Verdun, Old Men and Me!

I have no idea what it is about me that seems to attract old men. 

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.  Verdun
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 Ceremonyleave; 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.Guys_in_berets_2

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!Morning  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?!?

14 thoughts on “Verdun, Old Men and Me!”

  1. Wonderful Katie. . . You’ve just taken me on a wonderful travel day and made me want to go again.
    We also love cities waking. We always get up with the street cleaners in Paris several mornings a week. It’s such a great time. It’s what afternoon naps are for.

  2. This is a place my Dad, the old historian, wanted to visit. I would like to go one day, kind of in his memory.

  3. I just love that cheese trolley, I can almost feel the smell here in Italy. And the cheese melting in my mouth. Oh I better start with dinner now…

  4. What a perfect post! I drooled over the cheese, was delighted at the pictures of the sights, and laughed my butt off at you being the siren for old men! :):) Hmm, what perfume do you wear? Listen, once I was Buckingham Fountain in Chicago with my husband, and an old drunk guy did the same thing with me. I didn’t know what to feel, flattered or harrassed! He would not leave me alone!

  5. Oh, come on — that guy is a cutie! I thoroughly enjoyed your story. Man, Verdun has seen some hard times, hasn’t it? Your dinner has my mouth watering . . .

  6. Hey, when the old men stop looking, that’s when we should be worried! The cheese looks amazing and the rest of your dinner sounds divine.

  7. What a wonderful trip that was~even the little old man sounded interesting, in his own way. I think he just wanted a friendly face to talk to and you were that special person!The cheese cart, to die for! It all looks delicious. I commend you on restraining yourself from photographing at dinner time~And I bet it was a gorgeous presentation,deserving a photo. I get too carried away sometimes and i know It is distracting to others.

  8. Took a military history tour of Verdun. We didn’t eat there, but at a resto in the country north of there, after the tour.
    It was a very, very sad place (the battlefield and trenches and fortifications, not the town), and it was cold, even though it was summer. We walked about the trenches and heard about farmers digging up bones and bombs to this day and imagined the hell that place was. Walking through the fortifications was like walking through one of the circles of hell. The meal afterward was exceptionally good, possibly because it represented life and growth, after the impressions of despair and hopelessness (augmented by fog) in the morning.
    Thanks for the post and for reminding us that life always succeeds murder and death and hate and politics, and that Verdun survives and prospers as a place for people to LIVE.

  9. Tanna, We were up early in Barcelona (which rarely sleeps) on a Christmas morning and had the whole city to ourselves…it was eerie…and cool!
    Meredith, do go! It’s so filled with history you would love it – for your dad!
    Ilva, the problem with cheese trolleys like that is trying to choose..then stop choosing!
    Sher. always flattered, always, always (harrassed is just too stressful)
    Lisa, he was kind of cute…and he smiled right after I took that picture!
    Lydia, I started worrying when the young men stopped looking…then I moved to Andorra and ALL The Spanish men look ALL of the time…it’s rather reaffirming LOL Now, I’m in France…..
    Jann, it wasn’t so much my restraint as mon mari’s evil eye…
    TikiPundit, There are a lot of places like that here. We visit and tour whenever we get the chance. With constant pysical reminders everywhere it’s understandable why Europeans are a bit reluctant to engage in aggression… they experienced it on their own doorstep too often!
    Did you know that the symbolic poppy (almost) always appears the spring following a battle?

  10. Part of the process that goes into making good cheese involves having an old man hold it between his buttocks out in the heat for a couple of days, which explains the odd looks and spicy aroma.
    This actually brings back two terrible memories of my life in France. The first involves a big old pervert in braces gloating and being obscene towards the little boy that I was, who promptly cycled away. The second was in Corsica one summer, where friends thought it would be so funny to hide some Camembert in my shoes under the soles.
    Moral of the story: when old men behave strangely and soft cheese is served at dinner, their brows will twitch with delight. (Extract from my upcoming book “The Frenchman’s Naughty Love Affair with Cheese”).

  11. Sounds like you had a great trip. I love old men – well that sounds a little weird, but you know what I mean…I really miss my grandfather – we had a very close bond and now whenever I have encounters with old men like this one you had it reminds me of him and I always wonder if he set it up!

  12. Mdx, not nice to make me laugh when I am drinking…. I’m never going to look at old French men the same…or cheese trolleys. Do send me an autographed copy of your book!
    JennDZ, we had a lovely trip! As to the old men….

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