Of Bayeux, Beaches, and Bilingualism

I arrived in Bayeux while the town was still waking up with the sunrise, shaking off the remnants of the morning mist. Practically the first thing you see upon exiting the train station is the cathedral, which is impressive even when you’re standing on the outskirts of town, a 10-minute walk away from it. Up close, it was even more striking, or to steal a phrase from a conversation between a friend and me yesterday, “excessive af.”

The interior of the cathedral wasn’t nearly as impressive as the exterior, but I still took the time to amble through it, lighting a candle and leaving a note and part of a poem for my brother.

Then, to let my English major friends live vicariously through me, I made my way to the Bayeux Tapestry, where, like a terrible tourist, I snuck one (several) illegal photos. (Okay, technically I didn’t break any rules, nobody said anything about not using flash.)

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With an adorable French family and a disturbingly large wasp for company, I lunched on Carrefour pickings in Parc de Salomé, a calm oasis of flora meant to honor a young victim of the Marrakech attacks. Bayeux is the kind of small French town I could see myself living in–it’s quiet and charming, but with a vibrant vieille ville, along with a small river and several parks.

My bank account and inner college miser wept a few tears, but I reasoned that I might as well see as much of Normandy as I can, so I booked an afternoon tour of the American D-Day highlights. My fellow tourmates–three Americans and two Australians–visited Pointe du Hoc first, an incredible testament to the resiliency and tenacity of life. Although the promontory is still strewn with craters, it’s now awash with green grass and yellow flowers; in fact, it’s so calm that it was hard to even imagine the absolute chaos and wreckage of 1944.

Second stop: the American Cemetery, where it was sobering to see so many graves sprawled out as far as the eye could see.

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(Back on the bus, I had to stifle the urge to snap at one of my fellow tourmates, who said, “They’re not bombing the Syrians. If you think about it, there must’ve been civilian casualties here. Maybe I’m missing another perspective, but I don’t think so.” Yeah, -insert insult of your choice- you are absolutely missing another perspective. Civilian casualties can never be justified, and also, put yourself in the shoes of the bereaved–I’m sure they’ll be delighted to hear you brushing off personal tragedy!) End rant.

An expanse of sand and sea, or Omaha Beach, marked our final stop. Peppered with shells and happily screaming children, the beach might as well have never seen a war. To steal the words from the Canadian memorial in Caen, “La liberation vient par la mer” (Freedom comes from the sea).

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Sidenote: while waiting for the train to Caen, people were speaking English on my left and French on my right–I’d never been more confused because I didn’t know what language to focus on. Then, after spending the afternoon listening to and speaking English, I effortlessly made small-talk with a cashier in French–this is it. The kind of bilingualism I hoped to achieve through TAPIF.

Sidenote 2: when my Airbnb host came back, she said her grandchildren were rambunctiously insisting on giving me bisous last night. Cuteness overload.

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