Thursday, December 11, 2014

Postcard from France

When people say, "I had never been here before but I felt like I was coming home," what they are really saying is, "I felt very happy just being here."  There are so many places where and people whom you simply have to endure in life, but there are some people and places which make you happy simply by their presence.

For Mad Dog, New York was one of those places, but not London or Rome or even Dublin. Paris is one of those places, for Mad Dog , as it was for Hemingway and for James Baldwin and for David Sedaris and for so many other Americans. Hemingway said, "The only problem in Paris was deciding where to be happiest," and Mad Dog now understands.

Paris has the energy and eccentricity of New York; but it is  as if New York were run by the Catholic Church. France is very Catholic. Mad Dog is not sure how seriously the French take the teachings of the Church, but they do not ignore it. There is no separation of church and state here enshrined in law, and Mad Dog prefers the American approach, but he has to admit, the presence of the Church here adds a creative tension.

France has been a surprise:

French economy: The country looks affluent and well groomed. The roof of every house is so superior to what we have in New Hampshire. No asphalt shingles: Every roof is slate. Along the Seine, in Rouen, is a long asphalt road and it is filled with affluent looking joggers in Spandex, and along the river are one sports club after another, with people jogging on treadmills overlooking the Seine. No jogging in basements in front of TVs running sappy Netflix movies.

French women: Their faces show bones, zygomatic arches. They have great style. They dress in black with spalshes of color. They wear high heeled shoes in the streets of Paris and Rouen, and the streets are cobblestone, which means they have to be determined to wear those heels. They take off the heels when they get to the office, but in the street, they are on display.
In conversation, Parisian women make prolonged eye contact; Mad Dog was thrilled a little by this, until  he realized there was no seduction there--they were simply thinking, "What language is it he is speaking? Certainly, not French."

Normandy:   For an American, this  is different.  Falstaff looking at a soldier's rotting corpse  held his nose and said, "That's glory for you. It stinks." Elizabethan audiences laughed knowingly.  But that would draw no laughs from an American  at Antiem or Gettysburg or at Normandy.
It matters little that most of the American soldiers who died here had no idea what a monstrous evil they were attacking. They were fighting for their friends and, yes, for some idea of country.  They knew they had become part of something much larger, and that ennobled them. 
Have there been any other wars or military deaths like those of World War II, since World War II?  
Most of the American warriors in 1944 could have been at home, did not need the paycheck. 

Food:  The French eat smaller portions. And they have some things we do not have in New Hampshire. His first day, Mad Dog was served some sort of hot chocolate which was heroin in a cup. From that moment onward, all he wanted was another fix. He has yet to discover the name of this stuff, tragically lost after that first sample.  The bread and cheese are also unlike anything we have in New Hampshire. 

French rain: It is the type of rain which invites the use of an umbrella, and couples walk along in a sort of umbrella intimacy one rarely sees in the States.

In New Hampshire, we are comfortable. We walk along the seacoast, and we love it, as we ought to love it. But sometimes, we have to remind ourselves we are part of something bigger. Mad Dog looked out from Omaha Beach and realized, on the other side of that ocean lay Plaice Cove.

Going to France is tame compared to travelling to China or India--there is much more here to give you your bearings. Paris  does not take the same courage as Beijing or Calcutta. But it's a start. It's worth the effort.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Glad to hear your trip has been so enjoyable and that Paris lives up to it's reputation. Was the food-all that French cooking-the best you ever had? It's not surprising that they serve smaller portions-doesn't every nation on earth serve smaller portions than us-Americans do tend to strap on the feed bag at mealtime. Europeans seems to have less processed, "fast" food, less Burger King and more bakeries....So, the French women are stylish and have high cheekbones, but are they as alluring and beautiful as hyped? France is frequently criticized for it's less than maniacal work ethic, it's said the French work force enjoys too many perks-shorter work week, overly generous vacation time etc. however, from what you describe, at least in the places you visited, they're not suffering from not being bound to a 50 hour a week job, 50 weeks a year.There's something to be said for a slower paced, less stressed lifestyle wouldn't you say?

    Visiting Normandy had to have been a very moving experience. Photos of the Veterans cemetery, the rows upon rows of white crosses amid the lovely landscape makes for an eerie, almost beautiful scene in pictures-is it that way in person? If so, what a sharp contrast between that tranquil setting and the carnage and slaughter suffered by the victims it's commemorating. After reading your post I googled Normandy and Omaha Beach, you most likely know, but I didn't, that most of the Germans killed in that battle were in their teens-not a very experienced group. I don't know the average age of the American men killed-but surely young. Such a tragic waste-all those lives cut short; all those devastated families back home. This was an assault necessary to defeat Nazism and hopefully that provided some comfort to US families-but you wonder how many mothers and fathers, on both sides, were left praying for the rest of their lives that their son was killed instantly by a bullet to the heart and not left suffering and dying on the beach. It would seem one of the worst aspects of such a bloody battleground would be the sound. All those mortally wounded soldiers calling out, God knows what as their last words on earth-and the ones too injured to call out, listening...

    The magnitude of the destruction and death during WWII is almost incomprehensible. The subsequent wars around the globe are like mere skirmishes in comparison. Well, in scope anyway. One would like to think we, as a species, have learned something and carnage on the grand scale won't be revisited-but I wouldn't bet on that-would you? Knowing your fondness for history, visiting Normandy must have been one of the important highlights of your trip...Safe travels home....
    PS-Sure hope you were able to finally learn the recipe for the heroin in a cup and that you will share it with your fellow citizens-especially those of us devoted to chocolate...

  2. Maud,

    The French and Italians do eat differently from us. Likely, they do it better.
    French women and men show more facial bones, but New Hampshire women can compete on the global scale, at least to my eye.
    Your observation about the difference in work ethic does match what I saw in France, and more in Iceland, but it's not like they don't work at all. Maybe, as you suggest, they simply know how to live.
    More on this in an upcoming blog on labor unions--you heard it here first.
    Preview of coming attractions: labor unions have to learn how not to alienate the general public.
    Never did find that chocolate.
    There is a German cemetery at Normandy and the Russian cemeteries are elsewhere.
    As Stalin observed, a single death is a tragedy--a million deaths a statistic.

    Mad Dog