Of course I did. What better way to explore the small beach town than with friends who knew their way around?
“Yes!” I told my cluster of new friends, and less than 24 hours later, we were riding, five bodies in a small sedan, on our way to St. Malo. The hour drive passed easy, minutes melting away through the countryside until we arrived at the imposing fortress flooded with tourists and weekenders.
The gray stone stacked tall around the central part of the town where obvious vendors and small shops eyed us from street-level glass.
Ice cream was our first objective, and after the cramped ride, I needed it. My companions built a particular ice cream shop, Sanchez L’Artisan Glacier, to be the best in France, and it did not disappoint.
Flavors monopolized two showcase freezers, and each rectangle of ice cream was garnished like a cold cake. There were too many choices, but my allergy to chocolate helped me narrow it down. I decided on hazelnut and pecan, two scoops exchanged for the red token given to me at the register.
One lick & you open
begin your drip down
& stick to the skin like summer.
I have to keep eating
to stop you from falling apart
all over me & I can’t tell
if you are the real thing.
Not yet. But
there is more to you than I thought
more layers I dissolve so easy,
so sweet. But again,
are these all artificial flavors?
A trick of aspartame or fructose,
but maybe you are really sweet.
Real. Cane sugar in a cup.
Right now, I don’t care.
We play our game
hot & cold & as we kiss I know
you will only reveal the truth
if it hurts
after you are gone.
Five cones and ten scoops came with us on our descent from steep steps to the sand. I breathed in ocean air, and my cone dripped onto the space between my feet.
The breeze, so fresh. So salty and familiar. Yet, I have never been to this side of the sea. I grew up worlds away, numbing my toes in the cool waves of the Pacific. But now I know the Atlantic stings the same ring around ankles as you wade in its waters.
When I asked if sharks ever came close to shore, my friends laughed. “No, what are you talking about? There are no sharks.”
They said it so simply, but my mind was blown. An ocean without sharks? I didn’t know it was possible, but I guess in France, anything is possible.
The shallow water pulled away with the tide as we walked with bare feet on wet sand until we reached the Grand Be island just yards away from St. Malo’s former fortress.
At the top of the island’s rocky swell lies the famous French writer, Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, buried in 1848. It is rumored that decades after he was laid to rest facing the sea, as per his wishes, an unorthodox and revolutionary thinker peed over his grave. This was an act that he intended to reclaim the serene plot Chateaubriand was allowed by his family’s wealth.
Besides a history of desecration between activists and aristocrats, St. Malo claims a rich backstory of intertwined pirates and royalty. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the city’s stronghold was home to privateers. These pirates had an arrangement with the king where they would share a portion of their spoils in exchange for immunity for their methods of obtaining this treasure.
This alliance proved violent for more than the ships they attacked for treasure, as the privateers used their position to prompt more destruction of foreign ships for the purpose of fighting in France’s race war that lasted until April 6th,1856.
The Saints of Malo
surround me with stone & mortar
and I will hold you.
soft & strong
we can watch centuries of ships
come & go through our open arms.
the arms that can shut & lock
if we decide they don’t have the right.
we can take then,
take everything below deck worth coin,
her virtue, or her life.
whichever is worth more.
and while we do this, they can dance.
they, the Maloins, they can wander & think
of all other things.
like the beauty of the sea,
the strange color red that washes to shore,
or thoughts beyond the grave.
they can write & ponder & prosper,
as we protect their fragile feather quills
that write with a softness only our waves possess.
one may rise, grow notoriety above the rest
until he claims earth,
or sand, just there- just through the window
just beyond the shore.
he can declare our sea view his, for eternity.
& while he is lowered into our mother,
we stay eternal, holding all these centuries together.
we still smell the salt air,
resist its waved erosion,
& remember when we used to be pirates.
Wiping sand off with socks and stepping slightly soggy in our shoes, we made ourselves appropriate for La Java Cafe. My friends called it “doll bar,” and by the time we made it inside, I saw it could go by no other name. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, were eyes. Open and staring into our souls from round heads attached to limp bodies of all sizes. Doll bar.
I tried to break eye contact as we looked over the menu and placed our order of juice and soda. The doll’s tiny hands prickled my spine as they watched us. Dainty braids and curled locks were woven too real around painted features that coated their heads in faces. There is no word but creepy.
After we were sufficiently creeped out and had sunk our drinks, it was time to take to the sea again. This time with borrowed swimsuits and high hopes that the water wouldn’t chill us to the bone.
We made our way through an almost-ghost town and found another set of stairs leading to an empty beach.
There was nothing left to do but run, and we did. Three out of five of us flailing towards icy waves and convincing ourselves to plunge all the way into its depths.
I felt the water’s resistance around my waist but pushed forward anyways, feet against sand, and accepted the swell that grew to my shoulders.
The last time I felt this same numbness was before I left everything behind. My sister and childhood neighbors walked with me into the San Diego coast, we felt our skin slowly shrivel as our limbs settled into numbness and our minds forcefully forgot the cold.
Now I am numb with people I’ve just met. Diving head-first into coasts I never have before. Speaking words I am on my way to knowing. And despite my body, I feel everything.