Through the Laon Looking Glass

At Claudel, after talking to the assistant principal’s secretary a grand total of once during lunch, he offered to drive the other assistants and me to see the highlights of Laon that are reachable solely by car. It’s not like there’s anything to do in Laon over the weekend (he’s been living here since 1990 and said that the city is dead on Sundays), so I figured, why not?

Yesterday afternoon, he picked up S and me, and the trip went fairly smoothly with the exception of two hiccups. Our first sight was the Lac d’Ailette, an artificial private lake that’s a popular vacation destination during the summer. Next, we got to see a little bit of the Chemin des Dames, a road along which several WWI battles were fought. There, in la France profonde, in what felt like a sketchy gas station in the middle of nowhere, we encountered our first hiccup. D proposed we visit La Caverne du Dragon, or underground barracks that have since been converted into a museum, but it was closed due to construction.
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Instead, we drove to Craonne, which was the most sobering part of the trip for me. Once upon a time, before 1917, Craonne used to be a quaint little village. Unfortunately, the war completely destroyed it, and there’s practically no evidence it ever existed. The story does have a heartwarming ending, at least: the site of death is now a site of life, or an arboretum.

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Finally, we paid a visit to the Abbaye de Vauclair, where S and I experienced our second hiccup. We’d just climbed out of the car when D announced, “Two minutes,” turned towards the nearby copse of trees, and reached for his pants, causing S and me to hurriedly walk away. (Someone please explain this to me—is this a French thing or an old man thing???) Anyways, only in France can you find families and their children spending a sunny Sunday afternoon casually running through a set of ruins. (Impressive as the ruins were, I admit I was slightly terrified by the signs that cautioned, “Beware of falling rocks.)

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Lessons learned: the Picardie countryside is incredibly verdant, full of lush, rolling hills and golden valleys that are peppered with picturesque villages so tiny, children of all ages have one teacher and learn in the same classroom. Also, it’s forbidden to light fires in the Vauclair Forest because, well, leftover munitions + fire = boom.

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