Sunday, October 15, 2006

Our Liberators

For as much sniping I've done on France, I will say this: The French do properly tend their D-Day history.

I'm sitting on a bus in Normandy. It is entirely too early to be sitting anywhere. The tour operators are extremely American about departure times, by which I mean when the bus is leaving at 6:30 AM, it's not "wander down to the lobby 'roundabout 6:35." It's AIS, 6:30 AM. We were departing for a military tour, yes, but... seriously.

Whizzing past the bus are a great many cows. Paris blurs behind us, eons away; to liberate the great metropolis, the Allies first had to free the pasturelands. The cows are brown and white and don't seem particularly grateful one way or the other. Look, there go some now:

They are heartbreaking, these cows. They're just standing there. They were just standing there sixty years ago, too. Maybe they started at the sounds of the gunfire. Or maybe by then they were used to it.

The first stop is Arromanches, where the Allies built floating docks. The bases remain, decaying concrete, horrible scars in the sea. They are a tribute to outstanding engineering, remarkable planning. I wish they were never necessary. For how many men were these the last solid ground they stood upon until their bodies were dragged to the shore?

Look at the cliff. For the rest of my life I'll put my hand over my mouth whenever I think of that cliff. That was scaled by real men, with real ropes, under awful fire from real guns. When the ropes were oversaturated with water and blood, the troops hauled themselves off the beach by their fingernails and boot toes.Straight down.

I debate on posing for pictures or smiling at all; it seems horridly out of place, like grinning one's way through the Holocaust Museum. But the town of Arromanches is brimming with life, color, sun. Buses and cars and school trips and vets-- one sign in a store window that nudges me to tears in my leatherette, air conditioned seat is handlettered in painstaking English over a picture of Allied troops: "WE WELCOME OUR LIBERATORS."

And I think that was my biggest fear, with Normandy-- not the emotions or the crying or the threat of rain, but that our bus would trundle alone through overgrown cow patches and rusted-over war material. But everywhere we went that day was thronged over with men and women my age up and my age down, Americans and Canadians, French and British. They had all remembered.

So I allow myself one smile, to honor the honoring.

You see I have a picnic basket. An honest-to-God picnic basket, with a little metal spoon and slim carrots and squares of very suspicious sandwiches. It was a war zone, and now I have a picnic basket.

I am particularly glad that the Allies focused on Arromanches, for it is the only place I could find a proper cheeseburger in all of France.

Between my ghastly French and the counter lady's limited English, I am also able to order fries.

I lost two pounds in France.

Others lost far more.

This is Omaha.
It's beautiful and pure and blue and horrible. The Marines called it "Bloody Omaha," which came from our French tour guide's mouth as "Omaha the Bloody"-- I perfer the way she said it. Omaha the Bloody, an adjective and a place deserving the pause of a well-placed "the."

One of our group carefully scooped some of the sand into a little bag, and wrote on it, "I am an American citizen. This is sand from Omaha Beach, September 2006." He stashed it in his suitcase.

The customs agent waved him through.

The Omaha memorial is scattered with tiny red rocks as a reminder of the bloodshed. Directly in front of it are teenagers playing volleyball, laughing, coveting my picnic basket. I am momentarily appalled, then realize that there could be no better tribute; this is why those young men came. This is why they all slogged on shore, some of them never making it to the beach for the swells and the heavy equipment, so that these very people can do this very thing on this very sand.

More on Normandy, including the American cemetery later. I can only do a little bit at a time, for obvious reasons.

blessings to the children they never had at: mb@blondechampagne.com

22 comments:

Scott the Taller said...

I'm glad you got to see Normandy, I've heard it is an amazing place to visit. It makes one appreciate the sacrifice and hard work that went into restoring freedom to Europe and those who fought during World War 2. I've always gotten the same feeling by talking to some of the volunteers at the AF Space Museum; once you get past the occasional political incorrectness, of course :)

Ophelia said...

I cannot process words to describe how this post made me feel.
Touching, beautiful, hauntingly real.
I feel like I was there

my kidz mom said...

can't post right now - big lump in throat

Miasys said...

Moved to tears.

Josh The Pilot said...

This is why I think MB is the best writer in the world, not because she's my girlfriend.

If y'all liked this, you will love "Drink To The Lasses".

mike the unpaid associate editor said...

Ummm, JTP, much as I like MB's writing, I don't think Drink To The Lasses has a single thing in common with this post.

Josh The Pilot said...

Au contre, Michel (to the contrary, Mike, for you English-speaking types). This post has much in common with Drink To The Lasses. I was referring to MB's style and sheer talent, not the exact content. Perhaps I was unclear on that in my previous comment. Je suis desole (I apologize, for you English-speaking types).

tamar said...

I agree with both Ophelia and Josh. MB, you have the unique ability to make me laugh out loud (almost to the point of peeing my pants), and then turn around with a post such as this...which leaves me speechless.

You have enabled ME to see Normandy. I see clearer thru your eyes than I would probably have seen thru mine. You are able to take WONDERFUL emotions, moments in time, and make them accessable to ALL of us. I can only wish that back in school ONE of my teachers would have had the gift that you possess, and hope that one of my children's teachers will be able to affect them the way that you've affected me. Sorry for carrying on. I have to go read that again now. :)

Jess said...

That was such a great post; you really are quite a writer...
Funny, though, we both wrote about similar things. We had a family member with us that fought in WWII, and I wrote about that in my blog as well! You should check it out.

red pill junkie said...

Very powerful, funny and moving.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful, MB. So simply eloquent. Thank you!

MB said...

Thanks everyone for the very kind words :)

Julie said...

I'm impressed. You managed to go to France and come back with photos that look like they were taken in California. Speed Food, indeed!

MB said...

Hee! I know. I believe the full title of the restaurant was "Speed Take-Away Food." How could I not stop there?

paradegpsy said...

Pardon my ignorance but what is Drink to the Lasses?

MB said...

paradegpsy, you'll find out this week :)

Danica said...

Darn you, this post made me cry.

MB said...

Thank you for telling me that, dancia... it means a lot.

ShannJ said...

Wow . . . just, wow. Your ability to express yourself with the written word is just incredible. (Always has been, I just had to reiterate.)

MB said...

Shannyboat, I am always overwhelmed by your kindness and generosity. Hope I can see you soon.

Jenib said...

Your descriptions are vivid and hauntingly beautiful.

MB said...

Thank you :)

Previous Tastings