Rich D'Amour '76 | August 8, 2018
My mother is French. She grew up on a pork-chop-shaped island off the northwestern coast of France called Ile de Noirmoutier — the Isle of the Black Monastery. The island is about 17 miles long and is in places about a mile wide. It’s famous for two things.
The first is the tidal road called Le Passage du Gois that used to be the only route to the mainland. During low tide, its cobblestones would appear and inhabitants could take the 3-kilometer journey from the island to the mainland, or vice versa. Sometimes a person would cut it too close and the returning tide would wash their car away. Since 1970, a four-lane bridge has connected the island to the continent.
The second thing is potatoes: walnut-sized, light brown, thin-skinned and delicious. A kilo sells in Paris for more than $20.
In 1962, my younger brother Phil and I spent the summer on Noirmoutier with our beloved maternal grandmother, Memère. She lived in a hamlet of about a hundred houses called Barbâtre. Her cottage was on the main road. I was 10 and Phil was 7, and we had the time of our lives. We pretty much had the run of Barbâtre. We’d fish, go to the beach or head down the road and hunt for clams.
There were a few rules. The young men of the island loved to drive their Italian motorcycles at breakneck speed up and down in front of Memère’s house. Memère would bolt out and shake her fist at them and use French words that were unfamiliar to us. Crossing that street with care was our first rule.
The second rule concerned Memère’s neighbor, Roger Semblan. We were told to avoid him at all costs. No reason was given, but we were to go the other way if we saw him. We never gave this directive much thought, but we obeyed. We later learned Roger was the village inebriate.
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