August 26, 2003

Weekend at Verdun

Since I read The Price of Glory by Alistair Horne (see right) three years ago, I've wanted to visit Verdun. It was the site of one of the most memorable, if not deadly, battles for World War One. Hard to imagine that less than 90 years ago this kind of French country side was transformed into this. I went this weekend with some friends from here in the Paris office. It was sobering, mystifying, and a little frightening. By far the most grim part of the trip was the visit to the ossuary. According to Webster's, an ossuar is a, "L. ossuarium, fr. ossuarius of or bones, fr. os, ossis, bone: cf. F. ossuaire.] A place where the bones of the dead are deposited; a charnel house." That's about right. . The best quote I've ever seen about how Europe could have fallen so head-long into madness is from F. Scott Fitzgerald's book, Tender is the Night. "See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it--a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation." "Why, they've only just quit over in Turkey," said Abe. "And in Morocco--" "That's different. This Western Front business couldn't be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn't. They could fight the First Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren't any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fianc�e, and little caf�s in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the maire, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather's whiskers." "General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty-five." "No, he didn't--he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote 'Undine,' and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of W�rttemberg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle--there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle." On the bright side, we had an excellent dinner at a restaurant called l'Apostrophe at 59, place Drouet d�Erlon in Rheims the night before. If you get to Rheims, a visit to the Cathedral there is worth your time. It's only an hour or so from Paris. And the stained glass windows behind the altar were done by Marc Chagall. A much nicer picture...


Post a Comment

<< Home