My father had a dream.
He had many of them, of course. He used to tell us, quite often, that he would have moved to New Zealand, plant an eucalyptus tree in his garden and have his own koala. He always smiled at that dream, and it was so much fun to imagine it all real.
My father never told us about his other dreams. I would always try to guess what they were watching him smile, or being sad, or just thoughtful.
I knew he was fond of medieval buildings, churches, castles. Once we watched a documentary on Mont Saint-Michel together. And he said: ‘I wish I could see it’.
And then, years later, he went away. But one of his dreams remained. It was as if I inherited it. So when my husband had an idea of going to Normandy on our summer vacation this year I thought: the time came to make my father‘s dream come true.
I was anticipating that trip, imagining its details and my possible feelings and reaction to seeing the famous abbey. But none of my expectations could prepare me for that meeting, ever so emotional and moving.
Nowadays, in the age born under the sign of globalization and having any information within the reach of one‘s desire, it often happens to browse though thousands of images of a place you are about to visit. And then, when you see it with your own eyes, it seems to be (guess what?) not your first time together.
But everything went differently with Mont Saint-Michel. It was opposite to all my expectations, for better and for worse.
We saw it from far way, impatient after a bit of a trip from the Omaha Beach whereabouts. The Norman countryside was mutating on the way to Brittany, and we were getting unexpectedly and inexplicably nervous. And then, all of a sudden, here it was – a dark silhouette against the cloudless background of the blue summer sky and the yellow and the green of the surrounding fields, a castle of an abbey hidden behind the medieval mystery and massive town walls. Like a child, I cried out to my husband: ‘Massimo, look, Mont Saint-Michel!!!’. And we both started laughing happily.
Massimo told me to make some pictures while he was trying to concentrate on the road and steal a glimpse or two of the magnificent view on his left. And we got excited and even more impatient to leave the car and get closer to that magnetic place. Time began to accelerate, all our actions became a complete mess made of movements and hurry: endless parking lots, crowded shuttle buses, thousands of visitors paving the road to the island, horse-driven carriages, saturated snack bars with their inexhaustible show windows, hot sun and cold wind mixed into a misleading cocktail, people taking pictures, people asking you to take a picture of them, sandwiches unwrapped and eaten on the mud left by the low tide, a continuous human traffic jam blocking firmlyt he unique two streets within the walls leading to the abbey, artificial town life of myriads of buzzing restaurants and souvenir shops, demandingly hungry sea gulls, the ‘I-was-here-first’ quarrels for the place in the queue to the ticket office and the insistent murmur of the crowd. It was all frenetic and damn crazy, at a certain point seeming a bad, very bad joke.
And then it all came to an end, as abruptly as it started. The abbey opened its doors commanding silence and calm in its low authoritarian whisper, as only that place could do, and the world changed in its sound, its colours and its mood.
The tiredness of the trip and a long foot walk gave way to contemplative curiosity and admiration. The mind irritated by the touch and the voice of the tourist crowd outside found peace and concentration. Everything became calm and pleasant. We felt protected and understood within those great walls and among those numerous stories from the long-ago.
Have you ever read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco? The Abbey made me feel exactly the same as when I was reading that wonderful book. I was a vessel being filled up with the history of the abbey, the images of the monks consuming their humble lunch and dinner and pronouncing prayers, the hopes of pilgrims, undisclosed medieval secrets and the magic of the changing tides. It all seemed kind of a blessing for an unbeliever.
But it was outside the town walls that we really felt the weight of the construction, of the place, of its story and importance. Wandering around with our shoes sucked by the grey mud of the bed of the bay left alone just for a while by the ocean waters, we were breathing in all the magic of Mont Saint-Michel, enjoying each second in its company, admiring the beauty of its every image and planning to come back one day. Maybe in autumn or in winter, on a day when the tide is high and the mount stays alone, abandoned by its visitors, separated from the continent and covered by the mystic fog of its overwhelming uniqueness.
My father‘s dream was to see Mont Saint-Michel. Mine – to be there with him, together. And when I was watching at the powerful walls surrounding the abbey, I could feel him by my side. And I knew that in a certain way I was realizing his dream. And it felt good to think he was proud of me. And grateful, maybe. And smiling.
Some dreams do come true, some others do not. But it is all about having them. It is them that give sense and make difference.
It is them and the people, those special people in one‘s life who make it worth living. Like my husband is for me. Thank you for being around, specially when I need you most.
And, of course, thanks for the wonderful Machs Gut © images of Mont Saint-Michel.