I think about Maleficent’s thorny throne, Phillip chopping through hardened stems, severing rose bud necks, and drawing shallow red rivulets over his cheek, but as we conquer these steep steps, it is clear that here, the vines are nuns and monks, rose buds are stone busts, and their thorns are Christian judgment.
Le Mont St. Michel stands impressive and imposing. Man’s stone on nature’s rock, here, predates the middle ages. It is said that in 708, Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built the first religious sanctuary on the former Mont Tombe.
Ever the saint, he believed that this vision did not come from his mind but from a divine decree, and he was simply fulfilling the wishes of the archangel Michael. Saint Aubert claimed the angel had appeared to him thrice in his dreams, enlightening him to Mont Tombe’s future. This initial sanctuary remained atop the rock for over 200 years until a community of Benedicts built its first church in 966.
It was in the 10th century that construction began on the still-standing abbey of Mont St. Michel, but this period of construction was not completed until the 19th century. Over its 1300 years of history, St. Michel endured the passage of religious pilgrims, a long stint as a prison, an impregnable fortress during France’s Hundred Years War with England, and a return to its initial purpose as an Abbey.
Though Le Mont has held fast to its French authority throughout these conflicts, discourse remains as to which region Le Mont belongs to. Situated between the border of Normandy and Brittany, the island technically lies within Normandy’s domain, but that does not stop Brittany loyals from claiming the island.
What they are having.
I’ll take a toke,
a drink or a puff,
a bump or a smoke.
What is it this time?
What Gods live here?
Are we visiting or being visited
by the angels that lie between tabs of acid?
They must be real
if we can see them in mushroom meals
or drink them in the nature of peyote.
Should we tell them? The others? The ones who believe us?
Or should we keep this divinity for ourselves?
Roll Jesus in a joint and tell them what we remember.
Crush Abraham with the flat of our fist,
he coats our nostrils with his heavenly fire.
I won’t tell, as long as you give me a line.
They can think angels live in the sky,
and we can sit in chapel circles,
passing our God,
telling each other what we see,
denying the reality of darkness,
and calming overdoses of thought with stories.
Bundled in borrowed green and crocheted yellow, I wove my gaze between bus seats as Le Mont St. Michel came into view. Pointed, the Abbey invites the imagination to see stone join sky as the steeple pierces the clouds.
Our first order of business, braving the chill that exits the bus, was lunch. We followed the upward trend of foot traffic, the path that passed gift shops and tourist traps between overpriced restaurants.
After passing on a few 36 euro meals, we found a cute creperie with everything we needed.
The small eatery, Le Chapeau Rouge, fell back from the street and the tight-knit tables allowed for only a narrow squeeze to our corner.
Filling into our seats, it wasn’t long before we were ordering galettes complet to quell the rumble of our hunger. Ham, egg, and rye crepe came quickly, and we ate just as fast, ordering a second crepe for dessert. These crepes au citron shortly followed, and we rolled the bittersweet lemon over our tongues.
the french word for fold is plier.
like a ballerina
they make halves.
gentle fingers crease gentler messages,
papers plie for their envelopes
& flattened batter folds around a metal spatula
i try to bend with this elegance too,
but my hands don’t move with the same grace.
mine graze over sloping beauty
cursive intentions crease pages with an alibi.
my body curls in on itself,
in a c, not a plie,
& all these french faces know
i am not one of their own.
Braving the sea-breeze outside of the creperie, we renewed our hike to the Abbey carved into the mount of Mont St. Michel. Staccato steps faltered over cracks and traipsed through the stoney wonderland of souvenir shops and medieval tourist traps.
Joan, the one of the Arc, stands as a statue halfway up the island in all her romantic and religious armor.
The sole woman among thousands of men, immortalized in this same fashion. The only indication of her feminine figure was the two rounded plates bonded to her chest plate.
Gift shops boast this same Joan in plastic figurines for children, but most flock to the crowded walls of synthetic swords and painted gold shields. Toddlers point with sticky fingers, and parents fall prey to the out-of-town prices.
At last, through the sea of open doors, we reached the Abbey in all its gray and godly glory.
I expected this catholic monument to come colorful and adorned in stained glass light and devoted strokes of paint. St. Michel did not deliver on this front, but as we followed the preconceived order of rooms, I was overwhelmed by the dull gray of its stone. It was rare for color to peak through rudimentary windows, and the bleak ceilings hung heavy without the lift of paint.
The immense building, anywhere else, would be a complete disappointment. Its size and echoed halls are nothing without its perfect placement on the mont’s original rock.
That is the point.
Constructed under the supervision of monks and nuns of the Catholic faith, the abbey lets the island’s natural beauty speak for itself. Unadorned windows are blown open by the ocean’s breath, the payoff of seemingly endless steps and steep cliffs.
Our legs continued to climb, pulling muscle tight with each step and loose behind our eyes as we adjusted to this brand of beauty. Sand, tan and damp, extends infinitely from the circumference of the mont. Waves kiss this intersection and draw their body back out to sea.
Close your eyes and breathe salt, learn what beauty can exist behind shut lids, and smell the simplicity of what the monks call “god’s work.”