A Day of Joy in France

An intrepid five left a Saturday’s work at Run and Become in Wales to sail for adventure in France. Welsh towns of Casnewydd and Caerleon gave way to the English Fontmell Magna and Upton Scudamore. They in turn would give way to the more melodious Avranches and Montsurvent, but not before a night on the waves. Soon all were rocked asleep in cosy cabins as our ship staggered in slow motion across the channel. We arose to (compulsory) Grieg and Tchaikovsky piped gently through the tannoy. Coupled with a distinct lack of outer stillness, the music created an unusual backdrop to meditation. Time then to enjoy a fresh pastry as the fresh morning moon blessed the waves.

Puffs of snow rushed through a frozen Normandy. Stocky grey churches squatted in bleak fields while shuttered towns stayed tucked up asleep. The first sign of habitation scuttled across the road from a boulangerie, with a white apron and a huge loaf under one arm, head bent against the wind. The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel rises elegantly from vast tracts of water and quicksand. If you saw it on film you would be sure it was computer-generated. Those who read Rowling will picture it easily as a miniature Hogwarts clinging to a sea-bound rock. Inside the enormous rusted gates is a real-life Diagon Alley, selling replica swords and Bretagne striped shirts instead of broomsticks and robes. Smells of wood-burning fires tangle with the enticing aromas of baking. The cobbled street climbs politely between the timber-clad buildings, each with unique character. Our 75 friends were already dotted around the abbey and shops. Wherever we looked, a familiar face peeped out, hands waved from balconies and windows, and we were awash with smiles for those we know and love but rarely see. Amidst days of grey and snow came one of those distilled mornings that make the sky look enhanced beyond a natural blue. The golden warmth of the location seemed to cancel out the fierceness of the elements. A pilgrimage destination and place of spiritual practice for over 1000 years is bound to exude a peace and satisfaction of its own. Vastness, vastness, vastness, and clarity, spread out from every aspect. Saint Michel himself glistens in gold as the highest pinnacle of the highest tower, where golden-green lichen drapes itself liberally over grey stone. I envied the statue’s vantage, and that of the gulls scooping over the sea beneath the lofty cloisters. Coffee and crêpes beckoned most of us in from the cold at some point. Time for a chat in cosiness. More time to chat came later over lunch, and more time for me to discover once again that my schoolgirl French has all but rusted away. We all shared the common language of meditation though, first while watching films of Sri Chinmoy painting in China. I could have watched for a long time the fat, soft brushes dancing and gliding over the paper as birds and cascades of colour sprang to life. After silent meditation and singing we watched two very sweet plays. Some went exploring then. I don’t know what they all got up to. The rest watched an hour-long video of a play performed for Sri Chinmoy in China recently. A simple one-line joke was brilliantly spun into an illumining, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining performance, which delighted us all. Most of those bound for Scotland, England, and parts of France had to leave. The rest, mostly from Wales and Ireland, split into two groups to explore a nearby town. Bright grey Brittany stone forms ramparts butting against the terraces and tenements of Saint Malo. The masts of yachts sang in the brisk sea air, and it was bitterly cold. Yes, yes, more crêpes, more coffee! It’s all too good to leave behind. Amongst streets and streets of inviting crêperies and cafés, our group was drawn to one, where we were led to the second floor for a table. There we found a room empty of customers except for the group we had split up from. Incroyable! It seems we were destined to stay together until the very last minute after all! One more night on the sea, one more morning of Grieg and Tchaikovsky, and it was back to Run and Become. The world seems smaller and cosier for our short but bountiful trip; lungs full of sea air, eyes full of beauty and vastness, and hearts warmed by friendship.

Sumangali MorhallFebruary 2005

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