Friday, July 6, 2012

Normandy, Day 8 :: Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel has got to be one of the most strangely beautiful places on earth.  It is a very surreal place, like something out of a Harry Potter book.  It's literally Hogwarts on a mudflat.  Pilgrims have flocked to this heavenly island for centuries to get closer to God, and have now been replaced by tourists.  

This church/commune island actually has about 40-something people living within it's walls.  Mostly monks (yes, they still exist).  Since the sixth century these monks have lived in isolation here.  I'm sure they're not too happy that they now have to share their sanctuary with a bunch of tourists, but I guess it pays the bills.

What's crazy is that this island is literally surrounded by flat land and quicksand.  The tide comes in a few times a year and completely surrounds it, making it a true island.  In 1878 a causeway was built so that pilgrims and visitors wouldn't have to risk the quicksand and fast moving tides to get to the island.  Today they are in the process of making that causeway a bridge so that the water can once again completely surround the island.  This again begs the question: how the hell did they build this 1,200 hundreds years ago?  How did they haul those huge blocks of granite and stone across the bay without sinking?  How the hell did they get them to the top?  The answer is obvious: Aliens.    

A little history:  During the Hundred Years War the English, who conquered all of Normandy, were never able to sack Mont St. Michel, despite repeated attacks.  Because of this the church became a symbol of French national identity, and remains so to this day.  

During the French revolution, this place was actually used as a prison by the French atheistic government to house 300 priests who refused to renounce their vows.  Think about the irony of this.  

What's sad is how much of this church's 1,200 year history has been lost forever.  During WWII the church's archives were taken to St. Lo for safekeeping, and of course destroyed during D-Day.  You think they'd have been better off staying at the church.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

In short, this place is beautiful and amazing with awe inspiring views.  The pictures do not do it justice.  It is well worth a visit if you're in Normandy (and it only takes up half a day).  Enjoy.

Modern day pilgrimage. 

Medieval town.

Those are people.

More people.  It's highly recommended that you take a guide with you, as to avoid the pockets of quicksand.

The causeway to the mainland.

Rooftops gardens.

Good luck?

Salty sheep.  The fields these sheep graze get flooded every so often by salt water.  The grass they eat is very salty.  Hence, the sheep's meat is actually very salty, and is quite the tasty local treat.  

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip.

Back at our hotel in Bayeux.  I forgot this dogs name, but he was great.

Back in Bayeux we stumbled into this sweet photography studio, one that still uses old school large format box cameras.  This made my day.  I've been wanting to explore plate glass photography for some time and even have bought a few books on the subject.  So obviously I had to get my portrait taken.  

The really cool thing about this type of photography is that your photo is literally one of a kind.  There is no negative, there is no photoshopping.  It's all about chemicals and light.  It was fascinating.  I had to hold a pose for 8 seconds, which is not an easy thing to do with a huge light shining into your eyeballs.  What's really cool is that this was the same exact process used to photograph historical figures such as Abe Lincoln.  Have you ever wondered why no one smiled back then?  Try holding a smile for 10 minutes....

Anyway, it was really cool to see the process in person.  I'm dying to try it now.  I dream of offering these kind of portraits once I get my own studio (one day) .  The portrait came out amazing...there is a depth and quality to these photos that digital just can't touch.

The photographer, Philippe Leclerc, was the nicest guy ever.  We talked photography and film, he gave me some pointers and was just super cool.  I hope he's still in Bayeux when I go back.  You can check out his website here.

Preparing the glass plate with a light sensitive chemical.

Everything is inverted. 

One of a kind.

Back to Paris.

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