Friday, November 6, 2009

Back to the Future


Having just returned from a week in Brittany, I expect that I can divine the future of the Maine coast in, say, a thousand years (assuming, of course, that it isn't drowned). More or less civilized people have been living in Breton and on its coast since the Dark Ages - by "civilized" I mean the kind of people that need to build and develop and conquer, rather than those who live peaceably on the land - and the land is much used up by farms and settlements and cities, and the coast highly industrialized and vacationized. Except for the protected areas in which there is almost nothing but cliffs and surf.
Maine has had only 500 years of "civilization," so we haven't yet achieved the European split between rigorous (and usually tasteful) development and wilderness in small bits. We still have sprawl. We cherish the messy notion that the frontier still exists just beyond our suburbs and exurbs. Europe has dispensed with this. There is no frontier, all is known, even the wild and rugged parts of Brittany that look like another planet, for there is a comfortable hotel just over the hill, and a village just down the road, and shops and restaurants and museums never very far away. You can't really get lost in Europe.
But you can really live well, and see beauty everywhere, even if it's a little tame by Maine standards. And the holy places are still holy and well-preserved and revered, even if they are crowded about by the trappings of civilization. Europe has preserved enough to keep its ties to the land, and at the same time imported the land's beauty into its urban places. It's a good response to all those Vikings and Normans and Catholics and Calvinists.
I hope I'm wrong about Maine in the year 3000. If we in America and Maine in particular could learn to concentrate more of our development and preserve more of our land, then I would be wrong and we'd have the best of both worlds, like Pointe de St. Mathieu near Brest, whose rocks and ocean look primeval and uncivilized in the best possible sense, whose abbey has been a place of religious, now secular, worship for 1,500 years.

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