Sunday, June 08, 2008

from Honfleur, Normandy: reconsidered

We pick berries on the morning of my last full day in Normandy. That is, we pick the small pack that looks most excellent among the many in the stall.

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How can they be regional? Has the Wisconsin berry season begun yet? Oh, give me the coastal moderate climate any day!

Maybe I am especially pining for climatic moderation on a Saturday morning because here, like in Madison, it is market day. Except here, unlike back home, the markets are screaming bounty!

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so much to sell!

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gossip over mussels and cider

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market greetings

I can’t buy much. Early tomorrow, I’m returning to Paris. Sort of. (Just outside the city.) Where I will move ahead with all sorts of work and nonwork projects. At least, that is the plan.

But today is all about Honfleur still. My landlady is rushing off to town to stand as an Honfleur council member at the memorial to fallen soldiers. We have a small ceremony today, she tells me.

We’re curious and so we follow her to the monument for those who died at war.

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The flags are up. A small band marches toward the memorial, followed by two army jeeps. Flowers are placed among the many already there. The mayor (he looks mayoral, but it’s a guess) makes a speech and asks for a moment of silence. We listen to two full rounds of the national anthem.

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It is such a small ceremony, with just a few bystanders, the Council members, a handful of very old veterans and a few men and boys in outfits that look sort of army vintage. But it is strangely touching. Traffic is stopped and the music surges up and down the street. Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons!

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At the close, the marching band, the vets and the Council members march down the main street toward the port. There, they will lay another wreath to commemorate those who died in the Normandy Landing. L’embarquement – the word I had, until today, associated with planes landing on time at Charles de Gaulle airport.

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The sun is out now. My friend and I make our way to the port. The dozen (two dozen? more?) restaurants along the quay are starting to fill. I’m watching Honfleur begin to take on the week-end tone of merriment. We sit in the midst of it all. I’m basking in it, filling up for the months when I cannot be part of it.

I order my last galette (buckwheat pancake) with the Normandy trio – Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Liverot. And crème fraiche, in case I think there aren’t enough calories on my plate.

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Back at the b&b, I linger in the courtyard garden (the sun is so warm! finally!) and watch as bricks are being laid down to extend the patio.

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So who comes here, to your wonderful b&b? – I ask Monsieur le Jardinière, who also admits to being the husband of the proprietor.
The English, mostly. Belgians. And Americans. Americans take two kinds of vacations in France: the south or the north. If they do the north, they go to Giverny, and then they’ll come here for two days, then the Normandy beaches, Mont St Michel, and Paris. Maybe the Loire valley. It's like that.
I like Giverny. And we’re here for more than two days…
Ah, you like to stay and explore. Like the French. But the French, we hardly see them at the b&b.

The French, they want a vacation, they pick up the phone and ask for a room. We’re fully booked for months! Americans and the English are much more comfortable with the computer. They find us early, they make reservations.
Ah, the French…
Yes, we like vacations. Americans…
(and he goes off on the familiar theme of American work ethic).

I change the subject after explaining that I am very much in favor of vacations. So, how are you feeling about Sarkozy?
Negative. We have written him off. He’s out.
Really? And for what reasons?
He’s incompetent. We, here, we do not impeach like you Americans. We have the streets! The country will come to a standstill. We’ll have massive strikes. He’s out within the year. And your president, what will happen now?
Obama maybe…
We don’t know Obama, here in France. We know Clinton. We like Clinton.

And so it goes.

In the evening, I have my last Normandy apple cake.

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At the b&b, Madame Lillianne asks me if I’m coming back next year. It struck me that indeed, there’s a good chance that I will pass through again. Madame and Monsieur are welcoming, gentle people. And Normandy? It really grows on you. Steadily. Expansively. Besides, it’s awfully close to Brittany.