I’m at the annoying end of the cold. Not annoying in that it will soon be over with but annoying in that it is still spluttering erratically to an end. No doubt when I wake in the morning I will feel fine and an opportunity to take the final day of the school term as a sick day will have disappeared…
So, the last day of my school exchange visit to France is drawing to a close on this ferry, the appropriately-named Normandie. The ship (boat?) is French, the name is French, the company is French, the food is French and the personnel is French… but on both the journey to France and this return journey to Portsmouth, the time is British. There was an on board announcement informing us of the fact but why would that be? I digress. Yesterday’s update was entirely picture-based, probably as when I crawled into bed last night I neither had the time, energy nor inclination to write a reportage of the day which had actually gone very much to plan. We visited Mont St. Michel. If you’ve been to the island yourself, it was probably just like that. If you haven’t, well, I’m sure that one day you will so it will come as a nice surprise. They may even have finished all the building work that is currently being undertaken that will once again make the island an island rather than a piece of rock sticking out of the sand. Just one top tip: take a flask of coffee and you’ll save yourself most of the €5 I spent on an espresso at La Mère Poulard’s coffee shop near the entrance. Madame Poulard is, without a shadow of doubt living it up on a Caribbean island, not a windswept one off the coast of northern France courtesy of mine & others’ hard-earned cash.
Back in Caen, I dined out with my fellow teachers; Valerie & Kristel on the French side of the table, myself and Jean on the English side. Conversation was, however, almost exclusively French, just as it should be in France. The meal was delicious. A goat’s cheese salad, guinea fowl main dish and the wonderfully-named ‘indulgent framboises pėpains’ (literally ‘indulgent raspberry seeds’ which doesn’t sound half as good in English as it does in French). The flavours permeated towards my nasal cavities and taste buds despite my sniffles and occasional sneezes.
As far as I could see, there were no tears as we drove away from the collège in Falaise this morning but neither were there any howls of delight, just a subdued acceptance that our week of living with the French was over. Time will tell if any friendships have been made and if they haven’t they will have a second chance to build bridges in a couple of months’ time when the return visit is made by the French students when a visit is made to Henely-on-Thames. Within minutes we were on the main road heading north towards Caen once more. The journey isn’t a long one but as we made our way past the farms, fields, industrial units & numerous wind turbines scattered across the Normandy countryside, I calculated that I was making the journey from Falaise to Caen (or in the other direction) for the sixteenth time in only seven days. This last journey was of course to end at the ferry terminal in Ouistreham but not before allowing us to spend a couple of hours at the Caen Mémorial. I have to be honest and say that I walked into the concrete and glass edifice just outside the centre of the city a little jaded as I was expecting another reselling of the story of the events of 1944. But it turned out to be much more than that. You think of the word ‘memorial’ – in English as well as in French – and a statue comes to mind, perhaps an obelisk or even a modernist block of marble or granite that evokes something that needs to be remembered on a collective level. You don’t tend to think of memories but this is what so much of the Mémorial is based upon. Memories of those who experienced not just 1944 but the whole span of the 20th century. This was a sandwich of a museum with the D-Day landings sitting between the bread of the first and second halves of the century. Nothing was particularly new but was a fascinating recounting of personal stories blended effortlessly around the bare facts of what happened when. Much of what we have seen in the past week has been about violence and warfare; 1066 and 1944 are years almost synonymous with the events that took place at the time but what the Mémorial managed to do was at least offer context & not just a little hope for the future. The World of 2013 is far from being a place of safety and security but compared to both recent and distant history it is a time of cooperation and some hope. I can only say that I’m glad to have been visiting this bit of northern France on friendly terms today and not 69 years ago or indeed 947 years ago. Let’s hope I always will.
I found the Caen Memorial the most thought provoking place I had been to in a very long time. Welcome home.