Archive for Paris

The Battle for Normandy

Today, (pretend it’s Monday) not only did The Steve bring out another revelation of the latest and greatest, but I spent the whole day on a tour of the Landing Beaches of Normandy of the Allied Forces during D-Day. Along with that, the sun finally came out for the first time since I’ve been here! The overcast clouds were getting to me anyway.

If you’re in Paris, have a copious amount of funds (such as myself, “Thanks, high-paying job!), and in need of a day trip, guide, meals, and nothing to worry about except getting yourself to their bus on time at 7 a.m., I recommend Cityrama in Paris. They lead tours all over France that are pretty enjoyable. I found them two years ago on a trip to the amazing Mont Saint-Michel and found myself using them again, this time for the D-Day Landing Beaches in Normandy I had wanted to visit for a while.

Driving out of the city of Paris after being there for a week certainly was revitalizing. And people were speaking English finally.

The Memorial Museum in Caen is an interesting tribute to the peace that surrounds the World Wars. The exhibits retrace the failure of the peace between the wars, the Weimar era, and it is in fact a tribute among many nations for peace after World War II.

Interestingly enough, we had lunch here at the same little corner that I had been two years ago with this touring company. One of the great things I love about tours like these is that there are an abundant amount of Americans. I got to meet newlyweds from Tennessee, a couple from Mississippi, a woman from Ohio, nice family from Chicago, and a faculty member from the University of Alabama. They were all a pleasure to talk to and get to know!

On Omaha Beach alone, there were 34,000 American troops that made their landing there, but even the 300 bombers hours beforehand could not tone down what lay ahead for the young soldiers. There are memorials all along the five sectors of the beaches; we stopped at Omaha, Utah, and Juno beaches.

However, nothing was more spectacular than the Normandy American Cemetery, adjacent to the Canadian and British ones. It happened to be the most beautiful weather one could ask for. This piece of oceanside land was given to the United States permanently by France. This was American soil. It was chilling.

Gotta hand it to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). They maintain beautiful cemetery and monuments dedicated to the troops in the wars of the twentieth century all over the world. I was able to visit Punchbowl Cemetery in Oahu last month, and now this.

After walking through the memorial museum on the grounds, you saw the memorial statue, ‘Spirit of the Youth’, and then the sea of gravemarkers simply flooded your sight. I believe the number was around 21,000 buried here. A portion of them marked ‘Here rests a comrade in arms, known but to God.

It was surprising to find out that in this part of France, there are actually more Germans buried here than all the allied troops put together. They number around 80,000, buried wherever their bodies ended up in.

On the way back, we drove through the countryside of Normandy and I could help but imagine the raining down of paratroopers, lines and companies cutting through the tall bushes and hedges as in the films I had just watched a few hours ago in the museum. Or for that matter, Band of Brothers. Can’t avoid throwing in Saving Private Ryan while your at it.

These are actual places that we read, watch and hear about. I was cruising on the highway right through them, munching on my exquisite dinner. I had a conversation with my teacher two years ago while spending two weeks out here in the countryside playing chamber music.  As we sat out in a field under the stars by the River Seine at the end of a long day, enjoying a cigar and wine (Nice huh? Better believe it; I don’t smoke though). Quietly, he just said, “Alex, look at that. Up there, this is where [the paratroopers] came down. Just out here, by these towns, in this field.”

The more astounding thing though? Life goes on. It has to. Farmers continue to farm as they did decades ago after rebuilding. They continue to farm as they did 70 years ago before the war. There are little stone memorials all throughout these fields and towns, but life goes on. Our tour guide joked, if they put a monument everywhere an event occurred in France, they wouldn’t have any place left to work, live and play! It’s probably the truth. Just look at Paris or Rome. All this to say, right on Omaha beach for example, there were a few local families with their kids playing in the sand and water, building sand castles, getting some sun.

This is the other side of the Parisian story of the 20th century. Often forgotten, taken for granted. In personal vengeance, Hitler’s acquisition of Paris was supposed to lead to its complete off-the-map destruction. You know, he had a bit of a grudge. Something about the German’s terms of agreement in some treaty of Versailles or something

Luckily, the Allies succeeded, arduously, in this battle for Normandy, France, and concordantly, European continent. We have a Paris, rich and full of tangible history in its buildings. To think, It almost burned.

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Food Review: Get your chicken on?

It was supposed to be an innocent stop on the motor way from Normandy back into Paris, right? Right. This glorified AM PM, served up a good deal of brasserie-style foods and snacks for the liking. Picked up my ham, smoked ham, cheese, and salami on-a-baguette sandwich, snagged an extra large bottle of water, and then my hands were led onto a nearby shelf, chock-full of bags of Lays’ potato chips. Or po-tah-to. Whatever.

What distinguished these chips however, was the fact that I would likely never see them again. Roast Chicken & Thyme flavored potato chips? Was that just plain wrong, or just plain well-intentioned-over-indulgence by the creators? You decide.

This ‘characterful’ choice of flavor infusion seemed a bit risky to me. What were they thinking? The Americans behind me saw the bewilderment, and the photo op. We had a good laugh. Bringing a culinary delight as its name implied to our favorite crisps was worth a try.

Upon the first taste, it became apparent that the chicken skin, juices, and marinades formed the outter layers of the crisp. After a bit of lingering, the spices kick in. This incongruency of taste gave an earthy progression and arch of flavors for the gamut of my tongue. I appreciated the effort on their behalf, however, after half a bag of saturation for my mouth, it became like most other vigorously over-flavored foods. I have to say it, but it tasted like chicken. Not in the best way either.

I give it 3 crumbs up and a crouton for the French effort. Vive le poulet!

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Game, Set, Match!

I got in,… I really got in!” I kept muttering to myself. June 5, 2008. Day 12 of the French Open Tennis Championships at Roland Garros! Never thought I’d actually make it to a Grand Slam anytime soon, but after waiting in line from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. when the ticket office opened, I walked onto those oh-so-sacred grounds, full of history, rich in tradition, and decades upon decades of legends venerated all over the walls of the stadiums here.

My €14 ($US = $23.33) ticket got me on that fine day to any court I wanted, except the grand Philippe Chatrier Court. Good enough. My day wasn’t quite a big day for the event, it was mostly the quarterfinals of the doubles and juniors singles and doubles tournaments, and for women’s singles also.

Even just watching the juniors singles match was exciting! Tomic (Australia) vs. Pella (Argentina)… man these fellas are incredible. I also saw the junior boy’s doubles match. Moving on… so not unexpected, were the merchandise, food stands, program booklets,… and their prices. I got this sausage and fries combo… and for what I paid, I made sure I enjoyed it.

Surprisingly, the most fun I probably had all day was watching the ‘Legends Trophy Tournament’… basically, the seniors double matches. No ordinary seniors though, these were past champions, record holders, and world no. 1’s. That’s right. Guess who I saw today? Mr. John McEnroe himself.  He and his partner played Ilie Nastase and his partner, boy they were hilarious!

Hopping around a few more courts, I was compelled to check out the smaller courts, one with filled out bleacher, crowds by the fence, television cameras poking up from heads… turns out it was rising national star, French player Gael Monfils. Cool.

Another ‘Legends’ doubles match brought me to Court No. 1 where Todd Woodbridge and Richard Krajicek were playing each other. The were good, but I liked the old, old guys better. They gave me some good laughs. Of course, another big men’s doubles of the day had Daniel Knowles. Famous Canadian. Follow that up with a THIRD ‘Legends’ match, this time pitting legendary Boris Becker against Goran Ivanisevic! If you don’t know those names yet, Wikipedia them. Check out those numbers.

Probably the nicest surprise of my day? Towards the end, most of the crowds had left, so they opened up Chatrier Court to the anyone! The last match of the day: Mixed Doubles Semifinals with the lone American in Paris. Go Bob Bryan! (Point of Information: Roland Garros is known to be a brutal place to the American lineup as of the last decade or so. Not-so-good odds. Weird huh?)

So now that Nadal has won the final for the fourth year in a row, looking back, I got to see two teams that actually won the finals’ title: Mixed Doubles with Bob Bryan and his partner, and the Boys’ Doubles, a Finnish and Indonesian team. They were incredible too! Might’ve been the proximity of my seat’s view to the court. Small court, No. 10 I think. Those volleys go flying fast, and HARD. I need to start playing again in Colorado.

Check out the rest of the photos on the Flickr page!

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