Turns out, we can't get up at a normal hour anymore. Initially, we couldn't sleep past three in the morning so we saw much of England by the light of dawn. But here, in France, we can't get up before nine (I can't imagine how on earth I'm ever going to work again, but that is something to think about for another day ... another, other day, way down the track). Which means that today, we didn't leave the house until after ten thirty on our way to Caen and the D-Day memorial (or, in French, Jour-J ... I have adopted this version). Caen is quite a long way from us (we are a decent way from most things ...) so off we drove into the Normandy countryside. It is particularly beautiful I have to say, lots of cows grazing around, awaiting their day of doom. Sheep, and shaggy, shaggy horses. And, of course, the invisible leaping deer ... everywhere. Caen is a lovely town and we arrived at about 12.30. We were looking for the tourist office and parked, according to the signs, in the carpark nearest to this mythical office. Sadly, we exited the carpark the wrong way and ended up walking around Caen (which is beautiful) following these signs telling us about the tourist office. After at least three quarters of an hour, we found the tourist office, about one hundred metres from the carpark (but in the opposite direction). By the time we got there, it was closed for lunch. This reminded the children that it was lunchtime. So we wandered into the streets of Caen in search of fuel. The kids are beguilded, as we all are, by the bakeries and we ended up eating unbelievably good rolls filled with chicken, tuna or ham, depending on tastes. All the people behind every shop counter we have ever walked into are infailingly patient and kind, giving us all kinds of help with our purchases. Myles says the commence opens the door to the desire to communicate. Perhaps he is right. I choose to believe that everyone is just nice. And the jackets are funny enough to break the ice ...
Finally, the tourist office opened and we got the map to the memorial. Samantha had no idea what we were talking about when we plugged the address into her system, so we resorted to the old school technology of a map and me reading it. There was much driving up and done streets and grinding of teeth until we found the place.
It is a huge building that put me in the mind of the National Gallery of Victoria - stark and clean lines. Outside is the sculpture of the gun with a knot tied in it (Non-violence, it is called). Niccolo loved it.
Inside, you tour pretty much the lead up to, and the sequence of, World War II. It was too complex for Niccolo and Zelda (I tried to explain as we went, but it was pretty tough going). Paris was utterly enthralled - he came out ages after the rest of us were sitting in the recovery chairs at the end of the exhibit. Walking through the rooms, I was stopped by a bloke who was guiding some Japanese tourists through (he was clearly French), who warned me that some of the rooms would be overwhelming for the kids. (How many language did he speak??) He was right - as you would imagine. And not only the holocaust rooms, but the partsian rooms as well, and the extent of the violence in the civilian population.
I still have this feeling that the trenches were one of the worst moments in human history (I'm talking here about World War I), but the violence of World War I does appear to be confined to some level. The violence and the destruction were terrible, but confined. But World War II ('total war') penetrated the bedrooms, and the lounge rooms of everyone - and what could happen to people (some times by accident, sometimes because of affiliations, and so on) was unbelievable. Niccolo and Zelda watched a film about the Battle of Britain, which was a little removed in terms of violence but they thought was very interesting, particularly about what happened to the children.
After we left that part of the memorial (after Paris took his time to leave), we went into the section about D-Day (Jour-J ... remember?) and read all about that. Again, this was an amazing exhibit with incredible artefacts and information. We were pretty exhausted by this time - museums can destroy you. And it was late - about 4pm when we left. Myles was still intent upon going to the beaches themselves, but it turned out it was another hour up the road, and it would be close to dark when we arrived. So we turned tail and came home.
It was sausages and bread and wine for dinner and, for the kids, a marathon of film. They have not seen film in English for about three nights and were clearly starved for it.
We resolved to return to the D-Day beaches the next day.