Nighttime at Mont St. Michel

We may be semi-permanent travelers now, but we don’t like huge masses of tourists and avoid hot spots as much as possible. We can't help it. Our introverted nature means we seek tranquility, even when visiting a place like Mont-St-Michel. Which is why The Mount is such an ideal hangout for us … between 8pm and 8am.

After our first-daytime-experience, we could hardly wait to return for a nighttime visit. Le Mont St. Michel is an actual commune or village. There is a fireman, a mayor, a post office, clergy, a farmer, a fisherman, and a few police officers, and unlike what you might think, there are no opening or closing hours to the fortified village. Only businesses have operating hours, as does the abbey.

It speaks for itself that respect is of the utmost importance when doing that. Around 40 people  live there permanently, and there are a number of hotels as well.

Having carte blanche to explore to our heart’s content, where the possibility of a door left unlocked always exists and always drives us further, is kind of the way I expect an amusement park to make me feel … only it has never succeeded.

We made for the abbey not expecting it to be open, starting the ascent through the lower village church, along a teensy cobbled street, and down the little cemetery where we stopped for a chat with the dead. We meandered up narrow alley-stairways along backyards that were sometimes small havens of tranquility, or else the tiniest of spaces filled with bushes and flowers.

It is so cool to be there at dusk and after dark. Granted, the “gas lights” are not tiny flickering flames and there are some things that are too modernized, but as a writer and game designer, we find it just brilliant to be able to visit a place that really speaks to our imagination and where we can be children darting from marvel to marvel.

We greeted a very old tree, and, navigating slippery cobbled stairs, arrived at the open doors of the abbey! We threw one look at each other and I think I saw Stampson’s eyes sparkle in the dark. And me, well, you never have to ask me twice so we skipped up yet more stairs to buy a ticket.On the next climb we were welcomed by the first of an incredibly creepy cool art installation: the claw of a bird. Or a dragon. And its shadow on a beautifully textured abbey wall.

It was the overture to a symphonic experience on The Mount.

Room after arched room, we were met by tastefully creepy sounds of howling wind and unseen creatures flying through the night; and by twisting shadows cast from artful mobiles portraying the possibility of the abbey perhaps being more threatening than inviting. I thought about the Elizabeth Kostova book The Historian and walked around mesmerized by it all.

I felt a part of the art experience as opposed to being a spectator, as if among the nuances of greens and blues and whites playing on the walls, the creepy shadows, dancing images, and eerie sounds, I was the fifth element. The one the dragons had succeeded in luring up to their den in the heavens.
I thought it was brilliant but was glad for a little respite on the wide open terrace by the grand cathedral which sits on Le Mont St. Michel like a Gothic cake topper. The view across the bay was nothing short of spectacular. The sun had left slivers of pink, stringing together the clouds. The sky’s reflection in the salt marshes below, was nature’s abstract painting of that evening.

From the ground you cannot see the sea, but from the terrace it is clear the treacherous terrain the pilgrims had to brave on their trek to the abbey, and I can imagine after an arduous journey, seeing The Mount ahead must have proffered a false sense of relief and hope, like a mirage of heaven. The cathedral’s sanctuary was bathed in a graceful ballet of white and blue light. I lay down on the ancient flagstone floor to steady myself, capturing the scene in a photograph. It was otherwise pitch dark.

How many had stretched out there over the centuries? Who were they and what were their aspirations? Why had they made the pilgrimage? Who are the handful of nuns and the monks who currently live in this impressive place, guarding the dragon’s shadows? I was both regretful and relieved to leave. The art installation managed to invoke a powerful familiarity that will live on in my soul for a long time. Descending The Mount, I considered each step of the stairs, every cobble, the people who shaped them, and the feet that walked them.

This time, The Mount managed to put me in its pocket and I have a feeling it has tricked me into a perpetual feeling of wonder.

As I write this, what I realize is that the drive to walk through life with never-ceasing wonder and curiosity in my heart, is my very own pilgrimage.