Tuesday, July 12, 2016

St. Malo

I am awakened each morning by the squaking of seagulls above my window, but in this walled city by the sea, its history rich with pirate lore and WWII tragedy, sleep isn't the priority. Being a part of the city is.

It's a small city, but its imagination makes up for size.

This was in part, the inspiration for Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, a philosophical fable, a novel tinged with a bit of magical realism. I read it once on my own after a friend's recommendation, and again with my AP Literature class. We all loved it--except for that One student who denied himself the pleasure of finishing a great work.

Mr. Doerr walked among the city and saw his two protagonists, his two stories, coming together--a blind French girl Marie-Laure and Werner...a character so well crafted, one wishes to dive into 1930 Germany and save the innocent orphan from the diabolical Hitler.

St. Malo was also the inspiration for a band of thieves who were legitimized by their kings. The  waters of the Cite Corsaire (city of pirates), in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were crossed by the great ships of the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, all carrying cargo or pirate booty as it often became. Robert Surcouf, Rene Du Guay-Trouin, were all memorialized for the daring adventure in the name of the king, who chased down ships and fought to the death. With the pirated ship's captain dead, the pirate crew would sail the ship back to St. Malo port where 75% would go to the king and the unchecked bandits kept the rest. The rest of the crew was left on the seas to search and pounce on the next unlucky ship.

These pirates lived as gentlemen in the country estates they built on the outskirts of St. Malo.

Its history became tragic when the WWII Allies believed it was a city infested with Nazis. They bombed, bombed, bombed the old city until almost nothing was left. But the citizens came back and rebuilt every single building, salvaging the granite blocks, piecing them back together as if the city was a sand castle pushed over by a wave.

It's important to know there are two distinctly different St. Malos: the old walled city and the new city. The old walled city can be explored in a day--we had three--to fall in love, to explore its culinary delights and confections, to run and explore its islands, its ramparts, like a pirate...

Ah, a pirate? Yes, all around the old city are small islands with medieval forts, some accessible only at low tide within a 30 minute window, each minute increasing the possibility of wet shoes, ankles, thighs and temporary stranding on the island! St. Malo's tides vary by 40 feet!!

The non-accessible fort                                                                   

The visible path
Where pirates brought their booty, where sentinels kept guard

 Where invaders on a dark, stormy night crept up the hill to siege the fort.