St Malo is old. Middle-Ages old. The sort of old that gets my dad all het up. There are ramparts. And castles. And forts in the ocean that at low tide you can walk to and accidentally get stuck on when you turn around. Chateaubriand buried in a tomb with a flag on it. Lots of people walking the ramparts and the tombs, poking their nubby little heads into things; teenagers chewing on gum, leaning against the ramparts, wishing there was a disco. It's the sort of place mum and dad dragged us to in Tasmania - all those graveyards and churches, me lusting for a amusement park that boys might be at. And really, I haven't changed. I still don't get the fascination over Old Shit. Correction - I do - I'm enthralled by it - it's Old - and that's fantastic, and now let's get on the Mad Mouse. It's not the looking - it's just - once you've looked - why do you have to stand and mull, and go and see the next bit of Old Shit that sort of looks the same? It just doesn't go in! I've always tried to make it. But it doesn't.
How do we honestly comprehend that these walls were built in the 1400s, or the 1700s and that they really did have people living behind them and climbing on them and getting ready to fight in the carved out bits of them? People having sex behind them and making babies that eventually became our French boyfriend. I see them - it's wonderful to think about it. To see it and imagine all those lives, all that time - what those walls have seen. Yes! It's incredible. But then it's like - let's jump in the ocean. Let's go and wash a big dirty bowl of moules frites down with a big nasty glass of Sancerre. Yes!
I am such a philistine and I know my Bayeux-tapestry draped father would be rolling his eyes right now. I wish I could get it in like him. Memories of the holiday in Italy with Mr Wa, marvelling at the ruins, thinking about vongole. That train trip to Naples when all the good tourists got off the train at Pompeii, look at them - good, good - we look at each other guiltily. Shouldn't we? No, I say, we shouldn't, it is our duty to get to Positano as quickly as possible and get shitfaced. How do we honestly connect with this time that has gone past - and if we can or can't - does it truly matter? Maybe that's why I am feeling all riled up writing this - it reminds me of the futility of our existence - we will all live and die but the ruins and the ramparts will endure (and if they get knocked down then the next people to come will ooh and ahh about the history of that). I don't know. It's so incredibly beautiful, time, the past. It's there. But does it have to be more than that?
When the wonderful Marie showed me around the ramparts the other day there was a statue of a corsair and he was pointing out to England with his cutlass and she told me there apparently used to be an inscription on it which read SUCE LES ANGLAIS but it had been rubbed out in recent times as it wasn't very 'politically correct'. Oh, I said, because it means 'Suck it Englishmen?' She was confused. Not 'suce', she said, 'SUS' as in the old language - 'towards'. It was an inscription from the 18th century, I don't think they had expressions like Suck It back then. I liked 'suck it englishmen' a lot better and laughed my head off to myself quietly imagining that back then they might say that. Who knows? Maybe they were funny and silly. Maybe he did mean to tell them to suck it. How are we supposed to know?
It just all feels so earnest and bland. We know nothing - and yet everything. Because it's all so nothing, and yet everything. It's confusing. How do we know what made them wet their pants laughing or cry? How do we know anything about the true character of then? We can only feel the sepia imprint of it all.
There is a pirate in town who sits outside the supermarket on his computer, smoking a cigar. Maybe I'll ask him. He winked at me last night as I walked out with my Corn Flakes. Maybe he knows something about the absurdity and hilarity of history. Maybe he can take me there.