17 June 2009

2006: St Malo

17 June

A roadtrip is in order, as the weather has broken for the better today. It has been requested I pick up a certain item from a town located about 100 miles east of the apartment.

St Malo is easily reached, and my first impression of the city is a poor one. Though there is a pair of digital signs at the southern entrance to town that say "Welcome to St Malo" in three languages, I'm almost immediately of the opinion this is a tourist trap of the highest magnitude. My early opinion is shot dead when I discover there are two parts, and what I want is about 10 minutes further.

The old town is located within magnificent ramparts, and entered through three narrow gates north, east, and south. To the east lies the marina, the north the English Channel, and to the west is the remains of the River Rance as it enters the Channel. Within the walls are everything you could imagine inside a walled medieval city, from sex to retail, religion, trade, schools, neighbourhood squares, restaurants, parks and beaches, and apartments by the hundreds.

One of the first items for business: walk the city wall, to get a feel for the size of the city, and what it considers important.

I start with a cool breeze from the Channel, and by the end, I'm sweating up a storm. Someone has turned up the thermostat, and turned down the fan, then decided a bit of humidity would be welcome.

However, what was discovered: Notre-Dame de la Grand Porte Cathédrale is an excellent way to beat the heat. Vaulted ceilings, heavily-remodeled, renovated, and added to over the centuries. One of the first things you notice is the church is not built "straight". I've seen this before (if memory serves, either Canterbury or the York Minster in the UK has a silly reason for altar non-linearity), but it gets your attention.

The church was almost mortally-wounded in World War II during the town's liberation by the Allies in August 1944. Though much has been completely-rebuilt, I'm not sure why those doing the work decided on doing so so obviously off the straight and narrow...

Rambling through ANY old town is always quite a treat for me; It is the manner in which I embrace history, find the unexpected and unusual. In St Malo, it is how you discover sex shoppes near the city market, locate little neighbourhood parks, listen to very good gypsy music while eating a very good chicken sandwich in one of the central squares. And, if you allow your psyche to become one with the town, kismet joins you in wandering through the southern gate in time to enjoy several games of petanque being played by the locals.

The Old Town of St Malo is one I will return to as often as I can. It is simply marvelous.

Oh, and on the drive home, I found my first French windmill. I'm afraid I can't tell you much about it, as there was not a whit of information near the Windmill itself. However, it is in fine condition, stands proudly over the town of Lancieux here:

[ 2009: Two things come to mind, these years later: the traffic, as seen two photos above, could be horrendous. Somehow, it all worked out, though I have to wonder how.

Secondly, I didn't notice until I pulled out the next-to-last photo here: how would you like to own one of these homes on the edge of the Old City,

* where the first floor windows look out onto a walled, tiny and narrow street, full of parked cars and gazing tourists,

* where the second floor Mostly looks at the wall (and more gazing tourists, this time on the ramparts),

* where you need to climb to or above the third floor before you see what is beyond... Life in a tourist's fishbowl. ]

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