Life in Venus

Some weeks ago my wife gave me a postcard. She had bought it after visiting our local museum of regional history and the picture was of a slim, young, nude, woman. She was made of terracota, was about 20 cms high and around two thousand years old. In keeping with her demeanor, the legend on the card referred to her as ‘Venus’. But in the museum she was known more colloquially as the ‘Venus of Tréguennec’. As it turns out, in Gallo-Roman times artesans were using moulds to ‘mass-produce’ this Venus, and others like her, just down the road from our French house. And she was popular – the statues had been found throughout Brittany, where it was thought that she was used as an offering of thanks to various deities. With the discovery of the workshop, archeologists learned were they all came from.

Apart from being bowled over by their simple beauty, I was struck by a strong sense of pride. In this tiny corner of the world my adopted ancestors, living in my adopted village were successfully producing art of lasting quality. And so, notwithstanding the history of the statue, there were some challenging linguistic issues that the findings raised. Had I been in similar circumstances at home in Richmond, I very much doubt that I would have thought in terms of ‘adoption’, or have had feelings of ‘pride’,

Dealing first with adoption. My use of this word, of this concept, was prompted by French friends who did not like me jokingly refering to myself as a Breton. They insisted that this was impossible and that all I could be was a Breton adopté – and they were right. In London, more precisely in Richmond, things are very different. When I reflect on my life there I don’t think adoption ever came into my head. As soon as I arrived there from Shepherd’s Bush some 20 years ago, Richmond was mine, and a part of me, as it was the case for everyone else. Accordingly, when I wrote the blog  A sense of belonging last January, in which I talked about living in Richmond, the notion of adopting, or being adopted, never arose. Being a ‘Tréguenecois adopté’ feels comfortable, being an adopted Richmond person would be meaningless.

Turning now to my feeling of pride toward the statue. This is not unique. I have the self-same feelings whenever I see the locally painted 16th century murals on the walls of Tréguennec’s village church, or when I see French holiday posters showing women wearing the tall, lace, Breton bonnets that come from just around here too. But the point is I simply don’t have this feeling in Richmond. It has many magnificent features, and they are important to me, but it is not pride they engender.

Be that as it may, I did feel pride when watching from afar the opening ceremony of the London Olympics and seeing British creativity at work. I was proud that we could be so courageously quirky, that the evening so powerfully celebrated inclusivety with regard to race, gender, disability and class, and that we had the ingenuity to make the statue of Winston Churchill come alive and wave at the helicopter carrying James Bond and the Queen to the stadium. But this was certainly not ‘blanket’ pride. Some things – the dancing NHS scenes – I found plain awful and the less said about these the better.

Back to the local Venus. We have a pottery close by our house in Treguennec and as the potter has the same skills and interests as did his Gallo-Roman predecessors, I wondered if he might wish to make a mould of the statue and use it to start producing exact copies.Once made, and so continuity established, these 21st century versions could be available through his pottery and through the museum. Alain’s face lit up at the suggestion, and by the next day he was planning to meet the museum’s curator to negotiate how the Venus production line might be started up again. For whatever reason, if the project materialises I know I will feel proud, and this time it will be based on real, rather than adopted, involvement.

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