Tag Archives: Somme

J’aime la France – #160-194


J’aime la France160.

Paris

Lovers’ locks, Paris.

I love France, so much so, that I sometimes wonder if I have a little bit of Plantagenet blood coursing through my veins. Then again, I hate cheese, so perhaps not.

And, following on from my last post, I probably wouldn’t like it half as much had the Allies not been successful in liberating it in 1944/45.

There are so many places in France I have yet to discover, but some of the ones I have, I shall share with you:

Paris

Paris

Paris161, of course, the epitome of the romantic city. Musée d’Orsay162 is one of the greatest art galleries in the world, boasting a smorgasbord of impressionist works. The Latin Quarter163 with its bohemian cafés and restaurants, the artists’ square in Montmartre164, Lautrec’s Pigalle165. I even had the best cassoulet166 of my life in Paris. (Not to mention the biggest hangover.)

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Further north from Paris is the Somme167 – Albert168, Amiens169 and Arras170. Now, the River Somme winds its way sleepily through Amiens amidst the riverside cafes and restaurants. A far cry from the death and destruction 100 years ago. If you want to become a pacifist take a trip to any of the numerous First World War memorials that are dotted around the countryside. If you weren’t one beforehand you certainly will be after you witness hundreds of thousands of white marble slabs.

River Somme, Amiens,

River Somme, Amiens

Whilst Brittany171 may have a similar climate to the south coast of England, its beaches and medieval towns eclipse what we have here. Even towns that were bombed to smithereens during the Second World War have been painstakingly rebuilt to their former glory. From the walled city of Fougere172 in the east to the Dinan173 and Dinard174 in the north. Morlaix175 in the west, Concerneau176 and Pont-Aven177 in the south. Mont Saint Michel178, (which is actually in Normandy), is one of the modern wonders of the world.

Pont-Aven, Brittany

Pont-Aven, Brittany

Morlaix, Brittany

Morlaix, Brittany

Fougere, Brittany

Fougere, Brittany

Tregastel, Brittany

Tregastel, Brittany

Can't remember if this is Dinan or Dinard in Brittany

Can’t remember if this is Dinan or Dinard in Brittany

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy

My favourite spot is the Cote d’Azur179. Nice with its wide boulevards and maze of streets in the old town180, (there’s a cracking Picasso gallery in) Antibes181, Cannes for a bit of bling182, Villefranche-sur-mer183, Monte Carlo184, Juan les Pins185, and not as expensive as you might think. Further inland up in the mountains is the perfume capital, Grasse186 and the artists’ haven of Saint Paul de Vence187.

Antibes

Antibes

Nice

Nice

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Bouillabaisse

Saint Paul de Vence

Saint Paul de Vence

Grasse

Grasse

Another treasure is the island of Corsica188. Bonifacio189 with its brightly coloured buildings clinging precariously to the cliffs. Cargése190 in the north west. And the pirate haven of Sarténe191 up in the hills.

 

Bonifacio, Corsica

Bonifacio, Corsica

Cargése, Corsica

Cargése, Corsica

All in all, a veritable paradise. Particularly if you like meat and fish. Can’t say it would be a utopia for veggies, mind. Cassoulet, bouillabaisse192, moules provencal193 – ahh, heaven. Obviously, washed down with copious amounts of rosé or red wine.

Moules Provencal

Moules Provencal

Maybe one day, when my second novel makes a million or two, I can buy a little gites194 by a lake, or overlooking the sea.

There are so many places in France that I have yet to see, so if you have a favourite, please feel free to share your recommendations in the comment box below.

Addendum.

The one thing I HATE about France is dog poo. They seem to have an extraordinary amount of it. Obviously, they love their dogs. But, disappointingly, they don’t appear to be too keen enforcing public hygiene laws.

I recall strolling across a Tregastel beach in Brittany cautiously stepping over and around dog stools looking over my shoulder to warn my kids then, squelch. Open-toed sandals. I still feel nauseous to this day.

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Things for which I am grateful #36/365


The poet Wilfred Owen.

Please note, this post contains graphic and harrowing images of war.

In the year when many are ‘celebrating’ the centenary of the First World War, it is worth sparing a thought for those, such as Owen and Sassoon, who spoke out against its horrors and our government’s mishandling and inept military tactics. Particularly at a time when such things were unheard of.

I’m a lover of poetry and history. And it sickens me to to the core to see how many men’s lives were sacrificed needlessly due to incompetence and profiteering.

I went to the Somme once on holiday. (Ibiza isn’t really my cup of tea.) The thing that struck me most was that one minute I would be strolling through the undulating, idyllic French countryside on a summer’s afternoon and, the next, I was confronted by tens of thousands of white marble headstones.

Inscribed on one gargantuan monument I saw in Arras are the names of 75,000 men and women. They don’t have any headstones. Because nothing was ever found of their bodies. They were vapourised by shelling. Ponder that for a moment. Vapourised. Their atoms scattered to the winds.

‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ roughly translates as: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’

Remember, this poem was written at a time when most poets romanticised or glorified war. And also a time when governments could censor and suppress what the public read or saw.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

N.B. Wilfred Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War.

SommeEnd

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Revelon, gefallener Deutscher

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So, on the one hundredth anniversary of the War to End all Wars, spare a thought for all the victims, whichever side they fought for.

I know it doesn’t seem like something which I should be grateful for, but pioneers like Wilfred Owen, paved the way for the rest of us to dissent against irresponsible governments. For that, I am truly grateful.

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Remember me, 1916.


I once went to visit the The Somme. It wasn’t really my intention. I got a cheap flight from Dublin to Beauvais and rather than go into Paris, (a city I’d been to on several occasions), I decided to head north.

I found myself in places like Albert, Amiens and Arras. Pretty much the front line back in 1916.

There’s a monument in Arras upon which are engraved 70,000 names of men and women who were killed. They weren’t the only ones killed there. (The total figure is around 158,000.) They were just the ones whose bodies could not be found. They had been vapourised by shelling.

Vapourised.

Monument at Arras

Near Amiens I saw a bomb crater. Nothing unusual in that. The fact is, this crater was about 100 feet in diameter. And about 30-40 feet deep. It was on the German front line.

In Albert, I was walking down a country lane and, when I turned a corner, I was confronted by a Commonwealth cemetery. I have never seen so many white marble headstones in my life. Row upon row stretching into the distance. Many engraved with the epitaph: Here lies an unknown soldier.

Commonwealth cemetery.

It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.

My thoughts go out to all the people of all nations who have died in conflicts around the globe. And obviously, to their surviving ancestors. Though, I am finding it a little difficult to extend that sentiment to the Taliban at the moment.

 

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