Category Archives: France

To Conquer Hell

I discovered another book of mine pertinent to my upcoming visit to France. Its To Conquer Hell by Edward G. Lengel. The author is a cousin of that battle’s most famous soldier Alvin York a war hero that has not escaped mention in my blog.

The book came out in 2008 but I’m not sure when I acquired it. Quite possibly I bought it after seeing that it mentioned my Grandfather but I’ve not read it yet.

Yesterday I found my Grandfather’s chapter. I discovered it after checking the index for the New York unit he was attached to – the 369th infantry, made up of African Americans. To my surprise there was scant mention of the composition of the unit; just a short description of my Grandfather’s heroism. That seemed a huge over-sight.

Its only been recently that I’ve come to appreciate the battle’s name “Meuse Argonne.” It was the last battle on the Western Front and brought an end to the war. It was THE American battle with Sgt. York its most storied veteran. It began on September 26, 1918, and we plan to arrive at the battleground exactly one hundred years to the day afterwards. We will stay until Sept. 29th the day my Grandfather, shot to hell, was ordered back to the aid station to get himself patched up.

The Meuse-Argonne is said to have been the bloodiest battle in American History. Even so, it pales compared to some of the horrendous slaughters earlier in the war inflicted by and on French, German and English forces.

Duty, Honor, Country

Ah that’s better. I’ll give you an update after I get my hour of french practice in.

Before we left for Florida a second cousin of mine notified me that his father, the last remaining nephew of my Grandfather had tucked away three shell casings from the three rounds of rifle shots that were fired at my grandfather’s funeral in 1972. He asked if I wanted them and I told him he should feel free to keep one as a keepsake from his father and that I would likely keep one and give one to another cousin.

There is a tradition I had not known about American military funerals. One shell casing from each of the three rounds fired is given to the family along with the American flag that draped the veteran’s casket. The casings stand for Duty, Honor and Country. The two that I have are for the moment placed upright above my computer in front of my Grandfather’s photograph. I don’t know which is missing, duty, honor or country.

For a year or more I’ve contemplated visiting the battlefields of World War One to honor my Grandfather. I’ve also long contemplated writing a book about him and the America he experienced and fought for. In these perilous American splintering days that book is more important to me than ever but in recent weeks as I’ve read about France, the war George Robb fought in has been nudged aside as I’ve read and studied about our two nation’s long entangled history. Two hundred years ago the French King made our liberation from England possible and paid for it with his life. American’s have felt a debt to France ever since.

In more recent years so called patriots, mostly Republicans, have taken to ridiculing the French. They even abandoned French Fries for “Patriot Fries” much as during World War I Germany’s sauerkraut was renamed “Freedom cabbage.”

I have broken some of my chains this last year. I’m off the Duluth School Board and I’ve given a rest to the notion of writing a book NOW, TODAY. I have instead obligated myself to writing a once every two week column for the Duluth Reader but I’ve pulled back my posts to Lincoln democrat. I’m also reading more than ever although a lot of that is still news related.

Today we worked out an itinerary. Tomorrow we will start booking rooms.

Vive la France (I’m sure my Grandfather said that many times a century ago)

Georges Méliès

A very cool video from Google’s greeting of the day of a Disney-like figure in France, the innovative movie maker, Georges Méliès. I want my grandsons to see this to get a sense of France, as I would like to imagine it, before Claudia and I visit in September. Yesterday we bought our tickets. I have been learning French (and madly practicing it on Duolingo) for the past five months and am on the cusp of being able to speak it with four months to go before lift off.


https://www.google.com/?doodle=32727724&hl=en&gl=us&source=sh/x/do&nord=1

This is also the land of Voltaire, Jules Verne, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, the inventor of hot air balloons and Jacques Cousteau who opened the oceans to us.

Duty, Honor, Country sans one

Darn, I’ll need to rotate this…….more later.

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My photo sharing ap is being very balky. Its late and …

We just ordered our tickets to France. This gentlemen above, tipped on his side was my original reason for going. Now its more than that. That’s too big a subject to tackle in a late night post when I really need to hit the sack. I’m even too tired to study french at the moment. I will be speaking the language when I arrive next September……I may not sound pretty but I will speaking it.

I just discovered that Duolingo has been keeping track of my work. Since my birthday in December I’ve put in 129 hours. Most of these hours were in March and the April just completed. Duolingo says I’ve learned 2910 new words. Now if I could just learn to conjugate them all, spell them, properly àçcëñt them, put them in the right order and use them in a sentence……

Good night.

France

This is my bookcase of French related books that I’m working on. I posted a similar picture of the books on China last year. It was one of a number of posts to my “China” category. I have begun a similar category on France which this post is now a part of.

My (now) seven loyal readers will recall that it was my Grandfather’s exploits in France that was the primary driver for this trip. I have in fact polished off a couple books on that subject in the past seven or eight months. But that reading has led to a more intense interest in the nation which gave us our liberty and for which we have twice returned the favor.

I just finished reading Ina Caro’s book “The Road from the Past” to Claudia. (NOTE the preceding link is to a very unflattering WaPo review of the book which was, the book that is, just what I hoped it would be). Shortly afterward we decided to watch the movie Julie and Julia which was a charming little movie about a writer who set out to and succeeded in cooking all 524 recipies in Julia’s Childs first book on French Cooking in one year’s time.

I’ll be posting more about France as I go along. I’ve already made some discoveries I hadn’t expected. For instance I have always thought of English as a Germanic language. But Britain and France’s long entanglement left about one third of our vocabulary coming from the frogs. I must admit that has made it much easier for me to pick up their lingo as I chip away at it every day.

I’m currently on a 54 days in a row tear studying it. I started five months ago and have about four more months to go by which time I hope too have added a few brain cells upstairs. In fact, I think I’ll add a few more right now. Maybe I’ll edit this later or peut être pas.

A Rose by any other name

For a couple of days I’ve gotten two comedian’s confused. But first let me interject a completely unnecessary digression about female comedians (since I’ve been studying French for the past several months) The two entertainers I’ve confused are both women. In french, and also English, they could be called “comédiennes.” My wife would object to this female designation and she got me to drop “mailman” for “letter carriers” years ago. French, however is riddled with gender. Nouns are all either male or female and I have yet to discern a memorable pattern that would allow me to know whether a cow or a horse is one or the other. I’m not alone.

In The Greater Journey David McCullough relates the story of a rich American expat during the German seige of Paris. He was doubly beseiged when a mob of radical Parisians stormed his house and demanded that he give them his horse and cow so that they could postpone eating rats a little longer. When the old gentleman came out to confront them all he had at his command was the impoverished French he had avoided learning for his decade or more, of residence in the City of Light. He told them he would let them have his cow “le vache” but not his horse “le cheval.” He did so with great dignity and this made his use of “le” before the “vache” so comical to them that they broke out in good-hearted laughter. That was because his “le” indicated a cow was a male and everyone knew cow was a female word.
The mob let him keep his horse.

“Rose” is also a “female” word in French. A speaker is required to precede it with a “la” rather than a “le.” It is French for the adjective pink. As in English it is also a girl’s name and my confusion had to do with two comedians – Roseanne Barr and Rosie O’Donnell.

In recent days I’ve heard Donald Trump praise Roseanne Barr for bring back her old television series “Roseanne” from the dead. She also brought her TV hubby, actor John Goodman, from the dead. His character suffered an apparently fatal heart attack so that he could go on to a more exalted career in Disney voiceovers. I was confused because I’d thought that Roseanne had been having a very public feud with Trump some years earlier and that Trump had even berated her during one of his debates with Hillary Clinton.

Nope. That was Rosie O’Donnell. Trump had been calling her ugly since she joined “The View” a collection of women who talked about politics on Network television. O’Donnell like Barr both had strong opinions and raise hackles. In the end O’Donnell’s outspokenness got her pushed off The View. But I had another memory to recover about one of the Roses, Roseanne Barr it turned out, that I wanted to review. By chance it was about “recovered memory.”

The Rose that supports Donald Trump once hopped on the then faddish “recovered memory” movement. During the fad a great many women began recalling what they argued were long suppressed memories of their having been sexually abused as children. I have no doubt that suppression like this happens. My two years teaching at Proctor were so humiliating for me that I tried not to think about them for years afterward. Even now they are particularly hazy for me much to my regret. But in my case I never forgot them completely.

When Roseanne Barr told her audience that her father had sexually abused her she got a lot of pushback from her family saying it just wasn’t so. In time Roseanne Barr walked back the allegations. The following comes from Barr’s Wikipedia Page:

On February 14, 2011, Barr and Geraldine appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show where Barr admitted that the word “incest” could have been the wrong word to use and should have waited until her therapy was over before revealing the “darkest time” in her life.[105] She told Oprah Winfrey, “I was in a very unhappy relationship and I was prescribed numerous psychiatric drugs… to deal with the fact that I had some mental illness… I totally lost touch with reality… (and) I didn’t know what the truth was… I just wanted to drop a bomb on my family”.[105] She added that not everything was “made up”, saying, “Nobody accuses their parents of abusing them without justification”.[105] Geraldine said they did not speak for 12 years, but had recently reconciled.[105]

Barr, like so many other celebrities is a creature of the modern age in need of attention to maintain her career. Much as claiming to have been sexually abused her current “blue collar” support of Donald Trump is a smart move to revive her career. Take that Hollywood! Having given this some though I’m reminded of the adage, “A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I’d add that the question of fragrance might depend on the definition of “sweet.” Which reminds me of a french term I learned yesterday. I read it in the travel book, Five Nights in Paris, that I began reading to Claudia. “l’odeur.”

As for Trump’s nemisis Rosie O, She got in dutch with the networks for saying the same thing that Donald Trump would say twenty years later and that would help get him elected President. I’ve clipped a couple paragraphs from O’Donnell’s Wikipedia page if you like irony as much as I do.

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