In the Old Testament, the Archangel Michael is personified the battle cry for war, the field commander of God's divine army both on Earth and in heaven. As such it should be quite clear as to how he wound up the patron saint of French chivalry as well as the guiding muse of northern fish mongers and mariners. And I thought he lived in Paris.
The French hold an affinity for Saint Michel, an observation easily garnered from the myriad namesakes, monuments, and tributes to the angel strewn throughout the city of Paris. The melding of Michael's embodiment as war lord and chivalrous saint is psychologically fitting for the nation of France, as historically the French pride a chivalrous society married to a curt vulgarity and violence as a history. Patronizingly classified the 'loser' by critics and charlatans throughout the Western world, France's misfortunes in the first and second World Wars have cast a shadow over the nation's musketeering past. Wimp appears an unfitting and illogical epithet for a nation whose streets have run with the blood of countless massacres and wars including Centuries of religious crusades including the thirteenth century massacre of the Albigensians, the infamous Bartholomew's Day Massacre of the Huguenots in 1572, the Reign of Terror during the Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the 1842 Revolution, the Franco Prussian War, etc. The Marseillaise has bean battered and beaten over the years for its severity in content, though has survived. Imagine the reaction if at the opening of a Yankees game the call to arms rang through the loudspeakers soliciting for the watering of crops with the impure blood of the enemy instead of the twilights last gleaming? Exactly. The French eat with poise, wear colorful scarves, and hold a certain set of manners...yet to stick a crowd of English among the down trodden rugby fans at Hotel de Ville would ensure a bountiful crop season...high in iron.Somewhere between war patron and chivalric icon Michael became a seaman, a guiding beacon for mariners on France's Normandy and Brittany coast. Le Mont Saint Michel, the floating fortress and abbey built for the archangel strattles the boundary between Normandy and Brittany on the sandy coast. The medieval town is made island only with the changing maritime tides; a geographical phenomenon contrasted by the grazing hoards of shorn sheep at the villages base. In retirement Michel runs a a died yarn facility, as well as a dairy farm that produces the finest Camembert in the north of France. To watch the setting sun behind Michel's abbey clears all doubt as to why he prefers such a countryside palace to his Fountain and batiments in Paris, there truly is no better place in this world than the sea.
An hour or so east and I find myself in the Bretagne region of France, in the small fishing port of Cancale. Oysters. Lovely barrages of oyster fields as far as the eye can see. Not surprising then to discover Cancale to be the oyster capital of Brittany. Regretfully we left Cancale and her early morning oyster shuckers for our journey to Brittany's Saint Malo. Regret was quick to fade as the walled city of Saint Malo appeared perched in the distance on the coast of the English chanel; a castle and marina linked to the middle ages, the city of the Corsair pirates provided a day of fantasy and exploration that yet again propelled me into the frame of shock and awe at how simple yet joyous life can actually be.
Scaling the fortress walls of the city, strolling through the cobbled streets, peering through shop windows and dozens upon dozens of seafood eateries, and simply sitting on the quay dangling limbs over the sparkling channel water is a day in Brittany. Michael chose well when he stationed in France; a chivalrous and proud nation quick to temper, yet simultaneously mellowed by the sea in bearing. Oysters and angels--perhaps Mike will someday sublet.