Mont-St-Michel

April 21, 2013

Mont-St-Michel

Mont-St-Michel is an occasional island in Normandy, France that is so stunning it’s worth battling the hordes inching their way up the Grand Rue to reach La Merveille (“the miracle”). The three tiers of thirteenth century buildings surrounding an abbey topped with a golden statue of Saint Michael, his posture combative, are indeed a marvel and a vision of strength and simplicity.

crowded Grand Rue

In summer, the Mont is crowded with tourists arriving by bus or car before making their way across the ramparts to clog the streets on their slow journey up to the abbey, whose spire dramatically crowns the Mont.

Hotel Croix Blanche

A cacophony of voices in innumerable languages mingle their way up and up. “Doucement, doucement,” French mothers advise small children and they climb the old stone steps: softly, softly.

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The Abbey moves closer into view.

from the abbey at Mont-St-MichelAlong the way are glimpses are calm, stark beauty.

abbey at Mont-St-MichelFinally, the abbey. The Eglise Abbatiale doesn’t impress with ornate stained glass or artwork. In fact, it is surprisingly sparse and simple and quiet and, like a sudden silence after constant, unrelenting noise it calls the pilgrim to attention and contemplation.

cloisters at Mont-St-Michel

The cloisters provide another opportunity for contemplation, and a welcome bit of green: lush life among all the stone and sand.

from the abbey on Mont-St-Michel Pilgrims, having earned a rest, gaze out at the bay and the ocean beyond.

evening at Mont-St-MichelAs darkness falls the Grand Rue slowly empties, the tourists retreating. Those who remain are treated to the magic of a medieval monument, a wonder, a miracle.

We stayed on the Mont, at the Hotel Croix Blanche, in August. The Mont was heavily, heavily touristed at that point, and our stay was only bearable because we had the Mont nearly to ourselves after dark. In the early morning, we again climbed up to the abbey, this time by ourselves, lingering at the bay views and admiring the tiny, winding streets.

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monp (3) Cemeteries are filled with dramas and tragedies, but mostly love stories. 

monp (5)On a sunny summer’s day at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, the memorials are evocative and only a little melancholy.  Two hands gently intertwine around a cross, fingers barely brushing. monp (7)Sun spills in through the treetops onto the neatly ordered, wide allées.  monp (10)A testament to the pain of crushing grief and sorrow is beautiful in its own right…

monp (9)…as is an image of soaring hope.


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During short winter days, when the sun shines weakly, Paris is all soft grays and pastels.

DSCN4274There’s a haze and hush in the air, and a chill…

DSCN4289…but that doesn’t deter a game of boules in Montmartre.

DSCN4446There’s a particular beauty to Paris when it shivers.

Never assume

January 12, 2013

Puppy in Kathmandu, Nepal

Matt and I perused shops in Thamel, the tourist haven of Kathmandu, looking for jewelry, scarves, and other items easily transported home as souvenirs for family and friends. We popped into a shop loaded with soft, cashmere wraps and scarves, looking for something suitable for Matt’s mom. The Nepalese teenager running the store eyed us curiously. His style could have competed with the hippest European or North American kid, but he had none of the attitude. Instead, he struck up a conversation, asking us about ourselves: where were we from? Were we married?

His attention shifted to Matt.

“Why did you get married?” he asked with a small, curious smile.

Bemused, Matt replied that he’d been in love. The boy, seeming satisfied to have received the answer he’d anticipated, confessed that he, too, was in love. His parents wouldn’t approve, because he was young (15), but it was true love. She, after all, loved him back.

The whole time we were in Asia I couldn’t help but compare and contrast and wonder and marvel and assume. Americans and Indians and Nepalese lived such different lives, I’d decided. After all, how many of the people we met got to indulge in a passion as costly as traveling, for leisure, across oceans and continents? Very few. Most Nepalese people we’d met had not traveled further than India. And yet you saw the stamp of the West on the clothes they wore, the advertisements they saw, and the television they watched. Bollywood films set in Switzerland played constantly on tv, Coke ads popped up in the tiniest towns on the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepalese kids and young adults wore polo shirts and jeans and cool sneakers. In an odd reversal, Western tourists mimicked what they assumed would be the Eastern style: linen shirts and wide, baggy genie pants, scarves, nose-rings and bindis.

And yet in the end, there we were, talking to some teenage kid about the most important thing on his mind: his love life. I can’t say that no matter what our background or nationality or race or religion we’re really all the same, because we aren’t. People are shaped by their environment, their religious beliefs, their opportunities or lack of opportunities. But the same things often do occupy the same space in our thoughts. We share the same needs, perhaps to differing degrees.

The one thing I did learn, and continue to learn, is not to assume anything. Not even about teenagers.