(This is a third, more imaginative take of a previous blog post. Historical events here derive more from my own imagination than facts. For more concise, factual information check out my blog post “On the other side of a Different Sea”)
“The Tapestry of History is woven of many threads” - Jacqueline Carey
When we arrive at Mont Saint-Michel, the wind has already blown a light mist out from the distant sea over the surrounding landscape. IES Abroad students climb out of the tour bus onto a wooden bridge that extends from the shore to Mont Saint Michel, ooh-ing and aww-ing over the unusual sight - hundreds of meters of the ocean without water. Blinking slowly in the haze, I peer out from the bridge and watch cloudy forms swirl and twist into different shapes. I lean over the rail, imagining figures in the mist, almost laughing when suddenly everywhere around us, left and right of the bridge, hundreds of groups of people appear from the clouds, traveling out over the barren landscape - some by horse-drawn carriages, others by foot. Though the mist swirls in front of their gaze I can tell the focus of all their attention through the tilt of their heads - pointing upwards to the spire Mont Saint Michel, where at the top a golden statue of Saint-Michael rests with his scale, ready to weigh their souls.
Pilgrims, I think. They are the pilgrims. Here is where many decades of pilgrimages crossed the last leg of their hard journeys - all connected through time by the same ancient sands.
A horrible, guttural cry suddenly begins behind me, spreading high-pitched despair across the silent lands, upsetting the misty pilgrims into shimmery clouds. I whip around and run to the other side of the bridge. There - just meters away lies half of a cloudy horse poking up out of the grey grounds. Its front legs flailing in the surrounding sand, drawing deep crevices that hidden water from underground reserves trickled into, revealing itself.
“Do NOT go walking on the sands.” Our director had reminded us before stepping off the bus. “Mont Saint Michel is surrounded by quicksand.”
What I had first thought of as cool now seemed sinister. To traveling pilgrims, the dangers posed by the quicksand and the beach’s fast incoming tide made the act of pilgrimage and the victory of reaching Mont Saint Michel a miraculous experience.
Unable to voluntarily watch the scene play out, I turned back towards the group of IES Abroad students. Together, we made our trek to the abbey, our footsteps resounding safely against the firm planks. Behind me, the ghosted figures dissolved once more into misty particles.
For the next couple of hours, I could not escape the misty whispers of history that echoed throughout the abbey’s chambers. For this reason, I walked slowly trying to take in all that I could, while my friends, thinking I was in serious danger of falling asleep, continued to drag me along with them.
Upon walking into the cloister however, my eyes widened with clarity. Wind blowing down from the open-roof pushed the mist away and seemed to lift the pointed side-arches up towards the heavens. At the center, sunlight shone down onto a green grassy garden, illuminating the space. As we walked around, the wind seemed to carry images of countless monks bowing silently, respectfully, all around us, as still and straight as the columns amidst them. When we left the cloister, they were still there - silent prayers circling forever up with the wind.
The next thing that catches my eye is a cannon. Old and rusted, it sits in a corner along the inside of the ramparts. At first, I noticed nothing remarkable about it other than its size - being raised up above the ground several meters, its open black canon-hole is level with my head. As I approach, alone, a low drumming sound slowly grows until it rolls out of the canon-hole like thunderclaps. The black abyss leaks small tendrils of mist and a salty sea breeze. I smile, well acquainted by now with the process. Bracing myself for what’s to come, I look into the black hole, peering further and further, the booming roar now almost deafening, until…
BOOOMMMMM - a blast of the misty air slams into my face, pushing me back towards the… sand? I feel its gritty texture underneath my winter coat and clumped in my tensed fists as I push myself back up off the ground. Sure enough, I’m back on the desert-breach, but this time there is no wooden bridge to be seen. Instead, I’m surrounded by what seems to be a large army - troops rush back and forth around me between lines of ready cannons as missiles shower down from the ramparts looming above.
Someone yells in a raspy, desperate voice just behind me - “FIRE!”
I throw myself back down to the sand just in time for the cannon behind me to send its huge concrete ball up and over my head - it crashes into the rampart walls, barely making a dent. Soon after, countless more cannonballs fallow suite - all damaging but none penetrating the thick cobblestone fortifications. I watch all of this from the sand - mind racing, trying to figure out how I managed to get on the wrong side of this battle. Then, suddenly, I become aware that the sand below me has begun to feel a little damp. At first, I panicked - no, please, not quicksand! But no - all around the battlefield, water seems to grow out of the sands - creating small streams that course quickly across the desert.
“IT’S THE TIDE!” Someone shouts amidst the chaos and, all at once, everything falls apart. Canons stop firing and retreat - people and horses alike run away from the growing rivers. Realizing the danger, I join them, but my feet become harder and harder to lift out of the shifting sand…falling behind, my pace eventually slows...
Bonk. I walk right into the wall next to the cannon on the inside of the ramparts. Embarrassed, I rub my head and look around me, making sure no one from IES Abroad was around to see that and deciding to get some good zzz’s later on the returning bus ride to Nantes. It had been a long day.
But first, I read the plaque next to the canon… It turns out the canon was an English canon. Abandoned to the abbey after decades of siege by the English during the hundred years war.
On the returning bus ride, I slept sound dreams filled with stormy seas - images from the past flashing in my imagination through a misty haze.
More Blogs From This Author
<p>My name is Miah Chu Won Tapper. I come from a large family with two younger brothers and three younger step-siblings, whom I live with on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve always had a passion for traveling but until now I’ve only traveled the world in books. As a French major, I’m so excited to be able to continue the adventure in Nantes, France. </p>