Monday, July 28, 2014

Mèmorial de Caen

Dinner last night was a breaded fish or hamburger-type beef ("It's Salisbury steak day, children!") and was somewhat underwhelming. The food was okay, but the entire group of us was absolutely exhausted. We ate, and some of us hung out by the hotel bar for a while. Some of us went for a walk around the hotel, which is in an industrial district and not very interesting walking. It's a nice area - not like it's factories or anything like that - but not very tourist-y.

Breakfast was an "American"-style buffet. I kind of gather that this is the continent's version of the continental breakfast, but they don't call it continental because they're already there. Great yogurt, in particular, and the coffee is choice. On the agenda today is a Normandy museum, lunch in a tourist area, performance at the American cemetery, hotel time, dinner, and an 8:45pm performance.

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The museum, Mèmorial de Caen, predominantly tells the story of the Allied invasion - and subsequent liberation - of France. Many talented writers have told that story, so I will not endeavor do to so; however, in a simple and multilingual style, the museum brings a powerful punch to the tale.






My group first went to the bunker built by General Richter, who was the German general in charge of defending the Normandy coastline against possible Allied attack. It's surprisingly spacious, considering that it is carved out of a mountain (well.... a quarry. Same difference). We met a very brave pigeon on the stairway down, who serenely sat on the railing until Gail's sister shooed it away.

Of course, we sang in the lobby:
The bunker had some uniforms and equipment used by German soldiers in the area. It was remarkable how small the uniform tops were; it reminds us how big people are these days. (Mickey Mantle was considered a giant of a man, and he was 5'11" and 180 pounds. These days that is your tiny utility infielder.)

The lanyards we're wearing have a translated audio tour:


We walked through the Normandy invasion part of the museum which was extraordinary. It gave an hour by hour description of the events leading up to the invasion through the first 100 days afterwards. Next, we went through the "Life Before 1945" exhibit, which took the viewer from the events of World War I through the end of World War II.

That was particularly powerful to view, mostly because - these days - we Americans don't understand what the fall of France in WWII actually meant. France was a huge world power leading through the end of WWI, and to have the country be invaded and fully conquered in a manner of weeks is powerful and amazing. I can't find a parallel for it in recent history. I'm also struck by the difficulty of comprehending the damage that that war did to the psyche and culture of France post-war. Same as the Germans, I guess, but for obviously different reasons. It makes it that much more extraordinary that the EU exists, with one currency.

After a while, I was overwhelmed by the raw emotions of the place.

We watched a short film about the events of the June 6 invasion. It was very well done. There was no dialogue in the film, just images, movies / re-creations, and music. I couldn't help thinking that, if it was an American film, the announcers / voice-overs would never shut up all the way through, searching for the most poetic and eloquent way to describe the images. I appreciated how the images themselves were allowed to breathe.

Deann told me about the gift shop: a friend clicked one of the cricket-noise tours, and a group of Asian tourists proceeded to pick every single one of them up to click. Because, after all, one of them might make a different noise. Wondering if they have them over in Japan?

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Apparently, souvenir mouse pads (with pictures like postcards) are a thing in France. They're everywhere.

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An unrelated World War I monument in a small town that had more names than you'd





expect:

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