Friday, May 15, 2009

Over There

The trip actually began in October of 2008. Planning sequed into reservations, and then became actual airline seats with embryonic boarding passes slowly beginning to form in the great internet womb.

The day before departure we were completely packed and ready to go before we even got out of bed that day, but it still spun out of control. Our youngest grandaughter celebrated her second birthday. Our old dog racked up his fifteenth birthday - and celebrated by going to the kennel. Our youngest son opened a large photo exhibition in a nearby town and we attended, then went to dinner - already late. By the time we were finally home that night it was after 10 p.m. Tiny details remained to be taken care of, and they were generally lost and left behind.

Quick drive to Charlotte early in the next morning. Park the car. Make the flight to New York. Our little commuter airplane let us off way out on the flightline somewhere up there and we rode in to the terminal on a bus. JFK was dingy, loud, confusing. Four hours later we ate a New York pizza (they claimed - and it was good), then we were airborne for Barcelona.

We landed as the sun was rising. Whisked through a shining and scintilating airport, on to our hotel near the center of town. Left the bags there and strolled down the Ramblas to the port. Later back to the hotel when our room was available to check in and crawl into bed about 1500 hours. Up again around 1800, with three hours of sleep not so much for today, but to make the six-hour time shift in one day.
It worked OK - not perfectly perhaps, but we looked no worse than some of the mimes on the Ramblas.

(Most pictures will enlarge if clicked on.)


Barcelona - the city of endless surprises, the capitol city of the forbidden nation of Cataluna. Home to great aliens like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and the weirdest of them all, Antoni Gaudí. It is a city that is needlessly pretty, wastefully beautiful.

There was a gulch in which water gushed from the upper part of town down to the port. It was the center of attraction, the place where things happened, the place to be, and eventually it was paved and turned into the great strolling boulevard of shops, mimes, caged birds, dancing people, street musicians and pickpockets, and it was named the "Ramblas", which is an Arabic word meaning "where the river flows".

The great port of Barcelona has an imposing statute of Columbus pointing toward his discovery. More or less. Actually the finger of the statute is pointing . . . east?  Hmmmm. And Colon sailed from a port near Jeriz, but he did return from his first visit to America to the port of Barcelona. And the monument is beautifully done, with the part upon which Christobal is standing being exquisitely accomplished.

The Ramblas is filled with mimes. Good ones. Pickpocket attractions? Could be, pickpockets love distractions. Pretty girls are the best.

There is a dance called the Sardana. It is danced to music played by an impromptu “orchestra” called a Cobla Band. People pitch their bags, jackets or other things into a pile and then dance around that. It’s mainly a Sunday thing.

Gaudi seems to be the main attraction. He’s hard to ignore. We saw three of his more amazing works. Casa Batillo is covered with arresting sights on its staggered roof.

Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is a large temple. Amazingly, it is built at only 1/10 of Gaudi’s actual plans.

The Park Guell is Gaudi’s great gift to the city. The people of Barcelona and its tourists show their appreciation daily.

Barcelona. Don't miss it. (Again - photos will enlarge if clicked on)


Back to the airport, airborne again, this time for Paris. Over the snowclad Pyrenees Mountains, we landed at one of the show pieces of the world - Charles de Gaul Airport. Stunning, beautiful, easy to find your way around. Taxi to our hotel and now off on the town!

Rick Steves has recommended the Bus 69 which takes a tour of "historic Paris", so we hopped on. Tomorrow, Notre Dame.

Notre Dame de Paris

Not what I had expected. I did not get a sense of being in the presence of the sacred. No feelings of blessing could I detect and not much of a sense of history. What I took away from Notre Dame was that I had seen a busy church in the process of carrying out its hierarachial tasks and doing its clerical duties and that it was a no-nonsense type of place.

It was dark and cold inside the church. The services part of the structure had been segregated into a large “room” which contained the altar, organ pipes, and some pews.

Outside, the passage of time was apparent in the form of dirt, moss, and repairs yet to be made. The gargoyles looked bored. Do they know change is coming, or are they just dreaming?

The Louvre

If it is true that a single picture is worth a thousand words, then the Louvre is way beyond all the alphabets of this planet. It was built back in the Middle Ages, around 1100, but it keeps growing. Pei added an entrance hall under glass pyramids and that focused attention like nothing else had ever done.

It is the largest museum in the world and so well done that it really ought to be in a museum itself, but you see the problem in that. The most enchanting part of the museum, apparently, is the double pyramid. I tried to get a photo without people posing there and that was impossible - everybody wants to pose right there at that conjunction of points, and when one subject leaves, others rush immediately in.

I wanted to see the Mona Lisa and Venus di Milo. Since I had seen so many copies of these two works all my life, I wanted to see what they looked like in person. I never found Venus, but Mona Lisa was easy. I looked him straight in the eye and could tell that he was uneasy that his little game had turned out to be such a big deal. I got the impression that he was waiting until no one was looking and then he would sneak away and get those crazy clothes off. Poor guy, he was sorry he had ever tried to play a trick on Leonardo.

A large part of the enjoyment of the Louvre is the museum itself. It is a thoroughly delightful and enchanting place. You can actually feel yourself being “pulled” here and “led” there, and then you are still surprised and stunned at what you have just “found”.

Above ground, the Louvre is more like a strange planet that you have just landed upon. A lot looks familiar and a lot looks like it is way beyond you. I couldn’t help but sense the presence of great beings who had left instructions to future generations. I wonder what they said.

The Dreamer?

We've all seen this figure many times before in our life. It's one of the most familiar sights in human art, and we've all seen all of his body. But his face is a little hard to come by. It's really the best part. Rodin probably fought with devils in his own mind, you can see that in all his works. As you look into the face of the "Thinker" you wonder if this a view into the artist's soul?

Rodin himself wrote about this work. He did not think of the sculpture as representing a "thinker". The figure was to be a representative of Danté sitting before the gates of Hell, not thinking but reviewing in his own mind his writing. Danté was a writer and writers don't "think", they "dream". Rodin then, in the act of creating a "dreamer" out of a mere "thinker", accidentally created a "dreamer" and engaged in the act of - "creation". Scary? Neat!

Parisian Subways

European breads and Parisan pastries! Ahhhh! - America will never know what it can never have. Neither will it know the great German beers. The French wine is forever forbidden to American shores and also are the neat, clean, safe, and efficient subways of the great cities of the world.

Paris does all these so well together it is a wonder that anyone ever lives anywhere else other than in Paris. I am sure that the French gratefully understand and can find it in their hearts to forgive us for not all coming there, at least not all at the same time!

The camaraderie and bonding that takes place in these subways is the very heart of the old French phrase of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - it surely came from the Parisian subways.

The subways interconnect with each other and you can go from any place in Paris to any other place with just a couple of short walks and a couple of free transfers.
And the subways also merge with the buses, trains and even the airports too, so most every trip a Parisian takes begins with the subway, no matter where you wnat to go.

Eiffel Tower

It’s a French-thing. Who else would have a six-story limit in the construction of buildings in their capital city and then erect a 1,000-foot iron dandy right through all those rules and regulations reaching all the way up to heaven? (French heaven, that is). Only the French have done it so far, that’s for certain.

You can see it from all over the city. Not only is it a skyline-dominating figure but even in the ancient part of the city where the great tower is hidden in those ancient twisty streets, you can still turn a corner and Wham-o - there it is!

When you get to the tower it seems to change personality somewhat. The last you see of it before you begin your assent it actually seems wider than high. You can walk up to the second floor, to a restaurant for only four Euros ($5.5), or you can ride an elevator to the top for twelve Euros. My wife and I paid $33 for the trip up and back down again. Outrageous? Well, it’s the only way to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower. (The stairways are closed to traffic after 1800) Are they charging too much? We had to wait in line for almost an hour. Was it worth it? You bet. Do I recommend it? Absolutely!


Versailles means Very French (or it should). The palace is the home of its France's royalty and the center of its pageantry.

Here was signed the Treaty of Versailles, which as has often been stated ended World War One and started World War Two.

Art is plentiful here in what must have been the perfect village at least for those who were princes here. Lots of gold found its way from the new world of the Incas and others to this shining palace. Who would have ever thought arboriginies would have cared so much.

The fountains are perhaps the most famous sights on the grounds. There had been 1,500 of them at their peak. Now there are "only" 300 that work. During our trip the fountains were running on Saturdays for a couple of hours in the evening and there was also classical music played from endless numbers of loudspeakers at that same time. Very nice. My favorite was Jupiter!

(Photos will enlarge if clicked on)

Giverny Reflections

Claude Monet was the first impressionistic painter. He developed his new art form in Paris and perfected it in the misty beaches of Normandie. Already famous and with a small collection of other artists exploring this new field of art, he moved from Paris to a small town on the edge of Veron, France, called Giverny where he purchased a house and began building his famous gardens.

Here he perfected a new field of art by building a three-dimensional impressionistic series of gardens and intimate landscapes.

Today, Monet's home is visited by artists from across the world, as well as botanists and landscape architects to revel in this incredible landscape. Of course, the great majority of visitors to his old home are simply tourists.

We visited his place in early May, 2009, arriving from Paris about 1100 on a dark day. The que to enter took over one hour, and we entered as a breeze picked up and raindrops began to fall. However, no rain took place, and the sun came out in a milky whiteish day creating extremely difficult photography. We toured the entire area, all the gardens including the large Japanese garden and Monet's structures. The gardens were extremely crowded with people.

(Remember - pictures will enlarge if clicked on)


I was informed today by the French Board of Wow-Allotments that I have used up all my "wows" for the year & told that I may not use the word again until next year. Giverny can do that to people. We all sounded like ducks on a pond, paddling around, quacking "Wow! Wow! Wow!"

Why the French Sound So Funny

It’s no secret that the French talk funny. We know that all countries have their own language or dialects, but that clearly is not the problem the French have. We Americans speak English but we can speak French too. Anyone can learn French and anyone can speak it - anyone, that is except the French themselves. So why do the French sound so funny?

For example, everybody knows that the French expression for “please” is “sil vous plait” or as we Americans say “Sill vuu PLAIT”. But the French can’t even do that. with them it comes out something like “zivuplaaaaaaah”. The phrase for “Thank you”, which is “merci beaucoup”, we Americans can say it clearly as “Mercy bow cup” but the French come out with something like “maersiebykoo.”

So there has to be another problem. And I have found out what it is. It is the way they prepare their food! Sacré bleu! (And that’s “sack ray bloo”, not “zceyblu”.

What’s the reason for this? The English don’t have any problem spitting out their words. That comes from eating mutton all the time. The Germans can blast you back two feet with their sharp words, and that’s from eating all that bratwurst and chewing endless amounts of sauerkraut. But the French just eat snails, pate foie gras and pastry. If you ever go to France, you can eat their snails and foie gras but don’t ever eat any of their pastry! Their pie crusts are so poorly made that you can’t even chew the darn things. They immediately turn into butter and sugar - just melt in your mouth and slide right down your throat. And stay away from the croissants - they are the worst of all. They are made out of just air - air with butter, a little syrup and sugar somehow added in. Those things don’t even need to melt to slide down. You put one in your mouth and it disappears. Then it is in your stomach. So now you know: the reason the French sound so funny is that their jaw muscles have atrophied from a lack of chewing! And anything that possibly COULD be chewed is just washed down with wine.

I was there for two weeks and had already begun to lose my ability to form certain word-sounds. Fortunately, we stopped in Spain on the way home and I worked out with chorizos twice a day and was able to pronounce again by the time we got back to New York. But if you ever go to France, be careful. You wouldn’t want to sound funny like the French do, would you?

(Remember - click on photos and they will enlarge!)

B&B Chateau De Lingerolles

Staying at Lignerolles is like living inside a beautiful painting. Works of art, statues, busts, and ceramics are only the introduction to this wonderful experience.

The grounds feature centuries-old trees and interesting outdoor displays of more art. The chateau was built 45 years before the American Revolution took place, and modernized in the 1970s.

Its interior features a Grand Entrance Room with a magnificent presentation staircase connecting the two floors, and both levels are filled with the art mentioned before. But that’s not all - wait ‘till you see breakfast! Yea, verily - you will not want to leave on your vacation to tour this unique area!

Free wi-fi is also available in the Gathering Room where guests can mingle in the evening and night hours.

And that’s not all either, but well - you really need to stay at Lignerolles so you can experience the BEST part of being there and that is the gracious company of Pia and Roel Klinkhamer, the owners of this marvelous country estate.

Victory-Tours of Normandy

Roel Klinkhamer, the owner of Victory-Tours, is not just a good tour guide, he is a very good teacher. He has a knack for teaching and he connects with his students, or in this case his tour guests, very powerfully. He bonds well and leads his group on exciting tours of discovery. My wife and I were enthralled on our visit. We found that he not only knows what happened in these historic places back on those incredible days in world history, but he also knows the background of those events. He knows the things that went incredibly right and the things that spun out of control. He has personally talked with many of the participants in the invasion from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and others, and also with the German defenders and members of the French Resistance forces.

Now, as these surviving veterans increasingly die, Roel Klinkhamer is becoming a repository of the word-of-mouth stores of what really happened here. Roel Klinkhamer should be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage resource in his own right! Don’t miss YOUR chance of a lifetime - take his tour!

For more information go here:

John Womack

Omaha Beach

Bleak. Quiet. Only sound here is the wind and the constant roar of the ocean. the sound from the sea seems never to rise or fall, it is just an endless, unchanging sound. People walk quietly and mostly look straight down. There is never the sounds of gaiety here, no sounds of happiness. There are no sea shells here. No gulls ever fly over this beach. Rocks lie in ordered rows like dead soldiers awaiting burial. This is Omaha Beach.

Private Ryan had a rough time here. We have that on good faith. Other people had worse. There was a bad day here a long time ago, a long time ago, back some 65 years or so. A long day. The allied invasion here was one of the most incredibly prepared and beautifully designed endeavors ever planned by mankind. It made the great symphonies of the world seem squeaky and confused in comparison. The great universities of the world seem amateurish in comparison. Nothing ever was done as well as this great military accomplishment. And it went so wrong. What went wrong was sometimes good for those who went wrong with the wrong, otherwise it was not good at all. It went bad but it worked.

Today the cliffs fade in the salty fog, like they have done for a long time. A few people seem to be absorbed in their thoughts. But it is quiet here. Always quiet we are told. This was the response to Hitler. It was war. War against Hitler. War against civilization and against people. War against mothers. War against children. War against the world.

Sometimes the planet can be hit so hard that it rings. Like a bad blow to the solar plexus, it can hurt for a long time. It can ring and resonate and pulse and pound and hurt so hard that there can be no help. It still hurts. All you can do here at Omaha is to sit at the beach and hold its hand as it cries.


The invasion on June 6, 1944, was an event comparable to the construction of a large city in a single day - and by surprise - and on somebody else's property. To carry the analogy farther, the property owner would not want your city - and would have an army ready to stop you. Both the invaders and defenders invested uncounted and still uncountable sums of money and performed feats of heroic grandeur. Now, it has become a spiritual thing. It was the closest most people can ever come to Glory. It let people meet each other on a spiritual level that religion will never understand. War starts with cold calculations, then becomes a visceral act, a raging beast beyond control, only accepting input from the human mind related to methods of killing, attacking, surprising, and . . . then somehow, there is a human element that falls from this great fire. And that is one more step for mankind on its long journey.

On D-Day the paratroopers came down. They came down along with bombs, artillery shells, naval bombardment, small arms fire, gliders, and airplanes that fell together with them from the sky. The land here is still filled with holes that tell of great explosions and still quietly scream with agony, still trying to get their story out. Can the tourists hear them? Can they possibly understand? Well, most of the seem to be busy.

There are stories beyond belief, like one guy who got his parachute snagged on a church steeple and was in the process of being shot by a German soldier when . . . but wait . . . if you want to find out the rest of THIS story you need to go to France and look up Roel Klikhamer. He's talked with the guy. He can also tell you stories that are hard to believe and involve sharing of the most human elements of mankind by Germans, Americans and the French while the world was whirling in that great blender.

This I will pass on. There are a few churches here that have stained glass windows showing the American paratroopers.

There are cemeteries that contain a small number of the bodies of those who died in the invasion. This one, Colleville-sur-Mer, is located on a windy cliff overlooking the Ocean, the English Channel. The wind seems to always provide a loft for the flags that decorate this exquisitely dismal place. This land we are told, has been permanently ceded by France to the United States. It is American soil here in France. The crosses here tell of teen-agers who never came back home again, of young women who eventually married someone else, and of parents who were cheated out of children and grandchildren. If a cross were added for every life that was changed forever here, those crosses would reach all the way to heaven.

I looked at the crosses for a time, then I started seeing swastikas in the patterns they made with each other. I didn't like that. But I remembered that the swastika is also an ancient symbol some three to four thousand years old and found in the traditions of many native peoples, like the Hindu, Buddhists, American Navajo for example. It was the great symbol for the wind, fitting in with others that represented the sun, the moon, the stars, and life itself – the swastika was the symbol for the wind, the passage of time, and the changing of consciousness.