Following the recent post on Canada Day and Independence Day, I thought it would be useful to post some details of other national celebrations.

  • Bien Phu Victory (May 7) Vietnam celebrates victory over the french army May 7, 1954
  • Algeria celebrates 1 November as start of the War of Independence in 1954 that caused the retreat of French forces.
  • Syria celebrates 17 April Independence Day as the retreat of French forces in 1946
  • Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexican defeat of French Army May 5, 1862
  • TRAFALGAR DAY celebrates British Defeat of French Navy October 21, 1805
  • L’Escalade is a Swiss day to celebrate the defeat of Duke of Savoy (allied to France) Dec 11, 1602

And, of course:

  • July 14th is Fete Nationale (Bastille Day) where the French celebration of the defeat of the French Military by a bunch of peasants in 1789

While not really National holidays;

To Celebrate the September 7,1812 Russian Victory over French Army at the gates of Moscow was Tchaikovsky wrote a pretty catchy tune in 1882. Not Very originally named “The 1812 Overture”

Also while creating a 1965 Celebration of the Battle of Waterloo one British Parliamentarian thought to ask:

HANSARD: HC Deb 02 June 1965 vol 713 c218W

72. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Defence why he invited the French Army to take part in the celebration of the battle of Waterloo.

Mr. Mulley

No such invitation was issued.”

Probably just as well, would have been one of those ‘one bitten, twice shy’ kind of moments. They don’t call it “Meeting your Waterloo” for nothing.

Also, When Asked the Germans responded “Days to celebrate beating the French, if we did that we’d never get any work done, those Mercedes and BMWs don’t build themselves!”

A postscript to my trip
Back at home after almost 3 weeks away, I walk to my favorite Coffee House past the inner harbour in Victoria. I look at the cenotaph where the annual ceremony of remembrance will happen at the end of the week.

I think of what I would say if I got the chance to speak on Friday. I think it would go something like this:

This day is not about triumph or celebration.
We are here to honour those that serve
We morn those that gave their lives
And we express gratitude that we have not had to do either.

I think about the Canadian Flag being raised at the Vimy memorial and the 90 year old monument of 60,000 Canadian dead being restore for the next 100 years of remembrance. But it is hard to relate to large numbers, and despite standing on that ground there is nothing in my experience that lets me imagine how it really was. It is easier to think of individuals.
In going to Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth Cemetery, I saw two names that have stayed with me and I think that is who I will think of on Friday – Private Robertson and Lance Corporal Martin.
In addition to holding over 10,000 graves Tyne Cot has walls of 30,000 names of those that have no grave. The names are there because the Menin Gate Memorial wasn’t large enough to hold all the names.

They couldn’t build a memorial big enough to hold all the names, that says alot.

Tyne Cot has the grave of Private James Robertson, Victoria Cross of the Manitoba Regiment. One of the names on the wall was Lance Corporal Henry Martin.

I still remember the note below the name of Corporal Martin – placed there by a student or a family member that was written in the voice of Corporal Martin.

“I spent 14 months convalescing in Blighty only to return to Passchendaele and be blown to pieces at Poelcapelle on 27th November 1917.
I have no know grave, only my name on this panel and a plaque dedicated to me at St Georges Memorial Church, Ieper.

I did my Best

Please Remember me.”

Both Private Robertson and Corporal Martin died in November of 1917.

Touring around Paris
This morning was the start of my tour of various neighborhoods of Paris. I had completed my museums and historical trips, now I was looking to get to know the town. On the extreme west side of Paris is the ‘neauveau’ Paris area called La Defense. It has a giant arch that is on the line of the Champs Elysee so you can look through the Grand Arch to see the Arch de Triomph and the Obelisk at Place de Concorde. This has almost all of the high rise buildings in Paris. It also appears to be the ‘high-tech’ area of Paris. Coming out of the Metro I see ads for Cisco and placards announcing WiFi access everywhere.

From La Defense I went back to the Champs Elysee and grabbed breakfast while watching the rain that had started to fall. From Champs Elysee, I walked past the Place Elysee (the President’s Mansion) over to Madeline and Opera with some window shopping along the way. I might have considered buying something but I didn’t see a price tag under 1000 Euro. After working my way back past my hotel, I worked down to the Louvre and walked the Tuileries Gardens that stretches from the Louvre and Place de Concorde.

On to a little more shopping with a stop at WH Smith on Rue de Rivoli to pick up a few reading items for the trip home. Yes, my brain is starting to think about the 21 hour trip home that will start on Wednesday morning.

After again working my way back from the hotel to drop off my purchases, I took the train to the opposite side of town to the Montparnasse district. This has two noteable features. The Montparnasse Cemetery has the grave of the philosopher J-P Sartre and Andre Dreyfus ( ). The other feature of Montparnasse is the only other high rise in Paris. The Tour Montparnasse is the 59 story high rise that is the only one outside the La Defense area.

Tomorrow I think I take a cruise on the Seine a check out a few more neighborhoods. Then it is back to the hotel to stuff my life back in a suitcase and get ready for an early trip to the airport on Wednesday.

Paris on a Sunday
A postscript to my Sunday in Paris. Warning to those that travel here – there is almost nothing open on Sunday for shops. Including grocery shops. And there is no such thing as a 7-11 in Paris. So there was a little problem getting some bottled water and such for the hotel tonight. Should have figured that out before. I was trying to remember what I did last Sunday.

Then I realized – I was in Belgium last Sunday. This traveling can really mess with your head.

Last Museum visits
Well, my 5 day museum pass ran out today so I got my last visits in. A trip to the Louvre first thing this morning. I was planning on grabbing some breakfast on the way but the line up was already starting at 8:30 so I stood in line and read my Green Guide (Le Guide Vert) with all the details. The doors opened at nine and I made my way through the ancient parts (500-600 BC) and then to the greeks and romans. They also have a part of the excavation of the original fort that stood at the Louvre. This shows the foot of the massive towers that used to stand on this site.

I then made my way to the 16th and 17th century paintings. Including seeing the dutch painter Vermeer, who was in a recent documentary I saw at home. I finished with the Renaissance tapestries and artifacts.

It was then on to the the Centre G. Pompidou which houses the Museum of Modern Art. There were several interesting exhibits but actually the best part was all the performers out front. The hit of the group appeared to be the 5 members of – what I am assuming – is a tibetan group.

Circumnavigating Paris
Started with a trip up Montmartre for the view of the city from Sacre Couer early morning. Then heading on the Metro to the Trocadero. The Chaillot Palace was built for the exhibition of 1900 (?) and is used for museums today. The French Maritime Muesum is there and that was a nice little tour.

On a side note, most of the museums are searching bags and in the case of the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (Centre Pompidou) you have to check you packs and bags prior to entering.

Then a walk down the Gardens between the two parts of the Chaillot place that look on to the Effiel tower. Then a walk along the Champ de Mars which connects the Effiel tower (also built for an exhibition – they seem to have a lot of those here from 1870 to 1940) to the Ecole Militare. Past that and on to ‘Les Invalids’ this has the Dome Church – which is the final resting place of Napoleon and the Army Museum. Unfortunately large parts of the Army museum are closed for renovations – for 2 years.

So on to the metro to another museum in the North East of town. This is the Science and Industry museum at Villette. It is a funky place mostly designed to keep children ammused so I didn’t end up staying long. There big exhibit was ‘Star Wars’ but unless there is a working Light Sabre I can play with – I’ll pass.

Then down to the Centre Pompidou – again with the bag problem – so I will head back there tomorrow ‘sans sac’.

So in the late afternoon of Saturday it was time to think about some gifts to bring home. So shopping time. The Gallery Layfette, Champ Elysee, and the Bonne Marche (the real one not the American Chain). Didn’t end up buying anything but it was worth a look. Funniest thing I saw was the Dior Ipod Cases for the iPod, Mini, and the new Nano. That is just too funny.

Cooking Class
Today was a big day. My sister had bought me a cooking class so it was put up or shut up time for my culinary skills. Paule was our guide to the open air market just down from Place de Republique. The menu Rochfourt soufflé, Salade with baked Cheve, main course of Veal, Carrots, and Chantrel mushrooms, and an Apple Chocolate Tarte for desert.

As the one guy in the group I got the meat duty but also practiced my skills in caramelizing the Apples for the Tarte. While there were several very compleling dishes but the steps were laid out very well and all of us are expected to reproduce these when we get home. Even making a soufflé didn’t seem that scary.

My group was 6, including myself, one other Canadian – currently living in New York, a mother and daughter team from New Jersey, and a couple of longer term Americans-in-Paris – one from Berkley and the other from Minneapolis.

Finish the day with a trip to a couple of the cooking supply shops then I headed off to the Museum of Art and Science.

After a brief rest, back to the holiday travel log
After always being independent on my holidays, I am discovering that is a whole lot of work. So following the lead from my friend Murray in Philadelphia, I took a bus tour today and let someone else tell me what everything was. This was an open top double decker so it was an excellent photography platform while cruising around the city. So I headed over to the Effiel Tower, grabbed a little breakfast and picked up the tour.

There is just so much interesting stuff and there are other stuff that looks interesting but is really 20th century knock offs of the 18th century. It became clear with the dialog for the tour that alot of 17th century french work was torn down in the late 1800s and early 1900s to make way for ‘retro’ italian work. I could of got the dates wrong but that it what I heard. Got some nice photos up on the flickr site.

After the bus tour, I hit the Musee D’Orsay. Finally some artist I recognized. The Louvre didn’t do anything for me but I can get into Renoir, Moreau, and a little Pissarro. They push Van Gogh like the Louvre pushes the Mona Lisa. They did a nice job with the conversion from a train station to a museum. I didn’t realize that the D’Orsay was only opened as a museum in the 80s.

Finally on the trips around town on the bus I saw this one place for lunch that I just had to try. (Check it out at ) I drank a beer and watched hockey …. In Paris.

Driving from Ieper to Arras, with a small stop
First, It needs to be said how this EU thing works. I drive from Belgium to France and there are border crossings with the usual inspection booths – but their is no one there. The first time I saw it on the way to Belgium I reached for my passport, then realized no one was stopping. Feels very weird. The grass is over grown and the traffic whips through them at 90km/h.

Today I went the other way, there wasn’t even a border crossing, couldn’t really tell where the border was but when the signs changed language I figured I was in France.

I was about a 90 min drive from Ieper to Arras. I had to return my rental before the closed for lunch. By the way, everything around here seems to take a break from noon until two. Very different.

Well I had a few minutes, and I had to stop at Vimy one more time. I snapped a few more pictures for the album ( I think I will be back, I need to see what it will look like after the restoration.

Tour 2 from Ieper
I have used a few different books to find my way around the various battlefields and cemeteries. Today I was on Itinerary Two from Holt’s Guide to the Ypres Salient. This started northeast of Ieper and worked back to the west. The first major point of interest on this tour was the German Cemetery at Langmark. Like the allies, German war dead were buried in many cemeteries around the Western Front. However, following the war France and Belgium were less generous in given land to Germany for their fallen. While both Allied and German cemeteries were redone and consolidated, there were fewer places for the German dead. As a result german headstones have several names on them because of the need to use common graves.

On leaving Langmark I ran into a tour group lead by Norm Christie. Norm has written many of the guides to Canadian Battlefields as well as hosting TV shows on the subject. We had a chance to talk briefly and I made sure to that him for his great work. He probably has done more to re-inspire interest in the Great War for Canadians than anything in the last couple decades.

I then headed to Essex Farm. This is a cemetery but also has the remains of a Advanced Dressing station (the First War’s equivalent of a MASH). This was the site where John McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’. This classic verse is used extensively around Ypres. In addition to this site, there is the ‘In Flanders Field’ Museum, and ‘In Flanders Fields Autoroute’ and posters and banners all over the town. There are enough references to Lt Col McCrae to call him a local hero – that would be Belgium’s local Canadian Hero.

This was an appropriate place to end this part of my trip. Tomorrow I head toward Paris for the ‘fun’ part of the trip. I enjoyed the touring around Arras and Ypres and all the historical spots. But there is a sense of emotional exhaustion. I think of looking at thousands of graves and hundreds of thousands of names on monuments. The magnitude is not obvious at any given point but today I have a sense of the weight of what I have seen.

I am ‘proud’ of my country and in these fields a country that had never fought a war on this scale – in the words of John McCrae – took up the torch. You can’t really feel good or happy about any of this, all you can do is think about it and remember.

And in the end that is all the millions that died here are asking.

I know I will.