I have seen Normandy at it’s best and worst. I married a Norman. On stormy days, like June 6, 1944, waves crash the shoreline, icy winds whip off a black sea, rain falls in sheets and every joint aches with the cold. But in a ray of sunshine, Normandy is as beautiful as an Impressionist’s painting.
Orange cliffs along the coast drop off into purple waters. Inland, reddish brown Norman cows and pink apple blossoms dot a velvet green hillsides under powder blue skies. Soft light whitewashes the gabled, half-timbered houses and solid stone farms that remain as they were centuries ago. It was on one of those perfect days, over three decades ago that I pedaled a bicycle through red poppy fields behind my new beau. Later a table with authentic Normans in a Trouvillais fisherman’s flat, somewhere between courses of scallops and roast, cheese and salad, strawberries in cream, I fell in love with a Frenchman.
Millions debark on the beaches to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day following the circuit du débarquement and traipsing through the museums. But in my opinion the countryside, itself, is even more inspiring than any landmark.
The narrow, winding back roads, shaded by a canopy of trees, run into the “route du cidre” which intersects the Calvados region, my favorite part of Normandy. It is famous for history, art, architecture, seafood, smelly old cheeses, (Pont l’Eveque dates from the 13th century and Camembert from the 19th), and Calvados, a strong apple brandy. I love the area not so much for its regional specialties, but for the special family that lives in the region. They embraced me like lineage, when I, the foreigner with the funny accent, married their very French son.
Normandy, a feast for senses, is best appreciated at mealtime when land and sea are perfectly marinated. After a platter of seafood served so fresh it look like the crabs could crawl off the plate, Mamie presents la pièce de résistance, leg of lamb. Papie carves the tender meat of a newborn that was romping on the rolling green hillside only days before. A garden of vegetables -beans, broccoli, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes – sprout out of the linen tablecloth.
Trouville, the seaside resort of my in-laws, retains a sense of timelessness. Sea gulls swoop and dive above the fishing boats bobbing in the waves under azure skies. Daffodils dance on iron wrought balconies in the briny, spring breeze. As I walk on the beach, lined by 17thcentury mansions, I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. Young couples stroll the boardwalk with their arms intertwined. Parents with toddlers in tow pick up seashells; small children dig castles in the fine, white sand, school age kids race the waves as they crash the shoreline.
Thanks to yesterdays’ heroes, throughout time’s passage, nothing changes. Normandy, like memories it holds, just grows older and more beautiful. And I thank my lucky, fate-filled stars that crossed paths with my Norman.