Sunday, 8 April 2012

The spirits of Honfleur

There is a stark contrast between the pier of Honfleur and the place itself. Opposite Le Havre on the southern bank of the river Seine estuary, it is everything but pretty, grey concrete and steely constructions, functional. But there is a red carpet for us laid out by the port authorities, like we are movie stars arriving for a gala. Nice touch. And there is a nice sunrise in the East, just under the enormous bridge that spans the Seine mouth. If you follow the sun you'll be ending up in Paris, but that's not where we want to be. Our destination is just a 20 minutes walk away - Honfleur, pearl of the Normandy. And a true pearl it is: From the distance it seems like many narrow houses huddled together amidst green hills, and if you get closer, cross the old rusty flood gate, walk around the marina and the fishing harbor, this first impression proves to be just right. The buildings could easily be taken from a pirate movie, old, so very old they seem, in the most charming possible way, the wooden beams bent under the centuries, causing the facades to lean into the alleys. On the other side of the harbor basin a completely different aspect: Here the houses seem to have had something in their food to make them grow taller, without letting them get wider at the bottom. They look ridiculously narrow, and you can't help getting the image of people walking into their rooms and walking out again - backwards...
It's Easter Sunday, and to everybody's surprise all the shops are open. Of course there is a throng in all the streets, in front of some delicacy parlors there are even people queueing for pastry or meat or the unrivaled specialty of Honfleur - the Calvados, distilled from apples and mighty stron. Any year of this famous stuff is available, any price tag to be found.
Those who are rather inclined to turn to different spirits were welcomed in the beautiful church of Sainte Catherine that had been erected from the only available building material after the 100-year war - wood, ship's wood. So the similarity with a seagoing vessel is not just coincidence. The place breathes a very particular animus, even on a normal day. Today, however, is Easter Sunday and the church is packed for the service, people singing devoutly, incense hanging in the air, pierced by the colorful light from the stained windows.
The church empties quickly after the mass, and this is the moment when you start to feel the place. There is something about it, like you are sending your thoughts from there to wherever you want them to be. Energy, coming from a building. 
Outside, one is immediately caught in the throng again, the constant drizzle bringing out many umbrellas, not making maneuvering much easier. But anyway, it is time to return to the ship, bags full of souvenirs or Calvados.

In low visibility we continue our cruise, ship's horn sounding regularly to make ourselves heard. 
Darkness enshrouds us on our passage out of the British Channel, and in the evening our piano player Ralf entertains the crowd with a live musical quiz which was greatly accepted by all.