Category Archives: normandy

frenchified labor day

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I think it’s been well documented how much my kids like burgers, but burger buns are a rare species in France and when you can find them, they are about as fresh as……………….(my first thought was to write Owen’s undies in that space, but let’s just say the buns are not fresh and we can leave it at that).  For those interested in a story about Owen’s undies, feel free to wait until the end of this post about hamburgers.  

Our bakery has been closed for A MONTH which has made us search farther and farther afield for bread.  Kind of like the arctic fox when it’s hunting ground is being destroyed and it has to stray further from it’s habitat…………..but when I write that, I make myself sound like some sort of rare and endangered animal, when in reality I am just searching for bread in France.  You could argue that my rubbish French puts me in danger every day, since I often agree to do and buy things for which I had no knowledge or understanding………………….

But, back to the bread.  So our bakery is closed and we’re in a scramble for bread every day because there really is nothing else like our bakery and we have to go to a couple of different joints around town to find the kids of things that we usually buy.  All this to say:  When you don’t want to buy stale buns and you can’t find a good baguette to save your life, you resort to a burger on croissant when you’re trying to pretend you’re celebrating Labor Day in a foreign country.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

And here, for those of you waiting with bated breath, is the story of Owen’s undies:

When we went away to Normandy for a week earlier in the summer, the kids packed their own bags, which is usually a hit or miss proposition.  Sometimes we forget socks, sometimes it’s the shorts and most times it’s the toothbrush.  That week, the kids remembered everything which was great.  We stayed in the same place for the bulk of the vacation, but the very last night of it we were going to switch hotels so I suggested that we repack our stuff to only bring in one bag, rather than carry all of our bags in.  I pulled out one clean outfit for Eamon and piled all of his dirty clothes back in his suitcase.  Here is the conversation that happened with Owen:

Me:  Hey O, can you pull out a clean outfit and stuff all of your dirty clothes back in your bag?

Owen:  I don’t have any dirty clothes.

Me:  What do you mean?  We’ve been here for a week……………..did you put your dirty clothes in Dad’s bag?

Owen:  No, I’ve been wearing the same clothes all week because I didn’t think they were dirty.  The kids in France never wash their clothes.  I’m just trying to save water.

Me: {silence}

HOW DID MY KID WEAR THE EXACT SAME OUTFIT FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK WITHOUT ME NOTICING?!?!?!?  It’s true, when looking back at the pictures of our vacation it’s hard to tell the days apart because Owen is wearing the same clothes.  And it’s also true, the French kids never wash their clothes.  So, if the planet is saved by a reduction in water usage, you can thank Owen.  And the French.

musical time warp

20110725-105035.jpgBefore we left Vermont, the boys started becoming more interested in music. Sadly, we seemed to be passing the point in our lives in which the kids were satisfied with the parental musical selection.  It seemed that they were suddenly forming their own……..opinions.  Guys, you don’t want to listen to Neil Young again?  Really?!!?!

Somehow, I found our family sinking into what I like to call:  Bieberland. Although both boys would vehemently deny that they liked Justin Bieber, somehow they:

a) convinced me (at a weak moment) to buy the Justin Bieber song Baby and load it on my iPod
b) managed to convince me that the Justin Bieber biography was the ONLY book they wanted from the book order form at school

And while I don’t have anything against, Justin Bieber, except his haircut, I was a bit worried that my kids were going to suddenly morph into the kind of Bieber-ific kids I was seeing around town.  You know, the skinny jean-wearing, undie-bearning kids with strangely swooped hair.

I’d just like everyone to know, that we’ve been rescued by France from our Bieber-tastic lives.  Although there is an obvious Bieber-influence here, as far as the dress code goes, there is little evidence that his music has a hold on the youngest generation as it does in the US.  In fact, in my opinion, France is stuck in a musical time warp – and not the Rocky Horror Picture Show kind.

Take for example, the fireworks display we saw in Normandy last week for the Fête Nationale.  Apparently all fireworks displays in France, even ones in very small towns, are choreographed to music.  As the fireworks  display started, we were treated to the following lineup of music, in this order:

    • Hell’s Bells – AC/DC
    • Money for Nothing – Dire Straits
    • Jump – Van Halen

It was like I stepped right out my life in France and right back into 1985 – bad hair and all.

The next night, we were in another small town and although we weren’t planning to stay for the fireworks display that night, we were lucky to be present for the musical sound check.  In that town, they had decided to skip the heavy metal/hard rock lineup in favor of a lineup of music by one artist – the Prince of Pop.  That’s right, Michael Jackson was blaring a medley of his most popular songs at volume 11 on the pier.

Now I know that Michael Jackson is an international sensation, but it was very strange being in this very small French town, listening to Michael Jackson and watching throngs of French people (and a couple of small American boys (and their youngish mother)) dance in the streets and attempt the moonwalk – all in broad daylight.  If we’re going retro, what’s the matter with a fireworks display set to a soundtrack of Neil Young, I say?  However, if given a choice, I would choose MJ over Bieber any day of the week.

ps – For those interested, cotton candy is called “barbapapa” in France.  I love it in either of it’s named forms.

not just another beach

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In high school, my two main history teachers were hippy radicals from the 60s, so I vividly remember learning about the Vietnam War, but don’t have much memory of learning about WWII in school, at least.  Since high school, I’ve seen movies about it, read about it, and felt like I had a general sense of the war before we arrived in Normandy on vacation.  But, as with most things in life, nothing can prepare you for the real thing – not even Hollywood.

When we arrived in Normandy, we had reservations to stay at a French gîte (sort of like a cross between a B&B and a pension) which had a WWII expert as an owner. We heard that this man loved to impart his knowledge and family history of the war to any guests who were interested.  Just our kind of place!

The gîte was about 5K from Omaha Beach and the night we arrived our room wasn’t ready so we headed down to Omaha Beach to sit on the beach (me) and take a swim in the cold water (Tim & kids).  At the beach, I was impressed with how well-preserved the area was – with no development whatsoever – and also how somber I felt being there.  It sort of felt like all of the stories I had ever heard about the war were somehow centered around this spot and there I was standing on it.  A little bit surreal.

Once I sat down on the beach, I was able to let all of the somberness go and see the situation for was it really was at that moment – a really beautiful beach with so many people enjoying everything about it.  It suddenly started to feel like a spot filled with more hope than sadness.

Later that night, we went back to the gîte and had dinner with the owners, François and Marie.  François spent the dinner telling us about his family’s involvement with the war – his uncle’s house on Omaha Beach was bombed, had American paratroopers land in the garden, and is one of only 2 original houses still standing along the beach. That evening he took us down to the bluff above Omaha Beach to show us some of the German bunkers which are still standing. The boys couldn’t believe it – it was so creepy/interesting.  One of the bunkers is still intact and we went inside to see where the German lookouts lived.  I had complete chills standing in that square room underground.

We spent the next few days going to nearly every military museum and historic place related to WWII.  It was so interesting, the boys lost all desire to play at the beach.  They only wanted to see more historical monuments and I have to admit, I did too.  It was hard not to notice how many people from around the world were visiting these living monuments;  like Pointe du Hoc, the bluff housing massive German bunkers which was bombed by the Americans.  The site (enormous bomb craters and all) has been preserved exactly as it was when the war ended.  Truly remarkable.

On one of the last nights, François, who is also a WWII reinactor, offered to take the boys for a ride in the US Army jeep that his grandfather bought after the war. It’s in mint condition and outfitted exactly as it would have been during the war. I’m not sure if it was the jeep or the fact that there were no seatbelts, but the smiles were impossible to miss.

The day we left the gîte, François gave us a little container of sand from Omaha Beach to take with us.  During the ride home, the boys took turns holding it in the back seat.  It’s hard to know how much of the trip they’ll remember when they’re older, but I can honestly say it’s a trip I’ll never forget.

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the little rascals of normandy

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Ever since moving to France, I feel like I’ve taken a step back in time.  Kids don’t wear bike helmets, the internet is not a good source of information and the stores are not open on Sundays (Massachusetts Blue Laws, anyone?).  I guess it’s time to take a seat and listen to the flute, since there’s not much else to do on a Sunday.

When we were in Normandy last week for the Fête Nationale (the French 4th of July), we wanted to find some fireworks to see.   After hours of searching on the internet to find out where and when they would be in any surrounding town, we came up completely empty-handed.  The owners of the B&B we were staying at also had no idea about fireworks, so they had to call their friend down the road to get some information.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they called on a Party Line, honestly.

The other interesting thing that seems oldschool about living here are the methods of parental discipline.  It is sort of a joke among the non-French here that the French kids are unnaturally well-behaved when out in public with their parents.  I’ve noticed that the reason the French kids are well-behaved is because their parents are absolutely not afraid to twist their ears in public and pull them down the street if they misbehave.  Want me to say it again?  PARENTS TWIST THEIR KIDS’ EARS AND PULL THEM DOWN THE STREET IN PUBLIC.  It’s true and really painful to watch.  I’ve still got some vivid memories of 5th grade and I can tell you from personal experience that having someone twist your ear and pull it ranks on the pain scale just below the nose flick.  Ouch.

The flip side of this situation is that when the kids are not with their parents, they are like hooligans – like springs ready to be sprung.  I think I watched too many reruns of The Little Rascals when I was young, but the kids here remind me of them, minus the slicked down hair.

When we finally located some fireworks in Normandy last week, we drove to this tiny coastal town, ate some fried dough on the pier and staked out a spot to watch the fireworks.  Then the hooligans arrived.

They rode on their bikes like a gang with their backpacks filled with a vast variety of fireworks and an unlimited supply of matches.  The youngest member was about 6 and the oldest was a mid-teenager and although it was a group of mostly boys there were a few tough girls mixed in.  Unfortunately they set up their fireworks station right behind where we were sitting.  At that point we were witness to a whole lot of pushing, shoving, laughing, match lighting and firework setting off.  Sometimes a bottle rocket landed in the crowd near the pier, sometimes it landed on the roof of a house – no matter, they were lighting them off in the epicenter of town behind a giant war monument that intensified the noise as it ricocheted off the monument and buildings.  When the hooligans threw a set of roman candles into a giant metal trash can, the noise was so loud it made the entire crowd jump.

Our kids were completely stunned by the scene.  Kids with matches?!?!?!?  Kids with fireworks?!??!  Where were their parents?!?!?  I could see their small brains expanding as they watched what was happening.  I’m pretty sure that up until that point our kids thought it was illegal for kids to touch matches.  In that moment, right in front of their eyes, kids were not only playing with matches, but using them to light FIREWORKS – the holy grail of what not to touch!  Their eyes were literally as big as saucers.

After watching this scene play out for over a half hour, the hooligans finally got cussed out by a bystander who was hit by a random firework.  That is something that is also somewhat common here, people (usually very loudly) disciplining other people’s children.  They packed up their backpacks and headed out on their bikes to terrorize another group of spectators further down the pier.

For the rest of the night, the boys kept wanting to know where the hooligans were.  Although they were somewhat scared of them, they were fascinated by them – sort of like watching a horror movie through your fingers – you’re scared but still want to know what happens.  Eamon kept asking, “Where do you think the hooligans hang out when they’re not lighting off fireworks?  Do you think they have a clubhouse or something?”  Later in the evening when we saw some trash on the side of the road, Owen said, “I wonder if the hooligans left that there…….”

I told Tim if we return from France without our kids turning into hooligans, I will feel pretty good about myself.  Especially since O & E now know it isn’t illegal for kids to light matches.

 

Disclaimer:  After this post, my mother called to make sure that the reference about ear pulling in 5th grade wasn’t any commentary about her, since she had no memory of ever pulling my ears as a child.  I told her that, no, she had never pulled our ears as children and that reference was to an old 5th grade friend of mine who I shall call Meg (to protect her identity).  My mother was a great mother and would never have inflicted any pain on us as children.  The fact that she had us picking us cigarette butts at our motel in the summer for $.01 apiece was, in fact, character building, not torture.  

le super americaine

20110716-110629.jpgIn a little coastal town on our way around Normandy, we stopped for dinner at an outdoor crepe/kebab/stake hache stand.  As we were standing in line looking at the menu, Tim spied his desired meal.  It was called “Le Super Americaine.”  I am not joking.  Tim actually said very loudly, “I need to order le super americaine because I am a super American!”  At that point, I put a little bit more distance between us and started to act like I didn’t know him.

He did, in fact, order it and you can see it pictured above.  Not sure if the owner of the stand has ever been to America, but I thinking that I might need to let her know that in America we don’t eat our french fries on top of our burger and we don’t eat our burgers on a baguette.  Just thought I’d mention that.  See that pile of ketchup on top of the fries?  It’s masking the pile of mayo underneath.  Not sure if this sandwich makes us seem super or just really scary.

pepsi v. coke v. bread

20110716-110944.jpgAs far as I can tell, there is no debate in France of Pepsi v. Coke.  Not sure if anyone really cares about the brands of soda – they’re more concerned about the quality of the wine.  And now that I think about it, I’m not certain that the Pepsi brand even exists in France.  Good thing I’m a Coke girl.

But what you may see in the countryside is not a random soda vending machine, but rather, a random bread vending machine.  This baby (above) was just sitting on the side of the road in Normandy, just screaming to have its picture taken.  We drove by it about 10 times and each time I told Tim that I needed to stop and take a picture of it, but we kept passing by it on our way to somewhere else.

Then, on the last day, when Owen and I went out on a cider buying mission (I’m talking hard, French cider here), I pulled the car over and told Owen to get out and take a picture.  He said, “But what if someone is watching me take a picture of a bread machine on the side of the road?  Won’t they think it’s strange?”

That’s when I gave him a piece of advice that sums up our experience in France.  I said, “If you feel bad every time someone thinks you’re strange, you’ll never leave your house.  Act like you know what you’re doing and take the picture.”

The end.

we are on Cape Cod

20110716-110850.jpgSo we spent the last week in Normandy and Brittany, which I will tell you all about.  But not now.  There is too much to write to make it short.

For now, I will tell you about this one moment in time when we were sitting on the beach in a small beautiful northern town called Etretat (thanks for the recommention, Emily!).  Anyway, we were sitting on the beach and a small plane all by itself, flew by the beach and I turned to Eamon and said, “See that plane?  If that plane had a sign hanging off the back of it, I would know we were on Cape Cod.”

A few minutes later, the same plane flew by, this time with a long sign attached to it.  Eamon turned to me and said, “Mummy, look!  We ARE on Cape Cod!”

It really felt like it in that moment.