Saturday, March 17, 2007

138)Another one of those off-topic posts: My visit to the City of Lights, Paris, and to the beachhead of my cherished freedoms, Normandy, France.

March 2007. It was an opportunity I just could not pass up. My wife and her 2 colleagues were off to Paris, France for 7 days to attend a work-related conference. She said to me why not come along, you can do your own thing during the days and we can paint the town red together in the evenings. It was the beginning of the March break, our 14 year-old daughter was away in Paris herself on an exchange program with her school("Neither of you come anywhere near me when I am with my friends, its just not cool, she barked at us; so don't phone me or try to meet me, I'll keep you updated by e-mail"). OK boss, we said. Our grown-up son now lives and works in Ottawa, the Nation's(Canada's) capital, so that was not a problem. It was an easy decision to make.

I was only able to get a plane ticket for a four-day visit but I figured that would probably be long enough. My wife was staying at the Hotel Lutetia, an upscale hotel whose main claim to fame(or infamy!) was that it was used by Nazi generals during the German occupation of France in WWII. I would not be surprised at all if the ghost of Herman Goering still visits and tries to find the hotel kitchen late at night, pig that he was. This was my third visit to Paris but I set specific objectives for this visit: I wanted to go right to the top of the Eiffel Tower(the third level), then eat lunch at the first level(at 'Altitude 95' restaurant) on the way down. I have memories of a photograph we had at home of my paternal grandparents visiting the Eiffel Tower during the 1950s; I would take the open-topped double-decker bus around the entire greater Paris area, get off wherever I wanted to spend more time touring and then get back on the bus. It was a perfect way for me to see the city. I saw the Notre Dame Cathedral with its famed gargoyles, the Louvre Museum and its glass pyramid of Da Vinci Code fame, the Musee D'Orsay, The Picasso Museum, The Hotel Les Invalides, where Napoleon Bonaparte was eventually re-buried; my wife and I walked along the wide boulevards of the Champs Elysees towards the Arc De Triomphe, saw the Place de La Concorde with its Egyptian Obelisk and the spot where Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette of the 'ancien regime' had their heads seperated from the rest of their bodies, and did many other things. One evening my wife and I took a lovely cruise along the snaking Seine river and saw many of the landmarks of this magnificent city. We then took in the show at the 'Moulin Rouge', an exquisite show where bevies of beautiful, bare-breasted women danced magical spells around us. I should mention that the show was my wife's idea and she bought the tickets. It is an eternal truth that if there is fun, entertainment and culture to be experienced, cyberwise included, your'e gonna 'wanadoo' it in Paris, France.

As magnificent as the City of Lights turned out to be for me, by far the highlight of my short trip to France was the one-day visit to Normandy in northwestern France to visit the D-Day Memorials, cemeteries and see the awful remnants of that defining chapter of World War II and, indeed, of recent world history in general.

I travelled in a minivan tourbus along with our knowledgeable Senegalese-French driver and tour guide, a family of three(husband, wife, daughter), a family of two(husband, wife) and an eighty year old woman, all Americans visiting France. Each of these three groups had family who had perished either at the Battle of Normandy or later in the European theatre of war. The elderly woman's husband flew B-17 bomber planes, the kind made famous by the movie 'Memphis Belle'. One person's father was part of the advance paratrooper team that parachuted into Normandy on the day or two before the actual D-Day landings. Another person's uncle was on one of those amphibious landing vehicles on Omaha Beach, the kind of landing vehicles we all remember from movies like 'Hell in Normandy', 'The Longest Day' and 'Saving Private Ryan'. Her uncle survived D-Day but died later at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardenne Forest in Belgium. All the relatives of these American visitors had perished either in Normandy or Belgium, young men between the ages of 18 and 30 years. It has never been lost on me that these young, mostly white boys perished to uphold the kinds of cherished freedoms that allow me to practise today, with impunity, my own particular interpretation of my own vision of Islam, the religion of my birth. My American co-travellers thanked me for coming to pay respects to their fallen family members and I, in turn, reminded them of my gratitude for the cherished freedoms I enjoy as a result of their ultimate sacrifices.

The tour started at Utah Beach and moved to Omaha Beach, the sites of the American landings on D-Day, June 6th 1944: we saw large preserved craters made by the shells being shot by huge Allied destroyer ships over 12 miles away to 'soften' up the German positions. Remnants of German gun bunkers, the so-called 'pill boxes', along with large mangled guns, as well as the cramped sleeping quarters of the men who operated them, dotted the cliffs overlooking the beaches where the landing craft would discharge their men to certain death for many of them. We then moved on to the Omaha cemetery, in which about ten thousand American soldiers are buried. It was a sunny, 15 degree centigrade day and the arrays of marble crosses and stars of David looked stunning as they exuded a sense of tranquility around the cemetry. The sound of the Chapel bell ringing added to the ambience I experienced. We then moved along towards Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches, the site of the landings of mainly British but also Canadian and other troops of countries making up the British Commonwealth of Nations. In the town of Arromanche I saw large concrete breakwaters still lying half-submerged in the ocean and some on the sandy beach. The purpose of these was to calm the rough seas and waves so that the gargantuan man-made harbour and 'Mulberry B' bridge, the brainchild of Winston Churchill and built entirely in England and transported to Normandy, could be erected to allow over 130,000 troops, thousands of tanks and other materials of war to be transported onto the beachhead and into the European continent to stamp down the tyranny and fascist ideology of the Nazis and others. We also saw the Juno Beach Memorial, erected on the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, to commemmorate the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers in this epic battle. We ended our tour at the Caen Museum of Peace and saw a moving documentary(actual original footage) of the D-Day landings including the mowing down by German gunners and planes of the soldiers who had landed in the amphibious vehicles on the beaches we had just visited. The Museum paraphernalia reinforced my knowledge of World War II, especially with exhibits of the Battle of Britain and the Holocaust, which was a profoundly stirring experience for me. As we drove the two plus hours return trip to Paris, our emotions spent, we were all silent and occupied with our own thoughts of the day's momentous and meaningful experience. I learned later that my daughter's host family in her school exchange program had also taken her to visit the memorials in Normandy. I was very pleased by this: everyone who lives in the west should understand the clear connection between the storming of Europe in 1944 by young men and women and the kinds of freedoms we cherish today.

Thoughts about the present state of the world came to my mind. The spectre of a new kind of fascism, this one prefixed by the word Islamist, has been rearing its ugly head of late, represented by the most extreme elements of the wahhabi-salafi-muslim brotherhood-hamas-hezbollah-khumeinist conglomerate. And the burning question in my mind these days is: will it become necessary again for another generation of 18 to 30 year old mostly white boys, this time using the most horrendous weapons of mass destruction, to stamp down this new form of fascism characterised by unrelenting rigidity, belligerent ecumenism, rejection of pluralism and an exuberant willingness to assign the 'sin' of apostasy?

It is fitting to mention a couple of conniving crooks calling for callous coercion; fiends fomenting fratricide, full of fetid foulness and fulminating fecality; this youtube clip speaks for itself:


If there are 23,000 jihadist websites and blogsites out there in cyberspace, there is no reason why we should not create 100,000 non-jihadist websites and blogsites: easynash(2007)