Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brittany 25-28 May


Players: The Captain, The Bride, Nancy Grade, Erich Grade


C/B: "All right, we're on our way to Prague!" We had purchased tickets East by rail and were very enthusiastic about it. This would be our first trip as a couple to another country, excited much.

Scene II: At Work

EG: "Hey the airman who was going with me to the flyover had to fall out, wanna come with?" The characteristic nonchalant tone belied a greater trove...

C: "Hell yes!" Emphatically the captain replied, realizing the fantastic opportunity to be a part of an event rather than just a tourist. The squadron had been tasked by USAFE(USAir ForcesEurope), to control several flyovers for American cemeteries on the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The captain hadn't signed up because he and the bride were stateside with some other business, like marriage or something. "Controlling," is like ATC or tower at an airport and our task was to have a flight of fighters hold outside the cemetery, synch up and then give them the, "sic 'em," to go and amaze the crowd with a spectacular honor to our lost comrades buried below. Our particular target area was St. James Cemetery, Brittany, France, where some 4,410 American soldiers are laid to rest. Their landing sites of Utah and Omaha beaches lie 45 klicks Northeast. But not all interred there are soldiers, many are from the then, Army Air Corps, (before the Air Force came about in 1947), bomber and fighter crews who overflew the cemetery under much different circumstances 63 years ago. For the Captain and his comrade this had a certain significance.

Scene the Third: Steamrollin'

The assembled cast sailing down the Autobahn in the X-Terra, Captain at the helm. Just crossing the border into France.

C: "Huhrah-aw-huh, (French onomatopoeia), we arrre naw en France!" "Ze speed limit is now down to 130."

EG: "No way man, c'mon this is France, we have a German license plate, we can just steamroll over this country!"

C: "Oui-Oui!" And swiftly the heroes are flashed by a roadside speed camera, "welcome to France indeed, dammit." The path was through most of North France to include, yes, Paris, which sucks for traffic even if you're like 50 miles South on a bypass. We saw trucks that had our Lord and Savior on them that some how seemed to transcend the traffic and really, "haul some Jesus." The tolls to get through the area are equivalent to the GNP of the Falkland Islands. We kept a careful eye on all such expenses because we were on TDY(temporary duty), orders and would be re-reimbursed for this trip. Erich is also the finance guy for the squadron so it is a great success, a free tour through the North of France. After we exited the highway and coursed like whitewater kyakers through a hundred roundabouts, around 1 AM, we reached the Lion d' Or restaurant and hotel in St James, France. The matri-dee was a sign posted for us to go inside and find our rooms. After a code was punched in, we entered the soup-smelling (not in a bad way), French sized hotel.

Scene IV: Saturday Morning

Msr. Didi: "Bonjour, Ca Va?" Our host, a cheery, middle aged man who was genuinely happy to receive us in his establishment greeted us every morning in the same way. He prepared a breakfast of various baguettes and croissants for the three mornings we would be there. The coffee served was like a double-delicious French slap to the face to wake up to. When he found out that Cat was staying as well he ordered flowers to be sent to the room and a small bottle of whiskey for me. Erich and I had practice for the flyover at 10 AM, and we lit out to scope the cemetery/test our radios. We were met by Mr. Aresenault, the caretaker and informed that we would be positioned in the church bell tower-rockin'! Up top we had a great view of the grounds and could sight Mt St. Michel off in the distance. The color guard did a run through and we were out of there by noon thirty to truck over to the pristine coastal-island city of Mt St. Michel.

Scene V: Le Mont St. Michel

Have you seen the last Lord of the Rings film? OK, like 90 years ago when those books were written the author, JRR Tolkein, had the prototype for the City of Kings, Minas Tirith, from a memory of visiting here. With an impressive outside wall to deflect advancing armies, tides and over-zealous pilgrims then proceeding vertical with several successive levels of city, 300 steps up until reaching the apex- the Abbey with flying buttresses, crypts, transepts and a single spire to the heavens in honor of St Michel.

We ate baguettes at the base then hiked the 300 steps vertical, passing tourist shops, taverns and four-star restaurants all the way. Its 8 euro apiece to enter and take a guided tour of the airborne abbey and totally worth every euro-cent. Before the tour the courtyard opens up to panorama of mythical attribute. This whole rock/city/church/fortress, is surrounded by a tide that the author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, described as, "flowing like a herd of rushing horses." While we were atop said tides were out and there was immense expanse of sand and runoff-cut gorges where the sea water met streams from the surrounding land, sometimes swirling off into a white-crested blue horizon.

Highlights of the tour include:

Geography-the church is essentially set upon a pinnacle of rock and has to be supported on its sides by massive cut-stone emplacement and buttresses.

A Human Tread Mill-for 70 years the amazing abbey was used as a prison following the revolution that the French copy-catted off of us. Prisoners were made to tread, two abreast-six at a time, in the mill to pull a vertical sled and haul up supplies to the upper parts.

Snobby (aka: City-French) Guide- Yeah, but they give a hell of a tour.

We descended the monolith and headed to the X to drop off souvenirs. Luckily, we were not there for the two times a month the area floods with tides, or we would have been stuck on the island. This afforded yours truly to escape the tourist companions and run a lap around the windswept, sandy shores of the fortress. This counts as the Captain's first official run in France! I was compelled to take several pictures of the ever-beautiful, afternoon sun-smooched bride out there.

Following the run we all ate at a supposed four star restaurant where the only thing four star was the price. Erich, a serious foodie, was ecstatic to try the local delicacy of lamb and when it was served like a slice of cafeteria-turkey and a can of beans, it looked like his heart was broken. The food sucked, straight up and lesson was learned not to eat in the tourists traps. To ameliorate his honor and heal some wounds, we stopped at a winery on our way back to St James. Still in that far-cast fleece of afternoon stretched golden upon the abbey you were struck supernaturally by its beauty. Not like unicorns and leprechauns, but in the way that human hands could craft such an iconic setting. It is no wonder pilgrims have travelled to this site for 1400 years.

Scene SIX: Saturday Night Dive

Evening starts with mysterious fluid poured into stumpy, port-style glasses and wine, when the captain and the bride meet the Grades for drinks at the restaurant below the hotel.

NG: "Here drink this, it will sting your lips!" The vile local brewed concoction in reference was known as, Calvados, a twice distilled, once satan blessed, brew crafted from apples and evil. Brewed by local French wizards I think. Eagerly Msr. Didirot looked on to capture the exact moment the Americans would wince, however the bride destroyed all paradigms he had by downing the beverage like a true champ and smiling afterward. My hero. We shared some wine and went out on the town for culture. Yeah, that sounds great and all but in small town France, much like small town anywhere, everything closes early. We hit two or three small pubs that were actually hotel bars and didn't play music as that would awake the guests. Sadly, most of our interaction was with old bartenders or chefs.


We had until 1430 to be in place for the flyover. A trip somewhere was necessary-St Malo stood out on the map. A magnificent walled sea-side fortress of a city, this area shed a whole new light on Northern France. The sky cleared and wind abated to reveal a serene resort quality beach, beset with emerald fading to blue lapping waters. The city walls were impressive, about two car lengths across on top. The city itself had an organic quality where every available space was filled with Gothic architecture and buildings fitted tightly inside like a hermit crab inside a conch shell. Outside the walls the beach, smooth golden sand, sub-fortresses on surrounding rocks and tidal pools abounded. There was no where near enough time to explore this amazing town and to you reader, we swear to return.

SCENE VIII: Air Force Metal

This is it, the reason to read this whole piecemeal word salad, thanks for staying on until the end, I promises to make it worthy.

We join our heroes departing Lion D' Or with their radio kit, (100lb box of equipment), descending stairs. Suddenly met by locals armed with cameras and and each with a glass filled with Calvados trying to hand us the vile drink.

C: "Uhhh, merci, we gotta go..." a drink glass apiece was given to our free hands and a young girl dressed in a white robe appeared with a bottle of hell.

Msr Didirot: "Merci, mes amis bouivoins calvados, c'est le femme communion."

C: "Dude Grade, they say we have to drink or they'll kill us."

EG: "Well, if we have to...," just then the young girl celebrating her baptism set to pour a shot for Grade. She then proceeded to pour a full glass of evil for yours truly. With quick action defining the captain, he shot down the crazy-the locals gasped as if he had eaten Mont St Michel itself. Grade found courage and downed his. "Vive le France," our heroes shouted and away to the X. We set up in the tower and it was rad. The gale winds blew with a ferocity reminiscent of a certain day 63 years earlier. Our timeline began with fighter takeoff in Spangolem AFB, Germany. Monitoring our freqs we counted away while below hallowed veterans gathered and the ceremony began. Conditions grew bleak as the window approached, rain to the South, East and North with winds charging from the West. Fighters (3xF-16), checked in...

Strut 1: "Reaper01-Strut01 checking in as fragged."

C/EG: "Strut-Reaper tgt area clear, push at five after."

Strut 1: "Copy."

The view from the tower was amazing, the North was an impressionist painting of rain strewn landscape. East and South were the dark belly of a leviathan wrought with anger and ferocity through thunder and gale. West, though was idyllic laying a sheet of sunlight upon the cemetery, and also the flight path for the jets.

Strut 1: "Strut Pushing."

Then the fighters shot out of the East sky over the cemetery and blew the crowd away with the roar of three single engine F-16s. Our job was done and we now listened to the speeches by dignitaries, priests, Rabbi's and generals until the colors were retired. We had the best seats in the cemetery.

SCENE IX: Denouement

Sunday night we had a seven course gourmet meal. There are too many descriptions to go into here, suffice to say the main course and dessert were on fire, literally. The whole meal + 2 bottles of wine only cost $80 per couple-unheard of!

Trying to avoid Paris to escape Northern France only slows you down. Champagne in champagne is worth slowing down for though.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Tale of Frau Clough

The first two weeks in Germany have been incredible. It still feels like I'm simply on a vacation, rather than now officially living in Germany, but I must say that married life has been wonderful, and each day has been a new adventure. I am gradually getting settled in to my new home of Wiesbaden and moved in to our downtown apartment. It is located in the pedestrian area of downtown and we are on the 4th floor above a bistro, near the Little Italy alley. When we get more settled, pictures will follow.

The weekend I arrived, on May 11th, the Casino of Wiesbaden was celebrating its 100th birthday. There was a great party in the park behind the Casino with bands, beer, and of course, fireworks. They'll use any excuse to have fireworks around here. The picture above was taken at the Kurpark, while we sat on a blanket and enjoyed the festivities with beer, and a fine dinner of fresh cheeses, meats and bread.

I am fortunate to be able to do part-time contract work for Baylor this summer while here in Germany. Working from home has proved to be an adjustment, due to no social interaction, but it is wonderful to be connected with my work again. I am slowly but surely getting in-processed and in "the system." I now officially have my military ID card, which allows me to get on base and use the library, and work-out facilities (which are fantastic), as well as the services of the Laundromat, the commissary (grocery store), the BX (other goods store), movie theatre, etc. It's like a mini America in the middle of Germany with most of the American goods I could ever need. The commissary lacks a great supply of salsas, but I can't be too picky! At least there IS some to choose from.

The weather was cold and dreary when I first arrived, but the past week it has warmed up considerably, to the point of being quite hot. Today, it is back to it's rainy and overcast self, but hopefully it will only be a short phase. Running here has been tremendous, and although it is somewhat uncomfortable to dodge the pedestrians downtown, there are some amazing parks to run in and plenty of hills to climb. There are also forests that surround the city, so I still get to do some trail running as well.

During my second weekend in Germany, Jon and I went to a NFL Europa football game, where his squadron has season tickets. The Frankfurt Galaxy team blew the Berlin Thunder team out of the water, and it was so crazy to see all the Europeans get so pumped about football! I had no idea there was such enthusiasm about a sport that is labeled so American. We took the train into Frankfurt and met up with several of the people from his squadron at the stadium.

Last Wednesday, Jon and I had our first state-side visitor to Wiesbaden. Cliff, Jon's cousin, was in Germany on a mission trip and his last two days of the trip were in Wiesbaden. We were able to spend some time with him and show him our place, some of our hang-outs and catch up since we last saw him at the wedding. We were thrilled to see him and hope that he is a first of many visitors!

I am truly enjoying every minute of married life in Germany and although it's weird to not have an office to go to, and social activities around every corner, that will come in due time. For now, it is nice to be able to see Jon for consecutive weeks (going on one month now) and to explore the adventures of European living together.