Letters from Armorica- A Day of Rest (10 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I am not quite sure how it happened, but here in the encampment on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau I have become the person everyone asks for permission to do things. It is a great nuisance and distraction, for I have many things of my own to attend to; but at times it becomes endearing.

Today, of course, is Sunday, a day of rest, and the day for Divine Worship; but we have no church here, and no way (even were it prudent) to transport everyone to Bois-de-Bas; though of course we have no priest in Bois-de-Bas either. We have been observing the day of rest in past weeks; the people are working hard all day every day, and need their rest, even if it were not customary. But today I had a deputation of men, led by Drunken Jacques (not that he has touched a drop since he arrived on the island) asking my leave to continue working today—to begin building a church here, and a bath house.

“It is the Lord’s Day,” said Drunken Jacques to me, “and so we ought not work; and yet we have Church in which to attend to Him. And no time the rest of the week to build one.” I discussed it with Amelie, who told me she quite liked the idea, especially the idea of a bath house, and so I gave them my leave.

I was pleased to see that they do not intend to build the two structures all at once, but a little each week. Today they prepared the site for the church and sank timbers into the corners to support the floor and, eventually, the roof. We had our Divine Worship sitting on sections of log and on blankets on the ground in the midst of the site. Drunken Jacques led the worship; he has a rich baritone voice. Afterward we had a communal meal in the new clearing near Le Blaireau that has become the village square, after which my friend Jacques the Carpenter began building a pair of enormous tubs for the bath house. Tents are enough for modesty, at least until winter comes; and we shall need a stove for a ready supply of hot water ere long; but we cannot have our Sunday afternoon baths without the tubs—and we cannot have our town hall meetings, as it were, without the baths.

The folk of Bois-de-Bas are keenly attuned to social position, I have discovered. Onc’ Herbert is influential as much because he is a prominent farmer and land-owner as because of his undoubted wisdom; and I suppose my upper-class upbringing in Yorke, and my role as the town’s shopkeeper and former lend me cachet I am not at sure I deserve. Apparently Amelie has been bragging about me, for some of the folk here have taken to calling me Maître Tuppenny!

But wisdom and common sense are also highly respected—and in the baths, social position is forgotten. Everyone may speak, and though fools are not heeded, poor men are heard. Amelie tells me it is the same for the women. It is a system I have not heard of elsewhere in the world; and it may well be unique to Bois-de-Bas.

In the long run, I think, we will need to excavate much larger pools, as I have seen in the public bath houses in Yorke, and how we shall heat them I have no idea; perhaps I could form something? But for now Jacques’ tubs will serve admirably, and I find I am quite looking forward to their completion.

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photo credit: James St. John Black Pool (afternoon, 10 June 2017) 2 via photopin (license)