Copyright 2014 by Jack A. Urquhart
October 21, 2014: In the front seat of our rented Peugeot 308, my spouse Raymond and our French friend Véronique, joust and parry verbally (good naturedly, of course!) like an old married couple. Their topics range all over the map: the meaning of French road signs, what constitutes excessive speed from country to country, the nation with the best highway rest areas, not to mention whether or no our British-accented TomTom has accurately plotted “la bonne GPS route” to our latest destination.
We are on the road again, this time to Le Mont Saint-Michel in Normandie. It will be a first visit for us all, and we are eager to set foot on that magnificent ancient rock — home to a monastery since the eighth century — improbably plopped in its namesake baie. A baie, which btw, boasts Europe’s highest and fastest rising tides, often 12 to 14 meters; tides famous for galloping landward at thoroughbred speeds (and woe to anyone foolish enough to have ventured onto the mudflats at the wrong hour). But first we must navigate the appallingly narrow country roads our TomTom has plotted to the Gîte where we will pass the first night of our journey.
In truth, I do not exaggerate my adjectives in describing the perils and/or the charms of our present route. Though scenic, the roads allow barely enough room for one small Peugeot let alone two modestly-sized automobiles to pass — much less the breathtakingly (and I mean that literally) massive farm machinery we repeatedly encounter. Yet in between these alarums, the wondrous French countryside rolls out around us: hills and dales, hemmed in hedgerows and decked in varying shades of Emerald-City green; meadows spotted with herds of les vaches, noires et blanches, lolling like clumps of dotted-Swiss; with sheep, their gnarled unshorn skeins the color of the parched corn stalks that stand everywhere in fields awaiting harvest. There are forests too, little patchwork affairs quilted haphazardly into the interstices in shades of copper, crimson and yellow-gold. In fact, there is so much beauty one hardly knows where to let the eyes linger (much less where to aim the camera).
Hours pass in this manner, until finally TomTom, guiding us with crisp British efficiency like little children (“in four-hundred meters bear right through the round-about, second exit, then, take the right of way”) down a score of winding, narrow farm paths brings us safely to the Gîte that will be our home base for the next two nights. We arrive at dusk and discover a miniature paradise: stone cottages surrounded by still verdant gardens, a little kingdom hidden behind hedgerow ramparts — a place of such charm that it warrants its own post. But that pleasant task will have to wait till later. For now, it is the charms of a late supper, a hot shower, and beddy-bye that beckon more insistently. Sleep, perchance to dream of ancient island-walled cities encircled with turrets, crowned in Romanesque spires. Une île pas comme les autres; une île entre ciel et mer.
Alors, jusqu’à demain …