Monday, October 20, 2014

The Normandy Fahrt: A smug French moment at Pegasus Bridge

I've fallen lamentably behind with my posts on the Normandy trip last month. Blame my life. It  took over the moment I was home. But there are one or two things still to be shared, and then there's a poem, of which more anon. The photo on the left is of Pegasus Bridge, which film buffs should remember from The Longest Day - Sorry I'm late, old chap ... Think nothing of it, old chap - something like that anyway. This is the view across the bridge to the cafe and the building adjoining it, both as they were in the film, and, more importantly, in 1944. The cafe is run by a woman who was a small child at the time, whose parents owned the same cafe. Sadly, Mr B and I didn't realise this till later - but out of our choice to visit the other cafe, facing it across the road, came a most enjoyable moment of sheer ... smugness. Incidentally, the bridge is not the original one; it now stands in the grounds of the museum looking just like this one only - I think - slightly narrower.

But to our morning coffee moment. Hastening across the bridge from the museum as if the entire German army was on our heels, we met our Glorious Leader. We saw, behind him, several of our compadres sitting at a table outside the cafe in the photo. I wouldn't come in here if you're looking for coffee, he announced. The woman's as cheerful as Basil Fawlty. Such was my need of coffee I loitered no longer, but headed into the other establishment, empty except for a taciturn man in an orange t-shirt. A fag - surely a Gauloise? - dangled artistically from a corner of his lower lip. I smiled beguilingly.  Bonjour, Monsieur...Is it possible - in faultless French, I may add - to have coffee? And, perhaps, un petit quelque chose a emporter - un sandwich, peut-être?

Downturned mouth, shrug ... peut-être, Madame. Je vais demander. I kept smiling, and I kept speaking French. The coffee arrived, and we sat in the sun and watched a boat going under Pegasus Bridge and noticed how about 20 of our friends were stranded on the far side by this operation. Gauloise reappeared. Jambon et beurre? ... Parfait, monsieur. Merci. And as our friends straggled in, also searching for coffee and something to eat later, our half-baguettes appeared, stuffed with the most luscious ham, rich with butter, neatly parcelled in brown paper bags with a paper napkin round them. I bought some risqué postcards, explaining that they were for the loo wall of my Norman daughter-in-law. He gave me a deal on half a dozen, explaining that actually he didn't know the price of these ones. We parted with great bonhomie, the best of friends. Not a word of English had been spoken. Hence the smugness. The sandwiches, incidentally, were as good as they looked, and even the golden crusts weren't a challenge to my fragile teeth.

It must be hard living in this kind of tourist mecca. Ok, the business is considerably brisker than in other French backwaters, but there's a niggle in my mind about this constant memorial activity, in a countryside that was ravaged by war and is now picked over by the descendants of those who ravaged it (for there were German tourists too, in several of the sites we visited. Naturally.) The Basil Fawlty woman has become a tourist attraction in her own right - but how hard to keep pleasant when you're setting for lunch and a gaggle of coffee-and-sandwich types appears just before l'heure de dejeuner.

Our day continued with a visit to Merville Battery (where we had the experience of being in a gun turret during the invasion) and ended in Caen, where some of us had an adventure with a sparrow hawk, a terrified pigeon (in our bedroom, natch), and another pigeon devoured before our eyes in the garden of the Kyriad Hotel. We took our tea nonetheless, an upturned rubbish bin serving as a coffee table. We were seasoned campaigners, and were not about to let a bit of random slaughter get between us and our refreshment.

1 comment:

  1. Not as far behind as I am with reading and commenting. Being able to speak the language is a huge bonus and much appreciated in my experience. It must get very wearing for shop and cafe owners, constantly dealing with people who expect you to speak their language, not your own.