I will never forget watching this American speak to the lost soldiers on the beaches of Normandy. Today we honor those who lost their lives, au champs d'honneur.
: jour des soldats morts au champ d'honneur (day of commemoration of soldiers who were killed in action)
Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the French definitions, recording today's sound file from his field of vines where he's paused to remember soldiers: Download MP3 or Wav file
Le Memorial Day est un jour de congé officiel aux États-Unis, célébré chaque année lors du dernier lundi du mois de mai. Historiquement, il était nommé Decoration Day, en l'honneur des femmes et hommes qui perdirent leur vie durant la guerre de Sécession. (Wikipedia)
Memorial Day is an official holiday in the United States, observed each year on the last Monday of May. Historically, it was called Decoration Day, in honor of women and men who lost their lives during the American Civil war.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
On La Fête des Mères, yesterday, we were gathered round the picnic table, eating barbequed moules, salmon, and aubergines, when the irony of it all hit me. Mothers Day in France is the day before Memorial Day in the States.
I looked over at my 19-year-old son, amazed. Thank God we've never known the draft.
Mothers Day was never more meaningful--celebrated the day before remembrance day. So much to be grateful for: my son, freedom, and most of all those who fought for it.
On this day we often hear the free citoyens promise: "We will never forget." Let's remember, now, by honoring those who lost their lives, les soldats morts au 'champ d'honneur.'
Searching for Mon Oncle, Soldier Alan by Nancy Rial
Years ago, we flew past the auto-route sortie to St. Avold, on a fast paced trip which encircled France and her bordering countries. I immediately thought of mon oncle who was buried there in the Lorraine Cimetière Américain but my companion could not be convinced to turn around, stop and investigate. It would have to wait for another trip.
Years later, I happened to be vacationing in Paris when the WWII 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of that city took place—with a parade beneath the open, elegant French windows of my borrowed apartment. My children were with me, and I was determined this time to take them to visit my uncle’s grave. The short visit en route to our next vacation “destination” was undeniably the most moving experience of the trip to Europe that summer.
The Lorraine Cimetière Américain, like the 10 other American military cemeteries of WWI or WWII, is well marked, and easy to locate. The reception room is comfortable and welcoming, the superintendents are bi-lingual, and one can find the location of a soldier’s grave. It is the visitors’ choice to be accompanied for a brief and moving ceremony, or be left to wander freely among the rows of often unvisited young soldiers.
It is an unforgettable experience searching for the soldier the first time. I searched for the familiar name until I recognized the letters on his croix, (there are many étoiles de David, also). Aha! There it is! Then the thought struck me that this is not the place one wants to find a name, for it means that the soldier resting there did not have the privilege of the long life that we live.
That first visit awakened more questions than it answered about this uncle I had never met. The kindly superintendent looked in his library for answers to some of my concerns. I wanted to know as many details as I could find about this young man’s life; just how much had he experienced? I have been investigating ever since.
The cemetery hosts an “Adopt a Grave” program, which is very important to the family of the soldiers buried across the seas from his homeland. No one in our family knows why my grandmother chose to leave Alan where he had fallen, but it is fitting that he is with his comrades, and that all these forever-young men should not be forgotten. The American cemeteries themselves are fitting reminders of the two countries’ entwined histories that started when France first helped the founding colonies of the New World to independence, and was later lent a helping hand in the 20th century.
For a truly moving experience, visit one of the World War II cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day), or a quiet day of your next vacation. The rows of white marble crosses and Stars of David are inspiring and provide a good place to think about the value of life and what it means to be human. If you live in France, consider “Adopting” the grave of a soldier who gave everything so that we all have a good life. Then share the experience with the next generation.
To comment on Nancy's story, click here. To share more information on American cemeteries in France, or to share your experience visiting one, thank you for using the comments box.
-- Nancy Rial has a background in both the fine arts and library science. She is currently a library media specialist at the Cambridge Public Schools. She has been researching WWII for the past 10 years, and travels frequently between her home in Cambridge and France.
"This is a personal chronicle of a teen soldier in WWII from basic training to his adventures across northern France on the front lines as a member of the Fifth Division, part of Patton's Third Army." Click here to order.
Rue de la Paix (Peace Street) in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. More about war and peace in today's story column.
At Cafe de la Tour I found a seat close to the porte-fenêtre for a nice view of the village square on market day. The serveuse cleared away the dirty ashtray and demitasses before I set down three baguettes, my purse and my keys, and nodded bonjour to the strangers on my left.
Jean-Claude, the former patron (his daughter Sophie now runs the place), was seated at the opposite table with two burly locals. The three retired men had their noses in a pile of black-and-white photos and that is when I noticed for the first time that Jean-Claude owned one, a nose, that is. He had shaved off his legendary mustache! Gone was the dramatic white flip which swooped up and out at either end. The once soft, uniform curl was like a giant eyelash that batted as he spoke. So long was that mustache that it curled right up over the tip of his nose and covered it.
"What? You didn't know?" Jean-Claude turned to greet me, and share about the little accident he had had along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, where he had had an inspiration while watching the young freestylers. That is when the idea struck him to borrow one of the boys' BMX bikes... only to quickly discover that he, Jean-Claude, had a fear of heights!
Dangling over the edge of a mini ramp, Jean-Claude's fall was imminent, and he landed smack on his shiny head. Thirty some odd stitches later, he still hasn't lost that radiant smile--although he did lose all of his front teeth—which explains the "bald spot" above his upper lip, one that now matches the smoothness of his head, the mustache having been shaved off when the dental work began.
"That must have been traumatizing!" I said of the well-known mustache, thinking about the loss of what could surely be considered a limb. Jean-Claude looked at me blankly before that beaming smile returned.
"Ce n'était rien," It was nothing, he said thoughtfully, his eyes returning to the pile of old war photos.
Changing the subject, Jean-Claude handed me the black-and-white images, explaining that the photos were of the Libération, taken when American solders arrived in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, freeing the village from German occupation. I recognized our town's square; only, instead of the realtor's office there was a little boutique with a wooden sign that read "Mode."
The men seated beside Jean-Claude were now recounting war stories. As Jean-Claude and I studied the photos, I heard bits and pieces of the burly men's conversation: "...the parachutists landed...the maquisards fought...a soldier fell right out front..."
"Look at the hats!" Jean-Claude cried out, loud enough to muffle the voices next to him. He began pointing to a photo in which a crowd of men stood in the village square, their heads kept warm with those stylish newsboy caps. While J.-C. and I looked at '40s fashions, the men seated next to us continued commenting and I picked up scraps of their grim dialogue—
"...the Americans captured the Germans...prisoner of war...chained to the soldier..." but Jean-Claude's well-timed exclamations drowned out most of the sad and violent images.
"Look at the children! So many children!" Jean-Claude piped back in, this time pointing to a photo in which some little kids were seated on the church steps, but I found it hard to concentrate on the image. Instead, my ears were trying to tune in to the table beside us, where the men continued their remembrances:
"...the prisoners were marched off... blood..."
"Ah, the platan tree is still there! Do you recognize it?" Jean-Claude enthused, but the men's bleak commentary continued: "...American soldier shot down by the train station, died right there...the American and German were hit, killed by the same blow!..."
"That's Pascal," Jean-Claude chimed in, his back now to the men seated at the table next to ours. I looked at the photo of a skinny, grimy-faced kid, shorts rolled up, socks falling down around his bony ankles.
"His family still owns the carrosserie down the street," he added, ignoring his tablemates. "Ah, wonderful man! He must've been 6 or 7 years old in this photo." Jean-Claude shook his head, but there was a gentle smile on his face, that is, until I voiced a lingering question:
"Can you tell me about the war?" I asked, trusting Jean-Claude to paint a sensitive portrait of life here in Les Arcs-sur-Argens during WWII. Instead he threw me another one of those famous blank stares.
"C'est intéressant... la guerre," I said, saying anything to fill in the silence. "No, war is not interesting!" Jean-Claude said, swatting me several times over the shoulder with the photos, in mock condemnation.
"Look at that gun!" I said.
"Ah, the chewing gum!" Jean-Claude replied, cleverly evading the subject, and ignoring the photo that the men beside us had just handed over. "The Americans and their chewing gum! The soldiers, who were often called 'Joe', loved their chewing gum!" he said with that contagious smile.
And like that, I sipped my café-au-lait and watched Jean-Claude point out rosy details in the old, dark photos. He was seeing the children's smiles, the fashions, the beautiful trees, as well as hearing the whir of wheels riding up the seaside ramp and his own freestyle foray into...well, never mind the crash. On he went, painting his own postwar portrait of Provence and, though not erasing the past, he expertly drew blanks over the pain.
French Vocabulary la porte-fenêtre = French window la serveuse = barmaid le patron (la patronne) = business owner la Libération = the freeing from foreign occupation la mode = fashion le maquisard = "man of the maquis" (wild Mediterranean scrubland) or French resistance fighter hidden in the forests and mountains during WWII la carrosserie = automobile body shop
Thank you for alerting me to any typos or formatting problems, in this story! Click here to access the comments box. Note: the first 30 comments in the comments box are not edits; they appeared when this story was first posted.
La Commémoration du 8 mai
Today, May 8th is a French National holiday:Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during the Second World War. Do not miss the video at the end of this edition, in which students portent le flambeau, or "carry the torch" of remembrance via song. You'll hear excerpts of La Marseillaise and le Chant de Partisans (second video), and witness the touching and humble reconnaissance of France's youth.
Note: if you are viewing this edition via email, you might need to click over to the blog (try clicking on the title at the top of this letter) to view the videos. Don't miss them!
PS: many thanks to readers for submitting these book recommendations:
End quote: La guerre, un massacre de gens qui ne se connaissent pas, au profit de gens qui se connaissent mais ne se massacrent pas. War, a massacre of people who do not know each other, to the profit of people who know each other but do not massacre each other. --Paul Valéry
:: Audio File :: Download guerre.wav Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce French words in the following Proverb: Qui terre a guerre a. / He who has land, has war.
Terms: la guerre classique = conventional warfare la guerre chaude, froide = hot, cold war la guerre sur terre = land warfare la guerre atomique = atomic warfare la guerre planétaire = global warfare la guerre de rues = street fighting ...more terms and expression at the end of this letter
Expressions: de bonne guerre = legitimately un nom de guerre = a pseudonym être sur le sentier de la guerre = to prepare for combat faire la guerre à quelqu'un = to criticize someone à la guerre comme à la guerre = to take the rough with the smooth partir en guerre contre quelque chose = to go to war for something s'en tirer avec les honneurs de la guerre = to receive an honorable discharge
Le Chant des Partisans Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines ? Ami, entends-tu ces cris sourds du pays qu'on enchaîne ? Ohé partisans, ouvriers et paysans, c'est l'alarme ! Ce soir l'ennemi connaîtra le prix du sang et des larmes. Montez de la mine, descendez des collines, camarades, Sortez de la paille les fusils, la mitraille, les grenades ; Ohé les tueurs, à la balle ou au couteau tuez vite ! Ohé saboteur, attention à ton fardeau, dynamite ... C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux du lit font des rêves Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue, nous on crève. Ici chacun sait ce qu'il veut, ce qu'il fait, quand il passe ; Ami, si tu tombes, un ami sort de l'ombre à ta place. Demain du sang noir séchera au grand soleil sur les routes, Chantez, compagnons, dans la nuit la liberté nous écoute.
English translation, and history behind this song, here.
Three Random Words: un casse-dalle (m) = (from the slang "dalle" = hunger) = snack aneth (m) = dill le caoutchouc (m) = rubber (caoutchoucs = galoshes)
Cruisin' through the Tuscan Vauclusian countryside yesterday... My husband still gives me driving lessons (from the passenger seat). I tell him I've been behind the wheel for 23 years. Apparently, says he, it's time to learn to shift gears.
to drive .
In the winter of 2001, I left work at the vineyard each night to drive myself to driving school, careful to take the back roads and to park several blocks from the Auto-École Rivière. Though I had driven for ten years in the States, and another six in France, I had failed to exchange my Arizona driver's license for a French one, having had two years to do so. Time and again, Jean-Marc assured me that I had the right to drive in France (convinced that my AAA International Driving Permit was enough, never mind the expiration date), until one day he realized that his wife was driving without insurance (!!!); that is, should she get into an accident, the insurance contract would be void ($$$) without her having a French permis de conduire.
Having spent weeknights at driving school, attending class with would-be motorists half my age, and having finally passed l'épreuve théorique, or written exam, in the town of Fréjus, I would soon be navigating the streets of Draguignan... with a stone-faced inspecteur seated beside me.
On exam day, I shared the test vehicle with a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old who had just been ordered to pull over and get out. "Out! You are a danger to yourself and to others!" the inspecteur shouted. Seated in the back of the car, waiting my turn, I tried to understand just what my unfortunate classmate had done wrong, but was jolted out of my pensées when the inspector resumed his tirade.
"FAILED!" the inspecteur barked. He shouted a few more insults before the French kid got into the back of the car, at which point I was ordered into the driver's seat: "A vous, madame!"
"Allez-y!" the inspecteur commanded, checking his watch. I said a prayer to Saint Christopher, patron saint of safe travel (not knowing who the saint was for driver's-exam scoring), put on the left-turn signal, and drove out of the quiet neighborhood into the chaotic streets of Draguignan at rush hour.
"You don't need to be so obvious!" the inspector snapped when I threw my chin left after turn-signaling. Moments ago I'd signaled a right turn and thrown my chin over my right shoulder for good measure. We had been warned in driving school to exaggerate our gestures during testing to show the inspecteur that we were aware of those dangerous "angles morts" or blind spots. "Et les vitesses!" the inspector grumbled after I'd ground the gears once again. "Oh, but aren't cars automatic in America?!" he snickered.
Though I had been stick-shifting for sixteen years, seated next to the inspecteur I felt like I was operating a vehicle for the first time. Having completed the twenty-minute parcours through the center of Draguignan, where the unpredictable French pedestrian is king and capable of jumping from sidewalk to street center in the blink of an eye, I followed the inspecteur's instructions, pulling up in front of the American cemetery, which seemed like a bad omen to me. The inspecteur sat silently, filling out paperwork, before announcing it was time to check my vision. He ordered me to read the sign across the street. Squinting my eyes, I began:
"World War II Rhone American Cemetery and Memor...".
Before I had even finished reading, the inspector scribbled something across the page, tore off the sheet, and mumbled "Félicitations."
Ornery as he was, I had the urge to throw my arms around the inspecteur and plant a kiss beside his angry brow; only, the commandant was no longer facing me, but looking out over the quiet green fields dotted white with courage, lost in another place and time.
Auto-École Rivière = Riviera Driving School le permis (m) de conduire = driver's license l'inspecteur (l'inspectrice) = inspector la pensée = thought A vous, madame = Your turn, Madam Et les vitesses! = And the gears! le parcours = driving route les félicitations (fpl) = congratulations le commandant = captain
Un critique, c'est un homme qui connaît la route, mais qui ne sait pas conduire. A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car. --Kenneth Tynan
:: Audio File :: Listen to my daughter (9-years-old at the time of this recording) pronounce the French word for "to drive" in today's quote: Download conduire.wav
Un critique, c'est un homme qui connaît la route, mais qui ne sait pas conduire.
Terms & Expressions: un permis de conduire (m) = driver's license conduire un orchestre = to conduct an orchestra conduire une affaire = to manage a business se conduire = to behave se conduire bien / mal = to behave well / badly se conduire comme un âne = to make an ass of oneself
FYI:A remembrance poem was posted yesterday, "Poppy Day", don't miss it. Also: a reminder to UK readers: Jean-Marc and I will be at Barbican Centre in London, next week. We would love to meet you there. Click here for more information about this event.
......................................................................................... French Verb Conjugation: conduire je conduis, tu conduis, il/elle conduit, nous conduisons, vous conduisez, ils/elles conduisent ; past participle: conduit
Example sentence: Les tirailleurs de l'armée française d'Afrique ont contribué par leur courage à placer la France parmi les puissances victorieuses de 1945.
The sharpshooters of the French African army contributed, by their bravery, to putting France among the victorious powers of 1945. --from the book "Paroles d'indigènes Les Soldats oubliés de la Seconde Guerre mondiale"
The upside about those glaring plasterboard walls, here in our unfinished farmhouse, is their potential for bringing the "big screen" home (this, with the help of a laptop and a projector). The downside about home cinema is getting four Franco-American film critics to unite. (Jean-Marc likes historicals, I like drama, and the kids like Jamel Debbouze [read: comedy]). Recently, our tastes teamed up in the tear-jerker "Indigènes,"* a film about the forgotten North African soldiers of WWII.
Eight-eyes glued to the plasterboard screen, we witnessed the power of hope amidst prejudice and unreward as the "indigenous" soldiers (aka the Algerian Infantry Division) arrived in France from the colonies to help free their "motherland". The following, from OpenDemocracy.net summarizes the film's subject matter:
In 1944, the French army had 550,000 soldiers, more than half coming from the "empire": 134,000 Algerians, 73,000 Moroccans, 26,000 Tunisians, and 92,000 sub-Saharan Africans... They were also too often used as cannon-fodder, second-class soldiers: fed more poorly, clothed more shabbily, paid less, rewarded rarely, promoted hardly, humiliated routinely. [The film] Indigènes reminds us of all this.
If one can marry comedy with tragedy, then actor Jamel Debbouze offered just the featherlight sweep needed to lighten four heavy hearts who, turning from the plasterboard "big screen," paused now and again to ask ourselves, Why?
* * *
Post note: In 1959, during decolonization, pensions for the North African soldiers were frozen. In 2006, after viewing the film "Indigènes," President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the money owed and reinstated pensions. In view of the almost fifty year time lapse, many veterans were not able to collect as they had since passed on.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ References: les indigènes = natives (Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan soldiers were referred to as "natives")
:: Audio File :: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote: Tirailleurs. Les tirailleurs de l'armée française d'Afrique ont contribué par leur courage à placer la France parmi les puissances victorieuses de 1945. Download Tirailleurs.mp3 Download Tirailleurs.wav