“It’s all still here,” I thought, as the little grey car rounded a bend beside a faded Canadian flag. “It looks the same.”
I’d been here before, bouncing up and down the golf-cart sized roads of Normandy. The farmland neatly packed in hedgerows, the church towers, the crashing waves on the beach below…I’d seen them as a kid, through the lens of video games and movies. But those were just flashing images on a screen. They were just the ghosts of a black and white film shot in the 1940s.
On the other side of the bend, a small marker stood overlooking a stream. It bore an inscription in French, roughly translated: “June 2, 1944 two Canadian pilots died here after fighting to save this town.”
The village couldn’t have had more than 30 buildings, but even 70 years later some still flew tattered Canadian flags.
The route hadn’t occurred to me when I planned a stop at Mont St. Michel. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to be in Normandy at all. I was supposed to be in Nantes, but do to a last minute change of plans, I suddenly found myself bobbing up and down the same, tiny roads I’d seen in all of those video games. I was inadvertently following the same route to Paris that allied troops did decades ago.
I knew so from the Canadian flags, from the fact that there were no major cities anywhere nearby, and from the scattered British and American flags that joined the local French fabric along the way.
I’m sorry to say that I have very few photos of that drive. It was too much. I just couldn’t take any. I grabbed a handful of shots at Omaha Beach: I’d stopped there when I realized where I was. I’ve got a few from the silenced German batteries at Maisy, where recent excavations allow you to walk the old trenches and explore the old bunkers, almost undisturbed. And, I have some from the American cemetery, where the real heroes are at rest.
But I don’t really have photos of that drive…the one that took me back in time.
You’d love the drive, by the way. All of you.
It was the best part.
France has beautiful roads, artful roads, roads that make you forget about the fighting here. There are almost no traffic lights or stop signs. The roundabouts just carry you on your way like one continuous ribbon of pavement.
I came to Europe looking for grand monuments, castles and towers and museums. They’re here, sure enough. But I found something else on the quiet roads of Normandy—I found the small things. I found small villages on small roads, filled with small churches and small flags. And I capped it off with a small house.
I found the tiny house on the farm like I do most places, on AirBnB. It was just a camper trailer covered with straw bales for insulation. Outside, two black sheep took turns staring at me through the window. But in the house next door, I found Souled Out Yodas.
Elisabeth and Lagon are a Dutch couple who rent a camper covered in hay. They have two black sheep, at least two chickens, and a 1988 Land Rover Defender that they once drove from Holland to China.
In the morning, we shared tea, artifacts and photographs, most of it real Lawrence of Arabia stuff. By the end of my stay, I seriously considered working on the farm for a few weeks, just to get to know them.
Maybe I’ll come back one day. Maybe it’s the flags, or maybe its the farms, but there’s something about Normandy that feels like home.