Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monday, June 5th: Mont St. Michel, Mere Poullard and Ham-flavoured cidre

At last, on the way to Mont St. Michel. Metro to Montparnasse, with all its literary echoes. Get there too early as usual and my destination Rennes not on the board yet. I have a quiche Lorraine from one of the station's fooderies. It is filling. I wonder if I have to get my ticket validated? I had ordered it from their website and it remarked on the need for validation on the ticket. Fumiyo and friend failed to validate their tickets last week in Nice and the authorities weren't nice at all. I decide to ask at the Information booth. I try it in French. The man listen's to my French in horror and asks if any of his colleagues speak this alien tongue. A woman volunteers her English. I ask her where to validate my ticket. She tells me it's not necessary. Later, when a conductor scans my ticket while en route, she proves to be right.
On the way to Rennes, a woman of substance sat down across the aisle from me. I'm scared enough to be having the wrong ticket, as happened to me on both my previous trips to France, long ago. I begin to hear the sounds of farts. Lots of farts. I thought, I've wanted to see Mont St. Michel for 46 years. I'm on a train there now. But before I get there, I'll be suffocated by these farts.
I escape death.
It's only her phone. No one young could understand why I didn't immediately recognize the phone sound. This is new terrain to me, particularly in that different acoustic world that is France. Anything can happen here. The senses are easily befuddled.
I get off at Rennes. Much smaller than Paris, but I thought the bus station would be connected. It's elsewhere. I ask. Am directed to a closed building. Then learn that the buses for St. Michel do indeed appear there. One more attuned to the digital world would have solved those problems for me but I am from another now. Slower than this. I interact with 6 people to get to my bus, different in number from my ticket. This is better for me and them than interacting only by phone. I have a memory of those interactions. But I think the ability to remember will atrophy when we let our phones do it for us. I am going to the Mont because I saw it in the background of a TV commercial in Aug, 1971. Was it real? I wanted to find out. Our bus appears. It is as claustrophobic at the Air France flight, but at least it has Wi-Fi. I entertain myself on line and then read Montaigne until we see signs announcing the imminence of the Mont. And...There it is. As thrilling as a Mont can be! Looming over the road! It exists. It's exhilarating. We are let off the bus near a Centre. We get maps. We walk a short distance. A street opens up before us. 

We are encouraged to spend money. That's not what I'm here for. I begin the long climb. There are, thankfully, many stops along the way. Places to catch one's breath. But there are then more steps. As I'm walking, I pass half a dozen soldiers, clutching their machine guns. The steps aren't that wide. I fear brushing against them and their primed weapons. Rain had been promised for the day but it wasn't raining. The path wasn't full of slick, wet stones. I passed by the machine gunners without difficulty, but with ever alert trepidation. I am asked to give 10 Euros to enter the Abbey. Is it worth 10 E? Isn't there supposed to be someplace inside where I feel something, perhaps a communion with its millions of previous pilgrims and the creator monks? The Euros evoke no such communions. Instead of the garden at the top I was looking forward to, only cement mixers. The Mont is being updated, paved into the uncaring of the digital age. I begin my descent. Fumiyo had asked me to buy some cookies, which I do. All this climbing has made me hungry, and I discover Mere Poullard hawks not just her vast omelets but crepes as well!. Will it be as good as yesterday's? I order the smoked salmon galette and the Mere Poullard traditional cidre. They are a magnificent combination. 

In preparation for the trip, I bought a copy of Curiosities of Paris by Dominique Lesbros and had been using it to magnify my interpretive visual abilities in the city during my first week end in Paris. The night before I went North, I was reading about the image of a dove carved outside Notre Dame.
  "The street's name colombe (dove) is a reminder of a 13th century legend: a male dove is said to have come to the aid of his mate who was buried under the ruins of a house. He saved her life by bringing her seeds and water on a wisp of straw. The story is that this ingenious conjugal rescue touched the hearts of the local population. Above the door at no.4 and at the corner of rue des Ursins, two bas-reliefs reflect the tale."
 While enjoying my salmon crepe, I was thinking of that story as a small bird landed on the Mere Poullard sign outside the window and began chirping.At first I thought it was someone's phone. Then I saw the bird.
A tram up to my hotel. It seems to be in a neighborhood of only hotels, no other signs of village life. Obviously here for us tourists alone. The hotel is splendid. The exact opposite of my dungeon next to Notre Dame. A TV! The workable shower is quickly savoured. The BBC just brings me news of terrorism. A woman from British Columbia is a victim. Her family urges us all to be be inspired by her generous spirit. I go downstairs for a cocktail the bar advertises but it's far too sweet, and then dinner: John Dory, a great fish when done right, and a bottle of local cidre. What could go wrong? Thankfully I'd made a reservation as soon as I'd checked in, as the restaurant “fills up fast,” I'm told and that is correct. I get there as soon as it opens and it is soon jammed. My cidre arrives. I have a glass. It tastes like ham.

I loved the ham in yesterday's galette at Breizh. I loved the ham in my Quiche Lorraine at Montparnasse Station. I do not want an apple drink to taste like ham. “How is the cidre?” asks the waiter. “It tastes like ham,” I inform him. He laughs. John Dory swims into view. It swims in the same ocean as good taste, but at some considerable distance. It is good food for people who have never tasted good food. A small increment to tastelessness. 

After dinner, I decided to walk towards the Mont to look at it again. The purpose of this voyage is to Look at Mont St. Michel. I begin the walk, but a fierce wind blows me backward. I feel like a hobbit on the wrong mountain. To escape turning into frozen food for ravenous snails, I retreat back to my hotel. Its bar, devoid of interesting cocktails as I've discovered, does offer a tasty cidre called Loic Raison. It does not taste like ham. Pigs everywhere celebrate.


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