Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Giverny and Bayeux

In addition to visiting the beaches and the cemetery and St. Mere Eglise and Arromanches a week before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we managed to see a lot of Normandy. Bayeux is the town closest to the beaches but it's best known for the Bayeux Tapestry, really an embroidery, which tells the story of the last successful invasion in the other direction, of England in 1066 by William the Conquerer. (He obviously undertook that campaign to acquire a new name to replace William the Bastard.)

The Tapestry tells the whole story, from the Norman point of view, of course. It ranks as perhaps the first example of propaganda but is absolutely fascinating in its almost cartoon-like appearance. It of course is amazing that it has endured almost a millenium. Bayeux is a charming town, almost entirely spared from the ravages of the World War II fighting. 

Mont St. Michel is the prime turisto spot in Normandy, and it's in Normandy by a hair, across the way from Brittany. The abbey atop the rock on the island that until a decade or so ago was separated from the mainland every high tide remains fascinating and a geographic and historical anomaly. Honfleur is another largely unwrecked town that was spared because its harbor, a mainstay of French sea trade in the 1500s, was no longer viable. Le Havre, the major port across the Seine, was 95% destroyed. It has a nice museum given by the painter Eugene Boudin, who drew wonderful pictures of beaches and clouds, as well  serving as a mentor for Monet, who started his career there.

Giverny is where Claude Monet moved in 1883 and established both his house and marvelous gardens. Today, it is a prime spot to visit, although the original red Japanese bridge recognizable from many Monet canvases, has been replaced. But when we were there, the nympheas--water lilies--were in bloom, along with toitally glorious irises and many other flowers. It is the ultimate artist's garden and Monet took full advantage of it.

Deauville remains a tony resort and its adjacent neighbor, Trouville, has much more of a raffish tone with its blocks of wonderful bistros. It was good to learn that it was the first spot Marcel Proust visited on this coast, as the one major omission in my trip was getting (or not getting) to Cabourg, which apparently was the model for Balbec in the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, where Marcel meets Albertine.

Normandy is famous for apples and Calvados, butter and cheese, viz., Camembert, Pont L'Eveque, and Livarot, and perhaps most relevantly for dining: fish and seafood. The seafood restaurants are the places to go and so we went. Platters of oysters and mussels and whelks and shrimp as well as homard (lobster) and langoustines. Good cod and raie (skate) and probably as excellent fish and chips as are obtainable across la Manche (the English Channel).

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