July 19th, 2015

krazy koati

The cherished things are perishing

Outside the museum, down an elevator and then some more steps, are tunnels. These were used by German Major-General Wilhelm Richter, head of the 716th infantry division and guarding the Omaha sector of the beach. bunny_hugger and I took a wrong turn, missing the sign saying which way to go, and took the tunnels in the wrong order; we'd see the progression of the war and the German preparations to defend the coastline winding backwards in time. The tunnels aren't very extensive --- they amount to an E-shaped barrier with ver short legs --- but the plaques noted that they were abandoned for nearly a half-century, a place for bored teenagers to come and hang out. That's another staggering thought. It's always creepy to crawl over abandoned stuff, but abandoned stuff from D-Day? The tunnels were also used for training fire fighters, until the museum was finally built. As part of the building apparently some remaining German equipment was finally(!) removed and the location stabilized and preserved. There's nothing that isn't stunning about that.

Also on the grounds are the American and the Canadian gardens. The American gardens include an artificial waterfall, the upper side of which is a pool with irregular broken-block islands. Underneath the waterfall are plaques from the various United States and territories, all slowly decaying from stray water. They're all different sizes and styles. Most show off the Great Seal of the state or territory and name a unit that was part of the D-Day Invasion. Some are weirdly odd in shape; Puerto Rico's, particularly, looks like someone painted their flag on an irregular block that happened to be there. Michigan's looks oddly rustic, a chipped red brick with a shiny Great Seal on the left side. New Jersey's is, I hate to say, just sad. It's an eight-by-ten brass-colored plaque with Helvetica inset lettering just reading, ``New Jersey's Citizen-Soldiers At Their Best'' and naming four units, plus Governor Thomas Kean's name. It looks like it was made as part of their order of Five Year Service Recognition plaques. It doesn't even have the state's seal or anything. And it's the same style as the Virgin Islands' plaque. So many states did so much better.

The Canadian-and-Newfoundland gardens we thought were almost stereotypically smaller, after this. The United States garden is this big, multi-level affair with a giant waterfall you can walk behind. The Canadian-and-Newfoundland one a small reflecting pool with a stream of water over black granite and a small wall listing places that Canadian forces had helped liberate. We had been overlooking the other part of the memorial, which was a patio some distance away from which the pool could be seen, and could look small. That included a large black granite slab slicing though the lighter cement walls, symbolic of war slicing through life. It took some more effort but we got it, ultimately.

While leaving this we got to see our first European rabbit! Also the last one we noticed. But the rabbit was sitting atop a hill near the Canadian-and-Newfoundland garden, holding so still I thought it might be sculpture at first. The rabbit let us get to about fifty feet away before deciding that was as much as would put up with, and it ran into the hedges. Fair enough.

We walked back to the bus stop, though paused at an array of blocks put up by nations from World War II, most of them declaring the hope that war would never come again. The Czechoslovakia block had another block placed behind it, for Slovakia alone. My guess is the Czech Republic kept ownership of the block when the country split up. They also had a block from Germany, inspiring in me darkly comic jokes about ``... without whose participation none of this could have been done''. The Polish plaque said something to the effect of ``the Polish soldier fights for the freedom of all nations, but dies for Poland alone''. This sounded weirdly passive-aggressive to us. We figured they were trying to convey the idea that Poland's natural cause is the freedom of all nations.

We took the bus back to the vicinity of the Castle, because we needed to make a connection anyway. Since it was near dinner we thought maybe we could eat at the castle. There is a restaurant in the Fine Arts Museum, but we couldn't understand it. The museum was long since closed, but the restaurant ... well. It had hours on the door implying it would be closed. But also that dinner service had already begun and would go on for hours more. There were people inside, but no open doors. In the event, we concluded the restaurant was too fancy for us anyway.

Still, it gave us an extra chance to walk around the grounds, and to examine a sculpture garden hidden behind the Fine Arts Museum. This was an installation dubbed ``One Man, Nine Animals'', although there were a dozen pillars, not all of which had sculptures above. We had thought to approach some of the sculptures but noticed a ratty paper sign calling for ATTENTION. As best we could make out the French, it warned that for some reason connected to wood conservation something or other had been done to the bases, and we should stay away for fear of falling. While we didn't understand the details we could understand staying away from sculptures, even ones as interesting as hydras and crows and Cerberuses and the like.

That still left the problem of dinner. We figured to walk back to the hotel, along the tram line instead of the canal, and see what we might find there. Despite our hotel clerk's insistence that there wasn't much to look at, the tram line was nevertheless lovely to walk down. We did walk past a park with memorials to those dead in the occupation and in the invasion. And then in another park we encountered a gilded state of Joan of Arc. It was getting to be a bit dark from the overcast, which just made the statue glimmer all the brighter and the more astounding. The statue dates itself to Oran in 1931 and Caen in 1964, though we don't know more of its history.

We also kept failing to find somewhere interesting to eat. On the approach to the hotel we realized, well, of course: we could get quatre-fromage paninis from the convenience store, just as we'd so enjoyed the first day there. The convenience store, billed as a 7/7 kind of place, was closed Tuesdays. Figures.

So, we went back to the Italian restaurant where we'd eaten after Festyland. We didn't get pizzas this time, and we did fear we were keeping them from closing up for the night, but they seemed to like us well enough.

Trivia: Paris's chief of police received memorandums in 1685 and 1701 warning that the cafés attracted a potentially dangerous number of foreigners gathering within them, and recommending the shops be closed. Source: The Essence Of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour, Joan de Jean.

Currently Reading: Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life, Robin Wilson.