baleanoptera: (Historical Cassiopeia)
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A few years ago I went to Mont St. Michel in Normandy. It was a cold, windy February day – every now and then it would rain – but that didn’t stop me falling in love with the place.

There’s this oddity to why I like certain works of art that has nothing what so ever to do with the art works aesthetical qualities. For objectively I can look at a painting or a statue and see why it’s good or even famous. But this is not the same as liking it.

Liking implies something else. It’s that feeling you cannot pinpoint and that is best articulated with a near breathless "wow". I guess, in a way, it can be compared to having a crush on someone. One of those "love at first sight" crushes that makes you giggle a bit, and ignore any possible flaws. And those crushes, for me at least, are always connected to first impressions. So the first view of the art work, the feel and mood when I see it becomes highly important.


Mont Sr. Michel seen from the mainland, fronted by large numbers of Norman sheep


For Mont St. Michel it was this day in February – driving along and listening to Loreena McKennitt – and then seeing the Mount as a dark blue silhouette in the distance. Coming closer allowed me to pick out the details – the spire of the church, the ramparts along the waterline. And that’s when it came – that feeling of "wow".


Aerial view of Mont St. Michel at low tide


Mont St. Michel is a tidal island, and first enters history as an Armorican stronghold in the 6th and 7th centuries. Later it becomes known as Mont Tombe and was a monastery. The legend says that the Archangel Michael appeared to a St. Aubert in 708 and commanded a church to be built on the mount. When the saint said no, the angel burned a hole in the man’s skull with his finger. All right then...


Close up of the church at the top of the mount


Later the mount was used and further fortified by the Dukes of Normandy. In addition it was also a very popular pilgrimage site – and popularity which continues to this day. When I stayed at the island I lived right beside the house that caters for pilgrims, and when the tide was low you could walk on the ramparts and see the pilgrims walking in procession across the sand. Apparently the medieval pilgrims nicknamed the island "St. Michael in peril of the sea". I find that name hauntingly beautiful.


The ramparts and a view of the low tide


Point is I didn’t find Mont St. Michel beautiful just because it is beautiful. Instead I think my love of the place was increased by seeing it at the right time and in the right frame of mind.

Detail from the road to the church. I love this particular architecture so much. There should be more covered bridges like this.


I’ve also had the opposite reaction. The fact is I love Michelangelo. Of the Italian Renaissance artists he is with out a doubt my favourite, but the first time I saw the Sistine Chapel I felt nothing. Not a thing.
Because the first time I saw that chapel one of my professors had dragged us through a six hours tour of the Vatican. By the time I got to the Sistine Chapel all I could think of was food and that my feet were killing me.
I’ve been to see the Sistine Chapel a few times after that – and I’ve had the pleasure of viewing it at my own pace. It is indeed a magnificent work of art – but it has never "wowed" me. It has never touched me emotionally and left me speechless. Sad perhaps, but there you go.

So good people – have you had an emotional experience that forever colour and affect the way you view something? A work of art? A book? A film?

And to prove that I am indeed very much in love with Mont St. Michel here is a link to a previous post with some stunning photos.
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