17.05.2013 - 17.05.2013 14 °C
It is very quiet on ‘la petite ferme’ (the little farm), as the hosts have named their place. The only concession I need to make is to endure what Abby calls the ‘chicken thingy’ in the morning -- the rooster makes his presence known loud and clear but we have usually had a very good night’s sleep by then. The place is very spacious: large rooms abound, there are two toilet closets, and the bedrooms have long sloped roofs. Outside, we have a wide patio area enclosed by a pretty garden, and share the property with the owner’s house, a neat barn full of cows, a small arboretum and a rabbit hutch. It all makes for a very pleasant atmosphere. The only downfall to the place is that the internet access is sketchy at best and only works in the kitchen when it works at all.
We were all in a good mood this morning, which does not always happen, believe me, so the outing for the day looked like it would be successful. Abby made sure, now that we’re in France, that she wore her ‘I Love London’ t-shirt and brought out her Union Jack umbrella; it makes sense to her. As we edged out of the little community of La Bazoque, we meandered around farm tractors and dogs. The warm sun was a welcome companion and we enjoyed the seventy-five minute drive through fields and small towns. The Normandy countryside is beautiful: everything is very green, cows are plentiful, flowers are blooming and there’s an abundance of various foliage. In no time, it seemed we were near our destination.
As we approached Mont Saint Michel from a distance, we could appreciate its arresting pyramid shape. All around it is flat beach, which emphasizes the few kilometre distance from the French farm land. The large grey rock seems to lunge out of the earth, surprising visitors who make that final turn and see it for the first time. It is crowned with the abbey but other buildings circling the religious site spiral out from it, forming a roughly-shaped cone, the church spire acting as a herald. The sight is impressive and eye-catching and, immediately, you feel the need to capture it with a camera or stare at it for a long while. I don’t know quite what it is that I find so stunning about it but the dimensions and impression are somehow very pleasing. This external, long-distance view would prove to be the best image of the day. And, indeed, when one sees pictures of the place, it is not the detailed shots of the abbey that gain the most interest but the overall conical representation of the jutting rock against the scenery. Inside the abbey, we saw an exhibition of Mont Saint Michel photography and it was this view that was juxtaposed with fields, livestock, and the sea time after time. The photos were stunning as well, showing off the place with sunsets, stormy skies, and in various seasons.
Nevertheless, we felt compelled to visit the actual abbey too. We navigated the crowded lanes spiralling upwards, noting several tourist shops, restaurants and creperies along the way. It proved a nice walk, with many stops to photograph the ramparts and town walls that had been added in later centuries. The abbey itself stems back a thousand years, and while built as a religious order, it also proved to be an impregnable fortress in following years. The Mont Saint Michel sanctuary was dedicated to the Archangel Michael, a common occurrence around 1000 AD. He is the patron saint of knights and the symbolism became even stronger when the Mount was able to withstand all efforts of the British during the Hundred Years War. The statue that tops the belfry is of Saint Michael, although it was only added in the nineteenth century. There are three great dining halls in the main buildings, one for the religious, another for visitors and royalty, and a third for knights. Add to that a few crypts, several smaller chapels and the main church, and it takes about an hour to wander about. We entered the church just as the daily mass was finishing and noted that most of the robed participants, monks and nuns alike, were quite young. The few who attended were gathered just in front of the altar, kneeling on the stone floor. After the service, each picked up a praying mat and exited quietly. The abbey rooms and corridors we saw were largely stone, with some details in the carving and a few narrow stained glass windows. The most impressive area was the cloister, an open-aired square, off which several of the abbey’s other areas join. The grass rectangle is enclosed by a double row of arched pillars and forms a very pleasing effect.
On our way down from the abbey, I convinced the others I needed to sample French crepes one more time so we all partook of the thin snack (mine was filled with salted buttery caramel). Conveniently, there is a free shuttle bus that ferries people from the car park to and from the little island, joined in recent decades to the mainland by a road that withstands the incoming tide. The shuttle is notable in that it has steering mechanisms on both its ends, allowing it to come and go without turning around. The car park was about half full but could have accommodated hundreds of cars. It foreshadows the coming crowds for us, something for which we have to steel ourselves. On the drive back, we were accosted by a thunder and lightning storm, quite remarkable in its own right. We filled the drives with talk of the kids’ early school days, which caused us to dwell on our own as well (“Why, when I was your age, ....”). Although they had heard many of the stories before, they humoured us and we all enjoyed the reminiscing. And speaking of nostalgia, Abby discovered a Monopoly game here so the two of them are pitting themselves against each other in the familiar contest. I’ll leave them to it.