photo: An astronomical clock found in Notre Dame.
I’ve been angry with France since 1986 when they wouldn’t allow our military to fly over their air space while we and the Brits were on the way to bomb Libya in reprisal for Libyan-backed acts of terrorism in Europe.
The fact is, I didn’t even get over it in 1991 when the French ‘graciously’ allowed the Brits and us to fly over their space on bombing raids against Iraq and, wonderful as they were, even let us refuel on one of their military bases (don’t know exactly what they were doing at the time). I was still angry because even with that concession, they were dictating what types of bombs we could carry and where we could drop them in the Persian Gulf zone. Geez!
If the truth be known, I’ve been so angry at France that I haven’t even drunk their wine! I relented a little last year when I visited Avignon on a trip with Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Agnes friends with Monsignor Salemi and Nuovo Tours. It was a beautiful, historic town, and the people were certainly nice and happy to see Americans.
But I changed completely earlier this month when our Viking Cruise Line boat the Sun docked at Kehl, France, in the Alsace Lorraine region.
I’m back to drinking French wines and loving the French… at least in this part of the country!
The Viking Sun traveled through the night and arrived at the dock as we were enjoying breakfast aboard. By 8:30, we were off the boat and on the bus to Strasbourg to see the European Parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg. What a perfect wonderful day it was!
We were broken into smaller groups once out of the busses, and Jacqueline was the guide who led the small group I was in, through the city streets, pointing out the cafes, shops, award winning pastry shops….I had to let her know we had a national award winning bakery right here in Atlantic Highlands’ Flaky Tart that could surpass anything the French had to offer…..she agreed it had to be very good…..and into the town square dominated by Notre Dame. This magnificent cathedral is the highest medieval building in all of Europe and was completely built in the Middle Ages, beginning in the 1200s. A feature inside that captures everyone’s attention…although me, not so much….is this huge Astronomical Clock, the third one that has occupied that spot in the last 800 years, off to the side of the main sanctuary and behind gates all its own. Its insides were built in 1842 and it’s still working accurately, with all its features depicting man’s life from beginning to end, along with a perpetual calendar, a planetary dial that shows the positions of the sun and the moon as well as solar and lunar eclipses. The primary focus on the clock are the 18 inch high figures of Christ and the 12 Apostles near the top of the clock that move about on the hour and half hour. At 12:30, there’s a life-sized cock that crows three times to remind everyone of the warning to Peter that he would deny Christ three times before the cock crowed.
Nice, yes, memorable, yes. But there’s so much more to this cathedral! There are dozens and dozens of bigger than life gorgeous stained glass windows and a magnificent Rosetta window over the main doors of the cathedral. Jacqueline told some of the many stories from World War II, how the people loved their cathedral and knew and appreciated that the Allies avoided as much as possible bombing any of them. But still, they reasoned, there was always the chance, and even without a direct hit, surely the windows would be damaged by the reverberations from the 1944-45 bombings that they knew couldn’t be far off. So within a week, these stalwart and devoted people took all the windows out of the cathedral and carted them off to the mountains, to be stored, safely and gently, until that long awaited time when the war would be over. They were successful, and seeing those same windows back in place (well, perhaps not their exact place, they had removed them hurriedly and didn’t keep precise records!) and hearing how grateful the Alsatian people were for our Allies made me want to toast them with their own wine!
The Cathedral was also displaying the entries in a recent art community-wide celebration of the Cathedral’s 1000 anniversary. Entrants were each given one of six phrases from the Lord’s Prayer and commissioned to depict it in oil on canvas. It was amazing to see the variety in interpretation of “Give us this day our daily bread” or “forgive us our trespasses.”
Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to visit the Colmar Museum and Memorial to America’s most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy, who played a major role in holding off the Nazis and forcing the German retreat of the area after three months fighting and thousands of casualties for us. But it was enough for me to recognize that today’s residents of the Alsace region, so many so young they only know World War II as history, do appreciate everything we Americans, Canadians and Brits did to save them and their way of life. And it made me feel good to be in the company of people from each of those nations on the Viking Sun who well remember the sacrifices we all made for France.
Back aboard the Viking Sun, once again met with glasses of refreshing beverages and huge smiles from the staff, we attended a briefing on disembarkation….is it almost over already?...a sumptuous dinner featuring Alsatian wines and food, and an evening of entertainment with some locally well-known French Chansons, before the ship cast off and headed to Breisach, back in Germany.