Let’s Do Lunch

What a pleasure it is to be invited for lunch in France. These Wednesday afternoon (traditionally “off” days for school children) or weekend meals begin with drinks around noon and last well into the 4 o’clock hour, and are even more luxurious when held on the terrace of one’s garden. I might not be a garden- or home-owner myself (yet!), but the next best thing is having friends who are.

My choir bestie Annie, a gourmande for traditional french cuisine, has had quite a time coming up with vegetarian recipes for us to eat when I’m around. Each meal is a surprise and an adventure in one. We nibble on nuts or crackers while drinking our first glasses of cider or wine, then move on to an hour’s worth of entrées and main dishes. We’ve nommed our way through tomato tartes (reminiscent of southern tomato pie, but with decidedly less cheddar), veggie pizzas and lasagnas, stuffed roasted red peppers, and sweet potato soups. A natural pause in the conversation is the perfect moment to bring out the cheese board and homemade bread, and is also when I usually loosen my belt. Desserts and coffee come next, of course, and a quick shot of farm-fermented calvados (for health purposes) revives us for our promenades around town. We always stroll down the local trails, visit nearby châteaux, trespass on neighbors’ property to pet their horses and donkeys, and generally do whatever it takes to work up just enough of a second appetite to return home for a cuppa.

Strolling through a nearby village: Agon-Coutainville.

Strolling through a nearby village: Agon-Coutainville.

This past Wednesday, Annie and I laid in the garden hammock digesting while the clouds floated above us. Following Annie through her giant English garden always reminds me of walking around my grandmother’s backyard. She died when I was ten, but one of my favorite memories of her is the way she would guide me around the backyard, reminding me of the names of all the flowers, popping touch-me-nots, and watching critters flit around the nearby woods. Annie is a lot like her. She lets me attempt the French names of her beloved flowers, then quietly corrects me when I ask for help. She’s just lovely. 

After a few hours dozing in the grass, we sat around the teapot and said our goodbyes for the summer vacation; I’m heading back to the States tomorrow for six weeks en famille. It will be wonderful to be back home, of course, but I’ll sure miss the friends (and meals) I’ve made here.

A Reunion à la Touraine

Feeling sick is no fun, especially when you’re miles and miles away from a familiar healthcare system and your mommy.

Luckily, I’ve managed to navigate both roadblocks and be an adult while trying to get over this yucky cold. I’m currently resting comfortably in bed with all sorts of wonderful French miracle cures from the pharmacy, and not planning on doing anything productive for at least the next 48 hours. In the meantime, please enjoy a few of these iPhone photos from last weekend’s reunion trip to Tours to see my old host family.

(You can see more about the family and my time in Tours on my Cast of Characters page.)

 

Tours' Hotel de Ville, officially remodeled with its beautiful new tramway.

Tours’ Hotel de Ville and city center, officially remodeled with its beautiful new tramway line

A panoramic shot of a country home I passed by. I'd love to hear about who lives here.

A panoramic shot of a country property I passed by. I’d love to hear about who lives in that house on the hill.

Chateau de Saché, the vacation home of Honoré de Balzac, a noted French writer.

Chateau de Saché, the vacation home of Honoré de Balzac, a noted French writer

inner workings of a printing press inside the Chateau de Saché

inner workings of a printing press inside the Chateau de Saché

 

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

I missed my train.

I fell off my bike.

Twice.

In front of my students.

 

Nothing that couldn’t be cured with homemade cookies and a French movie musical marathon with friends, but still, not the best of mornings. Sometimes I have to remind myself (and my family and friends back home) that this is real life and it’s possible to have bad days even while “living the dream” in France. This isn’t a vacation, this is my real world, and even though most days are beautiful and I’m still enamored with the Normande way of life, it’s not always quite so Disney as it seems. There are days when I don’t feel like getting out from my cozy bed, days when there’s no food in the fridge, and days when I miss my train and fall off my bike. Twice.

Essentially, living here is just like living in the States. Except it’s France.

Wow, Kaycee, you’re such a good writer. You should do a blog or something.

In the meantime, I can now highly recommend that you make your own potato-chip cookies by adding classic Ruffles to your favorite sugar cookie recipe, crack open a bottle of wine, and watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg the next time you feel down. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure it’s a scientifically viable cure for a rough day.

Here’s hoping yours goes better than mine.

A Thousand Words

I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to catch up on sleep from the past few days in Paris. Please accept these photos as a little appetizer before the main course of the blog is posted tomorrow!

Approaching the Arc du Triomphe from the Champs Elysées.

One of the many vintage metro signs all over the city. Classic Paris.

Crossing the Seine to the Notre Dame.

Entering the Church of the Madeleine.

Sacre Coeur, one of my favorite places in Paris (when it’s not crowded and hot).

All gussied up for the opera! Photo taken by another attendee.

Normandy [Day 3]

After a calm night and another magnificent breakfast, I checked out of my hotel and headed in the general direction of “town”. Approximately thirty minutes later, I had officially explored all that Bayeux’s shopping district had to offer. Not much to see on a sleepy Wednesday morning, but I did stumble across the smallest street market of all time, with a grand total of three vendors.

The cheese vendor.

I spent lunch at the British Cemetery on the outskirts of town. It holds half as many soldiers as the American Cemetery, and isn’t quite so well known, so I sat in silence for nearly an hour before any other tourists came along. Is it strange that I feel so at peace in cemeteries? I don’t think so. It’s kind of a nice way to be undisturbed, but not alone. Wonderful places to let your mind wander.

At the entrance to the British Cemetery.


A bit more detail on the British headstones.


The clouds moved so quickly in the wind, I'm surprised they aren't blurry.

I ended the afternoon with a tour through Bayeux’s Musée-Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie (Museum of the Battle of Normandy), which was surprisingly well produced, given that it’s a little out of the way for most D-Day tourists. It focused on the tactics of the military leaders on both sides and their particular duties throughout 1944, but didn’t really give any information that I hadn’t already learned at the Musée du Débarquement. It did, however, have a neat section on the role of the media in the war and the censorship that journalists self-imposed in order to maintain civilian morale. It must have been difficult to see incredibly moving sights on the battlefield but not capture them on film, just so that the families back home wouldn’t have to see the horrors that their sons went through. As a beginning photographer, I want to take pictures of everything around me; I can’t imagine the willpower involved in letting monumental events go by without being documented.

One of several tanks positioned outside the museum.

I said goodbye to Normandie on Wednesday afternoon and made the four-hour train ride back to Tours. It was a short trip, but absolutely one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in Europe. I’m thankful that I was able to learn more about our world’s history and spend some time on my own to reflect on the true meanings of service and sacrifice.

Normandy [Day 2]

On Tuesday morning, the hotel breakfast room called my name, and I stuffed myself silly with crêpes and toast before I made a few quick sandwiches to last me the rest of the day. I will forever call this move “pulling a Kaia”, in honor of my thrifty comrade who refused to buy food the entire time we were in Paris. Hey, you gotta save money somehow.

I had decided the previous day to book a guided tour of the D-Day beaches, after realizing that there was really no other way to see all the sites in the short amount of time that I had. I’m so glad I did; I was able to see a lot more than I ever would have been able to on my own and got a much better insight into the general timeline of things.
I met the minivan at the town square, and joined the rest of the daytrip group: two young Belgians and four retired Frenchies. As it drizzled outside, our Norman guide drove us to the westernmost point of the D-Day events, St. Mere Eglise, where the first Allied paratroopers parachuted into France the night before D-Day. We went to the church where John Steel famously caught his chute on the bell tower and was stuck for several hours, floating above the German guards’ heads before he was discovered and briefly captured. Luckily for him, 156,000 Allied soldiers were about to bust up in St. Mere Eglise and spring him out before he’d been imprisoned even one day.
We also checked out the small airborne museum just across the church, which specifically commemorates the members of the British 82nd Airborne and their struggle to make sense of the land before the masses arrived in the morning. So many of these parachuters drowned in marches from the weight of their own equipment, got tangled in trees, or simply landed right on top of Nazi soldiers, like John Steel. It’s amazing that the majority of men were able to land undetected and regroup in time for the morning invasion.

My favorite mannequin from the Airborne museum. I have a feeling his "camouflage" makeup didn't do much help in the camouflaging department.

Next, we drove to Utah Beach, where my great-uncle Carlos landed. I spent some time walking along the beach and thinking about how lucky he was to have come in on the westernmost flank. From a strategic point of view, Utah was clearly the easiest of the five beaches to capture, with its sandy dunes and flat farmland as opposed to the sheer cliffs of Omaha. Being the easiest of the five doesn’t mean it was a simple job, though. Two hundred men lost their lives on Utah Beach alone. Needless to say, it was both a sobering walk, for those who died, and a grateful one, for my great-uncle and his victorious navigation of the beach.

Unsure whether to smile for a picture near the spot where Uncle Carlos landed.


The large American Soldiers monument at Utah Beach, with the Naval Monument (left) and Musée du Débarquement in the background.

Right on the beach is the Musée du Débarquement, which holds tons of equipment and other paraphernalia from the landings, including several plaques about the Combat Engineers (my great-uncle’s group) and their work after the landing in building bridges and roads for Allied vehicles to cross. Shockingly enough, the war wasn’t over on June 6th. The Allies still had to make their way through every hedgerow and forest in the rest of France and Europe, and it wouldn’t have happened without the logistical efforts of countless support personnel beyond your average infantryman.

A plaque on the Combat Engineers in the Musée du Débarquement! Way to go, boys!

After a quick lunch in the sleepy village of Isigny-sur-Mer, we drove to Pointe du Hoc, the westernmost cliff of the German stronghold in 1944. The battery was blasted to bits by the Allies in the months leading up to June in an effort to blow out their cannons, and the craters are still everywhere. We crawled down to the underground German barracks and saw the remains of the monstrous guns, which swiveled 360 degrees on rolling bases and would certainly caused major casualties if they hadn’t been destroyed by the Army Rangers just before D-Day. Like a grand piece of theatre, months and months of preparatory attacks went into the D-Day invasion, and without them, that one show day would have been impossible.

One of the destroyed cannons at Pointe du Hoc.


The cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. The Army Rangers scaled them with nothing but their standard-issue boot knives in the middle of the night. Take that, Chuck Norris.

As we approached Omaha Beach, I mentally prepared myself for a difficult sight, and it was clear that the rest of the group was doing the same thing. The other tourists had been very careful around me all day long, as if they felt that, as an American, I was more likely to become upset during the tour. As I told them about my granddads and great-uncle, they offered their thanks for their service and sacrifice. I felt a rush of gratitude for the group’s kindness and understanding of my family’s place (and thousands of other families’) in this big history. The group stood in a circle around our guide and discussed the death statistics of the site. It’s sobering to think how many of those boys died before they could even hit land. Of the total 10,000 casualties of the invasion, nearly half took place on Omaha. Were they scared? Did they even realize the gravity of the situation before they saw the coastline? We now know that the military leaders expected up to 80% losses on D-Day, but did the average infantryman understand that he was not statistically supposed to survive the landing? What a terrifying thought.

After some moments of quiet reflection on the images our guide had laid out for us, we moved on to the American Cemetery, and I was suddenly on American soil for the first time since January. In contrast to the sadness and hatred for war I felt on the beach, the cemetery was calm and welcoming. It was a sad sight to see the names of hundreds of MIA soldiers listed along the marble walls of the entrance, but the 9000 graves themselves were hauntingly beautiful. I thought of how blessed my family is to have had three men survive such a terrible war, and I was glad to see that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice were given a small token of the world’s appreciation in the form of a beautiful resting place.

At peace in the American Cemetery.


Rows upon rows upon rows.


Known but to God.

I could have spent all day in the cemetery, but our tour had to continue. We drove to Arromanches to learn about projects after the initial landing-the Mulberries and Gooseberries. After the five D-Day beaches were captured and linked together, the Allied forces needed to move equipment and people between the South of England and Normandy quickly and efficiently, and for that purpose the Mulberry Project was born. The mulberries were essentially huge prefabricated floating harbors that could be assembled in sections and used as bridges between ships and the coast. Unfortunately, the biggest thunderstorm in thirty years happened to be brewing just as the mulberries were completed, and they were torn to pieces before they could be much use. The Allied effort didn’t stop for a little ole storm, though, and the tanks kept rolling in. By the end of 1944, all of France was liberated, and World War II would soon be over.

The remains of Mulberry B at low tide.

I returned to Bayeux on Tuesday night with several thoughts running through my head. First, an even bigger distaste for war than I had before I came to Normandy. No matter how eager they are to serve, young boys should not be sent to die in foreign lands for causes they do not understand. That is my personal opinion and I will always stand by it. Contrarily, I felt an immense gratitude for those same kids who, however naively, chose to fight for the freedom of people they had never met and unhesitatingly went into battle knowing that they could die. That is a kind of courage I don’t think I’ll ever possess. Third, it was fulfilling to experience the kindness of the international community who commemorated our fallen heroes in the most respectful way possible. Above all, I felt thankful for the grace bestowed on my family, and proud of the three men who served and survived. To Poppy, Jay, and Carlos: Thank you, thank you, thank you.