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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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
In most of my previous big trips Claudia and I wrote a daily journal. Both of us would write in longhand in a diary about each days experiences but we would alternate who wrote first and second each day. The only place we didn’t do that was Isreal two years ago but because that was a class for Claudia she kept notes.
Its hard for me to read those old journals and I wrote half of them. Cursive writing is becoming as imposible for kids today to read as it is for me to read short hand. Its a dying art. So, treating this blog as my diary at least means that it is readable (as in legible if not addictive)
I decided early on to go on our own and not in tours. I wanted to meet French speaking people and not spend my time talking to English language tourists. I had hopes even of learning enough French to communicate with the locals. So far that has not been a great success but I haven’t given up. Claudia even suggested that we attend a french language immersion program in Quebec next year. I’ve been keeping up my hour a day online studying with the thought that perhaps in a year I could do in Quebec what I’ve not managed this year in France. That would give me two years and fits in well with a lecture I heard a polyglot (multi-lingual) give. She said it took her about two years of study at my daily intensity for her to learn the six or seven languages she’s learned by studying only one language until she masters it.
There were no glitches today. However after rising late (catching up on sleep) and coming home early to read it was because we realized we needn’t knock ourselves out hour after hour for 30 days straight. The four hours we spent walking around town was plenty. It was followed by some reading and then at 7 a dinner at a small restaurant our host recommended. It proved to be an excellent choice.
Here’s a capsule of our day beginning with that Cathedral we saw last night. Continue reading
I summed up our fourth day of travels this way in my Facebook post:
“We left Paris – for now – well organized and ubered ourselves to the St. Lazare Gare and a smooth RxR ride to Rouan where for a couple of fraught hours we struggled with travel glitches due to an auto pick up and massive crowds at an unexpected Saturday side walk days sale.
But we are in full “glass half full” mode so I will leave you with images from the similarly unexpected light show we saw last night projected onto Rouen’s Cathedral. The Norman’s are proud of their ties with England and their Viking Heritage too. They also make good hard cider.”
I’ll just post 3 images of Joan of Arc’s city of execution, all of them of the Famous Rouen Cathedral.
It was the first stop for Paris bound American tourists in the early 18th Century and for the bumptious Americans the lofty ancient cathedral blew their minds. It was probably two or three times taller than any building in America at that time. It was meant to blow people’s minds like all the other Gothic cathedrals of Europe, imbuing them with the awe of God and beckoning them on pilgrimages for the local promoters, ateliers and religious functionaries.
Enthusiasts for the French tradition of impressionism will remember Claude Monet’s 30 or so paintings of the Cathedral in different light as part of his impressionistic experimentation. And thus the first image of one of his paintings that I took in Paris’s Orsay museum: Continue reading
I spare my Facebook friends long tedious explanations of what I do. I simply inundate them with pictures when I go traveling. Here’s how I summarized yesterday on Facebook:
“A day spent on the Seine between Notre Dame and the Eiffel tower and endless gigabytes of picture storage is awesome. We climbed the 400 steps past Mother Mary’s gargoyles and rode the Bateuxbus down to Eiffel’s miracle with a stop at the Orsay Palace of Art before returning to the Hunchback’s domicile. Our poor legs. Thank goodness we had a final stop for fromage, pain and vin accross from Victor Hugo’s old church.”
Some additional reactions. 1. The French we’ve met, however briefly, have been cordial from the street workers who saw we were unsure of where we were and tried to help us on our way to the wait staff at cafes. 2. Paris is indeed a “walkable city.” Everyone is out on the sidewalks. But that’s a lot of walking. For the tourist there are other ways to get around and for us yesterday the boats on the Seine River took us between the principal sights in a one hour forty minute cycle from Notre Dame to the Eifle Tower and back. The cod at the restaurant in the Orsay Museum of Art was heavenly and our server most charming. Museum walking is tough like Christmas gift shopping. We ended our day with a simple plate of cheeses and baguettes and wine watching the folks passing by on the street.
I’ll share a couple of the hundreds of photos I took and then conclude with my take on the goings on back in the good ole US of A. Continue reading
In 2016 when Claudia and I were in Jerusalem every political know-it-all was assuring Americans that Donald Trump could never get elected President. In 2017 when we were in China older folks were keeping their fingers crossed that the young people’s prediction of a Trump impeachment was overwrought and wrong. This year while in France we find ourselves no longer trying to forget the last two years but watching things back home like guilty gawkers at a house fire.
But France has attractions to distract from our national catastrophe. Last night we decided to check out the jazz scene and found this 700 year old tomb where we stayed for a jazz trio and chanteuse and then an open mike where my seat mate gave his first ever public performance. I told him when he came back that for his was a “bonne debut.” He smiled at that.
Aujourd’hui (today) we awoke from a glorious night’s sleep with jet lag behind us. Starting a little late we hiked to the tourism center in the former hotel de ville now the Paris City Hall and formerly – 70 not 60 years ago – the headquarters for the German occupation. I think my last post put the occupation in my childhood instead of 5 years prior to my arrival.
There we got a two day museum pass and headed for the Louvre where American artists toiled to learn the art of french culture 200 years ago according to David McCullough’s book . We only lasted there for a little over two hours but I took a hundred pictures many of which will make it to my Facebook Page. I did not want to too severely burden my eight loyal readers.
But here are a few of them: Continue reading
I may have gotten a wink of sleep on my flight over the Atlantic to France but, if so, it was quite literally a wink. Our departure from went without a hitch other than our failure to sleep. Our hotel took our bags when we arrived by cab too early for a check in so we set out to get lost in the Marais neighborhood on the Seine’s right bank.
It is remarkable that the old part of the city is as it was when the German soldiers roamed the streets during the Second World War’s occupation of France. Hitler ordered it burned to the ground but his subordinates managed to evade his demands. Sometimes underlings can thwart their bosses worst inclinations as we have once again been reminded by Bob Woodward.
We would only last about four hours before coming back to our hotel to catch up in mid day on the sleep we had missed on the flight. But before we did we found our way to the islands in the Seine where the Hunchback once lived……If we can believe Victor Hugo. And, we had a fine French dejeuner (lunch) at the Place de Vosges where Hugo (OOgo en Francais) lived. Along the way we stopped at one of many of Paris’s neighborhood parcs and watched children playing soccer while their parents and grandparents sat on benches in the shade. We saw our first rat there as we left. Probably not a Ratatouille cook. I saw another one lying in the courtyard around Notre Dame. They probably lived here long before the Cathedral was built and they have a lot of ancient infrastructure to inhabit. Of course, they hang out under Duluth’s newly renovated Congdon Elementary too. Such enterprising rodents.
I am meeting too many french people who can speak English. I’m too timid to belabor them with my deficient French. Cross my heart, I’m going to get braver.
For two years I’ve been salivating over the prospect of traveling across the battlefields that my Grandfather fought on one hundred years ago. For nine months I’ve studied French the language and read about France the nation. For five months I’ve known the route I would travel across France and then I continued doggedly to prepare for the trip despite a ten week detour to make my disgust of Donald Trump’s attempt to sabotage my Grandfather’s legacy of sacrifice clear to the people of Northern Minnesota. Tomorrow I will drive with my wife, Claudia, to board a plane bound for Paris.
After the election I slapped this skimpy calendar on my office wall to keep myself on task. I am almost ready to cross off the last full day before my departure. Continue reading
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.
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)
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.
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.