I’ve only been to France a couple of times, mainly because it’s right on our doorstep and so the tendency has been to travel further afield. But I decided to visit this year as a mark of respect to my father, a man who loved France and planned on retiring here, but who never made it because the Big C had alternative plans for him.
Readers of this blog will know all of my holidays have a literary bent and that I was placed on this earth to prove that everything can be linked back to my home town of Nottingham. With this in mind I fired up a cigar in homage to my dad and headed to Dinard, a quiet costal town on the Côte d’Émeraude of Brittany. Waiting for me at the entrance to the Plage de l’Écluse was none other than Alfred Hitchcock. ‘Hitch’ was of course married to Alma Reville (14 August 1899 – 6 July 1982), the St. Ann’s born film director, screenwriter and editor who featured as our literary figure in Issue 6.
It’s a beautiful statue which captures his personality well. With hands on his hips and head cocked back, he looks slightly bemused at two birds that have rested on his arms. They are of course a reference to his 1963 classic horror movie The Birds (loosely based on a Daphne du Maurier story) and the first film to star Tippi Hedren. It’s almost as if he’s thinking, did I really create this ornithologist’s nightmare? I couldn’t find any evidence that he and Alma had ever lived in Dinard but a quick glance at the stunning buildings sat upon the surrounding clifftops suggests they may have served as inspiration for Bates Motel in Psycho. The architecture is a right mix of styles and influences with crenelations, turrets, and stained glass but all framed against a stunning coastline. Proust wasn’t impressed, though, describing it as a “luxury of cheapness”.
Dinard has a reputation as the Cannes of the North and was a favourite haunt for wealthy Brits at the turn of the 19th century before they boggered off to the Côte d’Azur in the 1930s. It now hosts a regular Festival du Film Britannique (30 Sept – 4 Oct) and is in its 26th year. Be prepared for lots of Union Jack bunting with silhouettes of Hitchcock. If film is your thing then take a trot along the scenic coast to la Grotte de la Goule aux Fées which is where the Lumière brothers made their first attempts regarding colour photographic developing processes.
Oscar Wilde also visited Dinard, and mentions it in De Profundis. I doubt Victorian Nottingham would ever have been able to satiate his aesthetic needs as overcrowding meant we were all in the gutter staring at the shit, but he has been celebrated in the city numerous times. In 2007 his prison door went on exhibition in the Galleries of Justice and in 2012 the Gallery hosted another exhibition, The Unknown Oscar Wilde: Education, Rehabilitation and Charity, which drew a visit from his grandson, Merlin Holland, who discussed the importance of education and how the poet oscillated wildly about his desire to be an inspector of schools after being inspired by free schools he saw in America. But I digress. Back to France.
The official name of Dinard was Saint-Énogat until 1879 when the name was changed to Dinard-Saint-Énogat. It was cut back to Dinard in 1921 so it wasn’t such a mouthful. Saint-Énogat is now just the name for the western area of the town and is worth a visit to see the Jules Verne fountain. There’s also various mosaic plaques celebrating books by the French author who specialised in science fiction and adventure stories.
I asked Tourist Information why the plaques were here as Verne was born in Nantes and spent a long time as a resident of Amiens. I got a shrug of the shoulders, presumably because he’s a French icon, the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, wedged in between Willy Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, therefore a national treasure who can’t be reduced to a postcode. But it turns out he was a regular visitor to the côte d’Émeraude, often staying in his Le Grondin villa, between Dinard and Saint-Lunaire.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Voyage au centre de la Terre) was published in 1864 and sees German professor Otto Lidenbrock decoding a manuscript of an Icelandic saga written by Snorri Sturluson. This reveals a secret route through volcanic tubes to the centre of the earth where a bunch of dinosaurs await them. Although I can’t link Verne directly with Nottingham I hear there are plans by arts-collective Primary to create Journey to the Centre of the Broadmarsh, an appalling neglected shopping centre to the south of the city that’s prehistoric in both aesthetics and function.
From Dinard you can catch a ten minute boat (7.5 euros return) to the nearby walled port city of Saint Malo. Saint Malo is the setting of Marie de France‘s poem “Laustic,” an 11th-century love story. But I’d recommend picking up a copy of Anthony Doerr’s 2015 Pulitzer winning All the Light We Cannot See if you want a topical read. The novel is set in 1934 and tells the story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who goes blind at 6. She’s given some braille books to read, and, yup, you’ve guessed it, becomes entranced by the imaginary world of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. So perhaps those plaques in Saint Enogat do have some relevance after all…
In Saint Malo you’ll also find the International House of Poets and Writers (Maison Internationale des Poètes et des Ecrivains). It’s situated in the historic rue du Pélicot, a cobbled street that’s home to buildings which date back to the fifteenth century. Operating over three levels, it’s used as a space for workshops, readings and residencies and has attracted over 3,000 speakers from across the globe since it moved here on 6 October 1990. All of which got me thinking about the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and my excitement at returning to Blighty to see MulletProof Poet perform his God Save the Teen on 25 September.
- Psychos (dawnoftheunread.com)
- Maison Internationale des Poètes et des Ecrivains (mipe-asso.fr)
- Jules Verne: Making Science Visual (blogs.nottingham.ac.uk)
- To Catch A Thief Location Guide (lestuffblog.com)
- Festival du Film Britannique de Dinard (festivaldufilm-dinard.com)
- All The Light We Cannot See Book Group Discussion (abeautifulmess.com)
- Saint Malo guide (st-malo.info)