Vingt-Quatre

From Facebook:

Near the end of a full day driving the Meuse Argonne battlefield I walked among some of the 14,000 graves in the largest American cemetary in France. I had been calling out the names of the dead and the dates of death on the headstones when I stopped one last time and asked Claudia to take my picture. After she honored my request she said, “that date is exactly 100 years ago today.”

That headstone is the first image in today’s photo collection. The second is the poppy she pointed out to me as we entered Fort Douaumont. Until our visit I didn’t fully understand the importance of Verdun. For the past five days we have been traveling through Germany (enemy territory) circa 1914. Despite mentioning Alsace’s changing hands so often I didn’t think of it being foreign until today. The French built a massive multi-fort complex right on their German border for protection. The Germans owned both banks of the Rhine and had no need to ford a wide river to invade France. Douaumont was a massive and heavily armed menace. When it fell to the Germans the French did what the Germans hoped they would do. They bled themselves white in an attempt to recover the fort. Retaking it cost France 400,000 soldiers. It took millions of tons of ordnance to win it back and left it with a new German nickname, “Sarge deckle” or “The coffin lid.”

All across the trenches the land still looks like ski hill moguls where it was made lumpy from heavy shells. Time has only softened them while water flowing in Duouamont’s ruins had for the last 103 years had left stalagtite straws hanging from the ceiling. As you can see, its not only humans who enter its chambers.

At the massive ossuary next door hundreds of thousand of German and French bones are commingled together. You can see them through small windows in the back. No cameras were allowed in the memorial hall above. We quietly walked its length and Claudia lit candles and placed them with others in memory of the fallen. Cameras were allowed in the tower where I took a picture of the place where the fort had once towered over the landscape.

We had time for one last objective, traveling the width of America’s sector in the Meuse Argonne, that cost 26,000 American lives, and paying our respects at the American cemetary at Romagne. 14,000 men and women are buried there including black American soldiers who in death were finally accorded equality.

On the way there we stopped at Montfaucon where Congress paid for a fitting memorial honoring our role in the war. There are others but this one towers over the heights where Germans rained death on the doughboys. A ruined church lies at its feet and the climb to the top takes some work. From the bottom the memorial’s staircase is hypnotic.

I was heartened at our last stop to see that African American soldiers were given their due in the visitor’s center. It was formerly built to accomodate the mothers and families of American soldiers who crossed the ocean at government expense to visit their son’s graves. A picture of Henry Johnson was prominent. He was a black soldier from my grandfather’s regiment. And a video history made it plain that black Americans were forced to find American soldiers remains long after the battles so that they coud be collected together in proper cemeteries. It was gruesome work.

To return to our hotel we traveled through the fabled Argonne Forest where more Americans lost their lives. I snapped a picture there too.

some of the pics: Continue reading

Vingt-trois – Day 23

From Facebook:

The 26 pics I’ve included may bore the pants off of my readers. They show the quiet countryside of a sleepy part of France. Sechault, my destination, is nothing to write home about. But these farms would have looked very familiar to my grandfather raised on a Kansas farm who got a college education in Parkville, Missouri, where the student did hard labor on area farms for their education. Only at the front was it hell paved over with corpses and blood.

I took pics of the signs to match against better maps later. Much of the landscape is just yards off the path the 369th infantry took north beginning September 26 until they were relieved in early October with about half their men dead or wounded.

In Sechault George Robb lasted a day and a half with three wounds before he was ordered to the rear on Sept 30th. He had spent the days before fending off machine gun emplacements at the north of town which shot anyone moving in the streets. When forced to retreat the Germans set up shop in forested hillsides north of the village to wreak more havoc on the allies trying to take the forests.

We discovered a German military cemetary a short walk outside of Sechault. It had nearly 7000 graves. Of the 4000 known casualties about 30 were Jewish. When the nazis took France they left these graves alone. There are hundreds more German cemeteries like this as well as for others nationalities along the hundreds of miles of trenches. Its fitting that in the poisoned landscape the French have set aside military reserves. Military vehicles drove by constantly and helicopters shadowed us everywhere.

Claudia spotted a fox hunting mice in a field next to the cemetary and we stopped to take a group pic of some bovine neighbors as we left . Roosters and cows serenaded us all the time we were in Sechault.

We ate lunch in Vouziers in former German occupied France then spent an hour searching for a gas station that would accept our credit cards. We found a tasty way to settle down after we got back to our hotel.

A few (not all 26 pics) pics: Continue reading

Vingt-deux, Day Twenty-two

From Facebook:

We drove for 3 hours to Verdun, the epicenter of death for French soldiers in 1915. The city was rebuilt following the war having literally been bombed to smithereens. The Meuse River courses north to meet the Rhine and we watched as some able and not so able rowers propelled sculls below us on a bridge spanning it. While picking up some maps at the TI (tourisme information) I saw the French language version of a recent graphic novel treatment of my grandfather’s 369th Infantry.

Hearing that there were underground tours of the massive bunker built under the city I insisted that we give it a look. We tagged along with a gaggle of unserious and boisterous sixteen-year-old school kids. The tour by electric shuttle was all in French and chilly ad you would expect of things subterranean.

At its modest museum I took some pictures of posters used to stir French patriotism early in the war and after its devastation. I loved the coq glaring at a shrinking German soldier. I found the ethereal post war treatment of Verdun’s war memorial interesting to compare with what we climbed today. Also compare the standard sculptural treatment of Napoleon’s General Rapp with post impressionism’s metaphoric treatment of the horrors of war. I took a pic of the former at Colmar before we left yesterday.

Also note the French lebel rifle like the one issued to my grandfather. He never forgave the French for taking away his American issued Enfield.

Finally at the monument’s summit I took a picture of the countryside over the town’s rooftops. Its beautiful today but below ground it contains arsenic and heavy metals from years of shelling with poison gas and other ordnance. That’s what the land looked like before war. I was mesmerized by the terrain as we drove towards the front yesterday.

A few of the pics: Continue reading

Vingt-un – Day twenty-one

From Facebook:

Yesterday I would have made my father proud. I drove a few miles away to cross the Rhine to be in another country – Germany. Other than the language little more than east and west distinguishes the opposite banks. Both are well farmed, manicured and tidy.

My chief objective was in France however. I wanted to find Kutzenhausen where the Seanors emigrated from. Charlotte Seanor was my mother’s beloved grandmother. Seanors were German although I have no idea which nation ruled over them when they immigrated to America. I wonder if my Grandfather gave that much thought when he sat in the trenches a hundred miles further west.

We stopped in Haguenau first before all French restaurants took their traditional 2 to 4 PM siesta. I had Claudia snap a pic of me to text to our grandsons to make them jealous.

Although we did not find a traffic sign I did find evidence on a municipal van of the village’s existence. By chance I had caught the village in a picture over the backs of two black horses when I stopped to record the countryside. Once in town I was greeted by a reception committee of one small cat.

Having accomplished these missions we turned back to Colmar driving past Alsace’s wine roads. Heading into town we passed the tribute to local-boy-made-good, Frederick Bartholdi, in a reproduction you might recognize. Duluth has a smaller version too; a gift from an heir to the great man. I had Claudia pose for a pic too in the spiral staircase of our vintage hotel. Vintage 1361. We have climbed a lot of them over the past 3 weeks.

Pics: Continue reading

The America that Bret Kavanaugh helped make..


…elected Donald Trump.
………

At the moment it is 4:30 am in France. I am only miles away from where another man – who was helping to make the America that really is great – fought and was awarded the nation’s highest military honor. My eight loyal readers know him as my grandfather – George Robb.

Whether I fall asleep again or not tomorrow – today- I will walk over some of the ground he trod as his friends and fellow soldiers were being blown to dust and blood all around him. And I can’t sleep because I woke up thinking about that smarmy little skunk Bret (pay no attention to that frat rat rapist in the closet) Kavanaugh is invading my pilgrimage to remind me what’s at stake back in the land my Grandfather helped make!

Well, I have a lot to say on that account but having mostly bit my tongue about Trump World to write about my pilgrimage I had to go find a quiet place in my latest hotel room to get that off my chest. I am going to try to get a little more shut eye before walking the path of heroes who’s blood once soaked into this land.

Vingt – Day Twenty

From Facebook:

We drove into Alsace today home to sauerkraut, reisling wine, some of my German fighting Grandfarher’s ancestors. It was a centuries long prize coveted by two nations on either side of the Rhine. The French thought the river made a good border. The Germans thought the Vosages mountains twenty miles into today’s France was better. We passed between both heading into Colmar. It was once the home of wealthy traders garbed like the gentleman I snapped a picture of in a cafe spangled with dangling Pinochio marionettes. I ordered a meat pie. Today the timber beamed homes are the best evidence of the days when Colmar was granted protection by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Later, when Catholics and protestants were busy killing one another, religious art was hidden from destruction. Now much of this art rests in a world class museum we visited. Some of the art was as horrific as the time it was painted. The museum also displays modern art even more horrible. My shoes squeaked terribly as I walked through a quiet gallery with giant dreary artwork hung on its walls. I rather enjoyed that.

Tanners once prudently built a canal through town to flush out the chemicals they tanned hides with. Glad I didn’t live downstream. They are long gone and the canal is now called “Little Venice.”

Pics: Continue reading

Dix-Neuf -Nineteen

From Facebook:

Guided tours of the vineyards begin in Darcy Park near our Dijon hotel. For some reason ye olde English telephone booth is the point of departure. Today we got a royal tour to match the monarch’s crown on the red box.

We were eight. Canadians, Ausies, English, Irish and Americans. Claudia sensibly insisted on a tour if I intended to sample so, free of a steering wheel, I took lots of pics along the way of the countryside. We tippled before Beaune and after. Six wines at each vineyard. No purchases for us. Too pricey but some sips were of grand crus. The wine growers have long been a feisty lot and looked out for their self interests. They have enforced lots of rules that make explaining their manufacture and labeling head turning. I was content to sample.

Beaune (pronounced bone) is a walled city with a historic hospital at its center. We took a tour. A rich merchant built it to atone for his sins and for five hundred years the sick and dying were given tender care inside its walls. I took pictures but was particularly taken with a scene of sinners on its walls (perhaps not unlike the hospital’s founder) tumbling into hell. The hospital may have been his ticket to salvation.
Dix-H
By the way, the hectare and a half of grapevines behind Claudia and me produces the most expensive wine in the world at about $6,000 per bottle. CORRECTION, CLAUDIA SAYS IT WAS $12,OOO TO $21,000 PER BOTTLE. We were not permitted in among the vines and I don’t blame the owners – not at $10.00 [ make that a $25 dollar grape ] per grape. Vive la France! Oh, and the rooster is the symbol for France. The plumed fellow that completes this post is on the Post Office building opposite our hotel.ics

Pics: Continue reading

Dix-huit – Day Eighteen

From Facebook:

This was a happy day and I took lots of pics. Saturday not only saw calliopes and organ grinders but market day under a vast canvas and a huge flea market. We woke to see huge crowds outside our hotel window. We retraced our steps to a great open square and discovered that the city had organized a one mile race for waiters and waitresses carrying trays of beverages in the afternoon.

Before the race we toured yet a other cathedral and Dijon’s museum of Beaux Arts (early renaissance art). More pics. We stopped for a glass of wine to prepare for watching the great tray carrying marathon.

Then it was off to the races. We saw the start of the spectacle and took a shortcut to the end where we saw the intrepid wait professionals race to the finish line with background accompaniment by organ grinders. As a last pic you will see a statue of a polar bear near where Claudia and I will be picked up to start a full day tour of Beauene tomorrow. I don’t know what the bear stands for but the brass owls we found embedded in the streets are a symbol of Dijon. Following their trail takes you to everything of interest.

A few of the Pics: Continue reading

Dix-sept – day seventeen

We have left 3 days of CNN in English back at Bourges. We haven’t checked to see if we can get it at this stop, Dijon. If not our cell phones keep us up to date with the various embarrassments and tragedy’s back home so its not exactly a matter of “out of sight out of mind.”

Here’s my spare Facebook post for yesterday:

It was gray for a few days in Normandy then it turned warm and sunny. Until today, when I insisted on driving backroads through forests and farmland. A wet cold front covered us. Our destination was Dijon in France’s Burgundy region. I drove the first half then got itchy to take pics from the car. That’s when the rain picked up meaning that I had to wait till wndshield wipers shot passed to shoot the landscape from our windows. 4 in 5 shots were ruined. I’ll show you the best I could do.

Rain let up in Dijon after we umbrellaed our way to the hotel. We took a long stroll for picture taking. Once again travel guru Rick Steves had nothing to say about our destination. There was a convention of calliopes in town. I got brave and ate snails. Butter works miracles. See for yourself.

And a couple of the pics I shared: Continue reading

Seize – Day 16

From my Facebook Page:

Today’s first attraction was half a block away. It was the almost palatial castle of France’s first mega-rich businessman Jacques Coeur. After building a trade empire rivaling the richest Italians and once rescuing France from financial ruin jealousy did him in. His struggling rivals talked the king into putting him in jail and giving his wealth away to others especially the King. I took pics.

We also went to Bourges Cathedral’s more modest predecessor, the Eglise of Etienne, where I took more pics including the honor role of parishioners killed year by year in the Great War. Also you will see the donkey on bended knee popularly given credit for founding the spot to build this Church.

Finally, I will share the after dinner photos of the walk we took past the Cathefral at night following a blue light trail around Bourges. It took us past Jacques’ house again and a gentle bear that guided his good friend, the brother of the French King.

And a couple of pics: Continue reading

Quinze – Day 15

From Facebook:

Thirty days gives us the luxury of not rushing. We have spent the last 3 hours in our hotel room watching French game shows on television. I am not sure whether they are a better cultural or linguistic lesson.

Our day began with English language news for the first time in two weeks. (Today was our vacation’s halfway point.) Then we took our first white sight-seeing train around Bourges. We have found them in most of the fun cities we’ve visited so far. We followed that with a lovely lunch outside the Cathedral where I finally attempted a little French. We found our first waiter who couldn’t speak English. It was great to his equal.

Then we took the French speaking tour of the Cathedral’s crypt. After that we climbed the 396 steps to the cathedral tower. Unlike Notre Dame there was no line and no crowd. Next up pictures of our day.
Continue reading

Quatorze – Day 14

From Facebook:

We have 2 three-day stays ahead of us. We hopped back on the train from Bordeaux to Tours and drove our rental car to the ancient royal city of France at Bourges. Our hotel is a venerable Best Western that I think takes its name from a 1912 stay by the Duke of Windser. Hôtel d’Angleterre = Hotel England. He is best remembered for abdictating his throne for the women he loved.

We will do most of our touring tomorrow but we walked over to the cathedral so I could get some pics. Once again I found St. Denis this time in a window. If I had chopped off his head only to have him stoop down and pick it up to stroll off on his merry way I’d have become a good Christian too.
Continue reading

Treize – Day thirteen

From Facebook but first a correction:

The first picture I referred to was a traffic sign that I’m not certain is really official. It shows an artist painting the bar across a do not enter traffic sign. The message is no artists allowed to paint here. This morning I woke up and realized I had referred to it on Facebook at a no musicians can play here traffic sign. Oops.

Bordeaux day two. We signed up for a tour of wineries this afternoon so here are pics of that excursion. We had a couple hours to kill and I did it in a corner bookstore with the no public music here street sign. Being a book store that made sense because there were a lot of open guitar cases begging for change in the City’s mostly pedestrian streets. The store turned out to be vast rabbit warren of seperate rooms for books. It easily had double the books of a Barnes and Nobel. I bought a couple…..to work on my French.

The picture of a tractor goes back to 1948 if I remember correctly. The father of this small organic vineyard bought it with the help of the Marshall Plan. Sadly, it was far too big to use in grape vineyards but its sale sure was a boon to International Harvester.

At the wine tasting after the tour I noticed a familiar Minnesota insect – box elder bugs.

At a second rather grander Chateau I snapped pics of the Dordogne and Gironde Rivers joining together 75 miles shy of the ocean. A mile wide here they keep killing frosts away. They are tidal rivers and rise and fall 15 feet with the ocean tides. The owner of this vineyard told us her land was where the Roman’s first planted Mediterranean wine grapes 2000 years earlier. Continue reading

Douze (Twelve) Days

From my Facebook entry:

Today we traveled on the french rails and I snapped several pics of the countryside as we zipped along on our way to Bordeaux. It was only this morning that I realized Rick Steve’s completely left the city out of his 500 page guide to France. I wondered if our two day jaunt would be a waste. You be the judge.

It turned out to be one of the innumerable annual French Holiday weekends where everyone, not in the service industry, takes a 3 or 4 day weekend thus the crowds scenes. This one was Patrinomy Day. As a result lots of government agencies let the public in for a peek at their work at no charge. At the Customs House I took part in a vintage demonstration of hunting down smugglers with my keen smelling hound. At another I took a picture of the natural history staff carrying a properly anesthetized exhibit up a stairwell.

Of course, we had to tour the local gothic cathedral and were so moved (by hunger) that we ate a mouth watering meal in the bistro across the way. We were tempted by the item just above the children’s section of the menu but sadly it wasn’t being served on Sunday.

A few pics referenced above: Continue reading

Onze (eleven)

My last post suggested that we are not intensely interested in the fate of the United States. Nothing could be further than the truth. The New York Times is keeping us up-to-date. We watched PBS’s Washington Week in Review not long after it aired to hear the interview of Bob Woodward. We are not alone. His bookk “Fear” about the Trump catastrophe is the number one selling book in Europe right not. Claudia bought the audio version on line but I can’t imagine it helping her get a good night’s rest.

But tomorrow we board the TGV to Bordeaux after sampling several fine samples of the wine of the Loire and Tourine. Here is what I put into Facebook about our eleventh day with a couple of the pics. We’ve started the second third of our trip now.

FROM FACEBOOK ON DAY ONZE: Continue reading

dix

I made the Duluth News Trib a couple days ago much to my amusement. Reporter Brady Slater, who has been covering the Congressional campaign in Minnesota’s Eighth District, emailed me some questions wondering what I made of Pete Stauber’s silence on his email snafu. I was quoted correctly saying that he wanted to keep it from getting too much oxygen. I wasn’t quoted having said that I thought it wasn’t that big a deal. On the other hand, I do think St. Louis County’s protecting Pete is a big deal. He broke the law and they are covering his butt.

The real scandal is that Pete, a man of the law, has sworn to kiss the shoes of the man who urinated all over the Party of Lincoln and like all the other piss soaked Republicans he is too timid to admit he is in an embarrassing league with the devil.

But as I told Brady Slater, who shamed me for not reading the Duluth paper, I am happily removed from Donald Trump’s havoc and Pete Stauber’s painful shoe licking.

AND HERE IS WHAT I WAS UP TO ON DAY TEN (“DIX” pronounced deese IN FRENCH) FROM MY fACEBOOK PAGE: Continue reading

Huitieme et neuvieme jours, Je suis desole d’etre en retard

The Title says, “Eighth and ninth days, I am sorry to be late.

Couldn’t be helped. My wifi connection petered out in St. Malo so I have two days to catch you up on. I heard a Brit use that “catch you up” phrase a couple days ago. I will continue with the easy peasy method of copying in my text from my daily Facebook posts. They tend to me more muted in their politics and very short by my blog’s standards. They do however inundate my friends with pictures which I limit here on the blog. and so……Day eight.

DAY EIGHT

No Mont St. Michael for us after all. We saw impressive tides here at St. Malo and more than enough people spread out inside and outside its impressive walls. Claudia’s loadstone for today was the novel “All the light we can not see.” It was about two compelling characters at St. Malo through its destruction by allied bombers in WW II. We found the book on offer at a bookstore here.

The citizens rebuilt the ruined town as a near replica of what it had been formerly. It’s very picturesque. At low tide Claudia and I walked out to the nearest of the island forts built to protect the town from naval reprisals for harboring daring corsairs (govt approved pirate businessmen).

We met a delightful German quadralingual tourist when she asked me to take her picture on the beach which she reciprocated for us. She teaches French and made me feel better by assuring me that it is a hard language to learn.

DAY NINE Continue reading

Sept on Sept. 11

Seven days in to my vacation and I ran out of time. Its 1AM in France and I lost a 194 day streak of daily French studies online. I lost time to blog here about my travels other than by cheating and copying my daily Facebook post. And I failed to get a Reader Column in. It’s late and I have to wake early to plug a meter. I think I’ll just take the fine.

Here’s what I put in Facebook.

Our 9-11 in America’s cemetary in

France

I am watching the BBC showing minute by minute video of cell phone video of 9-11. The anniversary wasn’t our mission when we left for St. Malo early this morning. We had two stops on our itinerary. The first was Bayeux to see its Cathedral and the football field length tapestry celebrating the invasion of England by William the Conquerer. Fascinating and gorgeous. Then we headed to the gravesite of 9,000 Americans who gave their lives to invade France and stop tyranny. To think that we have elected a President so chummy with dictators.

At the Normandy cemetary we saw the French lower our flag at afternoon’s end and replace it only to give the lowered flag to one of the fallen’s loved ones. Deadly Omaha beach, where so much blood was shed, was at a beautiful low tide under an intense sun below the graveyard. The ranks of orderly headstones above were every bit as beautiful as the sights in Bayeux.

We got in late to St. Malo. The day’s sobering moments on pause we had a giddy experience driving the tightest streets in France to get to our hotel. Our late dinner was charming with a surprise table guest. Now its back to New York and the horror of the new millennia.

And here are four photos I took along the Coast of Normandy:

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Six – that’s pronounced seece – rhymes with fleece

For several months I got used to talking with french folks online who were on their computers while I was still waking up. In the last couple days I’ve had to get used to no news when I wake up because American is still fast asleep. Its noon before America news outlets wake up.

Again I’ll let my post from Facebook speak for today’s experience on the road for the first time and add a couple of the photos I uploaded to it:

“Today we drove west to the Atlantic and the old port city of Honfleur where England’s Henry IV launched an attack to take back France. There were two of us driving, watching the road, reading unfamiliar traffic signs and getting used to the quirks of French cars. But today it was only my hands on the wheel. We got off the highway to see a long abandoned abbey and quaint villages with narrow streets that put side view mirrors at risk. Then we strolled Honfleur’s streets and visited the church built by shipwrights that has a hull for a roof. Claudia lit a candle at its memorial for the lost EorldWar I soldiers of Honfleur.

We brought pear cider, Camembert and a loaf of corn pain (bread) back to our room for an inexpensive dinner.”

I’ve only just realized that I didn’t rent room close enough to the the Normandy beaches for a long stay there tomorrow. We will have to start early for St. Malo tomorrow in order to have a couple hours at Normandy.

Some pics for you starting with proof that I really have been here in France: Continue reading

The official source for all the blather of the eccentric Harry Welty – Duluth School Board member, off and on, since 1995. He does his best to live up to Mark Twain's assessment: "First God created the idiot. That was for practice. Then he invented the School Board."