I read Baudelaire all the way there. David sat across from me and we discussed poetry in French. What better way to spend a train ride? He put little lines in my book beside the poems that he thought worth reading – he is right. I especially like the Little Poems in Prose. If anyone can read in French, please do so and do not read the translations. There is no way they are good enough.
We arrived in Bayeux and got settled into our hostel – Family Home Hostel. It is a big old house with two courtyards (with hopscotch built in), a red phone booth, and a beautiful dining room with long tables reminiscent of medieval times – you feel like you should have a chalice or a goblet to drink out of.
The town of Bayeux was built in early medieval times, and we visited eglise Notre Dame right away. The church was built in 1047, so the architecture had a gothic feel but it had a lot of ornamentation as well. In the crypt, there was a very well-preserved painting on the stone that had been painted at the time of the erection of the church in 1047. The colors are still bright and the painting is beautiful. There were paintings also in the Rococo style hanging all over the church, and the thing that made it unique was the clear glass windows that let in a lot of light. I lit a candle for St. Margaret’s again – I have now made it a habit to do this in every church I visit. Outside the church, there is a very big old tree with gnarled branches, perhaps just as beautiful as the church itself.
Lunch – the specialties of the region are cream and butter, and apples and cider. Also camembert cheese. I had salade normande which was served with camembert, extremely tender chicken with cider sauce, and crème brulee for dessert. And of course, apple cider all through. I really cannot describe the food except to say that I want to fly to Normandy for every meal from now on. All the food we had the entire time we were in Normandy was locally grown – they get their produce from their neighbours and even the butter is made very close by. The food was of an extremely high quality. (And the people are actually nice – they saved France’s reputation from the jaws of Paris.)
Next was the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. I was struggling with how I should view such a monument from a Canadian perspective, because I really wanted to appreciate the experience fully.
The first thing that happened when I entered the cemetery was that I heard a woman shout, “This one’s a Canadian!” That helped me a little bit – I found two Canadians in the whole cemetery. Then, I found an inscription on the monument that said, “Their graves are the permanent and visible symbol of their heroic devotion and their sacrifice in the common cause of humanity.” Although it is still a question in my mind if this particular battle helped the common cause of humanity, I just let the words sink in as they were meant to. Soldiers deserve to be honoured for their sacrifice.
The cemetery is by the sea, and while we were there it sun-showered and a rainbow arched across the ocean. It was stunning.
We all decided to take a jaunt down to the beach, apparently, because when I got there most of the other people were there, and they had taken their shoes and socks off to better frolic in the surf. (It was bitter cold, and we still all had our winter jackets on.) When I saw another girl getting ready to run into the water, I had to join her. Two other girls and I left most of our clothing on the beach and ran as fast as we could into the ocean. Exhilerating! We all dove in, then stood and ran straight back out. After all, it is February, and it was only about 5 degrees in the air! We immediately put on our clothing and all of the winter gear that we had left on the beach. I think this was the first time I swam in the ocean.
The afternoon was fairly nondescript, as we had a promenade around Pointe de Hoc. This was another endroit de battaille, and the ground was pock-marked from grenades and land mines. It was heavenly to breathe the real air from the sea.
On the bus, we listened to jazz and I tasted like salt.
For supper, I had charcuterie and salmon with a cream sauce, and the best butter I have ever had. For dessert, I had tarte normande, which is basically like an extra-good apple pie. More wine, more cider.
This morning! I ended up waking up with the sun, so I walked around the town and heard the birds awake, and saw the sun rise over the spire of the church. It was calm and warm and green. And the air! This morning, I felt really healthy for the first time in a month.
Breakfast in the medieval dining room. There is one woman who runs the hostel, and she kept on bringing us amazing food – croissants and pains au chocolat, bread, ‘smacks’ for our lovely american friends, eggs, cheese, and meat. I don’t understand how she did it.
Side note. This weekend I discovered that if you say ‘merci madame/monsieur’, people are charmed and smile at you. If you just say merci, it is not nearly as charming. I am relieved that I am beginning to learn how to be polite again.
After breakfast, a Norman woman decided she wanted to talk at me in French, and when she found out I am Canadian, she had double the number of stories. She was very sweet.
The first activity of the day was a visit to a Tapisserie (Tapestry museum). I thought it would be uninteresting and you probably do too, but it was absolutely fascinating. They have a very large tapestry that is 70m long, and gives a detailed account in pictures of William the Bastard becoming William the Conquerer. Truly – it was captivating! William was 1066, and the tapestry was woven shortly after he was crowned King of France. It used to be displayed in the Bayeux Notre Dame church every year.
Next we visited the Apreval Cidrerie. It is a tiny farm with a few quaint buildings that produces some of the best cider, pommeau (sweet aperitif) and calvados (cognac except made with apples) in the world. (I assume their apple juice is quite good as well.) We were shown how these three liquors are made, and shown the containers and barrels. The owner of the farm had a beautiful French accent. This farm only produces 30 000 bottles of each kind of liquor every year, and they only sell to very select distributors all over the world. Their apples are hand picked. We were served a lunch with local ingredients, and the lunch was made by the owner and his family. The bread was baked a stone oven down the road. We were given some of each kind of liquor to drink with the meal, as well. The visit felt very special and I felt lucky to have been there.
We went to the town of Honfleur, which is the port that Samuel de Chaplain left to go to Canada for the first time. It is also one of the most beautiful port towns in Normandy, and childhood home of Erik Satie and Eugene Boudin. Monet also lived in Honfleur for awhile, and the town is considered the birthplace of impressionism. We visited a very unique wooden church, which was built by shipbuilders, and it feels like a ship. It also has two naves, because the church was so popular that they had to double the space. It smells like a forest and the acoustics are good and much less echoey than a stone church. It is one of my favorite churches I have seen so far in my life. Again – beautiful classical and rococo paintings on the wall.
I went to Satie’s house, which has been converted into an anti-museum. It is so bizarre – but that is how Satie was. It was whimsical to the point of being alarming – it felt like an amusement park, but with really beautiful music.
The room below is divided into two parts – Satie by morning and Satie by night. The music was different, too…
There was a white room with a white piano that played Satie’s piano works.
It was fascinating and completely surreal. It felt like you were wandering around in the composer’s mind.
We had tea at a teahouse and then we had to run to the bus to catch the train back.
I was exhausted and it was good to be home in Paris again.