Tuesday, September 30, 2014

O.K., O.K… the Bayeux Tapestry isn’t really tapestry at all but embroidery… but never mind… it’s an amazing work 230 feet long…  and another thing:  I told a lot of kids in senior English classes, going back to 1957, when we took up the Norman conquest of England, that the “tapestry” was designed by the wife of William, Duke of Normandy, aka William the Conquerer… I may have said back then that it was designed by William’s mother… You know how mothers are at least about their son’s conquests that mothers can talk about… I may have embellished a bit… O.K., O.K… let’s say embroidered the stories a bit.  Television was still in black and white way back when I started teaching, and a little color injected into English lessons helped keep the kids awake. The point is that the honest to goodness… was going to say “honest to God” but changed my mind for reasons I can’t explain… truth is that there are lots of theories about the origin of the “tapestry.”  Some scholars even believe it was done in England, not in France; and some think it was done in the Loire Valley by some ladies especially good with their hands; and some even think neither William’s mother nor his wife Matilda had anything to do with it. The best guess these days seems to be that William’s half brother Bishop Odo commissioned the work, which probably tilts in the direction of the claim that it was done in England because that’s where Odo spent a lot of his career as a Bishop.   Sorry I can’t show pictures of The Bayeux Embroidery… I wasn’t allowed to take any.

What I can post are some pictures of ordinary things that got my attention today… like a strange little fruit that topped the dessert I was served for dinner; and the overwhelming Bayeux cathedral; and the French landscape I saw from the bus… maybe cloudscape would be a better name for it; and a humongous stack of containers, probably from China, all lined up along the canal we traveled just before a spectacular sunset painted gold the sky and its reflection in the water.

Monday, September 29, 2014

American Cemetery in Normandy… Ohama Peach, Point du Hoc, Arromanches, 
Le Havre

The old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. (The old Lie: Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country)

If you’re interested in reading the entire poem by Winifred Owen go to

On the Wall of the Cemetery Memorial:


Sergeant John B. Ellery
U.S. 1st Infantry Division

Sunday, September 28, 2014

“Ain’t gonna study war no more…”

After the visit to St. Wandrille Abbey, a community of contemplative Christians, I’ve been thinking… actually, wondering why it is that the world continually allows itself to be led into deep trouble by relatively small groups of people who insist they are doing the work of God. Yesterday I wandered into a parish church, not a part of St. Wandrille with its silent monks, but next to it.  The parish church serves the larger community. It’s where religious people go to get instruction in Christian living. Up to the left and above the high altar a colorful statue of the Archangel Michael with spear raised high and thrust through the neck of a decidedly human-looking Satan is definitely a subliminal lesson to parishioners on how we deal with evil in the world.  I don’t have answers… only questions.

These are difficult times in the world.  Evil spreads like the plague, and it definitely has the masked face of men.  I have no idea what is the answer to evil called ISIS, but I wish there were an effective response more contemplative.  I know… I know… It’s wishful thinking…  We go to the Normandy beaches and to the American cemetery tomorrow.  Today in Le Havre and Honfleur it was hard to believe this part of the world was ever at war.  Most of my photos today are from the beautiful inner harbor of Honfleur.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Traveling well off the familiar automobile and train tracks of France, the River Seine villages and cities between Rouen and the English Channel make possible a look at Medieval and Renaissance Europe, an ancient world.  Abbaye de Jumieges dates back to 654.  Vikings burned it to the ground in the 9th Century.  It was rebuilt on a larger, grander scale by William the Conquerer in 1167.  It had to be spiffed up again in the 16th Century.  The French Revolution finally brought it’s life as an active monastery to an end.  The magnificent ruins eventually became a quarry for a developing town.  That enterprise ended when a farsighted new owner saw it’s potential as an iconic monument and a source of pride and income for the town.  

Abbaye de St-Wandrille is another matter,  although it’s first monks met there in 668 A.D., It is very much alive as a monastery today.  We were invited to come into the abbey if we were willing to be quiet and not take pictures with flash.  The experience was, how shall I say, restful.  At the beginning of this river trip, the emphasis was on things old.  I am feeling comfortable and definitely at home and at ease with things old. 

Tonight we were invited to have dinner at the captain’s table. As always, the evening was better than good. We will sail into the harbor at Le Havre where the River Seine flows into the Channel southwest of the Pays de Caux.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Traveling by boat on the great rivers of Europe turns sightseeing into a history lesson… or not. Some people travel the world and return home with postcards tucked alongside their stamped passports and with their cameras full of digit images having gained little from the experience except validation of their previous impressions of the wider world outside their home environments. For others travel is a lesson with Landscapes and cityscapes and the people moving in them as instructors. As in all effective education, learning begins when the learner sees and understands the connectedness of things. Questions are essential.  

When the great cathedral at Rouen was begun in 1204 A.D. on the foundations of a burned out Romanesque cathedral, it would be another two hundred years before Copernicus and four hundred years before Issac Newton would come along and suggest that the universe can be understood without thinking of it as heaven above with God on a throne, the earth in the middle with human at the mercy of the sometimes angry God, and a nether section ruled by a fallen evil dark angel.  It wouldn’t be until the beginning of the 19th Century that Charles Darwin would be born and grow up to change the understanding of intelligent education people about how the populations of living things developed on our planet. 

The emergence of terrorist groups especially in the Middle East are raising again the classic questions about religion and about God. Groups like ISIS and the Westoro Baptists whose raison d'être rests with their claim that they are doing the bidding of God are ignoring or defying science and reason. 

But… in Rouen today our attention was not on politics or religion.  We celebrated the birthday of friend Dorsi Finnegan by going for lunch at the La Couronne, the restaurant in a building dating back to the 12th century that Julia Child says in her book was her first culinary experience in France and one of the reasons she wanted to learn French cooking. Our lunch was as good as the one Julia Child describes in her book.  We continued celebrating Dorsi’s birthday back at our river ship. Dorsi got birthday kisses from our La Couronne server and from all the servers and officers on the good ship Vantage Venture.