Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Poperinge Belgium via Vimy to Saint-Nicolas France ( or A difficult post to write)

The sun is rising and the clock dial is glowing

 When I get down to the breakfast area at 7 am, the buffet is ready and the lady of the house asks me whether I am French or English (my French fooled her ;-). I have to answer: Canadian.  Actually German.  And 1/4 French, to which I add, such a bastard of nations like myself would not start a war.  She replies "We're used to it".  Now that is a SAD statement, but unfortunately it's true. Germans and French have clobbered each other in

The French country side.  Fields and almost no cars.
Quite often I cycle for half an hour without seeing another living soul.
What a nice change from Vancouver !
This is Flanders.  Flanders is FLAT, well, except very slight elevations like the ridge in the distance above.  But for the inhabitants of Flanders that must be special. At least I surmise so when coming to the top of the hill (I don't really want to call it that ;-).
And the unfamiliarity of the people of Flanders with hills becomes apparent again in that this contraption isn't actually moving.

View from the 'hills'

bike path

at almost exactly 10:30 am
I forget the name of the town but they must have tall cyclists around here

Where are you, Big Boy?

As the ride progresses, the frequency of cemeteries along the roadside keeps increasing

Quite a statement given that half the grave stones don't have names on them.

This hits too close to home

Where were these people from and what were they doing here?

I can't remember what this town was called (just before Lens) but judging by the modern look of its church there wasn't much left over of it after the wars.

At 12:30 pm I sit down in my first FRENCH restaurant of this trip.  I go native (French) and just order “Le plat du jour”  I have no idea what I’m going to get except that I’ll get fries with that because I answered “avec frites” to her question ‘avec frites ou avec !@%?’. I’m in France; how bad could it be????

Another woman (different from the waitress/bar maid) walks around the restaurant and shakes hands.  The she stops at my table and extends her hand with a hearty “Bon Jour”.  I'm not sure whether the perception of her very very limp handshake comes before or after remembering that I haven’t washed my hands yet after 45 kms on the road.  Ah well, washed or unwashed, at least my hand doesn't feel like a dead animal!

The plate of the day is a roulade (thin meat wrapped around filling; with the filling today being a kind of burger patty; actually it’s not JUST a burger patty, this is FRANCE after all ;-)  There is a basket of bread and butter that I don’t even touch.  Add to that a ‘quart de rose’ and a charging outlet for the battery and life is good.  Amazing how little it can take ;-)

From a distance I can see the pyramids of Lens.  Yes, there is a Louvre de Lens, a semi-official dependance of the Louvre in Paris, but it's not that kind of pyramid.  This is waste rock from the underground mining that has been feeding this town. I'm not sure whether the mines have closed down, but Lens doesn't have a good vibe for me.  
Lens also means that Vimy can't be far away and I can see the ominous ridge as soon as I'm a short distance out of town.

Given the experience of the past 2 days, I already know that the only poppies available at Vimy Ridge Monument will be plastic ones, so I pick one from the wayside.

Even before reaching the ridge and the monument I run into this.  Yes, these are all maple leafs on those stones.

Nothing can hold back the tears when I read the ages on these stones.
To put this into perspective: George was 19 when I met him.

I'm still excited to be here when I pass this sign
But excitement quickly gives way to annoyance.  All the military cemeteries somehow tried to give dignity to those who died here almost 100 years ago.
So what exactly is it that put me in this annoying mood?  
It wasn't the sheer unbelievable amount of death around here...
It wasn't even that young woman racing around the Vimy monument in a golf-cart who said to me with a perfect BC accent "Thank you for pushing your bicycle" (I obeyed the signs!).  So they think that bolting around in a golf-cart somehow maintains the dignity of the place but a visitor riding his bicycle does not? And how does either affect what happened to all those poor sods who had their lives wasted here?

And it wasn't seeing those grave stones of people from British Columbia either that set me off.

It wasn't the numerous cemeteries of various nations along the way and the signs to numerous numerous more along roads diverting from my route.
And it wasn't even looking at two gravestones of two Canadian kids, one 19 years of age and the other 20.

And believe it or not, it wasn't even seeing this atrocious poster that lit the fuse.
Or  learning that 16,000 lives were snuffed for a diversionary attack.
So what was it, you want to know?

It happened when I plugged in my battery for a recharge in the visitor's centre. To kill some time, I hat sat down in a makeshift movie theatre where the visitor centre was screening a video.  The language was French and so were the subtitles (They pay people money for such bull?)
It was old black-and-white footage depicting Canadian soldiers in WW I shooting at something. Then the video phased to Canadian soldiers in WW II.  WTF?  Then the video showed a modern Canadian Air Force jet.   OMG!!!  They're using these poor sods to wave the advertising flag for the Canadian military? 

I bolt out of my seat. I grab my battery. I don't want free power from people like that; I'd rather pedal. I leave.

The biggest shame about WW I?  These people have learned NOTHING from it.

But at least I was proven wrong again.  These kids DID give their lives for a purpose.  To be used by moral-free politician as advertising fodder for their own campaigns and for the Canadian military.  And no one blushes or sees anything wrong with that.

For all my huffing and puffing, the rare passer-by might mistake me for a steam-powered locomotive. 
Good thing there are not many passers-by ;-)
But it will take me days to calm down.

I am glad I came here. This was an eye opener on a country I have called home for the last 28 years.

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