Food, drink and history: CHFF tours Normandy on D-Day
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 05, 2011
This story originally ran in June 2009. As you may know, Kerry, our beloved Publisher and Potentate of Pigskin, is obsessed by three things in life: football, beer and D-Day.
Kerry is taking a few days here in the depths of the off-season to hit Normandy, France, for a little Norman cuisine – awesome stuff – and a few glasses of the bubbly hard cider and stiff apple brandy (Calvados) that's fermented and distilled near the invasion beaches of D-Day and throughout the region.
France so far has survived the clash of cultures: the country that put the haute and the cuisine in haute cuisine vs. the dude who considers beer and Buffalo wings the crowning achievement of mankind.
On the off-chance you're interested, here's a little blog-type report (oldest entries at the bottom) of his excellent adventure.
We'll be back into the hard-core football stuff soon, including a newly remodeled CHFF and the brand-new CHFF Insider! So consider this some nice little off-season filler amid the otherwise ponderously boring discussions of the NFL labor negotiations.
Thursday midday – cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer
(photo: part of the impressive display at the visitor's center at the American military cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy)
Even if you're not a spiritual person or a patriotic person, both feelings are likely to overwhelm if you ever visit the iconic American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
It's one of the most gorgeous, most meticulously maintained and most reverent places in the world – 9,387 Stars of David and Crosses of Jesus Christ, high on the bluff overlooking the beautiful sandy beach now known has Omaha that hosted a hellish battle on June 6, 1944.
Since my last visit for the 60th anniversary of D-Day back in 2004, the government has built a large new visitor's center and museum.
It includes stories about many of those who were killed on D-Day and in the battle of Normandy that followed. Sad, sad stories of young men, and some young women, who left so many loved ones behind, but who gave, as Lincoln called it in his Gettysburg address, "the last full measure of devotion" so that others may live free. Among the exhibits was one dedicated to the Niland family of Tonawanda, N.Y. which inspired the film "Saving Private Ryan."
Part of the exhibit hall is a constant roll call of the names of the deceased broadcast over a speaker.
Americans come in droves. But so, too, do the French and other Europeans. According to one of the guides from the local tourism office, the American cemetery draws 1.5 million visitors a year making it – with the stunning Mont Saint Michel – the most frequently visited tourist attraction in Normandy.
By the way, when you're at the cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, you're actually on sovereign American soil. The land was ceded to the United States by the French government as a place to honor its dead.
And while this is the most famous of the U.S. cemeteries in Europe, it's not the only one. Nearly 125,000 American men and women are buried in the 24 cemeteries in eight countries operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission. See the complete list here.
Thursday morning – flag of flowers
As noted in an earlier post, tributes to the United States and the other allied nations dot every village and intersection in coastal Normandy today – 65 years after the D-Day invasion.
Here's a photo of one of the more interesting American tributes I saw – it's a bed of flowers by the side of the road, a mile or two from the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, in the form of an American flag.
Next time somebody says that the French don't like Americans, you should tell them that the Normans certainly hold a different point of view. Generally speaking, from my several visits now to Paris and Normandy, the average Frenchman holds a fairly positive view of the U.S. and of Americans in general, regardless of what the media reports.
As one Frenchman told me several years ago, "Le Monde does not speak for the people of France."
Wednesday afternoon – Norman oysters
(Pictured: Eric Rotrou, who represents Norman oyster farmers, with a handful of the salty shellfish)
The Normans are more earth-bound farmers than they are seafarers (as noted below). So, yes, the province is bounded by great stretches of the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel. But, despite this geographical fact, coastal mussels and oysters, and not deep-sea catches such as those historically chased by Basque, Portuguese and Nantucket fishermen, are the major form of seafood here in this part of the world.
In fact, according to Rotrou, Normandy produces 40,000 tons of oysters per year, more than any other region in France. The oyster-farming region that Rotrou showed me was around the coastal village of Grandcamp-Maisy, just a couple kilometers from Pointe du Hoc. (Pointe du Hoc, of course, is where U.S. Army Rangers on D-Day scaled high cliffs under enemy fire to take out a German gun emplacement. The attack was immortalized in the influential book "The Longest Day" and in the star-studded movie epic of the same name, and by President Reagan's famous "Boys of Pointe du Hoc" speech on June 6, 1984.)
Interestingly, I just wrote a story about oyster-farming in Massachusetts for the Boston Herald a couple weeks ago. So I took some time to visit the oyster farms of Normandy.
There are notable differences between the way the Island Creek oysters in Massachusetts are harvested, and those oysters in Normandy are harvested.
At Island Creek, the oysters are hauled from the shallows of the bay at low-tide from a skiff that uses a smell dredge (or dragnet) to scrape the muddy bottoms. The oyster farmers I met in Normandy use a tractor that they drive along the beach at low tide. The tractor has a rake-like device it drags behind it to pull the oysters from the mud.
Norman oysters, though, are raised in what truly is open ocean water – not a protected bay like that in Duxbury, Massachusetts. The Norman oysters, therefore, are incredibly salty. Oysters are also native to Normandy – the water is warm enough to sustain reproduction. Island Creek imports microscopic baby oysters and farm raises them, as the water in Duxbury Bay is too cold to sustain reproduction.
The fragrance of the Norman countryside
Whether you're driving along the narrow Norman roads between the thick hedgerows, or sleeping at night with the windows wide open, as I did during my two nights at La Cheneviere, the gorgeous Norman chateau near Bayeux (pictured here), there is no doubt that Normandy is hard-core farming country.
You literally smell it in the air.
The air in Normandy has a distinct, pungent aroma – a mix of the rich, dank smell of cow dung, burning wood and fresh-cut grass, occasionally interrupted by the cool, salty smell of ocean air. There are few towns and villages in the Calvados region of Normandy large enough for you to escape this earthy aroma.
Normandy gets its name from the Northmen – the Vikings who invaded and colonized from around 700 AD to 1000 AD. The Normans, then, are descended from this legendary seafaring people.
The most famous Norman, meanwhile, is William the Conquerer, known for his cross-channel invasion of England in 1066.
Despite this history, and despite the fact that Normandy boasts vast, gorgeous stretches of shoreline, the Normans seem to have focused on harvesting the land, and not the sea.
In fact, the Normans have largely turned their back on the sea in favor of the soil. There is very little coastal development in Normandy, at least around the invasion beaches: just the occasional small village along the sweep of Omaha and Utah beaches. Instead, the coast is defined by swaying grasslands, occasional fields of cereal grains, the distinct steeples of countless stone Norman churches, and what seem like endless miles of coastal cow pastures and apple orchards – most separated by the thick, verdant "fences" of greenery called hedgerows that proved such an obstacle for our boys in 1944.
These orchards and cow pastures are in some cases a stone's throw form the ocean. Commercial fishing, meanwhile, seems limited to harvesting coastal shellfish such as mussels and the very, very salty local oysters. I spent some time at one of the local oyster farms, right near Pointe du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers famously scaled the cliffs to take out German artillery firing on the landing craft below.
Back in 1944, when our boys landed in Normandy, the raw earthen scent of farm life was probably nothing new to them. About half of Americans were still farmers in the 1940s. To a contemporary American raised in the suburbs or city, the Norman countryside has a distinct, antiquated feel, flavor and smell to it – one that seems frozen in time and that seems to absorb people into the rich, productive earth of the region.
The flavor and aroma of the land lends itself quite noticeably to the most famous food products of the region – to the sticky and stinky camembert cheese and the rustic bubbly cider that help define the unique Norman cuisine.
The ever-present cows of Normandy
I don't have any figures for it, but I'd be shocked if the cows of Normandy didn't outnumber the people of Normandy. The cows are everywhere: mostly distinct black & white cows known as the Normandy breed and that has been raised here for about 1,000 years, reportedly brought here by the Vikings. They're easy to tell from other breeds.
"Most Norman cows have what we call glasses," said Joelle LaRue of the Isigny-Ste. Mere dairy: distinct black spots around the eyes (as seen here).
They were so ubiquitous back in the war, that veterans of the battle of Normandy consistently recall the dead cows everywhere, killed in gun battles or by American bombers.
Cows are vital to the distinct culinary tradition of the region. As Guilliame Drouin of the Cour-de-Lion cider and calvados maker (see "Tuesday afternoon" entry below) told me, "the typical gastronomy in Normandy comes from the apple tree and the cow."
Wednesday night – Royale with cheese (and with beer!)
I had some incredible food on this trip.
You already read all about the canard au sang (duck cooked in its own blood) I had for dinner Monday night (see below).
I ate lunch Monday at a gorgeous little place in Rouen called Dame Cakes. All the dishes on the menu are cakes and the place smelled like absolute heaven – I mean, you're eating at a place where all they do is cook cakes. Some were kind of exotic, too – unsweetened cakes with things like peas or salmon cooked into them.
I also had a majestic Norman dinner Tuesday night at a gorgeous country chateau called La Cheneviere (pictured to the right), which I called home for two days. (Check out the place here.)
It's on a gorgeous strip of Norman countryside, a few miles north of Bayeux (site of the famous Bayeux Tapestry), and just a mile or so outside the coastal town of Port-en-Bessin, a sleepy village that basically marked the dividing line between the Omaha (U.S.) and Gold (U.K.) invasion beaches. In fact, Port-en-Bessin is where the Royal Marines and American infantry were scheduled to meet to consolidate the beachheads on D-Day, but the stiff German resistance at "Bloody" Omaha delayed the meeting.
In any case, back to the dinner at La Cheneviere: We're talking two-hour, multi-course dinner with all the trappings of exquisite French service. The meal included thick-cut veal medallion with local vegetables and greens, followed by the an opportunity to choose from about 40 different cheeses off of a cart wheeled to your table. My bottle of bubbly Norman cider was placed in an ice-filled silver wine bucket next to my table, as if it were the bottle of finest French vintage, while the waitstaff hurried to your table to refill your glass when it got low. When it comes to dining, I'm like most Americans: I like to get in, get my food, eat and get out ASAP. I couldn't sit there like this for a slow-paced, leisurely meal more than once or twice a year. But it was a fantastic countryside dinner.
However, Wednesday night I had to go low-brow at least once in France. I could not resist the temptation of – yes! – a Royale with Cheese at McDonald's – the French version of the Quarter Pounder made famous in America "Pulp Fiction"). There was a Micky D's right up the road in Bayeux, so I said what the hell.
I got the No. 3 to-go: Royale with Cheese and fries and – this is the best part! – a Kronenbourg beer instead of a soda. That's right. Beer is one of the drink options – and the No. 3 with beer costs just the same as the No. 3 with a coke (6.40 euro – about 8 or 9 bucks).
Wednesday afternoon - Omaha Beach cider & family war story
There's a road that parallels Omaha Beach, at some places no more than a few hundred yards from the big, sweeping sandy beach. This road (the D514) is lined by three things:
- old stone farmhouses and churches
- a variety of museums dedicated to D-Day (there's me, outside a musuem for the famed Big Red One, the U.S. 1st infantry division which, among many other accomplishments in the war, landed at Omaha Beach)
- Distilleries where they make Calvados (the local apple brandy) and the gorgeous hard cider of the region (also described in the "Tuesday afternoon" heading below)
In fact, the specific region of Normandy we invaded on D-Day is called Calvados – from which the apple brandy gets its name. (However, there are differing stories on whether the region got its name from the spirit, or the spirit got its name from the region. I'll try to get the true answer.)
In any case, our boys no doubt found plenty of homebrewed cider and homemade calvados in the local farmhouses on that day and in the days that followed.
I visited one of these distilleries, Ferme de la Sapiniere, today. It's on the D514 in the town of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, smack dab in the middle of Omaha Beach.
The farm has been in the same family for seven generations. In 1944, it was simply a dairy farm where the family made their own cider. It was only well after the war that it became a commercial operation.
"On the morning of D-Day, there were 20 Germans living here," said owner Michel LeGallois. "At the end of the day, the Americans were living here."
(That's Michel here in the photo, using a long glass tube to draw some calvados out of one of the oak aging barrels so that we could sample it.)
The Allied bombing campaign to soften up the German coastal defenses killed the LeGallois family cows – a common story that day – while a German sniper shot at the Americans from a farmhouse on the other side of the orchard that provides the apples for Ferme de la Sapiniere's cider and calvados today.
LeGallois provided a tour of his humble farmhouse operation, which features big oaken casks in a cool, dark barnyard where the Calvados ages and soaks up color from the wood (all distilled spirits are clear at first, and are colored by other means, usually by aging on wood).
The cider, meanwhile, is much like that found at all the cideries in the region: he has a sweet and a dry ("brut") variety. And you can absolutely smell the Norman countryside when you pop open the corked bottle of the bubbly cider. It's raw, rustic, flavorful, beautiful stuff that could only come from a small farmhouse operation like this, where they use antiquated methods of production (such as the "spontaneous fermentation" described below) and local ingredients, like the cider apples (they're not for eatin') that have grown here for centuries.
Wednesday - an international fox pass
I was in the town of Isigny-sur-Mer, the great cheese- and butter-making town between Utah and Omaha beaches. The folks at the big dairy cooperative, Isigny-Ste. Mere, were kind enough to teach me a bit about traditional Norman cheeses, such as camembert, mimolette and Pont L'Eveque. Thanks to "appellation" control laws, these cheeses can be made only in Normandy, much like real champagne can be made only in Champagne.
My guide at the facility was a woman named Joelle LaRue. In my haste to tell the woman how much I loved her cheese, I blurted out "Je t'aime!"
"Je t'aime," however, does not mean "I love your cheese!" It means, "I love you!"
Needless to say, we all had a good laugh at my expense. The French call this a fox pass. Though, in their cryptic foreign ways, they spell it "faux pas."
Wednesday morning – Normandy & America
Stories of animosity between the French and the Americans seem to get all the press. For what it's worth, I've personally never had a single problem with anyone in France, whether in Normandy or in Paris. In fact, the French have always been downright friendly and hospitable to me.
Whether my experience is the exception or the rule, there's no doubt that the love and appreciation the Normans have for America is on full display wherever you go.
Beyond the great statues of Eisenhower and the massive cemeteries are the personal little tributes to the United States in town squares, storefronts and individual homes from one coastal Norman village to the next. You can't drive more than a couple klicks anywhere in Normandy without seeing the American flag or images of American soldiers.
For example, there's a town right at the bend of the Normandy coast between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach called Isigny-sur-Mer (Isigny by the Sea, basically). It's famous today as the great dairy town of Normandy. So I went to Isigny to learn more about the famous butter and cheese that's made there.
On the way, we stopped in the center of town, where the weekly outdoor market, a tradition in Norman villages, was underway.
One thing jumped out: the windows on most of the storefronts in town were covered with similar paintings of a soldier thrusting forward, with an American flag unfurling from his rifle. Many buildings displayed American flags or, more commonly, flags of the Allied invaders: the U.S., U.K., Canada, France and Poland. It's quite impressive to see the flags everywhere, actually. One house on the inlet to the ocean had a string of American flags stretching across its front. In fact, you see more American flags in coastal Norman towns than you see in most American towns.
The most impressive window-front tribute was at cheese and butter shop at the famous Isigny-Ste. Mere dairy.
It's written in French, but roughly translated with my first-grade level French, it reads:
"France celebrates, it celebrates her deliverance. We stand together, we dance together. France celebrates. It celebrates her deliverance."
The picture of the American soldier with Old Glory appears throughout the town. Similar images are still found today in almost every coastal Norman town. Sure, it's probably good for business: Normandy this week, the week after D-Day, is still crawling with Americans. But there's no doubt that feelings for the United States remain strong and deeply rooted here in Normandy, 65 years after D-Day.
Tuesday afternoon – random memorial
Ever been to Gettysburg? It's pretty amazing, with thousands of monuments in all shapes and sizes spread across the battlefield. Veterans groups, cities, towns and even individuals were compelled by the tragedy over the years to erect markers and tributes all over the place.
Normandy is kind of like that ... except the battlefield is infinitely larger, and the monuments are spread out over endless miles. Every now and then you come across some random monument at the bend of the road, in the middle of some idyllic setting of black-and-white Norman cows and apple orchards.
The major monuments -- the great haunting cemeteries, for example -- are fairly well known. But sometimes the small random monuments are more poignant.
This photo is from one of those monuments. I was on my way to Vergers de Ducy, one of the cideries in Normandy (see previous post), way down some long country road, and there, at a fork in the road, was this monument. It's really off the beaten path, on the edge of a field of cows in a scene that could not be more pastoral. But in 1944 it seems some heavy shit went down right here. A plaque on the 8-foot stone memorial reads:
"In proud memory of the those who fell while serving with the 1st battalion, the Tyneside Scottish, the Black Watch (R.H.R.), during June, July and August 1944."
Somebody left on top of the plaque an American-style "buddy poppy" – you know, those fake Flemish poppies that the VFW sells on street corners before Memorial Day. Somebody else left a little makeshift wooden cross with a buddy poppy attached. I really had nothing on me of value, so I left an American penny just to show that one of us were there.
Here's a quick story about the Tyneside Scottish and the battle that they fought against German panzers near where this monument now stands on July 1, 1944.
Tuesday afternoon – awesome Norman cider & calvados
Caen (pronounced like the name of the actor who played Sonny Corleone, James Caan) was nearly leveled after D-Day, in the battle for Normandy. It's a city that's seen a lot through the centuries. It's the burial site of William the Conquerer, and has vestiges of antiquity in the old walled city and a majestic Gothic cathedral that survived the war. But otherwise, Caen is largely a clean, modern town re-built after the war.
To illustrate the clash of ages, I ate lunch across the street from the cathedral and near the abbey that houses the body of William the Conquerer, at a trendy, modern place called Beouf et Cow – Beef and Cow. I can't wait to open my own version in the U.S. – Porc et Pig. Here's a picture of our mascot.
More seriously, after lunch, I hit the road to two of the great cider makers that dot the Norman countryside -- the kind that our boys probably stumbled into and out of a few times back in '44. I call the region's abundantly flavorful cider the "champagne of Normandy" ... awesome, bubbly goodness, but made from apples instead of grapes.
There are apple orchards everywhere in Normandy (it's generally too cold for grapes) and cideries and distilleries all over the place, even right along the invasion beaches. One was Domaine Coeur de Lion, which sells its products under the Christian Drouin label, and the other was Vergers de Ducy.
All the cideries in Normandy make four basic products:
- Cider – a hard cider that usually comes in a sweet and a dry ("brut") variety
- Calvados – apple brandy; essentially, distilled cider
- Pommeau – a blend of unfermented cider and calvados
- Apple juice – just like it sounds. I add a shot of calvados.
The cider is awesome. I love bubbly things: I love beer. It's got bubbles! I don't drink wine because it's typically too acidic for me and because it's incredibly overrated by the food sophisticates of the world, most of whom are incredible snobs. Plus, wine has no bubbles! But I do drink champagne. It's got bubbles! And I love Norman cider. It's got bubbles, too, and plenty of flavor.
It's much different than the sweet, sticky ciders you get in the States or from the big cider makers in the U.K. that ship to American pubs. For one, Norman cider is distinctly rustic ... "barnyard" aromas we call them in the beer-writing world, typical of certain Belgian ales. And I found out why on this trip:
All of the Norman ciders are "spontaneously fermented" - to steal a term from the Belgian beer world. The yeast is not pitched by hand during a carefully controlled fermentation period, as it is with almost all other modern alcoholic products. Norman cider-makers simply crush the apples, put the pulp and juice in a fermenter, and the natural yeasts in the region cause a fermentation.
In the millennia before humans understood the role microscopic yeasts play in the process (essentially, yeasts eat sugars and shit out alcohol and CO2), all alcohol products were made this way: brewers and vintners and cider-makers simply put out a sugary concoction of crushed fruit or malted grain and mother nature did the rest.
The Normans still make their cider this very old-fashioned way and you can taste this gorgeously antiquated method of production when you pour the bubbly liquid from the bottle.
Tuesday morning – Road to Caen
This is about my 25th trip to Europe. So I dig the old country – or the vieux pays as they say here in France. But the one thing that drives me absolutely f'in nuts every single time I go to Europe is that you can't get coffee to go anywhere on the entire friggin' continent. Nobody sells God-damned coffee to go. What kind of Third World cultural sewer doesn't have coffee to go?
No Dunkin' Donuts. No Starbucks. No paper cups in the cafés that you can take on the run or put in the car. In fact, most European cars don't even have cup holders because there's no f'in coffee cups to put in the cup holders!!! (My rental, though, is a great six-speed Ford diesel with not one but two majestic cup holders ... alas, there's no coffee cups to put in them. They sit there as empty as Oakland's hopes for a Super Bowl victory.)
In continental Europe, you're actually expected to either make coffee at home, or waste half the morning sitting in a café (assuming you can find one that's even open before work hours) and wait for some dude to come take your order whenever he's God-damned good and ready. And then he brings it over in a pretty little ceramic cup and then you drink it there seated at the café. WTF!!!! This system does not work if you:
- have a job or
- have a schedule to keep
Coffee to-go is probably the single greatest invention of American culture. Oh, sure, the a-bomb, the assembly line and the Apollo space program were pretty good, too. But nothing fuels our society like coffee to-go and I can't for the life of me understand why it does not exist in much of continental Europe (Londoners have adopted take-out coffee to great success ... it seems to rival NYC for the number of Starbucks).
The only thing I can figure is that the café owners in Europe are a powerful lobbying group and they've paid off the politicians to keep the likes of Dunky and Starbucks from setting up shop. Because the clear superiority and efficiency of the take-out coffee system would highlight the quaint inefficiencies of the sit-in coffee system.
These two companies alone would all at once fuel an economic rebirth of many European countries while highlighting the foibles and flaws of the ponderous welfare state: going to work would actually become more tolerable for people if they could walk or drive to the office with a nice pipin' hot cup o' joe.
Instead, Europeans go on living in the dark ages of coffee-dom and it's an infuriating flaw in the system over here.
Conversely, all the showers in Europe have removable shower heads, so they have that going for them.
Monday night – Look kids, Big Ben
(pictured: the gorgeous facade of the Big Ben Pub in Rouen, in the ancient center of the city)
There was a place in Rouen on the walk from the restaurant to the inn called the Big Ben Pub, in the middle of the old city underneath this gorgeous centuries-old belfry tower and the town clock – the clock itself so old that it only had an hour hand. My tour guide told me that the minute hand had not yet been invented when they built the clock. Why they didn't add a minute hand since then is a question I did not ask.
In any case, the Big Ben Pub had mostly Belgian beer, which was fine and dandy. But the whole motif of a pub under a clock might have worked better with British beer. But I digress.
I sat inside and talked to the owner for a while – he lived in North Carolina as a kid and apparently sells more Guinness than any pub in Rouen, which is probably like selling more foie gras than any taco stand in Tijuana. Then I sat outside next to a group of Limeys who were in the area for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I was much less impressed by the fortitude of the drivers when I found out that they race in eight hour shifts – like it was a regular job or something.
I told the dudes I was heading to Normandy and they wanted to know why American war movies never give the Brits any credit for D-Day – like Hollywood producers call me for advice or something.
However, ruffled feathers were soon soothed when I told my new-found Limey friends that my studies of World War II have taught me that the Brits are, and I quote, "the baddest-ass mother-f*ckers in the history of the planet." That seemed to go over quite well and they started buying me my beers.
Oh, sure, my form of international peace-making is one step short of giving out hand-jobs in bus station bathrooms. But it is effective.
They agreed that the Brits should be more patriotic and that they were pissed that it's considered gauche in England to fly a Union Jack outside your home, whereas Americans generally have no qualms about hanging Old Glory on the front porch. We were one drink away from wrapping our arms around each other and singing "God Save the Queen" when the owner came out to announce closing time.
Monday evening - the mighty ducks!
(pictured: French waiter dude using a sort of little wine press to squeeze the blood out of a dead duck)
Rouen is your standard ages-old European town where the most impressive buildings are the massive cathedrals that tower over everything – inspiring, triumphant, centuries-old examples of the industrious spirit and triumph of man!!
The cold, severe and uninspiring modern buildings that surround the old city centers, meanwhile, are symbolic of the cultural rot and soulless, spirit-crushing weight of statist societies.
At least that's my take.
However, at dinner in Rouen I ate a plate of duck breast that was cooked in, and then covered by, a sauce of its own blood and Bourgogne wine. They use a sort of small wine press to squeeze all the blood out of the animal right next to your table.
Now that's some good, tasty sh*t. I take back everything I said about the cultural rot of statist society. The waiter who doubled as a chef cooked up a sauce reduction of blood, wine and some fresh pepper right there next to the table and flambed it with some brandy.
Viva la France!
The restaurant was called La Couronne ("the Crown"). It was founded in 1345, back when Al Davis was still relevant, and it's famed in the States as the restaurant that inspired Julia Child to learn about French food. It's where Child had her first meal in France.
Conversely, it might have been where Joan of Arc had her last meal in France. The 15th-century saint and French heroine was burned at the stake a few feet from the entrance of La Couronne. Keep that in mind next time you bitch about the foie gras.
A memorial to Jeanne d'Arc and a large church mark the site across from the entrace of La Couronne today.
Monday morning (the Road to Rouen)
(pictured: General Rommel's Normandy headquarters)
Hell, it's like a whole different country over here. They speak another language and everything.
Had to hit the road immediately for some appointments in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, about two hours or so from Paris.
Because I have this weird, life-long obsession with World War II and D-Day, I took a detour off the highway to hit the little town of La Roche Guyon. It's where German general Erwin Rommel had his headquarters in 1944.
The HQ building – you see it all the time in documentaries about Rommel – is this beautiful stone mansion, essentially next to and beneath an old castle that that appears to have been carved from the white rock, with a big ancient crumbling turret. I couldn't date the tower, but I'm pretty sure it was built back when the land was ruled by some king who was looked upon as sort of a God.
Of course, there was one little problem with Rommel back on D-Day. He decided to go see his wife for her birthday back in Germany. Rommel's wife's birthday was June 6.
So timing wasn't Rommel's greatest strength. Imagine Ben Roethlisberger missing the Super Bowl because he had to spend the day with his wife at Linens 'n Things.
Interestingly, right down the road from La Roche Guyon is the little village of Giverny, which you probably know about because that impressionist cat Monet lived there and painted there – apparently he had a thing for gardens or something.
Took the obligatory photo in front of his home (which is now a museum). But didn't have time to go in and learn more about this so-called art thing that they always talk about when they talk about Monet.
Departure (Sunday night)
Slept the entire flight from Boston to Paris, waking only to ask for bit of whiskey and a beer. It's amazing what about eight drinks and a pair of high-powered pills will do to help you relax on a plane.
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