Monday 10 October 2011


I'm back from Normandy, but only to turn on a sixpence and head off again, this time to Nimes, by rail - we leave early tomorrow. I see that another of my Oxfam book finds lives again on The Dabbler - maybe something else will pop up while I'm off in the sunny (I hope) South...
As ever, the trip to Normandy was a reminder of how large, various and variously wonderful the country is - also, this time, of how much has survived the most appalling bouts of destruction, both self-inflicted (internal wars and the bloody Revolution) and external (two hideously destructive world wars). I had never visited Caen before, and was amazed how much more there was of the old town than I'd imagined. I'd thought there'd be nothing left after all those bombs but the cathedral and a few scattered remnants, but no - the castle and its outer defences are still monumentally present, along with large numbers of fine churches of one kind and another, and great tracts of the ancienne ville. Still more amazing is Falaise, site of the some of the most ferocious fighting and relentless bombardment of the last War: though much of the centre is rebuilt (rather well, if a little blandly), the indestructible castle where William the Bastard was born still looms hugely over the town, where the two grandest churches survive, along with many other old buildings and great stretches of the massive town walls.
Then there was Sees (there should be an acute accent on that first e) - a gem of a town, seemingly quite untouched by the general destruction and largely undiscovered by tourists. The Abbey is utterly beautiful, rather like a small-scale Amiens in its purity of line... We also visited the 'Norman Alps', as they're half-seriously called - the Alpes Mancelles - taking a look around Saint Ceneri-le-Gerei (acute on first e), an achingly picturesque riverside village much frequented in its day by painters and poets, with a wall-painted medieval church (disfigured, when we visited, by a truly terrible display of modern 'art') and the saint's little hermitage chapel, where he slept on a thoroughly unsuitable lump of stone...
But enough - I'm off again. Au revoir, amis!

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