14 July 2009

2006: Bastille Day

14 July

Johan has been delivered safely and efficiently to Leuven. After a very long drive, I find myself in Chartres this morning. It has been a while since I've been awed by the size of a church. However, Chartres comes pretty darn close. When you can easily see the church (and nothing else of the town) from over 7 miles away, that's pretty impressive. And inside, so many things to see.

# Coincidentally, I've recently read two books that describe the Labyrinth
located within the nave. Nothing quite prepares you, though; it's one thing to read about, quite another to watch pilgrims walk its path. Admittedly, I was tempted.

# Numerous side chapels, some with their own individual stained glass "stories". I think someone once said stained glass was the Middle Age equivalent of the cartoon

# Numerous Rose Windows. Most churches have one. Chartres has several

# On the horseshoe-shaped outer wall of the Chapelle du Saint-Sacrement are incredible carvings detailing a storyline probably available at the gift shoppe in a variety of trinkets and books, as well as the internet itself. My fault; I failed to pick up documentation to augment the tale here. However, among the more interesting is a man on horseback,
surrounded by what appear to be peasants, and two headless religious leaders, one on either side. Headless Guy Stage Right may have lost his head due to erosion, age, accident, etc, but Headless Guy Stage Left is this way by design. It has been suggested by a friend in Buenos Aires this may be Saint Denis, beheaded for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, and he seems always to be portrayed quite calmly holding his mitred head in his hands as if it were a perfectly-normal "thing".

Two hours or so west of Chartres, and the landscape is sunflowers...

Another two hours on, and the town of Domfront on the N176 has been left behind. While the heat isn't horrible, the humidity has become North Carolina in August. I'm looking for a reason to stop and what I find is much humbler than Chartres, but at least as human in its way:
The lighting would have been perfect very early in the morning, but you have to admit it's not too bad now... Mortared stone out-buildings, slate roofs, timbered framing, and even though there is more than a little wear and tear, it feels like these buildings have been loved since day one.

The heat and humidity calm down a bit as the car and its inhabitant get closer to the English Channel, and the two-hour theme continues as Mont Saint-Michel appears. This is the first time I've actually encountered the prophesied summer crowd, and it's impressive. Land yachts and tourist buses everywhere, hundreds of cars parked legal and not, and people walking or rolling slowly away from the tourist trap towards the medieval town.

This is one location I'd love to spend a few days given its apparent size. I'd probably want to come on the off-season, when May or mid-September should be perfect for weather and crowds. I will try not to think about the fact I was here in May this year and didn't visit...

Oh, and today is Bastille Day. It's been interesting finding open petrol stations, markets, restaurants, and hotels while tooling around the backroads of rural France.

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