In the end, a small stretch of water between the mainland and the island of Mont Saint-Michel turned for us into a gulf too large to cross.
The first time we visited Mont Saint-Michel the sky was grey, the tourists buses were returning, the hotel signs looked lifeless, and the sheep were out grazing. We had chosen, on a whim, to touch Mont Saint-Michel en route to Saint-Malo, our weekend destination. We stopped on the way for photographs, reproducing frames seen a hundred times on postcards and websites and travel magazines:
An enormous outcrop jutting out of the flat landscape, a towering abbey at its summit, a wafer of water on all sides.
A medieval village on a rocky island.
Gentle sheep in the foreground, stark silhouette in the background.
At the end of the road to Mont Saint-Michel was a large parking lot. A young man in a blue uniform said a shuttle would drive us to the island and back; the trip could take an hour or two — it hinged on what we wished to see. We chose instead to drive on to Saint-Malo and return later.
The second time we visited Mont Saint-Michel the sky was black, the roads were empty, the hotel neon signs blinked for no one, and we saw no sheep. We had driven there, again on a whim, with another couple after a dinner in Saint-Malo. This time we parked, picked umbrellas from the boot, and walked under fluorescent lamps against a wayward wind. A bicycle or two passed by, a couple and then a family walked to their cars. After they left the place seemed abandoned. Our voices and our laughter, caught by the wind, disappeared into the night. The walk to the island would take forty minutes: a sign by the path said. Rain was beginning to fall. We turned. On the walk back to the car we saw a hare dash across the parking lot into the dark fields. Someone said it looked like a rat. We spoke of rats in New York, the fear of rats, the fear of cockroaches, and we laughed. The island, an excuse for something else we wanted, was forgotten.