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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Fine Old Story

Source: Google Images

We visited Chartres! 

Built starting in 1193, opened in 1220, and not fully completed to this day, this "Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Chartres" features incredibly intricate compression-only structure, with flying buttresses bracing flying buttresses [no error, there] bracing the vaulted ceilings and roofs. (Plenty of photos are already online.)
You have, no doubt heard the story of the Medieval traveler who, on a hot day one summer, came upon a deep excavation beside the road. There was a man climbing up the dirt ramp from the bottom of that huge hole carrying a heavy sack of dirt on his back. He walked a dozen meters away from the hole, dumped the dirt onto a pile, threw the sack over his sweaty shoulder, and started to return to the hole.

The traveler called to him, "Mister, what are you doing in that hole?"

"Are you blind?" growled the workman, "Can't you see that I am working my body to the bone digging filthy dirt and sweating myself to death hauling it out of that God-forsaken hole!"

The traveler, humbled, but still curious, waited for the next workman to come up the ramp. When he did so, the traveler noticed that he was smiling, and humming to himself. The traveler called to him, "Mister, what are you doing in that hole?"

This smiling workman looked the traveler straight in the eye, and with a soft voice said, "The work of a lifetime. I am building a cathedral."
         -Paraphrased from memory with thanks to a storyteller unknown.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Charleroi Non-Coincidence

Fresco painter Mihai Moroșan of Suceava, Romania
I was trying to make the in-room coffee provided us at the Hotel Leonardo in Charleroi, Belgium.  The pot wouldn't heat up.  I played with the outlet, tried other outlets known to work, and still no joy.  So, I pulled on my jeans and went to Reception with the recalcitrant coffee pot, to see if I could obtain a working model.

As I awaited the elevator, two younger men approached me, and I said, "Good morning, bon jour."  In American English, one of them replied, "Good morning!"

I asked where he was from.  "Philadelphia," he said.

"Oh, I have a brother who teaches at Penn.  What brings you to Charleroi?"

"We are painting a mural here," he said.

The conversation was brief, but I told him about meeting Mihai Moroșan during my Fulbright year in Romania, and of the frescoes that he paints, all around the world.

He responded, "Our partner in this project is also a Fulbrighter."

I wished them well.

The receptionist sent up a new coffee pot, so my morning is now off to a good start, replete with a non-coincidence, and coffee.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Klaus Survives!

O, Happy Day!  Klaus needed his radiator refilled after boiling away its contents yesterday, but now runs normally, and seems none the worse for wear.

We will remain here in Brasschaat, Belgium, for one (or two) more night(s), then resume our journey. Dear old Klaus.  He is a tough car, for sure!

Klaus Hurting in Belgium

Klaus parked at Omaha Beach
It is too soon to give details, but we are temporarily stalled in Belgium, following Klaus' overheating in two intense traffic jams yesterday.  We had hoped to have dinner with Raluca T. and her mother in Breda, NL, but in Lille the traffic was stop-and-go for about 40 minutes, and Klaus' temperature gauge went into the red.  But, as soon as we could again go to cruising speeds, it returned to normal.  Then we got to Antwerp, and spent over an hour in the snarl.  I had taken the wheel, so that if Klaus had a further problem, it would be I and not Alex who would be responsible for not stopping.  Hence, it was all my fault that we had to have Klaus towed off of E19 into Brasschaat, Belgium, at 7:00 PM last night.

We have not yet determined the extent of Klaus' illness.  We know that the electric fan that is supposed to keep air flowing through the radiator in such slow conditions was not functioning.  That may explain the initial problem.  But now, I fear that the water pump may also have failed.  Also, the water that flowed from the boiling radiator did not have a glycol odor, so I suspect that he had only water in his radiator, and not the 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze that is recommended.  That may have left the water pump un-lubricated, causing it to fail.  Finally, at the last, Klaus would die at idle, and ran only roughly.  Not good signs, at all.  A blown gasket is quite likely, and possibly worse.

Klaus has been a loyal supporter of the European adventures that I have reported here and in my earlier blog.  I hope that we can get him healthy again.  But if not, he owes me nothing.  He has done his duty.

For now, we McDougalls are stalled on our journey.  But, we are taking it in stride.  It is nothing when compared with the Battle of the Bulge, which happened here in Belgium during Basil's time here.  And, we are comfortably ensconced in a good motel with a fine restaurant, a far cry from Basil's having to sleep in a frozen foxhole in December, 1944 and January of '45.

The trip has been an emotional one for us all, but most so for Shirl.  I hear her quietly breathing as she sleeps in on this Saturday morning.  God bless her, she has been a great companion on this trip, and has walked miles, which while perhaps good for her, was very difficult and sometimes painful.  She deserves a couple days of rest.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jour J Debarquement (D-Day Invasion) - Pointe du Hoc

You are peering down into a shell-crater.
On 6 June, it will have been 70 years since the U. S. Army Rangers climbed the cliffs under direct fire of the German defenders, and took the fortifications and the coastal artillery that would otherwise have been able to fire on the ships at sea, and both Omaha and Utah beaches.  The Pointe du Hoc, still cratered with seemingly hundreds of wide and deep holes made by Allied naval gunfire and aerial bombs, bears the most direct evidence still visible of the ferocity of the historical event that we call D-Day.

The approach to Pointe du Hoc on a narrow country road.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jour J Debarquement (D-Day Invasion) - Omaha Beach

The pivotal events of 6 June 1944 have been well told.  Seeing for oneself the locus of the Allies' attack (and the German coastal defenses) is something all Americans and all Europeans should try to do, at least once in their lives.  Godawful, yet awe-inspiring.
The monument reads:
1st U S Infantry Division
No Mission Too Difficult
No Sacrifice Too Great  Duty First
Forced Omaha Beach At Dawn 6 June 1944

The Omaha Beach Museum
M4 Sherman Tank with welded steel plate armor.
Other models of the Sherman had
round-cornered armor of either pressed or cast metal.

What are those wood turnings?

Tent Pegs!  (Were these Beebe River products?)


Our trip to trace the wartime path of the 13th Field Artillery Observation Battalion has begun.  Our first night after leaving Fellbach, Germany, was spent in Strasbourg, Alsace, France.  

 We shared the city that evening with the European Parliament, and thus paid a doubled price for our room at the Ibis Hotel, downtown. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the time there, especially seeing the High (late) Gothic cathedral, and later chatting with an interpreter named Charles, from Northern Ireland, with whom we shared a bottle of Savignon Blanc that evening at the hotel.

Meanwhile Alex went out for a beer and conversation at a local bar.

(Thanks to Valer, our home in New Hampshire remains warm and secure!  Mersi, prieten!)
Shirl and Alex watch the ducks on the river in Strasbourg

And here, next to the cathedral, was a street sign revealing the importance of the events we were there, in France, to commemorate: