For our next trip, I took Jennifer to visit the huge fortified abbey at Nouaillé-Maupertuis.
Jennifer treated me to lunch at the not-too-far-away Moulin de Trancart. It’s a restaurant where we eat occasionally, the food is refined, and the service beyond compare. You get lots of interesting little thingies with your meal – confit of garlic, tapenades, little glasses of ginger sorbet, that kind of thing, which always make for an interesting culinary experience. After a starter of marinaded salmon, which was delicious but served in a far-too-big portion, and unlike gravad lax it was in a thick cutlet which I found a little on the difficult-to-chew side, I had a plate of grilled gambas, which were excellent. The food at the mill has a distinctly Mediterranean influence, as the couple who run it originate from the Camargue. Taureau figures prominently on the menus, and I do make a point of not looking at all the bull-fighting posters on the walls.
From there we went to one of the more unusual places I sometimes take guests – the Benedictine monastery at Ligugé. It’s a strange choice for a pagan such as I, but there’s something about it that I find rather enchanting. Unlike the ancient next door abbey, the monastery church is relatively modern. The interior is built in a luscious creamy stone, and there is no decoration other than a simple cross and a small floral arrangement at the plain altar.
What makes it so special are the stained glass windows all around the upper wall. They’re a contemporary design, just random shapes in vibrant colours. When the sun catches them, puddles of colours fall onto the floor, gradually moving up the walls as the sun starts to sink, so you see a moving kaleidoscope of pretty pastel colours. The effect is really quite magical. Couple that with the monks singing the service in the Gregorian chant, it makes for a memorable experience. The monks aren’t at all what you might call jolly, in fact they are actually look quite miserable, but they have lovely voices. It was quite moving watching a couple of the older members of the community, who could barely walk, shuffling painfully to their places.
It should be a very peaceful experience, but on a previous trip our friend’s mobile phone kept going off, and he couldn’t find the button to switch it off, earning us all disapproving glances from the congregation. This time I made certain that we would not disgrace ourselves by checking that the phones were switched off. But an evil spirit had spotted me, and once again I was the centre of unwanted attention, because we’d managed to select the only squeaky pew. There’s a great deal of standing up/sitting down during the service, and every movement from us set off the pew into a frightful groaning noise. I tried moving to a different part, to no avail. Beneath the withering glares of those around us, I surely felt like a sinner. 🙂