Thursday 25 March 2010
Poets, Pancakes and Pirates
A friend of ours is sailing to Portsmouth and needs a lift to the ferry port, so we take the opportunity to spend a morning in St Malo
It's a dull grey day which is reflected in the stonework of this citadel town.
St Malo's seen at its best when approached from the sea, when the tall houses with their steep roofs rise above the rampart walls.
It's all the more impressive to recall that during the Second World War this was a German stronghold and was virtually razed to the ground by Allied artillery and fire- then carefully rebuilt.
This event forms just one part of St Malo's colourful history, which includes cod-fishing, voyages of discovery (Jacques Cartier lived here) and slave-trading. Another activity, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was preying on Dutch and British vessels- merci,messieurs! this gave the town its nickname of 'City of corsairs'.
Any Johnny-Depp-Alikes are conspicuous by their absence today, however- shame! and tracing the town walls are a small group of Japanese tourists, and a pair of joggers too intent on their task to return a friendly smile... the French take their pleasures seriously!
From here you can see across to the Emerald Coast and the seaside town of Dinard, and closer to are the islands of Cézembre and the inhabited Le Grand Bé, where Chateaubriand is buried. At the foot of the walls on the beach are lovely breakwaters, carved into strange presences by the wind and waves.
The town from the ramparts is a delightful mess of rooftops and chimneys... here are nimble couvreurs working high above a street, below, a bin-lorry creeps its way along the cobbles, here too are creperies, cafés and hotels...a house being renovated- and a tiny glimpse, a sliver between two buildings, of schoolchildren, more heard than seen.
Down in the street we turn our backs on the healthy joggers above and 'plump' for croissants aux amandes from a bakers' kiosque.
In summer these streets will be chocca with tourists, and bright with confectionery stalls selling those lovely sweets that look like pebbles and seagull's eggs, or chocolate sardines wrapped in tinfoil. A brisk trade will be done in stripey Breton tops and matelots' caps, model ships, carved Breton figurines, pancakes and waffles and I'll try my best only to come here outside the months of July and August, but will probably be lured here by visiting friends and family.