Monday, June 27, 2016

June 23-24

We had quite the adventure this past week. We did an overnight excursion to Normandy. On Thursday, we departed for Saint-Malo, a city right on the shores of the English Channel. The center-city is an old walled city. However, during World War 2, the Americans bombed the center-city almost completely destroying it, without destroying the old walls and ramparts. The city fathers of Saint-Malo decided to reconstruct in the old style.

 Today, it is impossible to distinguish old from new. Everything retains the look and feel of buildings hundreds of years older.

It was very foggy when we arrived, so everything looked as if had been painted by an impressionist painter. The sun began to burn off the fog as we walked around. There were no organized visits at Saint-Malo, so we wandered the streets in groups of three or more. We found small parks or rampart walls where we could eat our picnic lunches.

After stopping for a photo outside the walls, we headed back to the bus which took us to Mont Saint-Michel. Mont Saint-Michel is this amazing outcropping of granite in a sea of sand, just off the coast of Normandy. At high tide, it is an island; at low, it is a peninsula.
When we arrived, it had just begun to rain. At first, it was interesting to walk up those incredibly steep, narrow streets as the raindrops fell from the stone arches over our heads. It became less intriguing the harder it rained. Before we reached the abbey, there were small rivers flowing down the middle of the streets.

We finally reached the ticket office and respite from the rain. It was very steamy in the office, but we got to rest a minute. Then we climbed some more to the parapets of the abbey. There, the rain let up and we saw the most extraordinary views.

The tide was at its lowest, and we were surrounded by a sea of sand. With the gray skies, it was hard to see where the sand ended and the sky began. It was like being inside a pearl.
We made our way through the warren of rooms, chambers and chapels. Thanks god there were signs indicating the way, or we would never have found our way through. Emma A. and I decided to begin the descent by walking down through the gardens. We were joined by Sammy and Jake. But then it began to rain in earnest. Water began to cascade down the steps in torrents. Emma and I were left behind by the boys who went quickly ahead to find shelter. Our feet were soaked through, but we had our trusty umbrellas to keep our head and shoulders dry.

We found Jake under a tree, then Sammy under the protection of an archway. Everyone had begun to make their way down in the same downpour. It didn’t seem to matter to anyone how wet we were. We had experienced one of the most profound sites of all of France.

We boarded the bus headed for our youth hostel in the small town of Vers Sur Mer.The hostel was very nice and clean, but unlike a hotel with shared bathrooms, etc. They fed us a wonderful dinner. Afterward, many of the students played volleyball in the courtyard. A few of us took a walk along the beach.

When we arrived at the beach, it was low tide. I was astonished at how wide the beach was. It was easily 500 yards across. And it was very soggy. And it was partially covered in slippery seaweed. I tried to follow the others, but gave up when my feet were once again soaked. Karlee and I waited for the others who actually made it to the sea.

When we returned, the volleyball was ending and we all turned in.

The next morning dawned with a bright sunshine. After breakfast, some of the boys had an impromptu slam dunk contest on the seven foot high basketball goals. Ethan was the undisputed winner.

We rolled on to the operation Overlord museum. The museum is made up of functional WWII vehicles from one French man’s collection. They are set up in quite realistic dioramas that tell the story of the war from German invasion to D-Day attack. We were all quite interested.

From there, it was down to Omaha Beach, where we had a picnic lunch and admired an amazing sculpture erected in memory of the 70th anniversary, entitled “les Braves.” Many students waded in the surf, this time becoming intentionally wet afoot.

Our next stop was the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. It is quite a stark and solemn place, with simple white crosses marking fallen soldiers as far as the eye can see. It is quite humbling to realize that these thousands of men died so that we could be free today. The students felt it very deeply. There was no horsing around or shouts to have photos taken. They were deeply touched.

After over two hours, we mounted the bus for our return. We stopped for dinner in a small town on the way and several students tried “McDo” the French McDonalds. The drinks appear to be the same, but the only sandwich in common with an American McDonalds was the Big Mac (le Big). Many of us ate in the cafeteria at the Casino (which is a supermarket).

We arrived right on time, happy to be back home in Brest.
A street in Saint-Malo (This one is for Geoff.)

Like an impressionist painting

Did I mention there were crèpes in Saint-Malo?

So proud of her "petite tasse du café

"Three of the five musketiers

Pour toi, Maman!

Chloë couldn't remember the word for hug, so she showed me.

Amanda with "eux qui sâchent tous" as she calls them

Le Mont Saint-Michel

What are those crazy Americans doing?

The sand and sky become one.

She's either really reverent or really tired.

the abbot's courtyard

Sofia in the cooking fireplace

Two of ours in a chapel

The light through the windows is extraordinary.

A sea of sand

Exactly why is she taking
a picture of her feet?

Mack hurries to join the others.

I was serious about this beach!

Ethen, the new Michael Jordan

Avery contemplates the artificial port constructed at
Arromanches in just eight days.

Anna and Emma

Our Lady of Arromanches

Omaha Beach

Un colicliquot

Les Braves

Les Braves

These are the teachers, right?

Enlarge this and read the inscription

The endless water at the American cemetery

I am now trained to take a photo whenever they pose,
like when we returned to  Brest. Thanks, Sammy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sunday, we had an optional excursion to Océanapolis, an aquarium here in Brest. Quite a few of the students attended, some with their French families.

Océanapolis is divided into biomes; the arctic, the temperate and the tropical. We got to see penguins and seals, otters and walruses, and sharks – many sharks. The most popular had to be the seals, however the otters were a close second. We also got to observe many of the fish that are to be found in the waters around Brest. Most of us spent over two hours before returning to French homes.

It was really hard to get photos of the kids, since the light is on the fish and the rest is dark. I did what I could.

On Monday, during our activity period, we went to a gym for some exercise. There wasn’t much equipment, but the students improvised. Many of them played a rousing game of soccer, while others ran around the perimeter. Then there was the group that participated in the game of Uno. Amanda has arranged for us to be able to play volleyball as well.
The soccer game ended 4-4, like lots of them. So there will be a reprise.

Monday evening was the mayor’s reception at city hall. The mayor was in Paris on city business, so we were greeted by the deputy mayor in charge of foreign affairs. He spoke to us about the long history of links between France and the US and especially about the links between Brest and the US. He mentioned that General Lafayette’s ship is going to be here for the nautical festival in July. He welcomed us very heartily.

Jake gave a presentation and spoke about the warmth of the people of Brest and the welcoming attitude of the French families. He related some personal anecdotes and was very well received.

Sammy also gave a presentation. As is fitting his personality, Sammy’s speech was spiced with humor. He displayed his usual depth of perception. Everyone quite enjoyed both presentations. We then got to nosh a bit and chat with one another and with the French families.

The best thing about Tuesday was that the sun finally came out! And the best thing about Wednesday is that the huge summer sales have begun!

Permit me once again to express what great delight we find day to day with these students. They are each profoundly who they are, but they come together as a wonderful group.

Today during activities, we practiced singing the national anthems of both countries as we will do on July 4 at the American memorial in front of many people. Emma took charge of the girls and Jake took charge of the boys. By the end of the day, the girls were singing harmony and the boys had regulated the vast range of their voices. To listen to them sing is to bring a tear to your eye, no matter the anthem. The next time we practice, I will record it so I can share.

We thank you again for trusting your children to us and for having the faith in them to flourish in this unique situation. I assure you, they are.

Tomorrow we will be venturing to Mont St. Michel, the town of Saint-Malo, and on Friday to a visit to Omaha Beach in Normandie. Diego asked if we were going to sleep in the bus. We will actually stay in an auberge de jeunesse Thursday night. I wish I had told him yes.

Inside the fish tank, sort of.

Sammy conferences with his attorney.

Nicole, Amanda, Montse and her family watch the seals.

Anna seems to have confused Jake.

Our intrepid runners

Uno is a serious game requiring quick reflexes.

Grant takes control

Emma est féroce!

Don't want your photo made Camy?

Diego, quick as a cat with as many tricks as a magician!
He'll play for les Bleus one day!

The dancer has no fear either, go Sofia!

A player of American football can play this game, too!

Seriously, do not let the rain boots fool you.
Jamie scored three goals!

Nothing is as impressive as an official French occasion.

One would think Cyntia likes speaking to large groups!

Really? Again? 

Bruno doesn't miss anything.

She really likes to dress up!