Thursday, July 30, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 13. Normandie.

Geraldine and Nicolas have to work, so they kindly lend me their car so Maya, Lucas, Theo and I can do a two day trip to Normandie, on the coast of the channel between France and England. It is an educational trip, because it was here that on June 6, 1944, the allies landed to engage on the battle for France.

Our first stop, however, was the charming town of Honfleur, in the estuary of the river Seine. The town looks like it is hundreds of years old, with very characteristic tall and narrow houses around the marina (I believe they favored tall and skinny because taxes were levied based on the width of the building at street level). We meandered through the streets for a good half hour, prior to reaching the shore of the river and following it to where it opened into the ocean. It was a bit cold and overcast, but the rain held just enough for us to finish our walk and eat the sandwiches and fruit we had brought for lunch.

The next leg took us to Caen, where we were going to visit the Memorial to D-Day. It is a very nice museum space, with extensive gardens, but we spent most of the time inside, partly because there was so much to see, and partly because it started raining. The displays started at the end of World War 1, when Germany got crushed by the sanctions imposed by the victorious powers. Under these circumstances the ideas of the Nazi party found a sympathetic ear, and as the world was reeling from the effects of the Depression Germany started arming itself again. Brief descriptions of the rise of Benito Mussolini and the Spanish Civil War eventually led to the “addition” of Austria and Hungary to the Third Reich, and the invasion of Poland. It was at this time that England and France declared war on Germany. France was kind of prepared behind a series of fortifications along their border, known as the Maginot Line, but fixed fortifications were not a match for the German Blitzkrieg, and in a few months half of France was occupied, and the other half remained “free” under the collaborationist Vichy government (this was around 1941).

Many horrible things happened between 1941 and 1943. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet in Pearl Harbor and forced the United States to enter the war (the US had been helping Britain with munitions and equipment, but had remained neutral up to that point). The US fought most of the war of the Pacific, whereas the war for Europe was mainly fought by England and Russia, but in 1944 the US agreed to join Britain and Canada in the landings in Normandie, and to play an important role in the liberation of France. The French Resistance joined the allies in this powerful effort to regain their country.

On June 6, 1944, the United States, England, and Canada, under the general direction of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, landed 150,000 soldiers in a matter of about 12 hours, but at a horrendous cost of life (12,000 soldiers didn’t see the end of the day). From there, over a period of 90 days, the allies fought a bitter step-by-step war that eventually culminated in the liberation of Paris.

The visit was interesting, but it wore me down. The horrors of war are not something that I like to expand on, and although I appreciate the historic value of this amazing memorial museum, at some point I felt ready to leave. Tomorrow we will pick up the story, but for now I am done.

We wasted an hour in town, looking for a movie theater. Theo and Lucas have been very patient, and I wanted to reward them by taking them to see Jurassic World. Alas, we found one movie theater but they were only doing art films, and the second movie theater apparently has closed since the GPS program was loaded. So we simply came to the hotel where we will spend the night (a very nice apartment with a room for the boys and one for Maya and me), and will indulge in a pizza before we finish the day watching TV.

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