“today the sea does not cover this car park”

The long crossing wasn’t bad, all things considered – “all things” being five people in a cabin for four, a cramped, rather smelly affair the size of a portaloo. We woke and went up on deck, watching a spring sun dawn over St. Malo, its fortifications standing out among the rocks at low tide.

While the cruel, twisted Continental custom of driving on the right I can comprehend if not understand, French signing conventions truly befuddle me. “All directions,” to start with. But we were off the main roads soon enough, with their dextrous traffic and strange French existential limbo, and drove west along the polder coast. On the way we encountered a yard lined with a few dozen large, flat-bottomed wheeled ships. Ships with wheels, not entirely unlike the ones I’ve been writing weird far-future science fiction about. Wha? I think they’re for oyster farming, which would make sense in the huge tidal mud flats thereabouts. Got out and took pictures (still need to find something decent to host them), and already we could see Mont-St-Michel looming on the horizon, a sculpted grey mountain in the coastal haze.

Stopped at a car park out on the causeway, lined with Frenchmen and signs assuring us that our car would not become another wheeled boat, and found a gatehouse and, beyond it, a place to breakfast. The food was both expensive and delicious, a taste (har) of things to come; the prices would have been barely reasonable it if the euro had been 60p, and with near parity with the pathetic pound felt something like being skinned alive. But I wasn’t paying for it, so no worries.

We ate our murderously expensive baguettes and pastries and watched the forklifts trundle up and down the narrow cobbled street. The lower level of Mont-St-Michel curls around like the shell of an ammonite, hemmed in by ancient stone shopfronts, and at the water-gate is already too narrow for most vehicles; supplies are brought in by little forklift trucks, whose forks scrape against the cobbles in a most distracting fashion. Then we hunted, and the thing I thought was an incline plain was an incline plain; the whole abbey, built up over centuries, recalls that same ammonite metaphor, new chambers built on as the creature within grew. The tourist path winds confusingly back and forth through the abbey to show you everything, giving an impression of a place somehow sprawling and compact at the same time.

The views were amazing.

Then a day driving south, through neat French farmland scattered with neat French farms, to a little house on an asparagus field and dinner with friends.


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