18 June 2008

St. Michael's Mountain

"I believe in nothing, everything is sacred.
I believe in everything, nothing is sacred."
- Tom Robbins "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (1976)

Paris > Rennes > Pontorson. Trains are the only way to travel.
We headed out from the City of Light, pilgrims to witness the splendor of Le Mont Saint-Michel: a small stony island in the tidal flats of the mouth of the Couesnon River, on the coast of Normandie. An abbey was built on the island around the year 700, and repeatedly added-on and built-up over the centuries. It had been used as a monastery, a site of pilgrimage, a fortification during the 100 Years War, a prison, a church again, and finally a tourist trap. We booked a hotel in Pontorson, whose only claim to fame is that it is the closest train station to the abbey. We missed the last bus out to the Mont so had to share a taxi. We wandered through the snake-like lanes of the abbey, stopped in at several cafés for cocktails, and had a quick dinner of agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb), a delicious local specialty. We stood out on the high parapets and gazed over the countryside. In years past the Mont had been connected to the mainland only during low tides by a narrow causeway. During high tides it was completely cut off. The tides could come in at an alarming 6 1/2 feet per second and vary by 46 feet between low and high. A permanent land bridge had been constructed in 1879.
We watched in amazement as the water rushed in, and what was a vast field moments before was transformed into a churning, frothy sea. It was well past dark when we decided to depart. We began walking back along the causeway with our thumbs held out. Very soon a car pulled over and a nutty Italian couple leaned out the window. Eliano & Cinzia asked us in an absurd mix of broken English, bad French and frenetic Italian if we needed a ride. We laughed and jumped in. The trek back to town was a chaotic journey as we all tried to communicate with one another and succeeded only minimally. But they were great fun and we asked them if we could buy them a drink when we arrived back in town. We stopped at a small café and continued the ridiculous attempt at conversation over wine, Ricard, and Sambuca. They lived southwest of Rome and were on their honeymoon. We laughed long into the night and made plans to see them again when our journey took us south into Italy.
KJT - Le Mont Saint-Michel, Normandie, France (1998)

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