Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dispatch from Normandy: A Postscript

I neglected to mention that on June 6, 1944, the order of battle included 2 divisions of troops from Britain, and a division from Canada. Per capita, our Canadian neighbours really laid it on the line that day, as the RCAF had in the battle of Britain.

Dispatch from Versailles: What Brand Loyalty Will Do For You

Readers of this page probably don't know, but I'll tell you now, that Jack travels a lot. He, in particular, spends a lot of time down the valley where he stays at a certain roadhouse that's owned by a certain chain of roadhouses that the company name of starts with Hill minus an L and ends with a measure of weight that is 2,000 pounds. Follow? And it turns out that you can save up enough of what they call points, and then you can turn them in for a free night someplace or another.

Tonight, Dolly-girl and I are in a place called the Trianon Palace, in a place called Versailles, France, and the room comes from those points. It's apparently next door to where the king and queen of France used to live. It's a little funny because we got more than one room, In fact, the reading room, if you get my drift, is bigger than some of the whole rooms we've stayed in on this trip. Here's what a lot of nights down the Valley and up there in Frostbite Falls gets you. Dolly-girl said it seemed like we ought to go and rent another hotel and change clothes before we checked into this one, but hey, I've been tossed out of fancier places than this. Well, may be not...

Me and Dolly-girl decided to tie on the feedbag right in the room--they'll bring you food on a little table, roll it into the room, just like in the movies. Take a look at the whaddaya-want--they even got something for your dog!

Anyway, after this, I guess you know what my road address will be. After all, if you want to stay in the Paris Hilton...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dispatch from Normandy

"Jack, I feel lower than a pill bug under stones in my mother's cellar floor. This Grippe français has got me tighter than a school marm's hand on a bad boy's ear and all I'll do is gripe, so maybe you'd better leave me here and go check out those WW II things I've been seeing you eyeball on the map for the last week or so..."

I left Dolly-girl to mend and headed for Normandy. First stop, 6 Across: Normandy invasion town...How many times have I penciled St. Lo into a Rex Parker, and now here I was in the famous village. Rex calls it "one of the crosswordiest places in the world." There was a monument to the liberators and a giant flea market in the main street. I drove on.

I followed the signs. Omaha Beach. Cimetière militaire américain de Colleville-sur-Mer. I was surprised. No souvenir stands, no hoopla, no Giant Diorama like at Gettysburg. I wondered what another 50 or 100 years will bring. I parked at the back of the parking lot and walked to the visitor center where I took a picture of this very interesting fountain, and skipped the advice to visit the visitor's center first.

The next stop is an overlook of Omaha Beach with a map explaining the order of battle. I looked down at the beach and tried to imagine what it was like without thinking about The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan. I really couldn't imagine what it would look like or how the hell they ever got to the top.

I walked down the steps to the beach and stood on the dune by the water. I touched the sand. I knew it wasn't sand that was there on June 6, 1944. I wanted to pick up a rock or touch the water, but somehow it didn't seem like it was mine, although I suppose it is mine. That's what it was about. A few days ago, I said to Nancy that I didn't think I needed to go to Normandy because WW II wasn't "my war."

Past the beach access and map, I turned a corner into a manicured cemetery with thousands of crosses, and Stars of David mixed in here and there. I walked through them, looking back to see names and dates and units. All the names face west--towards home, I suspect. Enlisted next to officers, Michigan next to Mississippi, Army next to Air Corps next to Navy. Some from before D-Day, some died after Germany surrendered, but before they made it home. Lots on June 6, 1944. A few had flowers--someone visited recently. Most did not. Some will never have a visitor who knows who they are. I think about the wars going on today.

There are no more Honored Comrades Known But To God--DNA makes sure of that. I looked at the names of the 1,557 who died, but whose bodies were not recovered. I suppose some are honored comrades, but I'm sure many are in La Manche--the sleeve--which seems like a much more appropriate name than the English Channel. I looked for the name of a friend of my mother's who died in La Manche--Bob Evans. He wasn't there.

I walked to the farthest place in the cemetery and visited the grave of Daniel Knapp, First Division, 18th Infantry, who was from New York and who died on June 7, 1944. I thought maybe his was the least visited grave, being the farthest from the visitor's center. But maybe it's really someone in the middle. I looked at Daniel Knapp's grave and realized that this was my war. It shaped my life more than any other. Wars are about the future, not the past. I am their future.

I walked back to the car past the stars and crosses and read, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Arkansas, Wyoming, Maryland, Georgia...PFC, SGT, 2LT, MAJ, PVT...Infantry, Armor, Infantry, Heavy Bomber Group, Infantry, Landing Craft Group, Airborne, Airborne,...June, July, June, August, September, June...

I drove back to Saint-Malo, through Saint-Lô, I thought about what the countryside looked like then and now. I was on a speedy 4-lane road, driving 130 km/hr, flying past McDonald's, gas stations, super markets, and this express food stop that seemed to have everything. War is about the future, but you don't get to specify the future, you just get to make sure there is one.

"You're pretty quiet, Jack. Have a good day?" "Yep. I learned a thing or two."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dispatch from Médoc: Peut-être un autre cinquante de vin rouge, s'il vous plaît

"Medic?" "No, Jack." "My doc?" "No, Jack." "Nyack, like the place in New York?" "No, Jack, it's Le Médoc. It's one of the finest wine regions of the Bordeaux area of France. Of course, with the skidrow you make us drink, you wouldn't know a Bordeaux from a big toe. But, it just so happens that way back when Mama D'Mestiere was running things, you had an exchange student come to live with you..." "That, I remember, of course." "...and we've been invited to come and visit him. I got the Western Union right here that explains how to get there. Will you look at all those grape vines!"

We set our brake for a couple days in the town of Lesparre-Médoc which just happens to be very near a place where people I know who know about skidrow say is a place to go if you like the sort of skidrow that isn't served on skidrow, follow? My Belgian brother, Roland, and his wonderful femme, Isabelle, have a vacation house in Lesparre-Médoc and we stayed with them for a few days. Roland and I went off tasting some of those red wines.

He doesn't have an internet connection, but he lives in wine country. Let's see, wine, internet, wine, internet, wine, inter...

Dispatch from San Sebastian: How Many Movie Stars Can One See In A Day?

Dolly-girl had her left hand wrapped around a glass of rosy skidrow and her right around the latest movie magazine she'd found in the BarRestaurant where we went for breakfast pinktoes. "First it's pintxo, Jack. You talk it pinch-o. It's Basque tapas. Second, if I understand any south-of-the-border at all, and I'm not sayin' I do, there's a big moviefest in the next town over there. It's right on our way to St. Jean-de-Luz, so let's saddle up and get on over there. I've got people to see." "On it." When Dolly-girl says saddle-up, the blanket's on my back before the up is out of her mouth. We headed to San Sebastian. She had her dates right so we set our brake at the Marie Christina hotel and kept an eye peeled.

It just didn't take a wink of a gnat's eyebrow until I started seeing all sorts of stars! And I was in San Sebastian to tell you that these movie stars are pretty damned clever. They make themselves blend right in so as it takes a skilled gumshoe--one with a private ticket like me--to recognize them. Like this shot of Julia Roberts, sitting right on the wall of a church with one of her kids--probably the one she had with Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. And here's Javier Bardem, her co-star in that new movie. He was having a coffee. Then he sort of followed us around as I saw him three or four more times.

Next it was Diane Keaton. Couldn't miss her with a fly swatter!

Some actors who claim to have died aren't really dead. Dolly-girl spotted Vincent Gardenia and if you'd see the face on this head, like I did, you would have been face-to-face with Dennis Hopper.

Mos Def was in the House--Def and double Def.

Dolly-girl spotted Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

This was just too easy! They were everywhere.

Once Shirley Maclaine crossed the street in front of us, we figured we'd seen enough.

We decided to head into a restaurant and get some pinxtos to take the edge off a morning of star-spotting. The pinxtos are real, real good, and real cheap. They run about 1 € each and a couple will do you for a noon-time feedbag, particularly if you are warring with LARD!

Bars lay out anywhere from a few kinds to 50 or so at the fanciest places, but all about the same price. Anyone for a roasted red pepper stuffed with tuna or crab? Chorizo on a bread? Basque chicken skewers? Prawns in various preparations? Salted cod in a tomato sauce? Add a beer or a glass of wine and lunch for two can run you as little as 15€. Portland needs a Jatetxea or ten.

Oh, these people were at the next table, but I didn't recognize them...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dispatch from Bilbao: Let's See, Where Were We?

Hmmm, it's been a while. Things got busy. We're having a good time. We're on the road. We don't always have access to the intertubes. Dolly-girl says, "You know, Jack, the reason they invented post cards and stamps is so that you don't have to do whatever it is you do when you are sitting over there at night when the sound of the waves from La Manche, which is what the Frenchies call the English Channel, are coming in through our window. Cough, hack, wheeze, hack." Dolly-girl is under the weather and I had to go parlez some French talk to get her a dose out of the blue bottle. Personally, I thought a couple-three doses out of the green bottle--you know, the one with the cork in it--would do more good.

Oh yeah, we were in Bilbao, or as the Basques call it, Bilbo. I call it that too. We went to the museum. I took some pictures. We walked. We ate. We drank some Spanish wine. The museum was great. The food was great. The wine was great. The walking was great. Bilbo is a place I'd go back to. Big Anish Kapoor exhibit. That alone made the trip to Bilbo worth it without all the other great stuff. Plus, for you Richard Serra fans...

We ate some pinxtos, which they call pinchos and I call dinner. We drank some wine. We saw some sculpture.

I'll tell you more later. Or not. Did I mention that this is a relaxing vacation? Oh, and Bilbo is on Spanish time. That's Stumptown minus, oh, I don't know, maybe that much. Or maybe not...

War on LARD! Update: A Progress Report from Médoc

I know what you are expecting, and I'm disappointed myself. Almost 3 weeks in France has taken a toll. The bread, the wine, the seafood, the pastries...LIKE HELL! Jack gives no quarter to the magnificent French food. I've been sampling it, but in small quantities--well, except maybe for les vin--it is vacation after all.

But I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped on a scale and:

That equals more than 1 full pail!