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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

20 mars 2003
Uzès, France

Mont 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.
    Standing serene and tall off the Atlantic coast between Brittany and Normandy, Mont 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.


Mont Saint-Michel,
described by French writer Guy de Maupassant as
"like an imaginary manor house,
a stupefying dream palace, 
improbably strange and beautiful."



MSMAbbey3.jpg (146475 bytes)

Saint Michael stands high.

The afternoon sun creates a
an eerie shadow on the sand.

Dscn0263.jpg (169531 bytes)

 

     There are in fact two rocky islands in this spot, Mont 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.
     The 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 Fund.
     The 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. 

Mère Poulard: a Mont Saint-Michel institution,
tourist trap, but legendary...

MerePoulard.jpg (90192 bytes)       Dscn0308.jpg (170606 bytes)

...with top secret omelettes, fluffy and delicious.

 

 

Omelette à la Mère Poulard
The legendary Mère Poulard omelette is top secret,
 but here's a recipe that comes pretty close. 

        For 4 people:
        8 eggs
        50 g of butter
        salt and pepper

Separate 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!

 Source : CuisineAZ

 


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 or www.raileurope.com.
     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.

 

 

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The new Avignon TGV station is
big, bright and bold, but...


Water Update II
Eau courant II

To add to a previous piece about bottled waters, 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.
     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.
     Doctors 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 liquid rotation.

 

 

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Which bottled water brand to buy?
What benefits are you looking for?

All-purpose  -  low mineralization
Evian, Volvic, Valvert, Aquarel

Women & teens  -  calcium
Vittel, Talians, Quézac, Salvetat

Fatigue, anxiety  -  magnesium
Hépar, Contrex

Digestion  -  bicarbonates
Badoit, St-Yorré, San Pellegrino

Liver problems -  sodium
Vichy, St-Yorré

 

 

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