20 mars 2003
Saint-Michel calls...so we answer
L'appel de Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint-Michel, a site
filled with history, spirituality and environmental wonder, is a place
that calls out to many, including me. Unfortunately it has a reputation as a tourist
fiasco. Recently we heard a rare positive weather forecast for the
northern Atlantic coast for upcoming week. Knowing that French school
vacations were over for at least the next few weeks, a spur of the
moment decision was made – get to Mont Saint-Michel while it’s
partially clear of both clouds and tourists.
serene and tall off the Atlantic coast between Brittany and Normandy,
Saint-Michel was founded in the 8th century;
later taken over by the Benedictines; graced by royal visits from
William of Hastings (aka William the Conquerer), Saint Louis IX, Louis
XI and Francois I; filled with prisoners during the Revolution, and
finally restored to its former glory in the early 20th
century. Pilgrims from all over the world have come to Mont Saint-Michel
for centuries...and continue today, as it’s an important stop on the pilgrimage route.
described by French writer Guy de Maupassant as
"like an imaginary manor house,
a stupefying dream palace,
improbably strange and beautiful."
Saint Michael stands high.
The afternoon sun creates a
an eerie shadow on the sand.
| There are in fact two rocky islands in this
Saint-Michel and Tombelaine Island, some few hundred yards across the
Couesnon river as it forms the Baie Saint-Michel. Both islands figured
prominently in the Hundred Years' War. Oddly, there is a simmering
rivalry between Normandy and Brittany for "rights" to Mont
Saint-Michel: The island has gone back and forth between the two
as the river Couesnon has changed its path over the years. Patrick,
a local and a Breton, says Mont Saint-Michel will be back again as part
of Brittany before long.
Tides in the Baie Saint-Michel are both the highest and lowest in Europe,
highest at 48 feet (15 meters) with the full and new moons of spring and
fall. At the waxing or waning of the moon there is no tide at all:
Atlantic tidewaters don't reach this far then. I
spent much of my day keeping an eye on tide levels, wondering what was
missing until someone filled me in on this hidden fact. If you want to
see the effects of the tides, plan to arrive in the seven days
surrounding the full moon, or the seven days surrounding the new moon.
Otherwise, the water level doesn’t change at all.
abbey itself is spectacular. A visit takes you up and down centuries
(and staircases). The penthouse cloister, where monks pray, meditate,
and tend the garden, overlooks the Baie Saint-Michel from hundreds of
feet up. The abbey's Scriptorium, with its vast pillars, windows and
fireplaces, showcases where medieval monks worked in silence on
illustrated manuscripts. These magnificent works of art are
displayed in summer months in nearby Avranches' library of the Ancient
afternoon sun creates a bizarre shadow of the structure on the sand.
When tides are high, the seawater rushes up to cover the parking lot and
reaches up to the walls. The cathedral's gold-plated sculpture of Saint
Michael the Archangel presides over all. Narrow streets, winding upward
to the abbey, are jammed with shops and visitors. The town is mostly a
tourist haven, but there are still a few monks and nuns living here
today, and half a dozen regular island inhabitants as well. Best way to
see the place is to stay a night at one of the hotels on the island, so that you have
quiet evenings and early mornings to yourself before the buses arrive.
Keep an eye on the elements and be ready to spring into action. Click
here for more pictures and some travel information.
a Mont Saint-Michel
tourist trap, but legendary...
secret omelettes, fluffy and delicious.
à la Mère Poulard
legendary Mère Poulard omelette is top secret,
but here's a recipe that comes pretty close.
50 g of butter
salt and pepper
the eggs. Beat
the egg yokes with a wire whip, salt and pepper them. Whip the egg
whites to very firm consistency, add a pinch of salt. Melt the
butter in a saucepan, then add the egg yokes. Add a tablespoon of
crème fraîche ( or sour cream). When the yokes start to cook,
incorporate the egg whites in three parts. Do the final cooking over a
hot fire. Serve right away. Bon courage et bon appetit!
Riding the rails
Sur la route des chemins de fer
France’s railways, nationalized since 1938, are being considered for
privatization. Yikes. The cheminots (train workers) are en colère
(mad as wet hens), setting up yet another excuse to strike. The most
recent major work stoppage cut two thirds of the country’s TGVs in one
day, double the usual rate of strike perturbations. Unfortunately the
end to this conflict is not in sight. Other European countries (Italy,
Spain among them) are joining French rail workers to protest new EU
regulations that attempt to create parity among transportation services
and rates among EU members. These new rules could have all sorts of effects on work
methods, benefits, and other quality of life issues for these generally
well-protected union workers. Likewise, a hurting economy puts more
pressure on privatization because of profitability issues. Bears
watching, and certainly if you’re planning to travel by rail in France
(or in Europe) be sure to check on status as you travel, or at www.sncf.fr
Meanwhile a quick update on the new Avignon TGV train station. Frankly, we miss the small, homey,
homely, seedy but convenient ancienne gare d’Avignon, just
across from the main gate into the walled city. It’s still used for local trains, but if you’re
taking a TGV train these days, you must follow a maze of roundabouts, ramps, and windswept parking plains that
lead up to the stark new station, just a few kilometers but light-years
away from the old one. It is big, bright, bold, modern,
yet-to-be-completed…and already getting a bit down-at-the-heels with
out-of-order doors, no cash machines, no free toilets, no mailboxes, plus a ground
floor that’s cold while the upper reaches gather stuffy heat and solar
gains. Avignon’s TGV gare leaves a lot to be desired…if they ever get it finished, it might be a great spot.
We’re not counting on much progress this year.
Avignon TGV station is
big, bright and bold, but...
Water Update II
Eau courant II
To add to a previous piece about bottled
a recent article in Madame Figaro shed a little further light on liquid
lifestyles in France. As noted, more and more folks, the French
included, are shunning tap water and substituting bottled waters, be
they source or minérale.
The majority of bottled water brands in France are owned by the Big Three
conglomerates: Nestle, Danone and Castel Neptune. Every brand now has
several sub-brands to meet whatever new requirements are the latest rage: weight
loss, bone-building, indigestion, liver problems, nervousness and
anxiety, hypertension…and also what’s chic, what’s tendance,
What’s "in" in French waters? Gazeuse:
Quézac, Hépar. Still: Evian,
Cristaline. But true water chic today is to choose Voss from Norway,
Edena from the French island of La Reunion, or best of all Clud Juice
from Tasmania. What’s out? San
Pellegrino and Ty Nant, in the pretty blue bottle.
continue to report that there is no evidence to support claims of
mineral water’s curative qualities, or even that drinking a lot of
water is better than drinking a little water. The key to consumption,
according to many specialists, is to vary brands and to drink water at a
regular rate -- whether it’s more or less, lots or little, with or
without food, isn’t as crucial as being consistent in quantities.
Meanwhile the average French person consumes 130 liters
of bottled water per year, double the rate of 15 years ago, and more and
more people are shunning tap water because of concerns about nitrates
and pollutants. Just to be on the safe side, we strolled over to our
Town Mairie to request a tap water analysis, which is available to
all residents and visitors upon request. The report on Uzès’s water is
good, in fact excellent, so we’ll keep water from the faucet in our
bottled water brand to buy?
What benefits are you looking for?
Volvic, Valvert, Aquarel
Women & teens
Vittel, Talians, Quézac, Salvetat
anxiety - magnesium
Badoit, St-Yorré, San Pellegrino
Want to see previous editions of Armchair Uzès? Click
here for a directory...
For the Armchair Photo Gallery, click here...