The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence

Mont Saint Michele

My sister flew to Paris several days after we had our initial adventures with a rental car in France. Mother was still sound asleep in the hotel room, so I decided to make the drive to the Paris airport alone. This was before GPS included helpful maps, but I had become a seasoned pro with that bossy British GPS Dame. Still, pretty gutsy for someone who just a week earlier was having nightmares about driving in a foreign country.

My sister is a bit panicked to find me greeting her, without Mother in tow, even though I explained that I safety pinned a note to the front of Mother's nightgown. Anyone who knows Mother knows that she requires her full 18 hours of sleep and might still be asleep when we return to Rouen. Yet, when we pull up to the hotel, Mother is happily seated at the adjacent café, breakfasting on Crême Brule.

"I didn't even have to ask for it," she says brightly. "They seated me here and brought me it along with a cup of Café au Lait."

Even the French know when they are defeated.

Many of the shop-keepers, waiters, natives and people in our hotel mistakenly have thought I was a student of the French language. However, French had killed my high school GPA and I was getting revenge. As I chatted, I was delightfully murdering it with wrong tenses and malaprops. If someone bothered to correct me, I gave them the American wave-off and laughed.

In French, the word "the" comes in four forms, depending on the word that follows it: Masculine, feminine, plural, and starting with a vowel, because everything is boy, girl, plural, or starts with a vowel. They do the same thing with the words "my" and "your." It comes in masculine, feminine, plural, and starting with a vowel (for example my book or your egg).

Never mind their conventions about which objects were masculine or feminine. If it had legs and was round, like me, I made it feminine. If it was immovable or not edible, I made it masculine.

According to my logic, a round ball and a delicious cake should be feminine (They are not). Birds have legs. Feminine. Snakes do not. Masculine. Tables have legs. Plural. Doors do not. Masculine. All of which is wrong, wrong, wrong. After I would sputter out a couple of paragraphs of grammatically wrong French, you should have seen the perplexed looks. They did not know where to even begin to correct my little errors!

I thought I was going to split with laughter when the pharmacist corrected my request for a bottle of the stuff you wash your hair with. The French call it, "sham-POOH-ing." Yuck! Who wants pooh in their hair.

Apples are "potatoes of the earth." Did someone forget to point out to the French that Eve picked an apple off a tree?

To make matters even more amusing, I never knew that my French has a drawl. For, I learned to speak French in school in New Orleans (as an aside, my Russian teacher was Italian, so you can imagine that accent).

The more I muddled the French language, the more fun we had with the natives. Rouen was flooded that week with foreign ice skaters who made no attempt to speak French or interact with the locals. Too bad, because without their encouragement, we would have never decided to drive the country roads to Mont-Saint-Michel, a monastery started in the 8th century on an inhospitable rock about a kilometer off the coast. Reachable only by crossing the sand flats at low tide. For centuries, the tides have roared in very quickly, turning the Mont into an island.

Horror stories abound about people who parked their cars at the base and get a total submersion car wash. We parked on the mainland (in the cheaper parking lot) and hike the pilgrimage path. It can be done only during certain hours, as since medieval times, people and pilgrims have drowned in the tidal waters while walking across the sand flats from the mainland.

My French was not good enough to know that we are being sent to arrive just after a full moon, which causes a forceful double high tide, turning the place into the island that it was built to be. Our hotel in Paris will have to wait a night for us to arrive, as we will be staying overnight with one of the 50 locals who live here year around.

Looking out towards the shore, we saw magnificent giant black wild boars racing through the long grasses that abut the shoreline, to get to safety.

Since we were stranded, we had plenty of time to climb the 900 steps to the top, through the areas where Harry Potter was filmed. Only when we reach the reflection garden, at the top, do we take the time to notice Mother is once again, perfectly attired. Her pants shrunk in the hotel laundry and end well above her ankle bones, classic high waters. She is very ready for Mont-Saint-Michele and a double high tide!