I wasn’t originally going to blog about this day of our trip, because I didn’t take very many photos and the most memorable part of it for me was when my GPS took us on the most round-about journey, through one-way streets next to groups of galloping cows and under tunnels not meant for cars. The day felt too crazy to sum up easily.
But the D-Day beaches are a part of Normandy’s history that also intersects with America’s history, and even our own family’s history–though my grandpa was stationed in North Africa (I think) and not Normandy. Growing up, I assumed he was in Normandy, I’m not sure why, so it still feels connected somehow. In fact, most of the world’s history was impacted by these beaches, which now stand empty, calm and, on the day we were there, bitterly cold.
With the help of our Good Friend Rick Steves and his handy map, my family and I began our D-Day discovery in Arromanches, where we watched a tear-jerker movie featuring a tiny kitten amongst the rubble of torn-down Normandy villages. It set the mood.
We then hunted down some remaining German artilleries, which looked like they were straight out of Doctor Who and made a stark contrast against the stunning green of the peaceful (and empty, thanks to our off-season traveling) Normandy countryside. It occurred to me that the Germans were there for such a long time, they were able to build such structurally sound artilleries and bunkers that today we can still walk around in them. We peeked our heads through the lookout holes, trying to feel how it felt.
From there, we took in the quiet solitude of the American Cemetery, before going to the German Cemetery and noticing the differences between the two.
My dad is a huge history nerd (but does not realize it) and in the car on the way to the beaches he talked us all into listening to a book on tape he had from the library about D-Day. One part mentioned how Hemingway was there, something I had not known. I don’t know why, but I like thinking about Hemingway being places.
“No one remembers the date of the Battle of Shiloh. But the day we took Fox Green beach was the sixth of June, and the wind was blowing hard out of the northwest,” Hemingway wrote in a piece called Voyage to Victory. “As we moved in toward land in the gray early light, the 36-foot coffin-shaped steel boats took solid green sheet of water that fell on the helmeted heads of the troops packed shoulder to shoulder in the stiff, awkward, uncomfortable, lonely companionship of men going to a battle.”
I tried to imagine it while standing on the orange sand, but couldn’t. I also poked around a bit, as one naturally would, hoping to find a scrap of metal or cloth or something. Like maybe a skull and crossbones to prove that hundreds had actually died there. All I came up with was sea shells. They’re just beaches.
The lack of evidence in the sand reminded me that I, too, grew up in a time of war, became of age while my country was financing destruction overseas. It feels as abstract to me as how the sea of white crosses in the cemetery look, after you’ve stared at them for too long.