France in my Pants

Four days ici, five days la bas. Pretty soon it adds up to a whole country.

the painter lived in thirty-nine places during his thirty-eight years, and that was before the Eurail Pass was invented.

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I too have suffered from restless legs: The kind that keep me up nights, and the kind that keep me looking at various horizons and wondering — what’s over there?

A recent outbreak of my restlessness found me in Reykjavik Airport at 5 a.m., in an October rainstorm, and dazzled by what I saw.

The only “real” things in that illustration are the jet engine, the landing gear, the yellow rope, and two traffic cones. The rest were just reflections. Or maybe hallucinations, which can happen when they cheerfully wake you up for breakfast at 2am Colorado time.

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Eventually we found our way to Dijon, the mustard capital of eastern France. We stayed in the most craftily designed Airbnb ever, built into an attic near the center of town. The ancient wooden beams recalled scenes from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and now I know how he got so bent-over: Once you smack your forehead on a few of those beams, you guard your hunch.

No need to bend or bow on the rooftop terrace outside our place, however. I felt like king of the neighborhood up there.

It’s exhausting to travel, walk forever, look at things, and eat a lot of croissants, so we would often find our way to a park in the afternoon, to sit, and chill, and absorb everyday life for a while.

My favorite part of this scene: The two ladies across from me at the fountain, engaging in animated discussion of the little book one of them gripped in her hand, pointing out passages and gesticulating a lot. They were locked in with each other, and I enjoyed their link.

Over a book!

After Dijon, we motored on to Honfleur up on the Normandy coast, where I put the region’s mussel and oyster supplies to the test. I had a steaming bowl at a restaurant in nearby Étretat, yanked from the sea that very morning, from the taste of them.

The scene may look familiar to fans of the Netflix series Lupin, where the hero goes on holiday and manages to get his son abducted by a murderous thug. No kidnappings for us that day I’m happy to report, although I did send about 100 mussels someplace they never wanted to go.

I felt the pull of the D-Day landing sites, just to the west of there. How could I not? I’ve been reading the novel All the Light we Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, set during the war years. It made me feel how puny and aimless our own age is by comparison.

Alright class, compare and contrast: The heroes of the French resistance fighting their Nazi occupiers, and the January 6 jackasses playing dress-up and trying to subvert the freedom those soldiers were fighting for. Hint: The battle against evil, on the one hand, and evil incarnate on the other.

We’re capable of both, as a species. So which will it be?

The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach was a lesson in perspective, in a couple of ways.

I‘d like to acknowledge a new friend I brought along on this trip: My palette of pastels, which give me a whole new way to render the world and make a mess while doing so. Good reminder to wash hands frequently. No Covid (yet)!

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