Calling the Fire Brigade

by wjw on October 24, 2014

johnsteelI see that Private John Steel is still hanging from the church steeple at Ste.-Mère-Église.  Can someone please cut him down?



by wjw on October 23, 2014

aristotleFrom the St.-Pierre church in Caen: a carving of Aristotle being ridden and flogged by Campaspe, the mistress of Alexander the Great.

Perhaps the moral lesson intended by this carving is best left to the medieval imagination.


On the Beach

by wjw on October 22, 2014

omahaSeventy years and several months ago, my dad was bouncing around in a small boat just off this inoffensive-looking beach, which was then covered with obstacles, burning ships and tanks, and a lot of dead soldiers.  My dad was ready to join Eisenhower’s great crusade, and though he didn’t land until three days after the Omaha Beach invasion, he watched the whole thing from his transport along with everyone else in his unit, leaning over the rail even though all the officers kept telling them to go below where it was safer.  German shells were landing all around, though none of them hit the transport, and the shrapnel began to pile in drifts on the deck.  There was so much of it that the weight of it— along with the weight of the rubbernecking GIs— was threatening to capsize the craft, so brooms were broken out and the shrapnel was swept overboard.

My guess is that the battlefield was covered with smoke and dust and that my dad didn’t see much.

The beach has changed a good deal since 1944.  There was an enormous pile of shingle just inland from the beach, hard to climb and very difficult for vehicles.  Behind the shingle was a seawall composed partly of masonry and partly of timber.  And behind that was the tall bluff covered with masked German fortifications.

Looking at it now, I can’t imagine how anyone got off the beach alive.

In the background of the photo is Point du Hoc, where the Rangers climbed up a vertical cliff to storm an enemy battery, aided by the fact that the Germans didn’t believe such an attack was possible and all the fortifications were facing the other direction, ready to repel a land assault.  The 155mm guns had been withdrawn a few days earlier, but the Rangers hunted them down and destroyed them later in the day.

I’ve been to France maybe half a dozen times, but this is the first time I’ve sought out anyplace connected with my father’s adventures.  (Well, I did look for the slit trench he claimed to have dug in the garden at Versailles.)  I know in a general way where he was, but very few specific locations.  Hard to miss this one, though.

I was surprised at the number of D-Day buffs looking at the sites on a cold Wednesday afternoon in October.  Most of them were French, and a great many brought their children.

Good to know that my dad’s efforts, and those of his comrades, are not being forgotten.


After Monet

by wjw on October 21, 2014

aftermonetAnd the best thing was . . .  the public toilet was named after Marcel Duchamp.

How perfect was that?



by wjw on October 20, 2014

The sad fact is, Henry spoiled us.  After ten days of Henry planning our travel, our meals, and arranging our public appearances, our travelers’ instincts had faded.  Thus, when catastrophe struck, we found ourselves with small resource.

Yesterday we flew from Tel Aviv to Paris.  The plan was simple: we’d arrive at 11pm, clear customs, rent a car from Hertz before their desk closed at midnight, then drive to a hotel where I’d arranged a reservation.

Of course that’s not what happened.  The plane was a little late, and Charles de Gaulle was built before travel by air really expanded, so there’s literally not enough room for the planes at the terminals.  Most planes sit out on the ramp somewhere, and their passengers have to travel to the terminal by bus.  Which we did, but it took time.  And then my bag didn’t come out till after midnight.  Hertz had said they’d keep the desk open for a while if they knew we were coming, but where was Hertz exactly?  The Information lady said we’d have to catch their shuttle, but seemed dubious that it would still be running.

So: an expensive taxi ride to the hotel.  We left the terminal to find a taxi driver in a loud, shouted argument with the guy in charge of loading taxis— and then he gestured us over.  Great, I thought, we get Shouty Guy.

Nevertheless we set off to the Hotel Campanile in nearby Chelles, which turned out not to be nearby.  In fact the ride went on and on, until the fare was in excess of the number of euros we possessed.  I wasn’t too worried, because I always travel with an emergency stack of dollars, and a lot of taxis now take credit cards.

We arrived at the hotel to find the place fortified against us.  A gate could only be opened by a code that none of us had (eventually a resident wandered through and opened it for us).  The office was closed, and pounding and yelling failed to wake up any manager.  It was after 1am and there was no place to stay.

Nothing for it but to get back in the taxi and head for the airport.  So off we went, but about halfway we saw an Ibis hotel off the road.  Ibis is a businessman’s hotel chain, with small basic rooms that make Motel 6 look like the Ritz,  and because it was near the airport the tariff ran to 180 euros per night, over $200.

Well, that’s what credit cards are for.  We checked in, and I gave the taxi driver $140 in dollars, plus 20 euros, which I hope made the whole frustrating expedition worth his while.

After a few hours’ sleep we enjoyed a hotel breakfast buffet, then set about fixing our problems.  That which seemed cause for despair at 2am seemed a cause for optimism in daylight: we got a taxi driver who’d take credit cards, and he took us to the Hertz desk.  Along the way I found an ATM and replenished our euros.

Wanting to prevent any more 2am wandering, I sprang for a GPS, which proved worthless.  We wanted to go to Rouen, but the GPS seemed to want to take us to Lichtenstein.  We were on the highway with all the signs reading “Rouen,” but the GPS wanted us to go the other way.

I noticed signs for Chateau Gaillard— “Saucy Castle”— which is famous as one of Richard I’s most splendid fortifications.  This gave us a pleasant detour to view the ruins, which are on spectacular limestone bluffs above the Seine, and then lunch at the celebrated La Chaîne d’Or in nearby Andelys, where I enjoyed foie gras, sweetbreads (if you’re going to chow down on a thymus, a place like Chaîne d’Or is the place to do it), and then a tarte aux pommes flamed in calvados.  Which was expensive, but which I felt was deserved after the preceding 24 hours.  Better the money go to a good restaurant rather than a bare-bones hotel.

So now, having achieved Rouen, we’ll view the cathedral, famously painted by Monet, and some other sites.  With luck, traveler’s reflexes have returned, and I won’t find myself in the cold and dark, on the wrong side of a castle gate.

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October 18, 2014

Henry and Daniela took us to Acco today, the ancient city known in Crusader times as St Jean d’Acre.  The old city is still surrounded by massive (mostly Ottoman) fortifications, and the huge stone headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller, with its vast echoing gothic halls and conspiratorial underground tunnels, still survives (mostly because it was […]

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October 15, 2014

It’s my Wikiday today, by which I mean the date given as my birthday in Wikipedia.  This date is not my actual birthday, and I’ve never corrected the error, firstly because errors in my biography make me seem more interesting than I actually am, and secondly, because the error makes it more difficult for people […]

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First Breathless Report

October 14, 2014

I’ve been extremely busy since arriving in Tel Aviv, racing off in one direction on sightseeing excursions, then dashing in another direction to participate in the Icon Festival. Everyone has been amazingly friendly and supportive, and my events have been well attended.  My signing had enough people to fill the hour, but not so many […]

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Let the Toolbox Roll!

October 14, 2014

The dates for next year’s Taos Toolbox have been set! The two-week master class for science fiction and fantasy will be held June 28-July 11, 2015, in Taos Ski Valley.  Nancy Kress and I will be teaching, with special lecturers Carrie Vaughn and Emily Mah Tippets. The application period begins December 1, 2014. Toolbox has […]

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First Glimpse of the Holy Land

October 11, 2014

It’s the Sacred Train of Savidor! Except it’s the Sabbath, so it’s not going anywhere.

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