Tag Archives: france


But it’s never really Armistice, is it? One war ends for a moment while another war goes on someplace else, and eventually the old war picks up again. So we call it Veteran’s Day instead. BritCem16 BritCem19 BritCem2 from the Bayeux War Cemetery, Bayeux, France, 2005 In the two World Wars, they came from everywhere, high- and low-born, as it were. CollevilleCemWestVirginia CollevilleCemSpectorStarDavid CollevilleCemTedRoosJr from Coleville-sur-Mer cemetery, Basse Normandie, France, 2005 There wasn’t enough left of some to be buried at all, and so the place where they died stands as their only monument. For some, we will never know their names. PointeDuHoc4 from Point du Hoc, Basse Normandie, France, 2005. (Those are craters from the bombs.) OmahaBeach5 Omaha Beach, Basse Normandie, France, 2005  HomageAuxCombatantsVoluntaires Rue de la Huchette, Paris, France, 2005 Some fell on the wrong side of history and are forgotten by their countrymen. GermanWWIIGraves2 Melaten Cemetery, Cologne, Germany, 2005 It’s hard to make sense of it all. I think of Pvt. Ranson often, especially on days like today, and I worry what became of his parents after he was gone.


“I’ll Rochambeau Ya For It” Part 1: Yorktown Battlefield

Finally, finally sorted through my Washington-Rochambeau weekend (with a later side-trip to Richmond) photos. Hoped to get these up by the anniversary of the Cornwallis’s surrender (230th anniversary this year!), but it didn’t work out that way. Let’s just say I’m early for next year.

Since the last couple of posts have been text-heavy, let’s start this one with a photographic bang:



That’s an English gun that Lafayette recognized on his 1824 “victory lap” as one he took during the big fight thanks to this cannonball dent on the side:


The gun was also used to fire the half hour salute at Lafayette’s death ten years after.

The “Lafayette Gun” is in the welcome center at the Yorktown battlefield, which is now a national park and a sad, sad monument to diminishing park funding. There is a small museum inside that looks like it was last updated in the 1970s. The same can be said of the grainy film in the welcome center theater. There’s also a shocking $10 entry fee to the park which struck me as exceedingly high and made the condition of the welcome center and some parts of the park all the more frustrating. It does include admission to Jamestowne, though. Although I couldn’t take advantage of the dual admission, knowing this takes a little sting out of the sticker shock.

I made the whole trip the week of September 11. While the rest of the country was self-flagellating over the anniversary of the attacks 10 years ago, I thought it would be more constructive to celebrate Washington and Rochambeau’s ride south in reverse, ending with a reenactment in celebration of their Mount Vernon encampment anniversary on Sept. 10-11. (I’ve also been nursing an inexplicable obsession with the Marquis de Lafayette this year, and I had to see all these places while I was still in the area.) So, I started where it all ended at the Yorktown battlefield.

(I was also stupid enough to try doing Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg on the same day after driving down from Washington, D.C. It CAN be done, but there’s lots you won’t see. Unless you’re like me, and you have no other choice, I don’t recommend it.)

The ranger at the welcome center front desk had his spiel down so well that he couldn’t really deviate from it. I listened to him give the same robotic speech to the visitors in line before me, and he couldn’t be convinced that I didn’t need to hear it again when I got to the counter. When I stopped him to ask if he could just tell me where Lafayette’s troops had been, I swear I heard the record skip while he stopped, thought a second, told me he had no idea, and then finished the spiel.

He did give me a driving map, though, that lacked any mention of Lafayette but did have all the major beats of the story and their locations.

Emphasis on the words “driving map.” I thought I’d be able to walk, which tells you how ill-planned this trip was.

I was on a schedule, and I was already late, so I didn’t get out or get any good photos at any of the weed-covered redoubts. Also, I always fail to realize how battlefields will affect me emotionally. I had an unexpected dread at the idea of walking out where so many died so painfully, so I took advantage of my tight schedule and cruised on past to the battlefield’s famous warm fuzzy: the surrender field.


It’s here where Cornwallis sent an underling to deliver his surrender to Washington either out of shame at the loss or pride that wouldn’t allow him to deliver the surrender in person to a rebel general. George took it in stride by sending his own underling to accept it in his stead.

Love that man.

It’s not a suprise to me that my favorite part of the whole park was Washington’s headquarters.


No idea how it looked then, but today it’s a small cul-de-sac off the main drag in the middle of a copse of trees. Even with the shade, it was the brightest, most beautiful, best-situated spot in the entire park. Typical Mason.


Despite my hurry I had to get out of the car and stand in the sun for a bit, and I saw what looked like a picnic area.


I can’t help but think that it would make George very, very happy to see what’s become of this space.

I’m not so sure I can say the same about the French cemetery, though, and I have to say it was the low point of my visit. When I saw it on the map, I didn’t really know what to expect.



From a distance, the single, simple cross is striking and makes me think more than a little of the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer in Lower Normandy.


Up close? Not so much.

You’ll note a few things about the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and this unknown American’s tomb: its beauty, its impeccable upkeep, its decided lack of satanic graffiti.

Oh no. I’ve given away the surprise. Well, anyway, let’s get closer to that grave at Yorktown.



Here Lie Fifty Unknown French Soldiers, Dead at Yorktown for American Independance, 1781

Let’s have a look at that tombstone.

[I’ve freed up the rights on these two so you can view large versions of them on Flickr and read the graffiti for your own groans and giggles.]





“Mike Loves Hope” (front). Aww. Well, they were Frenchmen, and they were probably all about the love. But the back with “Lucifer” and all the X’s? Somebody’s been watching too much Supernatural. Classy, Park Service. Would it be possible to sand down the stone and get rid of that stuff? (Or would it damage something special? I honestly don’t know anything about the marker or its history.)

At this point, I have to wonder if the French troops are actually still “resting” there or if they were dug up for nefarious purposes by some jackass long ago. I doubt anyone knows, and if they can’t be cared for better than this, it might be best to exhume what’s left and move it to someplace that I can point out to my French friends with a little less shame.

After that, I decided it was high time I get to Williamsburg and get some lunch. (Being a vegetarian, I was more successful with the first than the second task, but more about Williamsburg in a later post.)

* * *

Yorktown Battlefield, part of Colonial National Historical Park
$10 for Seven-Day Park Entrance Pass
(Includes Historic Jamestowne, which I sadly couldn’t visit, in addition to Yorktown.)
See website for dates and hours of operation.

“100% real Aprhodite marble pulled in from, uh, very far away. Outside of France. Where I’m from.”

You guys. I don’t even know. How have I never seen this before? Jason Schwartzman, marry me.

Venise Vivaldi Versailles

I don’t remember this sort of thing happening at Versailles when I was in France, but then again I was only in Versailles for about six hours…

This past Friday night, the Chateau de Versailles threw a huge Venetian Festival complete with wigs, costumes, and craziness. There’s a video of it here.

Even if you don’t care to watch the video and fantasize that you’re living in the 17th or 18th centuries, it’s worth visiting the site linked above just to take a look at Culturebox.france3.fr. I love the site design – perfect for my undiagnosed ADD brothers and sisters.

I was particularly touched by this video of the immensely long-running performances at Paris’s Theatre de la Huchette.

(For the non-Francophones, it’s a piece on a theater that has been performing the same play by Ionesco for five decades in exactly that spot, as far as I understand it, and having been there, I believe it.)

It’s an odd little place (emphasis on ‘little’) nestled into a corner of a tiny street in what I still believe must surely be the most heavily traveled tourist spot in all of Paris in a little pinch of the Latin Quarter not far from Notre Dame. Even from the street, this nook just feels like an odd place. As a passerby, I knew nothing, but I could just feel there was history there. For better or for worse, some things in life do last (at least for a long while).

18th Century, and the robots are already here, seigneur…

Here is a video of a small robot given to Marie Antoinette.

It’s about an exhibition at the Château de Versailles, but the video itself takes place at my absolute favorite museum in the entire world, the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. À ne pas manquer!!!

(Here is a link to an English description of the exhibit at Versailles, which, of course, ends next weekend. Oh, for a spare thousand dollars to drop on a plane ticket for this. I suppose I will have to content myself with having finally gotten to see Thomas Jefferson’s total MacGyver setup at Monticello this past winter.)

“Does this pike make me look fat?”

Kate Beaton’s done a series of strips on the French Revolution. As usual, they are glorious and Wrong.

And, yes, TJ. That Revolution was super creepy.

July 5, 2005

Five years ago today, I was in Aix-en-Provence, and I took this photo (among others):


It was the middle of the July soldes (sales), which is a hellish time for native or traveler. What seemed like the entirety of Great Britain descended upon every French town of a certain size to take advantage of prices which, honestly, were not that big of a deal.


I seem to remember noticing, upon my immediate arrival in Aix, how friendly and courteous the people I met seemed to be. How quickly that changed. Once the shoppers swarmed the place, I was snapped at, shoved along, and actually yelled at more than at any other time or place during my French travels. Even then I couldn’t blame them. The shoppers were rude and they were everywhere. I stayed in some days just to avoid them. American travelers get a bad rap, but we can’t possibly be as bad as that. Even if we drink and laugh too loud, at least we’re friendly. And I never thought that this would be an actual complaint, but the sun was always so, so bright that it was often hard to see.


Of course it didn’t help that it was one of the hottest summers on record, and the locals seemed neither to realize the merit of air conditioners nor of window screens. After muggy, headache-inducing days, I slept in a small, hot room with wooden shutters clamped tight for fear of the evil Provencal moustiques. As a result, I felt sick at least 75% of the time I spent in Provence.


Someday I want to go back and give it a fair shot. I think it would have to be as cold as November first, though. I think the reason there are so many fountains in the city is that it’s so tempting to just dunk yourself on any given sweltering day. I saw it happen more than once.


Today I’m in a basement in DC almost equally lacking in air conditioning and with mosquitoes almost as fierce. The Weather Channel’s web site tells me it’s nearly fifteen degrees cooler today in Aix than it is DC, but at 98 degrees, it still doesn’t feel as hot here as I remember it feeling then. Hindsight isn’t always 20/20.