29 October 2008

Le Bord de la mer

I apologize for the tardiness of this weekend update, but despite vacations and frolicking, I am still a student and I had an essay to write. But now that I’ve caught up with my school work, I’ll take a moment to recount the week-end magnifique that was our excursion to Normandie.

Just like last time: I got up early on a Saturday morning to board the same charter bus with the same conducteur [driver] in order to escape the monotony of Paris in favor of the vast expanses of the French countryside. After a bit of a debacle featuring a late bus and late Smithies – one of whom had a hectic morning, in which she somehow missed her alarm to wake up at 8:15 a.m., 45 minutes after a bus was to leave, and, eventually, took a train to meet up with us later – we were on our way.

Our first stop was Arromanches, a cute little town on the Normandie shore. There, we watched a film which was a composite of journalistic footage of the disembarquement [D-Day landing at Normandy] and modern-day images of the beach and town. The footage was impressive, but the 360-degree format of the “cinéma circulaire” was unnecessarily dizzying.

Afterward, we lunched on the beach which was à la fois [both] beautiful and eerie. The beach featured the vestiges of un pont artificial [temporary bridge] used during the disembarquement as an ever-present reminder of the not-so-eloigned history of the seaside town.

I found the same mixture of unsettling remembrance and seaside revelry at Omaha Beach. The Cimetière américain [American Cemetery] with its vast expanse of over 9,000 white crosses (and Stars of David) marking those American soldiers who died during the invasion of Normandie was impressionnant [impressive, marking] and émouvant [moving]. Even as it made me hate war, it made me proud for the Etats-Unis.

But in the transition of mere moments, the sun was out and the beach called us. We walked down to where the grass met the sand and reveled at the immensity of the ocean, the softness of the sand and our contentedness to be at the beach.

After regretfully leaving the beach, we shifted historical time periods to visit the medieval Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings.

Then, another two-hour bus trip brought us to our hotel where we ate dinner. A mere 15 minutes from Mont-Saint-Michel, the anticipation of the next day gripped us all.

And the abbey on the mount was no let-down. Driving up to it, each glimpse of the immense stone monument rising from the bay was awe-inspiring. As we descended from the bus and started our climb through the village up to the abbey, I was overcome with the surreality of the moment, and the vistas from the top were even more breathtaking. Snapping countless photos that could not possibly capture the beauty of the structure or its views, we took a two-hour tour of the abbey with an amusing – and, as a group of Smith girls would note, attractive – guide. Unfortunately, I don’t think I retained much of what was learned as I was too struck by every architectural detail or glimpse of the sea.

I guess I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised by how much of a tourist trap the whole village has become. Gift shops selling everything from postcards and overpriced trinkets to Mont-Saint-Michel cookies and cider lined the tiny, middle-age streets, and tourists of all nationalities filled the narrow walkways. But I understand the flock because Mont-Saint-Michel is an experience not to be missed.

Another two-hour bus ride passed quickly thanks to sleep, not doing homework and our re-enactments of Titanic and the Little Mermaid.

Our last glimpse of the sea before returning to the City of Light greeted us in Honfleur, an adorable and bustling town located just where the Seine meets la Manche [the English Channel]. Unfortunately, it started raining as we walked the town’s delightful streets. We also didn’t get to go to the art museum that I wanted to visit because it was near closing. We did, however, explore a beautiful church, all in wood, and enjoy a goûter [snack] of dessert crêpes and hot cidre – on Smith! – in an adorable restaurant called La Cidrerie. The restaurant’s Halloween decorations – a rarity in France where Halloween is little celebrated – were a welcoming touch.

With a last glimpse at the lit-up, little town and the sea, we boarded the bus back to Paris, where cold weather and dreary days have greeted us so far this week. At least I have Halloween to look forward to Friday and my Mont-Saint-Michel “Entre Terre et Ciel” poster hanging over my bed to remind me of it all.

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