heroes on the high speed train in france

I’ve ridden the TGV in France more than a few times. All I can say today is thank God for heroes.

an afternoon on the Pigalle – YARS

In 1982 I was in Paris with two friends for a couple days, a side trip from rugby tour in England. We saw the Jeu De Paume, the Louvre and napped in the Tuileries near an organ grinder with his monkey. The last afternoon we went through the Pigalle, the red-light district and home of some famous theatres and galleries. Even then it was much as you might expect – though sunlight reveals much that evening hides.

As we walked along, there were hawkers, like at a traveling carnival – bellowing out at every entrance, enticing us in – though we didn’t speak the language, we understood the terms. In front of one – three rough looking men saw us and exclaiming “show, show” rushed us in.

It was an old theatre, once grand, now showing wear and tear of time – and they sat us down and offered us drinks. As they went off, we realized our risk – alone in the old theatre – we quickly drew straws to see who’d drink first in case the drinks were drugged, and planned a mad dash out in case this was a robbery or worse – but the beer was just beer – and they guys kept saying – show, wait, drink – and we’d already paid.

After a while, an older lady, probably the cleaning crew hustled past us toward the stage, and then the lights went on, and the music began and the curtain opened and there was our cleaning lady, in a bright red corset and heels dancing a can-can for us.

We gave her a standing ovation, and at the end we left, poorer, entertained and wiser.

YARS – Yet Another Rugby Story

northern france – food

One of the beauties of France is its honesty. Rich and verdant, we came to visit the tour de France

the promise of cycling and racing

the promise of cycling and racing

Few things surpass butter from Normandy with sea-salt on a fresh baguette from a visit to the local bakery.

Butter from Normandy with sea-salt

Butter from Normandy with sea-salt

We are enjoying a world that still loves the table… It might be from the Champagne Les Brun Servenay ( light and dry and perfect ), or in the foi gras with sea-salt and a touch of apricot jam, or the chicken spread which prepared with duck fat, or the olive tapenade with a local cheese melted over it

The table is a beautiful thing

The table is a beautiful thing

Some things in life cannot be hurried….

Wishing you the luxury of time….

what’s the French word for…

My beautiful, intelligent, blonde daughter went to visit my sister who lives in Provence France. While there she asked my sister “What’s the French word for croissant?”

slow food, slower cycling

The days in France are lazy and relaxed. In the mornings my daughter and I get up, feed the ridgebacks fresh tripe and take them for a walk. We take several trips as holding more than one of these big boys when they see a rabbit is not so easy.

Then it is back for a croissant, with a dab of freshly made fig jam and some melon and possibly a yogurt. If we aren’t making a trip, my daughter and I cycle into the nearby town for coffee or hot chocolate and some people watching. We come the back roads passing vineyards and orchards. As we coast along the river, the shade from the wild fig and jasmine trees cools us and the combined aroma is a delicate perfume.

Irrigation ditches abound, many dug by the Romans during their occupation and remain a great benefit, longer lasting than pax romana. Just on the outskirts of town we see the communal area where women would bring their washing. Not that long ago many towns used these areas including one nearby place which only received indoor running water in 1964.

The grandparents might have brought their laundry here

My daughter, a visitor for some months with my sister, steers us down an alley to a gate in front of a nice driveway and building. There a cast iron spider glares at us, a deterrent aimed squarely at the Gypsies. In this area with the camps full, theft is common, although my sister’s five eighty plus pound Rhodesian ridgebacks ensure her compound remains unscathed.

we ride into town

The evil eye to deter theft

Then it is off to the square, or round about where we take a table and sit in the shade of a canvas umbrella and sip coffee or hot chocolate.

just watching life go by

Behind us, four or five older gentlemen chat, playing cards when a young mother with a stroller rolls up, says hello and then leaves her child sleeping peacefully in the stroller under their care while she goes into the little pharmacy. My hot chocolate is very good, and it still surprises me to see Megan drink coffee. It seems only yesterday she was a small child. We watch and chat, a cyclist in bright spandex zips by silently as he effortlessly circumscribes the circle. He is followed by a grandmother on her scooter, her white hair blowing merrily in the wind.
There is no big box store, although they are some miles away, here the pace of life is for the living.

he had secrets

My father had secrets, forged while a young man in a faraway place.  They consumed him the rest of his life, while he always smiled and was generous and cheerful, he was distant and never forged close bonds.   I never understood until I visited Normandy, that lush verdant place where the land met the sea and so many young men came never to return.

Even now the farms and paddocks show a rural flavor, and the night there is pitch black.  The single lane roads were gobbled up by our Defender, as we gamely navigated to our B&B.   Our hosts Tony and Pat were gracious and friendly, and we took two superb tours with Tony where he showed us the stories of the brave young men who landed there to stop the tide of evil that threatened the free world.

We saw the fortifications ordered by Rommel  that are still strong and secure and cliffs that only Rangers could conquer.  But it hit me hard at two cemeteries reading comments left by old men from both sides who needed to confess the horror.

My father boarded a Higgens boat, little more than a plywood tub with a swinging front door and with forty other men dared the shells, and mines and bullets as they neared the shore.  He was the only one who survived.  His best friend, drowned.  Dad somehow swam to shore in water so full of blood that the waves crested with pink foam.  There was no cover on the shore.  The bombers who had bombed the night before to create fox holes had dropped the bombs three miles inland.  The beach held only death and horror.

Three things stand out.   In a little village church they  setup a field hospital using the pews as beds.  Still 68 years later, you can see the bloodstains that mark this place of worship.

Blood stains this pew some 68 years after a soldier was tended here.

In the fine US cemetery there is a section where an old sailor recalls the Marines climbing down the rope mesh to board the tiny Higgens boats as they bobbed in the rough seas.  He  recalls how the men cursed and wept as they descended the ladders to Hell.

And the last was in the German cemetery where a machine gunner wrote that the Germans had fired and killed and pushed them back into the sea again and again, but still they kept landing.

This mount contains the remains of as many as 50,000 German soldiers, every one son, uncle, father, brother

Yes, my father had secrets, he was only 19.