An Iceland Fisherman, Pierre Loti

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“There they were, five huge, square-built seamen, drinking away together in the dismal cabin, which reeked of fish-pickle and bilge-water“.

In such a way Julien Viaud, known as Pierre Loti began his story, in which the lyricism and the harsh landscape of Brittany take us into the realm of sea waves that hit the rocks, and stout sailors, swaying on damp boats. An Iceland Fisherman is a forgotten book that often lingers quietly on the bookshelves of libraries. Only few readers will grab a small, pocket edition to please the mind.

For Bretons the arrival of spring is the signal: here comes the fishing time. Huge boats are preparing to go to sea. Men are leaving warm inns and sweethearts to embark on a journey to the deep waters of Iceland. Among those fishermen, we can find Yann Gaos from Pors – Even – ex-artillery officer, huge, strong boy, with a broad back and muscles on his shoulders, (…)[that] stood out like great globes at the tops of his arms. Despite the appearances, he is not a stern character. He allows himself to be gentle; in fact, Yann is a good-hearted man, mostly driven by the love to the sea that is stronger than to any woman. However, the workings of fate are peculiar, as this huge man grabs the attention of a fine, prosperous townswoman from Paimpol – Miss Gaud. Who would have thought that this frail lady, with her noble face, goes to her muslin-decorated bed thinking about a grim, harsh face of a young man, who works hard casting nets, who is far away from her, where the night and day entwine with a fair beam of salty air.

Sad summer days are passing by. The moors are stretching in the sun and the evenings are covered with a chill. Women are airing the houses, putting out their Sunday bests. They are sweeping the place. The widows are weeping in a little chapel that commemorates those who lost their lives at sea. Young girls await their loved ones who promised them to come back. Old mothers and fathers are looking at the horizon, searching for the dark shapes. Here comes the time of returns. The time, when it is already known who will come back home and who will linger in the dark depths of the sea. Among those who are waiting is Gaud. Who knows? Maybe the next ship that appears on the horizon will be La Marie that carries the best of all sailors, including Yann.

An Iceland Fisherman captivates. Pierre Loti – the man who swam on the men-of-war and every possible sea of the world – describes each journey of the fishermen so meticulously that one can immediately imagine a fresh, detailed landscape, filled with whin coasts and cold, silver depths of heartless waters. Loti with incredible acuteness brings out from each landscape every minute detail along with the created characters who seem to be almost alive and untamed. All those aspects make such a figurative impression that even silence at the sea appears to be disturbing, even sad. As if it is waiting for the right moment…

Author: Katarzyna Anita Piotrowska
Translation: Dorota Osińska