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Posts tagged ‘Normandy’

No.296: Normandie—Mont Saint Michel

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Abbey steep, thrust there, far from land,

as a mansion fantastic, amazing as

a dream palace, strange and improbably beautiful “

Maupassant

 

“The church was magical

the sun streaming in

the divine voices echoing off the walls

I adored the abbey

the mud was scrumdillilious

the best mud ever…”

Button

Between rock and sea, a sheer-sided citadel-like abbey rises 80-metres out of the sand and water magnificently dominating the surrounding low-lying region of Normandie. This is Mont Saint Michel. Towering above an immense bay beset by the highest tides in Europe, the sea spills in over a dozen miles in the space of just a few hours, creating one of the most breathtaking sites in France.

Mont Saint Michel dates back to the 700s when at the “request” of the Archangel Michel a local bishop consecrated a small church on the point. Over the centuries Benedictines monks settled on the rock and continued building an abbey and monastery. During the Hundred Years War military construction was added to fortify the compound. In the early Middle Ages ascetic Christians known as hermits chose this site to live in complete poverty, and in an attempt to be closer to God, continued to the abbey towards the heavens.

It became a great spiritual and intellectual centre and was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the western world. Multitudes of men, women, and children arrived by the paths to paradise—hoping for “the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel at judgment.”

During the days of the French Revolution, the abbey was ransacked and nearly demolished and the remains were turned into a prison. It was restored in the 19th century and is now considered one of France’s national treasures.

Although an active religious community resides in Mont Saint Michel and it is still a place of pilgrimage for the faithful, it is now more of a Mecca of buzzing tourists. Over three million visitors make the trek each year. Aside from the astounding citadel-abbey and IMAX-like vista, tourists come to play in the tides. If you have ever been to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado you will understand exactly what type of sands surround the castle. At times the sea travels under the sand, creating traitorous pockets of quicksand, but most of the time it is merely harmless sinking sand, ready to delighting the young and old alike.

The small Normand village of inns, shops and taverns nestled below the abbey was built to house and water the pilgrims at the end of their journey. Nowadays as Superman rather crankily observed, “it represents the worst of humanity, packed like sardines” and pushing forward without regard for others. I was less bothered by the crowds. Instead they gave me an appreciation for what it must have been like centuries ago. The junky trinkets, hawking vendors, and overpriced scrummy eateries were all there to welcome the original pilgrims. Some things don’t change. At least we were afforded the modern conveniences of sewers and showers, clean drinking water and health codes. No plagues or rats; no stench of unbathed travelers, although the numbers of extremely overweight visitors—French no less—was an unsettling reminder of what awaits us in America.

Nonetheless, this picturesque meeting point of sand, sea, and sky, is a trip worth making.

No. 295: Après-midi à Honfleur

Un après-midi à Honfleur as noted by Button and Maman…

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water, sun, and sails

kaleidoscopes of color glide by

pulsating

soaring skinny houses crisscrossed

and slanted

smashed together

on purpose

  

climb atop the steep knoll

view le vieux port

the English Channel and the Seine

all at one time

straddling it

the bridge to tomorrow

Normandie’s silver harp

 

fruits de mer

and black muscles

crack

balls of apple glace

swimming in Calvados

tarte tatin

turned upside down

  

seafaring chapels eager to float

anchors and flowering croix

glorious cows

startling tongues

longing to plant kisses

on their noses

beyond the fence

  

artists past and present

remember to paint

vibrant sizzles

hankering for shorts

as the bridge went up

and the sailboats

went under

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No. 294: Festival du Cinéma Américain de Deauville

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Moseying along the red ironwood boardwalk today, I finally decided to look up why the beach cabins lining the walkway are named after American actors and directors. What I discovered is that each cabana is named for an American cinema icon who has attended the resort’s Festival du Cinéma Américain de Deauville.

The festival began in the mid-1970s and was first created to “prolong the summer and illuminate the boardwalk with starlight…”

According to the festival’s website, which could use a bit of English editing…the Deauville American Cinema Festival has been the ephemeral site where young and rising American directors are discovered and acknowledged. A space for films where dreams come to life, nurturing the coalescence of the collective imagination linked to the greatest cinematography in the world: yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s projected on the big screen; a whole industry and its stars and its legends. This is the America of the cinema: this is American Cinema.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the festival and, boy howdy, I would love to go. It is the only film festival in the world that offers the general film-loving public 10-day, 24/24 access to every film screened.

Hmm…I feel a girls’ week brewing!

Book your pass here.

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No. 292: sur la plage à Deauville (1920s-1930s)

No. 291: Boudin and Monet in Trouville

Mentor and student and life-long friends Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet captured holidaymakers and the extreme weather on the beaches of Trouville during the late 1800s. Monet honeymooned in the town with his beloved Camille and his snapshot paintings painted en plein air have grains of sand from the windswept beach mixed in.

No. 288: Cats on a Wet Deauville Roof

We are enjoying a relaxing, albeit extremely foggy and cool sojourn in Deauville. The rooftops are magnificent in this old school beach resort and I am charmed by the ceramic felines creeping about the gables and tiles.

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I am guessing they are there to keep the seagulls and pigeons at bay, but there has to be a more enchanting tale, nest ce pas? I have scoured the web but have yet to find a beguiling yarn. Does anyone know the legend of the cats (and squirrels) on the not-so-hot roofs of Deauville?

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No. 287: Discovering that Michael Jackson is Alive and Well in Deauville

Michael Jackson with adoring fans in Deauville…Normandy, France

Michael Jackson with adoring fans in Deauville…Normandy, France