covered me with hot seaweed mud. Cocooned, I closed my eyes and forgot everything. Before my relaxing jet shower session, I sank into a chair and sipped verbena and cinnamon tea. Nearby, a little man with blue eyes, salt and pepper hair, and the elegant
air of an old charmer, smiled at me maliciously. A therapist called a lady for her treatment. “They never used to call you by your name when it was your turn,” my neighbour remarked. His innocuous comment suddenly evoked the old-fashioned style that must have been de rigeur at the old thalassotherapy centre. “I’ve been coming here for thirty-four years, always to the same room,” he added, a little impishly. “This time, I’m accompanied by five ladies.” Was he a polygamist? A nabob from the Emirates? I wanted to find out more, but the therapist interrupted us. With a firm hand, she aimed a powerful jet at my ankles, which made me shiver all the way to my shoulder blades. Feeling more relaxed than a koala in eucalyptus, I met Claire for lunch at the Delight.
The chef, Patrick Jarno, came to greet us. An inventor of gourmet and health food, he’s a culinary genius. His fillet of sea bream on a bed of vegetables and mango and pineapple mille-feuille , light as an August cloud, are irresistible. Gwenaëlle knew all about Louison Bobet. In December 1961, after being involved in a serious road accident, he was treated at Roscoff thalassotherapy institute. The healing properties of seawater inspired him to create a health and leisure centre. He set his heart on Goulvars Point, and opened Quiberon Thalassotherapy in 1964. The world of arts and politics flocked there. It was so successful that Louison had another centre built in Marbella and another in Biarritz, the Basque region where he died, in 1983, at the age of 58. Claire talked about his wife, Marie-José: “She was elegant, organized …
the soul of the place. She also had a house in Saint-Tropez.” Saint-Tropez was where my grandfather used to spend the summer. Did he used to play boules with Louison at the Place des Lys? It was possible. Did he take him fishing for scorpion fish? The manager drew me out of my
daydreams. He spoke enthusiastically about his teams, run by the head of HR: “A family atmosphere prevails here. Beauticians, hairdressers, lifeguards, sports coaches, hydrotherapists, nutritionists … everyone who works with us started at a very young age. Our clients have their habits. Jean-François, our star physiotherapist, is renowned for his legendary underwater shower combined with palpé-roulé massage. Johnny Hallyday only comes if he’s here.” A few tables away, Gérard Depardieu, aka Cyrano de Bergerac, was tucking into king prawns. I had an appointment at the Blue Bar at five o’clock to present my novel. The atmosphere was warm, the shades of colours enticing, and the
audience present. To my surprise, on the front row I saw the little man from earlier, in a taupe grey three-piece suit with a camellia in his buttonhole. One of his ladies was with him; she had a silver bun and was dressed in a slightly outdated mauve suit and white blouse with a lace collar and a long pearl necklace over it. While the guests’ questions concentrated on Émilie and Blanche, my heroines, this distinguished couple’s questions revealed their culture and passion for literature. They looked as if they came from another time – Louison’s and my
grandparents’. That night, I dreamed of little men in red coats emerging from the sea.
The next day, I was immersed in a bath while Jean-François unknotted my back with his expert hands. Then, like a rag doll, I let myself drift away as a thousand underwater jets massaged me luxuriously. Before dinner, the manager introduced me to his staff.
Over a glass of champagne, I spoke of the route of the Locronan druids, which became the route of Troménie. The stone that sterile women used to rub themselves on. The legend of Keban the witch, and the legend of Ronan, the Irish bishop in front of whom wolves used to lie down and sleep. One of the hosts was from Quimper. He remembered Job, sculptor of the miraculous fountain in the forest of Brocéliande. I was elsewhere: transported back to the time when, as children, we spent a summer at the family’s country manor.
Before the meal, the little man, flanked by his five ladies, offered me a Bloody Mary. With a mysterious air, he added: “I’m going to tell you a secret. The quadriskell is a rose window found in the chapel of Saint-André, near Trégourez. It’s an occulus that represents life revolving around an unmoving centre, like the heavenly vault around the pole star. The quadriskell was recovered by separatist Breton parties. But there’s more: it’s a reproduction of the cross called the swastika, one of humanity’s oldest symbols. It means “that which brings luck” in Buddhism. If you call upon the quadriskell in certain sacred places, you will discover its magic power.”
My head was spinning. I went out into the garden to get some air.
By a big flat stone, I murmured “quadriskell.” Suddenly, I heard Jacques Brel’s voice coming from the bar. I could see his long, gangly figure in profile through the bay window. Young and spry, with a rebel lock of hair, he was strumming “Une valse à mille temps” on his guitar. Nearby, Romy Schneider smiled at him with her luminous smile from the film Les choses de la vie. Yves Montand, in a tweed jacket and roll-neck jumper, held the actress Simone Signoret by the shoulder, her blue eyes brimming with desire. Dalida danced wildly, his hair loose. Sunk in a leather armchair, Gregory Peck drank scotch with Lino Ventura. Sat at a table at a slight distance was my grandfather; I recognized his shaved head, large forehead and eager expression. Pipe in mouth, he was talking to a dark, good-looking man with a muscular body. It was Louison: there was no doubt. I wanted to run up to them, but stayed glued to my flat menhir stone.
Indifferent to my calls, the merry band played enthusiastically until the mist invaded the terrace. By the time I had crossed the Blue Bar they had vanished into thin air. I was haunted by the image of my grandfather. I went up to bed, searching nervously through my bag for my key. I was in a hurry to say the formula that would let me go back in time, through the mirror, like Alice.
After a peaceful night, I was woken by the desire to shout “quadriskell” at the gulls. I started by whispering the word in front of the bathroom mirror, then in front of my cup of coffee. Nothing happened. I decided to refresh my mind with a dip in the seawater pool. A lifeguard advised me to go from the hot pool into a tub of icy water. There’s nothing like it for boosting your circulation.
Alone in the open air Jacuzzi, I sang softly “quadriskell.” In that instant, a small plane crossed three little clouds which had attached themselves to each other in the middle of the gentle sky.
The bizarre canvas-winged bird, a microlight, bore the inscription “Caudron G4. 1913. Quiberon Air Show”. I thought it was an old model, but on the beach was a crowd dressed in Breton costume – roof-shaped headdresses and embroidered pinafores for the women, loose-fitting jackets for the men – dancing to the sound of bagpipes. I rubbed my eyes. Gradually it started to drizzle, and everything was obscured. Worrying. I slipped my dressing gown on, got dressed and went out towards the wild coast, wrapped in a yellow mac. At the end of a little path was the castle of Turpault. I slipped on the moss, still disoriented by what I had seen. What time was I in?
The sight of a walker with jeans and headphones on reassured me that I was in 2012. In front of the casino, one hand on an old stone wall, I had the urge to try my luck and let out “quadriskell.”
Caught in a whirlwind, I almost fell backwards. As I reeled, I came to my senses. The casino had disappeared. Now there were fishing boats moored in front of me. Fishermen were unloading boxes of sardines covered in ice and delivering them to the sardine canneries. The strong smell caught the back of my throat.
Local Bigouden people were coming out of a factory. In front of the Hôtel de l’Océan, men in hats chattered happily to women in long dresses. I listened carefully. A lady with a small dog laughed:
“I came on the cuckold’s train! I’ve come to take the waters and take a lover while my husband is in Paris.” A mariner told me the casino was on Place Hoche. Shaken, I was about to set off there when I saw a crowd forming around a woman in a sedan chair at the end of the quay. Her wooden leg stuck out of the door. All around, people shouted “It’s Sarah Bernhardt!” Surrounded by her entourage of monkeys, parrots, cats and dogs, the actress blew kisses into her path. Steeling myself, I approached a strongly built man with a little red goatee, a grey
cape and felt hat. “What year is it, please?” “It’s 1906, dear lady,” he replied in a suave voice. “May I introduce myself? Anatole
France. Would you accept the offer of a drink at the Grand Hôtel de France, where Sarah Bernhardt is going? Armand Caillavet has rented a house in Port Maria where I’m staying with his wife, my mistress of over twenty years. I’m very fond of Quiberon. Did you know it was here, in Port-Haliguen, where Captain Dreyfus landed on 1 July 1899, when he returned from Devil’s Island? I defended him with Zola. This peninsula inspires writers. It’s where Alphonse Daudet wrote The Little Parish Church. In his account of his travels in Brittany, Over Fields and Shores , Flaubert told of playing bagatelle at the casino. This summer, I’m determined to finish The Island of Penguins, a short satirical novel I hope will amuse you.” Charmed by the esteemed writer, I was only too happy to continue the conversation. Then the wind got up, a storm broke and the port emptied. Abandoned by the man who inspired Proust’s character Bergotte in In Search of Lost Time , I started
running towards the coast. The sea was wild on the cliff of Port-Goulom. A three-masted ship approached the shore, lost in the fog, its sails lowered. Screams pierced through the roaring of the waves. Propelled by the breakers, the Monte Cristo crashed onto the rocks with a long crunch. I let out a cry of horror. Soaked through, I took refuge in a cave. A peasant woman rushed through the torrents of water to the still-warm body of the captain lying on the heath. She searched him, stuffing coins into her petticoats, and tried to take his gold ring from his finger. It wouldn’t come off. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took a fishing knife and cut his finger off, before tumbling down towards
the village with her loot. Without thinking twice, I fled towards the thalassotherapy centre to fetch help. The earth started shaking
beneath my feet. The sea had retreated to the edge of the peninsula. Quiberon had become a continent invaded by forests.
The islands of Houat and Hoëdic and the entire gulf of Morbihan formed an immense wooded plateau inhabited by deer and wolves. In the distance rose the medieval city of the Birvideaux, with its walls, little steeples and golden palace. A line of men in red coats advanced in a procession down an earth path that snaked below. They were making their way to the chapel of Saint-Clément, chanting hymns. All of a sudden, night fell. My mobile phone rang. It was Gwenaëlle, reminding me of my appointment for a final hydromassage bath.
The sea had covered the wreck, the forests, Birvideaux. As I sat in the bubbling water, I resolved to return to Quiberon again. The vital energy of the druids is all around – the energy of my Breton ancestors and of the Tales of Quiberon and its Surroundings told by Lucien Gourong. It’s inside me, and inside those who will discover the secret of the quadriskell.
Shall we go to Louison’s?