I realised this as I sat eating breakfast while watching the sands of Mont St Michel disappear beneath the waves. Victor Hugo wrote of how the tides move à la vitesse d’un cheval au galop (as swiftly as a galloping horse). A bell tolls as the surge begins for, like many a medieval pilgrim, people still drown making their way across the tidal flats. The force of the rolling waves creates ever-changing fields of quicksand which confuse even the locals. The Bayeux Tapestry shows a trapped rider and horse, with the Abbey of Mont St Michel clearly visible in the background. Other riders are being rescued, with Hic Harold dux trahebat eos de arena embroidered beneath; (Duke Harold pulled them from the sand).
The grey sands literally do vanish; in the time it took to spread butter on my croissant and have a sip of my café au lait, another island of sand had disappeared.
When I sip my macchiato of a morning, I remember Mont St Michel. The link lies in the small cup I bought there, a post-modern pattern of blacks and browns, born from the island’s swirling tides.
I watched these tides from the safety of the town’s ramparts, which have proved impregnable to both sea and invading hordes down the centuries. Victor Hugo wrote of the waters sweeping in à la vitesse d’un cheval au galop (as swiftly as a galloping horse). A bell tolls when the surge begins for, like many a medieval pilgrim, people still drown making their way across the tidal flats.
Some forty montois, or locals, live on the island. Most tourists come only for the day, and as evening fell I sat in a deserted cemetery tucked amongst the houses at the foot of the Abbey. There is also a quiet garden near by, and stone seats in the wall to sit and gather repose. A place to feel the spirit of the island, as it pulses to the rhythm of the tides.
Having ebbed, the tides began to swirl once more around the island. In the space of a glance, swathes of sand disappear beneath the unrelenting water until the island became once more a bastion of solitude floating on the waves.
Such memories sleeping in a small china cup, which holds at most two mouthfuls of coffee.
Some places carry so much collective history their names evoke memories even before you visit: Casablanca, Paris, Rome. Others have been re-baptised, yet it is the old name which beckons: Saigon, St Petersburg, Constantinople. Others entice on the melody of their name alone, such as Timbuktu, or Koya-san, Japan’s Holy mountain.
Then there’s The Letter A. That’s what the sign says. The Letter A. It’s one of the reasons we bought our retreat. Continue Reading →