The Winds of Time (Part Two)

Miah Tapper
December 9, 2019

(This is a second, 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”)

“Those who don’t know about history are destined to repeat it.” - Edmund Burke

After lunch, stomachs full of salty sweetness, we spend some time walking around the town - wandering into nearby souvenir shops and admiring the earthen-toned bricks of the buildings. Their colors contrast against the pale white sky in an aesthetically pleasing way that makes me think the city was built for cloudy, dark winter days like today. 

Unfortunately, the warm-colored bricks provide no actual warmth for my gloveless hands. I keep them firmly in my pockets, trying to ignore the fact that they’ve turned a slight shade of purple (note: when on a winter trip to Saint-Malo, bring gloves). In front of me, my friends chat about the upcoming pressure to purchase Christmas presents for family. All the postcards to buy…space in suitcases…and frustrating expiration dates…At the end of the semester, there is a lot to think about. However, I soon find my attention detaching a bit from their conversation…noticing instead the light wind breathing whispers around the back of my neck - where it touches, light goosebumps form and I found myself shivering - not because of the cold this time, but rather a sharp emotion that has sparked within me, growing bigger as the wind whistles sounds of crashing waves louder and louder - fear. Fear is all around me - shivering in the air and filling the shadows under the canopies. I turn around, eyes wide, and behold - there in the dark entrance of a nearby alleyway creeps a low blanket of mist. As I watch, it slowly spreads out over the cobblestone of the main road, washing my feet with white. Its touch is warm. Unable to resist my curiosity, I approach the alleyway, shivering increasingly with apprehension. 

Once I’m in the shadows of the alley, the mist grows darker shades of grey and black. An unwelcome smell reaches my nose and I reel backward...into more fog. I take my hands out of my pockets - they are burning in the rising surrounding temperatures, and burst into a fit of coughing - the mist has turned to smoke. When I recover from this, lifting my head, I finally see the source of the thick black air. Tall, raging columns of flames rise from a building at the end of the alley. Gasping, I sprint away and burst out of the cloudy smoke into the slightly clearer street. Still, the air increasingly darkens out the overhanging sun. Instead, I see by the flickering light of the bright fires licking up from several buildings all around me as I streak down the streets, trying to dismiss the loud bangs I hear rebounding off nearby walls, the shouts of surrounding men, and the loud zooming of planes overhead as a terrible nightmare… 

WHY did I stay up so late last night???

As I run, the lovely buildings of Saint-Malo evaporate in front of my eyes, rising up with the smoke - replaced by nothing but charred ash. By the time I reach the ramparts there is not much left of the city to burn. Awe-struck, I stand there, panting the now misty air as the last traces of smoke are transformed back into the innocent white fog. All around me, there is destruction. No one remains, having fled the city.

Wait, how do I know that?

Typed words slowly appear in the mist in front of me, like a memory - I see the same words that I had read on my computer screen the night before. They recount the history of Saint-Malo during World War Two when the entire city was destroyed by allied bombs during its German occupation. A short truce had been declared, allowing french civilians to leave the city.

So I stand, awestruck with the understanding of having witnessed a figment of this terrible history. Warfare is something I’ll never understand - the sacrifice, the loss, is all heartbreaking. By imagining it in this way, maybe I try to attempt the important job of not forgetting. While I walk around Saint-Malo in the present, I want to remember and respect those in the past. 

And suddenly, there they are. The people of Saint-Malo - strong seafaring women and men, wives and husbands, sisters and brothers, rising out of the mist. Though their faces are obscured, I feel their presence intensely. They stand solemnly, reverently, amidst the ruins.

Then, the winds of time begin to blow quicker across the years - twelve of them to be exact - until all the people begin to zip and zap in front of me in blurs as if someone hit the fast forward button three times. I watch as generations of families recreate businesses from the ashes, cart new stones in from faraway places for the walls, and stand on tall scaffolding to hammer roofs onto newly finished buildings. A gust of wind stronger than any before announces the end of the work, dissolving the figures all at once while moving the last of the mist back up and over the ramparts, outwards towards the sea. And once again there lies the Saint-Malo of the present - safe, intact, - its own strength is drawn from the ability of those in the past to overcome. 

And there are my friends - waving at me from a distant corner. As I join them, I’m unable to express what just happened - feeling like I’ve studied abroad a little “further” than normal. Though, looking back, I should have expected it. In a town with so much history - every brick of every building is a plane ticket to a different time. By touching their surface, I feel for a fraction of a second a connection with those hands that placed them there so many years ago. 

Speaking of time…I check the watch on my phone - it’s time to head back to the bus! Together, my friends and I run towards the gathering IES Abroad group, exchanging exclamations about the beauty of the town and excitement for what’s next; we’re off to Saint Mont-Michel!

 

Follow Miah's story by reading Part One and Part Three.

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Miah Tapper

<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.&nbsp;</p>

Home university:
Kenyon College
Hometown:
Kailua, HI
Major:
French Language
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