Normandy

16 Dec

th

We were at the Canadian Memorial because the two girls who had saved our excursion to the coast were, in fact, Canadian.  They had approached us at the bus terminal in some nondescript town a few miles from the coast.  We had been under the impression that the train would basically drop us off at the beach, only to find out later that we were stuck miles away from our destination with not so much as a bus departing for Courseulles-sur-Mer (the name we dragged out of a disinterested local) anytime soon. We cornered a taxi driver and negotiated him down to a billion dollars for the trip before we decided we’d be better off just purchasing a helicopter and flying there ourselves. We loitered outside the building looking defeated when two attractive girls came jogging over to us asking if we wanted to rent a car with them.  It was the perfect plan.  The car was cheap when split four ways, we had tremendous freedom to explore and we had the company of two lively and humorous girls from Halifax.  Good things happen when you’re the fucking worst at planning outings. 

Our plan was to take our time going to the coast, roughly following a map in terms of direction but paying no serious attention to road names or the fastest routes.  I do not regret this strategy as it allowed me the random sampling of countryside that I love to use in making judgments of other countries, but it did lead to a time crunch and a decision as to whether we would seek out the American or Canadian Memorial.  The choice was not difficult as one of the girls’ grandparents is buried at the site and neither Hodge nor I had any personal connection to the American Memorial.  Thus, we set out on a quest to experience Northern France, and all that Canada has done to protect her.

I can only describe the trip to Omaha beach, Juno beach and the Canadian Memorial as a cold dose of serious history set in a gorgeous Norman town.  Never in my life have I felt goosebumps and icy chills that last long into the night, when all you want is sleep.  I’ve never had to come face-to-face with ruminants of such an important event in Human History.  The emotions tied to these acres of sand and rock are beyond my spectrum of feeling: Above me and anything I had done or witnessed in my life.

I watched elderly men standing at the foot of the beach, waves crawling towards their feet and loved ones huddled silently in groups further up the beach.  The old men were choking back tears, their eyes fluttering and spasming with memories I won’t attempt to understand.  The smell of the salt water, the sounds of the seabirds and the same morbid cliffs that played the backdrop to so many horrific deaths now shared earth with countless tourists and hotdog vendors, laughing children and colorful shops.  The new scene seemed almost blasphemous at first gather, but then I asked myself, “Is this not what these men fought for?  Laughing kids and happy families of all races, gathering for the sake of happiness?”

We drove to the Canadian Memorial for the men who died at Juno Beach.  The cemetery was truly a Garden of Eden,  Lost amongst acres of cornfields, the green, manicured grass and bone white, unblemished, stone memorials stood out like a lush tropical island in a golden sea.  A soundtrack of the bird calls that echoed through the cemetery could be sold as a cure for high blood pressure and the grooming of the foliage was meticulous.  For what it is worth, and this will be different for everyone,  the French spared no thought or expense in their tribute to the Canadian men who died on their beaches.  It seemed a fitting memorial, which should speak decibels considering what it is memorializing.

As was my M.O. on the trip, I made a half-assed attempt at continuing our relationship with the girls (they too were staying in Paris).  They politely pretended like that might be a good idea, and we spent the rest of the train ride back to Paris in silence.  As we departed, Hodge and I thanked the girls for saving our trip and wished them luck on the rest of their time in Europe.  Really cool girls, couldn’t even tell you their names.

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