My Norman Roots - Part I

Leah, on a tidal flat near Mont St-Michel
When I first visited Normandy in 2005, I already knew my family had strong ties to the region... 

 My grandfather was one of the 160,000 Allied troops to storm the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  Although Gramps wielded the most influence on me in my formative years - I even lived with him for awhile - I know very little about what he experienced that day.  In truth, he only spoke to me about it on one occasion; an off-handed remark that has burned itself into my memory and haunted me for over thirty years.  I am sorry to say that what he did tell me is not available for public consumption.  What I can tell you is that it left such a powerful, indelible mark on my psyche that when I visited Normandy all those years later, I felt a powerful connection with the place. 

But this is not a travelogue about the battlefields and blood-tinged beaches of Normandy; it is about the people I met and places I toured that made the northern, coastal region of France one of my favorite places to visit.

Poulard Hotel, c. 1888
 The Forty Dollar Omelette 

At the urging of my mother, Mont Saint Michel was one of the first sites I visited during my tour of Normandy. 

"You must spend the night at La Mère Poulard and order one of their omelets," she said, in that commanding tone that is unique to mothers and requires one, no matter the age, to obey.

Of course, at the time, I had never heard of La Mère Poulard and knew nothing of her world-famous, gravity defying omelets, but my mother said to go, and so...I went.

Mont Saint Michel is a rocky, tidal island located in the English Channel.  The religiously inclined have been making pilgrimages to the island for hundreds of years.  Today, tourists make pilgrimages there to tour the medieval Benedictine Abbey...and to have one of La Mère's fluffy omelettes.

Charming Red Awnings
I could not have avoided La Mère, even if I tried.  Situated almost at the entrance to the medieval city, the hotel-restaurant is one of the first buildings one encounters after walking through the gates.  (The mouth-watering aromas of sweet, bubbling butter and eggs cooking over a wood burning fire beckon the weary traveler even before they breech the gates) 

Courtyard of the Abbey
 I was shown to a charming, slope-roofed room with panoramic views of the channel.  To my delight, if I leaned out and looked up and to the right, I could see the spires of the Abbey piercing the cloudy sky.

After an arduous and steep climb to the monastery and then back down to the village, I was exhausted and absolutely ravenous. 

La Mere's Dining Room
 I sat in La Mère dimly-lit dining room, surrounded by framed, autographed images of such luminaries as Ernest Hemingway and Yves Saint-Laurent, and waited for the infamous omelette to be prepared.  While I waited, I chatted with Cristophe, La Mère's charming, witty manager, who told me about La Mere herself.  Apparently, Annette Poulard began making giant omlettes because they were an inexpensive way to feed the many pilgrims who flocked to her hotel during their visit to the island. 
Today, the chefs use her recipe and method of preparation.  Norman eggs and sweet butter, whipped until they are high and frothy, then baked in a copper skillet over a roaring wood fire.

Cristophe told me about some the legends associated with the island.  (Did you know that Hitler ordered the island bombed, but when his pilots got close to the island a thick fog rolled in and obscured their view?  Since it has been a clear, sunny day, some believe the island was spared through Divine Intervention.  Did you also know it is said that anyone who makes the pilgrimage to Mont Saint Michel is destined to visit again?)

Regular readers of On Life, Love and Accidental Adventures might remember Cristophe from an article I posted a year ago titled Crazy Dog People.  For those of you who only just stumpled upon my blog, be sure to take a moment to read the hilarous comments Cristophe made about dogs.

My hunger for good food and lore had been so completely satisfied, I barely winced when I was handed the check and saw that sampling Poulard's gastronimical oeuvre had cost me forty dollars!

Later that night, I nestled in my bed in my cozy attic room, listening to the wind howl through the ramparts outside my window, and tried to decide which memory from my stay on the island I would carry with me and treasure the most: the memory of my first bite of an utterly delicious omelette that had been prepared using a 120 year old recipe or the memory of spending an enjoyable hour learning about about Norman legends from a gracious Norman.  

(Please check back next week for My Norman Roots - Part II)
Further Reading: