Monday 22 February 2016

Let there be light...

The entire day has felt like we've been heading towards the light. 

The grey whisps of sealight were the first as they entered through the salt encrusted porthole. Some idiot hadn't shut the blinds after the ungrateful driver's late night navigation class. The flashing greens, occluding reds, and steadfast whites were now a distant darkening memory. 

The low lying murky cloud town of Le Havre gave way to a road of continuous ascent, endless tiny villages and beautifully elegant stone and brick houses and farmsteads. As we went up past chalky white cliffs, trees surrounded us, giving frame to the sky. 

Then the lights went out. 

In a small connurbation outside Lillebonne someone had said fiat nox. Not Renault Clio. But whatever had happened the head lamp bulb on the driver's side had blown. No wonder we'd been flashed. We assumed it was the traditional French welcome to the English lady driver. After some dramatic mechanics, and flourishing of magic light boxes, we were all fixed and on our way again. 

It really did feel like we were taking a drive to the sky when we crossed the graceful cable-stayed fan Pont de Brotonne. It is apparently a great engineering feat, and in 1977, it was one of the first bridges of this type in the world. We headed out into the huge flat landscape of windmills and crops. 

The sun came out as we sat having a coffee at a convenient loo spot. There was a machine where if you waved your bank card, it dispensed madeleines and coffee. Clearly the light buttery cake and caffeine worked wonders on my research abilities and I was able to regale the driver with tales of the city of Dreux. Of Louis the Fat and Odo of Blois; the French wars of religion; and the Orleans royal family. 

Finally as we started our descent from the agricultural plateau, we saw the towers of Chartres in the distance. I'd read about these spires when I was young, so to see this massively influential piece of architecture was a dream come true. Still, business before pleasure and a necessary lunch was enjoyed before we headed up to the older part of town. 

She was waxing lyrical about the spiral car park Like the swirls of mayonnaise on my eggs, and the strange works of spiral art just outside Le Havre, it had a deceptive simplicity which clearly appealed to her inner engineer. 

The narrow archway which led to the area around the cathedral glistened in the sunshine. The smile of the chap speaking to everyone who passed him welcomed us warmly. All this time we were being prepared for the extraordinary interior of gothic spectacle - and more engineering genius. 

The soaring space above combined with the vibrant stained glass had as much an effect on us as if we were unlettered medieval farmers. Stupified, we looked up to continue reading the stories in the gothic illuminated windows; the biblical and canonical cast of characters had been introduced to us as we entered the building. 

The rococo marble ecstasy of the virgin was bathed in natural light. Although the restoration of the interior has caused outrage, the difference between the before and after is incredible. The whole point of gothic architecture is light and space - the complicated exoskeleton gives it the support without getting in the way. Therefore as the marble and stone is revealed, the true intentions of the architect are being revealed. It is truly inspiring. I hope to return to the stained glass in the future. 

So from the hesitant grey to the exuberant blues and reds glinting in the sunlight, we had reached the brightest point of the day. We knew we had many miles to cover to reach our halt, and as night arrived we hit the roads through the darkening forests, all we could only think of was the sunshine tomorrow. Southwards. Towards the light. 

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