Monday, October 24, 2011

Norman-tastic

The family fun continued with a four day trip to Normandy.  It is hypothetically possible that within 30 seconds of getting the rental car, I managed to scratch and dent the car for which I did not purchase insurance.  I can not verify that in fact I did these things, since I retrieved the car from a dark parking garage, which also happened to be insanely steep and narrow, requiring hard-to-achieve turns as demonstrated by the thick layer of car paint along the walls of the parking garage.  Thank you Avis.

But I decided that ignorance is bliss, and in this case I was going to simply ignore the likely hundreds of euros worth of damage that I *allegedly* and *hypothetically* but not *necessarily* caused.  So our delightful two car caravan of Americans set off from Paris for Mont St Michel.

Mont St Michel looks like a place for fairy tales.  You wind around these country roads off the highway, and you begin to see this magnificent set of steeples, turrets, and rooftops rise out of the sea to greet you.  There is one "street" on the island, and while certainly touristy, is oozing with charm.  Because who doesn't want to stop for lunch on a tiny winding street on a magical island off the French coast.  The fairy tale analogy would be better if it was a castle instead of an abbey, but either way it is old and beautiful.  Only a handful of nuns live there now, though it was once a true monastic abbey.  Turns out that being tourist-central isn't super conducive to the monk life, so they left.

The next day began the D-Day segment of the trip.  Mr. Oil and I watched Band of Brothers last year, so I was looking forward to seeing some of the places we learned about from that amazing HBO mini-series.  Norman towns have embraced their D-Day heritage and while this is driven by the tourism industry, I'm going to put my cynical self on the shelf for a minute and say that the museums and memorials are genuine, touching, informative, and showcase the courageousness of the Allied soldiers but also the pride of the Norman townspeople who both awaited and helped the Allied cause.  It is difficult when standing on the expansive beauty of Utah Beach to think what the morning of June 6, 1944 must have looked like.  After Utah Beach, we visited Pointe du Hoc, where you see huge bomb-made craters and intensely steep cliffs that were climbed in the night by specially equipped Rangers.  You can walk through the German bunker, and feel some sympathy for young German men sent to live in concrete window-less rooms on the Atlantic coast, waiting for an Allied invasion. 
Utah Beach

Pointe du Hoc

Many people hire private tour guides to provide details about D-Day while visiting the sites.  This wasn't necessary for us, as in addition to my dad, we also had our secret weapon, The Professor.  Which is the name I'm giving to my oldest younger brother (he's 13).  The Professor knows more about D-Day, and military history in general, than I will ever know. His retention of military maneuvers and strategy is mind-blowing, and I am pretty sure he could get a PhD in military history just about now - take that, Doogie Howser.

Now, my next youngest brother I will call The Ninja, because he regularly would provide a stealth attack of knowledge and insight about the places we were visiting, and other topics (such as art in the Louvre), when you least expect it. Also, he's really into ninjas. Finally, we have The Hurricane.  That's my 9 year old brother, who manages to be all over the place all of the time with boundless energy, for instance, almost being hit by a car about 47 times.  He also fell for a classic older sibling maneuver, in which I told him that if he got really dirty at Pointe du Hoc, his dirty pants would be blog-worthy.  Mostly I thought it was funny to watch him try hard to get dirty.  But Hurricane, here's your glory shot:


The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer was our final stop of the day.  Maybe the most iconic D-Day site, the pristine rows of crosses - and yes, Jewish stars - are a stark reminder of what that crucial victory cost.  All told, there were something like 200,000+ Allied casualties of the Battle of Normandy.  About 9,300 Americans are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery, with another 1500+ names inscribed on the Wall of the Missing.  Families were given a choice to have their loved ones' remains returned to the US, or buried in Normandy.  I'm grateful that so many families chose to make Normandy the final resting place for those who lost their lives there, because it's an important memorial for us all.   I'll move on from this topic now, but let me just say thank you to our soldiers, past and present.  Really.

The Norman-tastic trip continues in my next post.

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