Not 'older' men: the silver-haired, ruggedly good-looking, smooth-talking, debonair type;
OLD men: the stoop-shouldered, cane-wielding, pot-bellied, somewhat aromatic type!
We stayed in Verdun on our way to Germany a few weeks ago. We had originally been in Verdun on one of our first trips to Europe, and remembered it as a dismal, boring city.
Must have been having a bad day.
This time we found it to be a lovely city, rich in history and prettily maintained.
Our hotel was on a main pedestrian street between the river and the huge war memorial you see here. Naturally, the first thing we did was climb all 100+ steps to see what was in it.
It was at the top that I encountered the old man. He was the custodian of the memorial. I was enjoying the view when he came up to me and started talking, totally ignoring mon mari. I kept thinking 'war stuff is guy stuff so why don't you talk to mon mari'. I tried the 'I'm an American and I don't speak much French' line. Didn't work.
He just kept talking, about the Battle, if I'd had family fighting, etc.; things I couldn't have discussed intelligently in English let alone French! I nodded politely. He was happy. He was so happy that he took me into the little room lined with file cabinets that all said "Do not Touch", "Do not Open" and showed me how to look up soldiers names to see if I had any missing relatives that had been killed in the Battle. I dutifully looked up a few names (clueless, but trying to please), thanked him, tried to leave; looked up a few more names, thanked him profusely, tried to leave; looked up a few more names, noticed mon mari had deserted, said I really had to leave at which point he looked at his watch and agreed with me.
He pointed me towards the stairs and told me to hurry, the ceremony was about to start. Grabbing my chance, I thanked him yet again and rushed off.
Not caring about some ceremony or other, we headed back past our hotel towards the fountain in the river. We heard a marching band. Hmmm, could be interesting! We followed the sound and found another monument (there are a few in Verdun). In front of the monument was a small marching band, a small color guard, a small contingent of armed French military and….more old men.
We stayed to watch. There were several speakers, as best as I could figure out they were remembering something that De Gaulle had done.
It wasn't a touristy-thing. It was all very somber, the speakers in suits, the attendees standing
quietly at attention. It was obviously another instance of the French remembering and honoring events of the past. They don't want to forget their history.
The battle of Verdun lasted for 11 months. There were over 700,000 soldiers injured, 240,000 killed. Most of the remains are buried in and around Verdun, unknown. Each spring new bones appear in the fields, are collected and taken to an ossuary, holding some 130,000 bones of unknown soldiers, the area marked by 13,000 white crosses.
Witnessing some obscure, private (as in 'not staged for the tourists') ceremony like this is what travel is all about for me….that, and, of course the food.
Mon mari would not let me take pictures at dinner. After serving, the waiter will normally discreetly wait, a few paces away, for one to start eating; to make certain that everything is as it should be. Somehow, I didn't feel like pulling out my camera. I did manage to get a pic of the cheese trolley (the waiter had to leave for a minute to get something). These are the soft cheeses; the hard cheeses had their own, smaller trolley.
I can, however, describe dinner.
This was the 'menu' we had:
To start: 3 tiny amuse bouche: an oyster, a sip of cold tomato soup, a bit of smoked fish
Entrée: Pan-seared foie gras with a petite salade with a fruity dressing
Main course: Veal medallions on a melange of tiny roasted potatoes, tomatoes and courgettes
Cheese trolley: the picture says it all….
Dessert: Berries, berries and more berries: 3 ways, all heavenly
To finish: Coffee, chocolates….and great big lollipops! I passed on the lollipops.
After that we toddled up the stairs to bed…
The next morning, fully recovered, we went in search of coffee and pan au chocolat.
I love the sights and sounds of cities waking up in the morning. We found a little café/boulangerie just around the corner from our hotel. We sat, enjoying the ambiance, watching the shop owners dutifully scrubbing 'their' portion of the sidewalk, the local residents coming out for their morning baguette.
And then I noticed him, another old guy eying me. What is it?!?