Fortress Europa Day 6: Normandy

From yesterday: Today, we planned quite a day for ourselves, visiting Point Du Hoc, the American Cemetery at Normandy, and the German Cemetery. We left this morning at nine on a bus that took us to Point Du Hoc, a memorial for the American Rangers that climbed a cliff-face to remove an important German gun emplacement. The Germans moved the gun emplacement, but tricked American reconnaissance into thinking the artillery remained there, so Americans rappelled a steep cliff on the banks of the English Channel, only to find prepared German soldiers and no guns. The Rangers took heavy casualties, but killed the Germans in the area and held their position, unsupported, for two days. They began the mission with 250 special-unit combatants and ended the operation with only 90 men. The memorial stands on the edge of the beach and the actual monument looks extremely phallic, but the cool part was the pillboxes and other intact German defense bunkers we got to visit.

After that, we boarded our bus and headed over to Normandy beach, which is actually 25 kilometers away from Bayeaux. We ate lunch at a small cafe in the area, and I ordered a salad (je voudrais un salade vert) as I ate sumptuously at our banquet breakfast. Then, we embarked as a group and walked for a long while on the actual beach. Everyone took off their shoes and meandered the 5 kilometers to our end destination, the American Cemetery, as seen on “Saving Private Ryan.” The beach walk was great, but rather long, and the sun kissed my face passionately. The weather blessed us the entire day: extremely bright, around 55 degrees and the water broke blue and calm. A perfect day for an invasion.

The American Cemetery is something out of a cemetery designers dream. The iconic white marble crosses line up in perfect rows, casting uniform shadows across the perfectly spaced graves. Many used the word “immaculate” to describe the scene. The professors assigned each student a Texas veteran buried at the grave, gave us a rose, and we found their grave and honored it with the rose. I honored Manuel K. Gates, 22 years old and from somewhere in Texas. Normandy spoils us, as it gives great perspective on different forms of commemoration and cemetery design. Many of us, burdened with this knowledge, liked the British Cemetery in Normandy more than the manicured American Cemetery. We found the American Cemetery too tourist-oriented and veneered; it seemed that the US government overshadowed the dead with their obsessive maintenance. Can I say it was too beautiful?

At this time, it was 4:30 or so, and we had already walked more than 4 miles in the bright sun. Still, after we toured the Visitor’s Center/museum at the Normandy Cemetery, we boarded the bus and took off towards the German cemetery. It resembled the British cemetery in that it was more quaint; in fact, a German youth group maintained and upkept it, which flabbergasted me. What American youth group runs a cemetery? It was a totally different idea of death though, and humility was the theme. Also, it had loud religious overtones, with giant black granite statues of Mary and Joseph, represented all the families the war destroyed. Small, chubby Saxon crosses marked the graves, over 21,000 dead in the cemetery, which was actually 1/3 of the land allotment of the American cemetery, which held only over 9,000 dead. The museum was smaller and under-funded, but in my opinion it respected and honored its soldiers more than the American cemetery, which seemed the like the chain-restaurant version of a cemetery.

We got back on the bus and finally drove home, all of us red in the face and dogged. We came back around 6:30 and began to prepare dinner, which we didn’t finish till 10:00. Late in the evening we ate, and the professors joined us because it was Mother’s Day and we wanted to honor them and share stories. While some cooked dinner, everyone else read, slept, danced to music, or talked. The chillest night so far, and the dinner was the best of the homemade ones we’ve eaten, so I’m a happy camper.

Fortress Europa Day 6: Normandy

Fortress Europa: Day 2 (London)

Day 2 proved eventful and jam-packed, starting early with a meager breakfast in the hostel cafeteria. They served cereal (sans sugar) and bread a.k.a. toast, with peanut butter and jams. A nice breakfast, but sparse considering the day we had ahead of us.

We set off early for St. John’s Cathedral, an Anglican church famous for its longevity and the fact that it alone survived a Blitz raid of the area in 1940. All the surrounding buildings collapsed while St. John’s remained standing and almost wholly intact. We visited and saw the beautiful Romanesque church, and–since it was an old church–it had to have a crypt of famous dead people in the basement. Included in the death party were the likes of: Admiral Horation Nelson, Christopher Wrenn, and Duke Wellington. The church was in a state of repair because the Dalai Lama planned to visit next week for the London Jubilee, an annual event corresponding (conveniently) for the Olympics, as they hope to cash in on tourists.

The tour lasted three hours, and after the group splintered for lunch, and I went to Apostrophe where I ate a delicious vegetarian sandwich and a pear and chocolate tart. Following that we ventured to a boulangerie for the rest of the party to buy scones, then boarded the metro to head to the Imperial War Museum.

The Imperial War Museum attempts to show Britain’s colonial involvement and military conflicts over the past century, with a heavy emphasis on World War II and the Holocaust, as it serves as Britain’s only official Holocaust museum. Taking pictures was disallowed in most of the interesting areas, so I only got a few snapshots of some planes and historically significant tanks in the main gallery. I spent most of my time in the Holocaust and World War II sections, and I spent the rest of my time considering the fact that England has been involved in a conflict every year since 1855. Not good.

The museum was great, and my group  of around 8 spent around three hours there before returning to the hostel. After the long metro ride and walk to the hostel, all the guys fell asleep for about an hour, as everyone knows museum-viewing is inexplicably tiring. We awoke and went to an Indian restaurant to celebrate Andrew’s 20th birthday and has a fantastic time until the check arrived.

The waiter duped us in traditional foreigner fashion, inviting us to eat items we assumed free that actually cost many pounds. Long story short–and I mean long story (we settled the check for around an hour)–everyone paid close to $40 minimum, and Andy in particular ended up covering the loose ends with a gratuitous payment of around 50 pounds ($100).

Everyone seethed quite a bit following the dinner, which was a shame because the food was marvelous and the conversations were hilarious. We went to a pub nearby and everyone drank to forget the injustice done to us. Fun fact: I ended up paying around 22 pounds, the equivalent of $44  for a nice, but supposedly cheap meal of Indian food.

The bar proved cathartic and everyone had fun during the night and we forgot our suffering. We’ve trekked back to the hostel and need to wake up early to board the Eurostar and head to Normandy. Tomorrow will be a day mostly of traveling, which I welcome as a day to read and relax after two days of no free-time or relaxation.

Overall, a fantastic day and I was pleased to visit St. John’s especially, the newer, Anglican version of the Vatican. Tomorrow we see Monet’s famous gardens, which made many a cameo in his paintings, and we will arrive in France! the place I look forward to the most.

Bad picture of St. John’s Cathedral
From the top of St. Paul’s
St. Paul’s
Imperial War Museum
Fortress Europa: Day 2 (London)

Underground Chickens

I am torn between believing that everyone should be able to have chickens if they want, in the same way we now have dogs, cats, and fish. On the other hand, it is naive to think that the actions of the government are unjustified. There are things like sanitation, liability, property restrictions, and even animal rights that must be considered. If the government wills itself to be the “bad cop” in this situation, then one must respect them for it, to an extent.

No one asked, but my solution would be to legalize the possession of chickens if a few provisions are met. For one, potential owners must attend some sort of education class, so not every ditz who suffers from a pastoral impulse (see the Kardashians) can adopt and potentially abuse chickens. Second, one must regulate the sale of chickens, and also make caring for them mandatory (as is the case with shots and things for dogs).

I think I have solved the problem. Let Barack know.

Underground Chickens

Life Life Life Life

I know I have not blogged in a long time, but I am not mad about that, and I hope you are not either. I have been busy lately with quite a few things, and it took the Easter weekend to give me time and perspective enough to conjure up a post.

I will wrap up quickly what is going on in my life.

First, school is almost over: I have three weeks left in the Normandy Program and then I ship off for London. This upcoming week will not be too hard, but I will need to start on some major essays and projects this week or I will be slaughtered in the final two weeks. The penultimate and ultimate weeks of Normandy are infamous among those in the program, and there really is not much I can do proactively to combat the onslaught, because professors do not give the essay prompts until the week the essay is due. Six essays in two weeks, but then I am finished. Or dead.

Secondly, I have been reactivating Young Life in my schedule by getting involved at a high school called Reagan. Reagan is an urban school much like Travis, except with several differences. For one, the team is much larger. My good friends Zach, Thersa, Sydney, and Jared are on the team, and so joining has been seamless. There is a lot of room for Young Life to grow there, and I hope I can bring some of the work ethic that I learned at Travis into play at Reagan.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my weekends, because they have been spectacular this entire school year. Last weekend my friend Aaron Schulze had scored a free hotel room at the Hyatt Resort in Bastrop, Texas, and so he invited me and Zach to spend the night there with him and take advantage of all the activities that the resort offered. We swam, campfired, met people, hottubbed, and talked and it was such a blessing for all of us.

This weekend I am back at home, blogging from my trusty family computer. My family is in the background, and I do not want to go back to school. I have spent the weekend eating mostly, and today the added bonus of sweets and soda has reentered my diet (#Easterproblems). I also hung out with a few of my good friends, but I have mostly spent my time with my family playing ping-pong or cooking. I also spent a substantial amount of time last night reading “The Hunger Games.”

Next weekend I have a team bonding event with my LLYC crew, so I will go with Sean and see Luke, Ashley, and others with whom I will be spending a large part of my summer. Following that weekend, I have only more weekend until school is finished for me. The weekend before that was Round-Up, before that was the Grand Canyon, and so on and so on. They have been great! Even my weeknights have been fun. On Thursday I went downtown as a date for a girl whom I had never met. What a night! I have even been to Normandy Scholar parties and let me tell you: what an experience.

The reason for the season is of the utmost importance though, and so I have to tell everyone Happy Easter. We went to church this morning and came home and have been eating, playing ping-pong, and watching tv, which is lazy in my mind, but also exactly what I wanted to do, so I have been a happy camper. Lent has been good to me: I have not touched soda or sweets, and for that I am proud. I totally failed at saying a daily Rosary; I think I stopped right before Spring Break. I have done quite well with the 40 day New Testament Plan, and I will probably finish it tomorrow. I also went to my first Reconciliation as a “card-carrying Catholic,” and I have been getting involved with my Catholic Bible Study more. I think I will be a FOCUS leader next year, which is a leadership position in the youth aspect of the University Catholic Church. I also applied to be the Director of the Gardening Committee at the CEC, so if I get both of those positions next year, in addition to being a Young Life leader again, I think the hole in my life that the Normandy Program will leave might just be filled.

Also, working on a new blog format. Holla.

Life Life Life Life