Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Normandy: Sobering, Beautiful

One of the places I had longed to visit in France was Omaha Beach and the Norman countryside. And, I must admit, my reasons for doing so were both historical and personal.

Several years ago, WKAR produced two World War II documentaries, one of which focused on the European theatre. During the course of production, I edited transcripts of many veterans who had served and shared their experiences. (You can see them here if you're interested.)

Several spoke of D-Day and Normandy and the coastal towns they lived and fought in following the invasion. It had indeed become personal.

Our trip to Normandy began early on a Sunday morning, with a fairly long drive, punctuated by stops at town "foires" -- a combination of town flea market and fair with rides and food.

(More on these in another post on flea markets, but I had some fun finds!)

Our first destination was the Omaha Beach Museum. It was fairly small, but with lots of artifacts, clippings, photographs and life-size diarama scenes.

The pieces in the museum told the story --

...from the landing to the resistance.

The emphasis wasn't on the equipment used (although there were certainly examples of the various arms and mortars, uniforms and helmets),

... but of the people who fought so bravely.

From there we moved on to the American Cemetery. This is truly hallowed ground, and it is impossible not to be moved by the elegant symmetry and simplicity of this final resting place for so many American soldiers.

I was particularly touched by flowers, left behind. Long past their peak, they remain, memorials and testimonials to a given soldier from -- who knows? A family member? A friend? A comrade in arms?

The cemetery is set on a high bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. I'm not sure you can tell from the photo just how far and how high that bluff is, but to be arriving on a boat in wretched weather, knowing the enemy was waiting for you on that bluff had to be frightening indeed.

Think of running up sand dunes -- it isn't easy. Add full fighting gear. It must have been a daunting task.

Now there are steps going down to the beach. Lots of them. Many of the pilgrims to the cemetery went down, as did I. Simply touching the sand, feeling that ground that had touched the feet of soldiers 65 years ago, was a sobering and moving experience.

And for some reason, the only family having a picnic here had a young girl in the family, who delighted in the broad expanse of beach. To me, she represented the purity, the future. After all, isn't it family we fight for most of all?

After leaving Omaha Beach and a stop at a German stronghold, we passed by this old church, named (as so many churches are in France) "Notre Dame."

It had been damaged in the war, and soldiers restored it.

I was rather capitvated by its stone work...

...and the heavy wooden door.

Then it was off to the beach at Arromanches, where some old German boat hulls, rusted and covered with algae, still rest in the waters at the shoreline.

One could easily visualize the soldiers in combat in these treacherous waters.

Our dinner destination was the town of Honfleur, about two hours away, perhaps. It's a port town, with LeHarve on the other side.

We expected it to be the quietly bustling town Jerry remembered. But they were in the middle of a music festival and it was more than a bit manic!

Finally, after 11 p.m., we found an outdoor restaurant on the water.

A look at the menu yielded promising options!

And of course, I had to sample the escargot! I'd been dying to try snails since long before my trip began, inspired by a commentary in Peter Mayle's book "French Lessons."

And oh, he was so very right! Succulent, delicious. Garlic and herbs with that bit of snail. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

Things I Learned Today:

Snails. Yum.

The writing "s/" means "sur" or "on the" -- "Sur La Mer" might be written s/Mer. Lots of the towns here were on the sea.

There are several women (nurses) buried in the American Cemetery.

I really never expected to be so moved as I was by a place such as this.

The best raspberries I've ever eaten were found at a foire en route to Normandy. I wish I had more!


jet1960 said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience! Thanks for stopping by and your kind words about Bama and the job. I am grateful for the new job, just not the reasons for it.

Will be back to enjoy all your lovely new pics of France that I've not seen.

gemma said...

This is a touching post. Most Americans know of some older friend or relative that was on Omaha Beach that day.
My favorite picture however is the church door.

joyce said...

A lot of history in that place. I would find it really interesting to be there, but I especially love the church, its so narrow which makes it different from other old churches, and the cemetary reminds me of the canadian cemetary in our friend Dagmar's home town. It has the same serenity symmetry, and command of respect.

Good job!

Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful and poignant journey - I've been scrolling down, reading your last posts. I've learned so much, and enjoyed the photos. I, too, was moved by what you've discovered. Your photo at Giverny is just perfect by the way, I love your face in that, all smiles; )

Thank you so much for your lovely comment the other day - I've been preparing for a show (ready now, whew!) and haven't had a chance to answer or thank you. (I'm usually not so rude, really!)

Re Garrison - I know, huh? I just love that you've experienced him/them/it too. I did not know you worked for a public station. What a great place to be!

Talk to you soon, xJ

Linda said...


And I love both sets of glasses on your head!

Tina- said...

what a lovely time it looks like you had.both haunting yet beautiful too.
wanted to invite you over to my blog if you get a chance/am hostessing my 500th post give away.

Pam Aries said...

Hi Jeanie! It's been a while, huh? How exciting t o see you in France! Wow! Thank you for sharing your adventures. Now that I a m settled I am trying to get my blog blogging back..hah! Peace to you.Pam

paris parfait said...

I think the American Cemetery and all the WWII beaches and monuments are so moving. It's a wonderful thing how the local townspeople pay for their upkeep and honor the foreign troops who came to their aid. xo

anno said...

Jeanie, this is such a rich post, with such beautiful pictures, and so many ideas to consider. I think it may be meant to be read out loud; any thoughts about developing it for a radio piece, a la This American Life?

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

What a beautiful post. I was really touched by your tribute and musings about Omaha beach. I'm also a huge escargot fan, but sadly, I became allergic in the early 80s. Moules Frites are a favorite, too.

Wonderful blog - I'll definitely be back. ;-)

Annie said...

Jeanie, this made Omaha Beach feel real to me in a way that nothing else has. Outstanding visit you have given us. I'm sending the link to my husband and my brother.

Pam Aries said...

Hi Again ! I forgot to tell you I moved to Naples , Florida...Portland didn't work out! Too cold and rainy..haha! This is waaay more moi !

ols1 said...

The snails don't do it for me I am afraid but I am glad you enjoyed them. I just loved the photo of the little girl on the beach and your description of what meaning you found in the photograph were gorgeous.

Enjoy :)

Beth said...

Oh, I would so love to see Normandy beach too. You give such excellent descriptions that I almost feel like I am there. Now, the snails,,well,,I am not so sure about them.

Joanne Huffman said...

A very moving commentary on a very important place.


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