Friday, September 08, 2006

crosses row on row

We visited the American cemetery in Normandy today. It overlooks Omaha Beach, and we walked down to the shore first. Omaha beach is beautiful, surprisingly, unsurpassingly beatiful given its grim history. Wide expanses of golden sand, sweeping vistas, and hardly anyone on it. It looks like a beach to play on, if you overlookthe odd bit of misshapen metal wreckage emrging from the sand, but no one was playing. It was about as sombre as a beautiful beach can be, and my thoughts were certainly on the 3000 Americans who died there one June morning. The US government owns the bluff above, but the shore is French - and they've turned it into a nature reserve and forbidden anything related to fun. When we'd seen the beach we climbed the steep pathway to the cemetery. The US war monument commission maintains a pathway, but the rest of the face is brambles, bracken and stinging nettle - just as it would have been in '44 - except then it would have been covered in barbed wire, too. It wouldn't have been easy going, lugging yourself and equipment over steep and uneven ground - never mind under fire. The cemetery itself is beyond anything I'd really imagined. I'm generally choked up by such things, but in a certain way I was awed less by the sacrifice of these thousands of men, than by the "perfect memorial" to them. The immaculate, manicured emerald lawn was startling after a dry summer in London and a hosepipe ban. The marble crosses glowed and the central monument was clearly a testament to a young empire, built for the ages, with a clear design eye to Imperial Rome. There were few personal touches as there had been at the British cemetery (the tatty poppy wreaths, the faded photos, and even the personal inscriptions on many of the tombstones). I didn't know any of the names, and I wasn't looking for a person in particular, so the gleaming perfection and endless uniformity seemed oddly impersonal. I don't want to sound disrespectful, if my own relative was there - I think I would feel it was a careful, beautiful and fitting tribute. And I certainly think that every American who can should go. But it was a strange and lovely place.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

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