August 6th, 2009 16:54 EST
Adventures in Cheese Snob Land: Tapestry and St. Michael
Allow me to explain the difference between an embroidery and a tapestry: an embroidery is--surprise!--embroidered. That means that somebody with a creative spirit, no social life, and way too much time takes a needle and basically "paints" with thread. A tapestry is woven and therefore involves a loom, which is a big contraction that helps overlaps the fibers to make something that hopefully doesn`t look too hokey. Now that you are aware of this difference, you will believe me when I say that the Tapestry of Bayeux is wrongly named. It`s not a tapestry, it`s an embroidery and you can tell that immediately by looking at it. Perhaps the French art historians who named the piece were like Mr. Magoo and couldn`t make out anything within two feet of them. Either that or they never took Home Economics.
Despite the fact that the Tapestry of Bayeux was misnamed, it is astounding. The tapestry depicts William the Conqueror`s 1066 invasion of Normandy, with details like smiling horses and nude, headless corpses. The colors are fairly muted, but I`m not sure if that`s merely because of their age. Who knows? Maybe years ago they were as vibrant as Technicolor. Last time I checked, cameras didn`t exist back then and nobody from that time period`s alive to remember. After we walked through the tapestry exhibit, audio guide in hand, we dropped them off and perused the gift shop. They had all kinds of dragon figurines to accompany my beloved Lenore (my 6`` plastic dragon who appears in a few of my art projects and even boasts her own Facebook page), but I wasn`t about to shell out what they were asking. Sadly, beautiful medieval themed gifts surrounded me, but I didn`t have a chance to look at them all. I had to race over to yet another cathedral. On our way from the tapestry to the cathedral, the French teacher from the University of Minnesota-Mancato who`s traveling with us told us an amusing story:
In that same town, an American woman stood with two of her friends, overlooking a body of water. Very snottily, she mocked some of the other tourists and said, "I can`t believe they were calling this the Pacific Ocean. Obviously it`s the Atlantic."
Upon hearing this, the French teacher budged in and said, "Actually, ma`am, this is the English Channel."
Needless to say, "Ms. Arrogant-ina," as I like to refer to her, blushed.
The other students and I had been admiring an old mill while the French teacher told this story, but now that he was done, we had to get on the move again. The cathedral was a short walk away, so I knew I could quickly pop my head into a shop and catch up with the group again. I asked the shopkeeper, "Avez-vous des T-shirts avec des dragons, Monsieur?" [Do you have dragon T-shirts, sir?] He said no and pointed to a pirate T-shirt instead. Pirates have their cool points but they can`t compare to dragons. I thanked him and met up with the group again. I took photos of Lenore the Dragon outside of the cathedral and went inside. What mainly distinguished this one was its crypt--I`m sorry if that sounds jaded. The best part was when a boy in our group lied down in one of the stone coffins and took a picture.
After seeing the Tapestry of Bayeux and the cathedral, we saw three sights in Normandy. We ate lunch in Port Arramanche (I nourished myself with left-overs from the previous day, including a whole avocado), stopped by some of the shops (I bought a black, bejeweled T-shirt that reads, "I Love France."), and visited their museum. Before we left, I took one more look at the water. The English Channel gleamed in the high sun and, though I saw a stretch of blue-green before me, I wondered what the water would look like in red.
Following Port Arramanche, the group hit a cluster of World War II cannons. Apparently last year a girl on the same trip climbed atop the earth sheltering the cannon and broke her ankle in three places. She had to go to the hospital and her mother even came from the United States to look after her (of course, I think any mother in her position would have loved to have an excuse to come to France.) What bothered me was how much garbage surrounded the cannons, from straws to soda cans. Besides the pollution factor, there was the respect factor. Speaking of respect, we also ventured to an Americans` cemetery in Normandy. It was nearly silent, despite the hundreds of people congregating around the memorial and gravestones. My stomach turned at the sight of all the pure white crosses and the occasional Star of David. The reason why I`ve never enjoyed studying military history was because I don`t believe wars should start in the first place.
The rest of the day was far more cheerful to compensate for Normandy`s morbidity. We stopped for the night in St. Michel in Bretagne, the site of the famous St. Michel monastery where St. Michel supposedly slayed a dragon. My roommate and I checked into our bungalow--yes, you read correctly--where our group stayed in a campground. Almost instinctively, we inspected the bathroom, but it still topped the Kellermann`s. Then we persuaded another classmate to go on a walk before dinner. Ultimately, that "walk" translated into browsing the supermarchÃ©. I asked a clerk to point out dragon T-shirts but was disappointed by the selection. I was determined, though, and eventually found a lovely fairy necklace. Strangely she was marked as an elf, despite her elegant form and very prominent wings. I didn`t even have to think about it; she represented exactly the kind of fairy necklace I have always wanted. For 8 Euros, she was mine. It sounds peculiar to frame the action in terms of commodification and ownership because fairies are matriarchal, but I`m simply explaining what happened. I don`t advocate the enslavement of mystical creatures.)
After shopping, my roommate and I put away our purchases, ate some French cookies, and skipped to the restaurant where the group was scheduled to have dinner. Perhaps "skip" does not appropriately describe our action on the outside, but it describes everything that went on inside. I was chipper and, again, happy to be in France. I could have run into a telephone pole without a tear so long as it was a French telephone pole.
Dinner was point-blank delicious. Imagine vegetable porridge, quartered chicken, and green beans all steamy and seasoned to French perfection. Obviously they brought out bread, too (cool fact: the French don`t butter their dinner bread, nor do they use olive oil.) I don`t care if it sounds pretentious the meal as a whole `Ã©tait magnifique. I was so stuffed that I couldn`t manage dessert. Even if I had been hungry, however, I wouldn`t have finished that creme brulÃ©e. It was the one "eh" moment of the dining experience. For probably thirty to forty-five minutes following dinner, three classmates, our professor and I engaged in a heated feminist discussion about oppression and victimization. You know, the standard. It was a good exercise in digestion.
By the time our conversation on women and pornography ended, it was already ten o`clock. I refused to go to bed without getting a closer look of St. Michel, so I convinced a classmate to walk there with me. For two kilometers, we marched onward, totally agape. I`ve never seen a more impressive architectural feat in my whole entire life and I haven`t exactly stayed cooped up in the boonies all my years, either. The monastery, in all its stone glory, rests atop an island that overlooks acres upon acres of farmland. A miniature village, where monastery caretakers once lived, forms a ring around the structure. I kept taking photographs but none of them could do a justice to the better-than-Disney castle before me. I almost couldn`t breathe as I witnessed the sun set behind it. I half-expected a flock of fairies to flutter out of the numerous castle windows during those magical minutes. I really wish I could have shared that brief period with my beloved ones. The thought made the walk very poignant. It felt like six months since I had last seen home.
The walk back to our bungalos was darker and rockier. I tripped more than once but never actually fell. I was glad to finally retire to my Honeymoonesque lodging, where I took a thorough shower, put on my nightgown, and snuggled into bed before chatting with my roommate. We were both incredibly nervous about meeting our host families the next day.