Hot Chocolate and Oatmeal

photo, city wall, saint malo, beach On the stone ramparts at Saint Malo.

Stinky Food Time Again

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Sunday, 12. November–  After another long pause stinky food time is here again. Instead of going to someplace around here to snort the cheeses I wandered far afield. A very good friend of mine has a theory that a cure for all ills can be in a cup of hot chocolate and a bowl of oatmeal, especially if taken at 4 in the morning at the Café Saint Malo in Montparnasse.

Well, I thought, what's good in Montparnasse might be better in the original, in Saint Malo itself. I found by purest chance a SNCF ticket boutique in a nearby minimall, local home of Tati and Darty, and in it there were promo signs. One said, "Weekend in Saint Malo, from 25€" so when my turn came I simply pointed at the sign.

The ticket lady, an otherwise fine person, simply laughed. "That promo does not go into effect until two days after you leave this office," she said, without a trace of irony. Same thing for the so–called 'senior' discount. You have to pay 53 euros per year for it. "For one lousy trip to Saint Malo?" She said, "Ha ha."

photo, hotel de ville, st maloPay your taxes here or else!

You only live once no matter what it costs, so I bought some pricey tickets. My very good friend was very excited about this rare excursion so we got to the station very early, which wasn't all that hard because it is in Montparnasse too. It is the gateway to Brittany, as anybody who has ever had oatmeal at 4 in the morning in the rues Delambre or Odessa or the Café Saint Malo can attest.

The trip, on a TGV train was fast and uneventful. The train stopped in Rennes – Capital of Brittany! – for five minutes and again in some jerkwater burg, and then it glided into the station at Saint Malo, about three hours distant from Boggleville. The old station is close to the town centre but the new station, made out of cardboard and glass, is further away. The first five passengers off the train took all the three taxis.

But the sun was shining, clouds were scooting around the sky – which was all over – and the strong winds weren't too overwhelming. With the help of a broken interactive map we found our way to our hotel, which happened by sheerest chance to be located overlooking this monster beach and its low tide. Later, in the room, we could even see the sea – actually, the Channel – by leaning out and craning our necks dangerously.

But we weren't in Saint Malo to hang around in our totally nondescript three–star room with cable–TV and free books to read in the lobby, in Italian no less. Instead we crossed the Chaussée de Sillon to get a good view of the Grande Plage, a sandy otto kilometres long and getting wider as the tide went out to wherever it goes.

With a fresh breeze in the face – I have mentioned these Channel breezes before I'm sure – we stumbled towards downtown on the bricks that pass for sidewalk paving next to a sea wall made of stout stone blocks. Off in the near distance we could see some sort of fort on a rock, curiously named Fort National. It will stick in my memory forever.

To avoid confusion later on, let me describe Saint Malo. Out in the sea, the Channel actually, behind tiny islands named Fort du Petit Bé and Le Grand Bé, there is a headland called Intra–Muros and behind it there is a semi–circle of water for boat parking, and inside this there is a pond called Bassin Jacques Cartier for more boat parking. Some boats park outside where it's rougher, but they don't like it.

This Intra–Muros place is the old, fortified town. Except it is not all that old, most of it, because it was blown to smithereens in WW2. Rather than rebuild it out of plywood and extruded aluminum the Saint Malo folks liked it the way it was, so they rebuilt it that way, stone by bloody stone. If you like stones – blocks, cubes, boulders, – you'll love Saint Malo.

photo, inner harbour, st malo Pleasure boats the cozy harbor.

The whole thing is stone except the sky. The first big pile I saw was the Hôtel de Ville which is a fierce–looking castle, flying all sorts of flags, with palm trees below its ramparts. It looks like a place that stands no nonsense from its disaffected citizens. A lady running it said it had nothing to do with tourist information. "Past the drawbridge, the portcullis and the moat, turn left and then straight ahead," she said. And she did not mean the weather–proofed municipal merry–go–round.

The motto of Saint Malo is Cité Corsaire. In a bizarre twist of fate Saint Malo was named after an Welsh monk named MacLow sometime around the 6th century when he established his bishopric – ha, ha – a stone's–throw away. The city as it is now, was piled up stone–by–stone in the 12th century, because its Malouins were cleverly catching enemy ships. They were swearing in 1308 and in later on they swore at Charles VI, who said they were free to rob and pillage.

To keep these louts in line the Duchy of Brittany built the castle, which the crafty Malouins proceeded to capture in 1590, and then they declared that they were republicans. This lasted a whole 4 years until Henry IV became a Catholic through another crazy twist of fate. Then Jacques Cartier discovered Canada behind Newfoundland and the rest is history



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