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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.

Date: 2007-10-17 04:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] finnygan.livejournal.com
That's actually funny - because as much as I love Mont Saint Michel, and however beautiful I think it is, I went there with an ex-boyfriend (then-boyfriend), and we spent the entire afternoon bickering, and I'll probably associate the place with him forever. Though I do have some fond memories of him, so I don't suppose that's all bad.

These pictures, by the way, are gorgeous.

Date: 2007-10-17 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
*nods* See I have these experiences as well. Thankfully not with this place, but the rather lovely city of Beaune in France was destroyed by the fact that I stayed there with someone I now label ex-friend.

Then again other cities and places have been vastly improved by travelling companions - so it has its ups and downs.

And yay for Morrisey. My youth in an icon. Hee.

Date: 2007-10-17 04:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexandral.livejournal.com
WHat a stunning place - I am absolutely in love with it! It reminds me of Holy Island (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindisfarne) here though the latter is not as spectacular. We went there last year and I was duly impressed!

As to emotional experience - I really understand, in fact I think that things that we like (and don't like) affect as to a small or large degree ALWAYS. For me Dostoyevky's books were probably the most influential works of art up to this date..

Date: 2007-10-17 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Oooh! I know Lindisfarne. It was raided by Vikings you know, so it get quite a bit of mention in Norwegian schoolbooks. ;) Also in England there St. Michael's mount down in Cornwall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Michael%27s_Mount). That is an tidal island as well.But I have never been there so I have no idea what it is like. But I would love to go both there and to Lindisfarne.

But Mont St. Michel is simply wonderful. It feels a bit like a fairytale.

I think that things that we like (and don't like) affect as to a small or large degree ALWAYS.

Yes, this is my impression as well. We need to read the book at a good time, or listen to a song at the proper moment. I guess it all boils down to that you cannot force an art experience- simply because it is made up of all those little things you can ever foresee.

Date: 2007-10-17 04:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] applegnat.livejournal.com
Oh, gasp. That is beautiful.

I wish I had a ready answer to your question, other than "The Last Samurai," which is probably an odd book by which be inspired into something so visceral. I will think on it.

Date: 2007-10-17 05:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
I know! I walked around in a daze my entire time there. And the best part was that it was rather desolate on account of being February. It was also windy and cold, and so I would sit inside this half-way-closed-for-winter-cafe and drink large amounts of hot chocolate.I know it sounds a bit pompous - but Mont St. Michel made me wish I could write.

And "The Last samurai" is love - and also a good answer. For me that book also came with the added bonus of getting me interested in Kurosawa. And "If this was a real sword you would be dead now."

Date: 2007-10-18 12:29 am (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (AragornArwenEowyn)
From: [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
Ooh, I love that covered bridge!

I know I read some books when I was little while eating a brownie and an apple (different books), and then whenever I reread them I'd think of eating that food when I reached a certain passage, but now I can't remember what books they were.

I think I already mentioned how I first read A Game of Thrones while recovering from surgery. Even though the second try was more successful and got me to read the sequels, I still have to remind myself not to touch the series if I'm feeling the least bit grumpy or in pain, because otherwise the books suddenly transform before my eyes so that they seem like they're deliberately dragging on and throwing in extra sideplots, description, and cliffhangers just to spite me and make me feel even more down. Which is not the association I would have chosen :( (This association doesn't last when I'm in a better mood, fortunately.)

Date: 2007-12-06 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
There aren't enough covered bridges in the world. Of this I'm certain. ;)

otherwise the books suddenly transform before my eyes

Yes, that's the downside about reminiscence - it is not always positive. I have the same problem with Raymond Feist's books (you know "Magician" etc.) They are not bad books as such, but I read them during a slightly depressing time in my life and now they are somehow tainted with that memory.

Date: 2007-10-19 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mr-kit.livejournal.com
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.

I've not seen it in the flesh, but can imagine experiencing the same thing. It doesn't seem a very mysterious piece of art.

I think those photos of Mon St. Michel are impressive because there's of obstruction, overlap, nooks and crannies, etc. There's a lot unseen, but hinted enough at to play on the mind.

You need some vagueness and blurring to let the abstract emotions leak out, so to speak. Especially religious art, which is supposed to get us in touch with the intangible ethereal plane and whatnot.

So technically cruder art can sometimes be more effective. Though of course technique is not the same thing as the mastery of the artist over their chosen medium.

Date: 2007-12-06 05:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
There's a lot unseen, but hinted enough at to play on the mind.

I love this idea, and I think there is a lot of truth in it. I also think you've touched upon something that I love about all medieval art - that sense of mystery and hidden space. One of my favourite aspects of the Gothic Cathedrals are how the ceiling rises so high you can barely make it out its details, and the result is this huge room which the human mind cannot fully grasp and that therefore appear as slightly esoteric. If that makes sense?

As for the Sistine Chapel you are right in that it is not very mysterious.

Perhaps of interest in this context is the fact that the Chapel was renovated a few years ago. As a result of this the colours are now much brighter and cleaner - and also closer to what Michaelangelo painted. But, and this is where it gets interesting, this renovation has caused fractions - those who think the renovation was a good idea, and those who dislike it and feel it has robbed the work of its aura. The latter now claim that the work looks to new and shiny.
I guess that proves the point that when it comes to art it isn't always about the aesthetic object itself as much as the cultural context that surrounds it.

Date: 2007-12-06 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mr-kit.livejournal.com
something that I love about all medieval art - that sense of mystery and hidden space. One of my favourite aspects of the Gothic Cathedrals are how the ceiling rises so high you can barely make it out its details, and the result is this huge room which the human mind cannot fully grasp and that therefore appear as slightly esoteric. If that makes sense?

Ooh, totally! What we can't grasp is what art is all about.

Medieval religious music is pretty amazing from what little I know of it. Choral music by composers like Hildegard von Bingen is so ethereal and minimalist, it sounds more like music from the future than the past. Or from another planet, even :-)

And I suppose it was the huge echoy acoustic of those big cathedrals that first made such music possible. Structures with a reaaaallllly long acoustic delay were probably where humans first heard harmony.
Edited Date: 2007-12-06 06:51 pm (UTC)

The Mont

Date: 2014-02-04 06:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robert hansen (from livejournal.com)
This is how my wife and I discovered the Mont:

My wife ( then girlfriend ) and I were at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, when I came across a painting that looked so real I could not decide if it was a photograph or painting.

As my Wife and I looked at it, I proclaimed " It is a painting because there is no way that is a real place".

Then an 80 year old woman came up behind us and said in a very dramatic tone. "That....That place is indeed real. It is La Mont Saint Michel....it is very real.....I went there a long time ago with a lover...and it is a very romantic place".

I looked at my Wife ( she wad beet red ) and I could tell she was thinking the same thing. We felt mortified that this old woman was telling us how romantic this place was, like we were two cold fish that slept in separate beds and never had any sense of travel or adventure. We did not feel like the woman, was prying or being nosey, but we felt like she was living a very full life and felt like my generation had no idea of romance and adventure.

So I proclaimed in front of my wife and the woman. "When my girlfriend and I go to France, we will go there".

3 years later we went on a 17 day Grand Tour of Europe and I reserved a year in advance a room on the Mont and we stayed overnight.

I must say it was very romantic! and the Mont was the highlight of our trip. Never felt so much history and sense of wonder in one place. Takes you back to when you are a kid and envisioning a castle.

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