Thursday, May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012

What a whirlwind day!

We woke up in Bayeux, Normandy to rain, but had a wonderful breakfast ranging from tropical fruits and yogurt to croissants, breads, cereal, and bacon...and of course, the wonderful coffee!

The first stop of the day was Pointe du Hoc, which was the enemy command post for the entire invasion front. Utah Beach is 8 miles away from this location and difficult to describe. Again, in such a scenic and beautiful coastal location, it was difficult to comprehend the violence that once occurred there. That being said, the craters which filled the expansive area made us realize how much damage artillery and bombs can inflict on a countryside and its inhabitants.  We were able to enter bunkers which remained and learned that some Rangers were killed by American Soldiers coming from Omaha Beach because some Rangers were eventually using German guns. A local yellow bush was growing within many craters and along old barbed wire. Such glorious coastal beauty permeated with craters of destruction....overwhelming to imagine the fear and sound of just 68 years ago.
Crater left from bombing

Natural coastline with added defense, still in place

Bunker--one of many remaining

Some of the tour participants
From there, we went to the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where the 101st Airborne Division landed on June 12, 1944. Many paratroopers landed at night into flooded fields around Carentan and Sainte-Mere-Eglise, some landed 10 miles away from intended location. There was hand-to-hand combat in the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, with soldiers using knives and bayonets. Some 13,000-15,000 paratroopers landed during this event. During this, a paratrooper named John Steele got stuck on the side of the church in town and he watched the entire battle from above, unable to unhook himself from the church. He went deaf from the church bells (which we heard today) and was eventually captured by Germans. He went on to live until 1969 and died in the U.S. To see the inside of this church, and view the statue on the church, representing John Steele's ordeal was powerful. And yet, life goes on and today there was an open market with samples of cheese and other food available, and fresh fruit and vegetables!
Statue in honor of paratrooper 
SMWC Voice Faculty enjoying the day 

 A stop in Saint Lo for a money exchange left us running late for lunch. We had to quickly figure out options with little to choose from so some took longer at a pizza place in a mall, others went to a deli in a supermarket, and others chose a "fast food" option where the ordering was quite an experience! However, the workers were so patient and understanding...even of the fact that many of us had to change into choir dresses in the "toilette" at their location and wandered around in black choir dresses and sensible shoes.

We raced to Mont-Saint-Michele in order to sing at 3:00 p.m. in the Church of St. Pierre. We all estimated how far we walked (some said 4 miles, others said 5 or 6 miles), but as one commented, "We'll likely never again walk to sing in Mont-Saint-Michele with saltwater grass-eating sheep on one side of us, and salty wind blowing around us on the other side!". The wind was blowing so hard that hair and dresses were hard to contain!
Waiting to enter Mont-Saint-Michele with 5 minutes until 3:00 performance

We then toured the Abbey, climbing and descending approx 600 steps in the process! The views and rooms were spectacular, to say the least. The concert was well-received, but less formal in that people could come and go as they pleased. However, when the choir finished singing the commissioned work, "La Providence" the audience burst into applause (applause is not typical in a church/chapel in Europe). The tour director said that in all his years, no choir has ever sung in French. He was most impressed.

Students reflecting in Abbey

Mont-Saint-Michele and famed saltwater grass-eating sheep!

Singers waiting after climbing first 170 steps to Abbey
Dinner was at a nearby restaurant (although the walk was around 20 minutes away) with salmon in an amazing sauce as the first course, a beef entree, and a chocolate mousse dessert. The meal, though, took several hours and the restaurant was rather warm. This evening, students, faculty, and family members are staying in a rather funky and retro hotel in Saint-Brieuc. All the rooms are different shapes and sizes, with some having bright orange bathrooms and green walls, while others have balconies. A unique feature of the hotel is that in order to have lights on, you must put your keycard to your room in a slot by the light switch. Otherwise? Darkness!

Tomorrow, we head to Etables-Sur-Mer, the birthplace of Saint Mother T. Guerin. We will sing in the chapel there and likely be in awe that we have now come full circle.

No comments:

Post a Comment