Pepé Le Pew in Paris and Les Braves in Normandy (or, Still High Maintenance After All These Years?)

“Are you sure you’ll be able to handle this?”

“Sure, it will be romantic.”

“I don’t know … Remember last time?”

We are in Paris, and Hubby is referring to the very first overseas trip we took together here when we had just begun dating.  (I mean really, what woman wouldn’t marry the guy who takes you to Paris on a date?)  Now he’s questioning whether I really want to stay at the same place we did ten years ago.  It was a “charming” little hotel on the Left Bank in St. Germain. Certainly not five star, but purportedly a favorite among models and artists in the know.

At least in 2002.

Had he been paying attention, Hubby (who was not yet Hubby) should have been put on notice of what a high maintenance woman I was destined to become, because even then:

I couldn’t stop myself from whining about the hotel.

Specifically, about its hair dryers.  (Or rather, hair frizzers — weird devices on a vacuum hose attached to the wall that heated up way too much and blew just the tiniest amount of air — just enough to produce a pretty good Afro, but not to actually dry your hair.  The heat also made it impossible apply makeup in the sauna of a bathroom that resulted.)  From memory, the rooms were pretty miniscule too.

But I didn’t care on this trip.  All I could really think about were the good things: our early romance, the fantastic location within walking distance of the Louvre, plus the in-house jazz lounge with live music.

It would be romantic.

And it was … sort of.  Here we are last week at one of very same bistros we visited in 2002:

French Bistro

But some things never change.

Remember Pepé Le Pew and Penelope?  You know, the French skunk constantly searching for  “l’amour” and the poor little cat who keeps running from his advances? (If you haven’t seen him action for awhile, watch this clip: “Louvre Come Back To Me.”)

Pepe Le Pew loves Penelope

These days, the networks would never allow a would-be rapist to be featured in cartoons, let alone a character who stereotypes national origin so blatantly.  (Same goes for Speedy Gonzales.)  But of course, the reason stereotypes are such fun is because they so often ring true.

I saw evidence of Pepé everywhere last week in France.

No, I was not assaulted by any French men who needed a bath …

I’m talking about l’amour!

Or rather (and sadly for Hubby), Penelope’s reaction to Pepe’s advances.  At least on our first night, I had more in common with that nay-saying cat than any Parisian sex goddess.

Butt at least I'm in Paris ... sculpture outside the Louvre

Butt at least we’re in Paris …

The truth is, a person can really only tolerate so much beauty.  Paris can be overwhelming, even if you’ve been there before.  It’s sort of like this sculpture near the Louvre … is she simply so ecstatic about being in such proximity to the Eiffel Tower that she can’t stand up?

Or is Pepé lurking somewhere nearby and she is feigning a headache?

Both are possible in Paris, especially if you’re crabby about the hair dryers.  (And no, even though our hotel is finally undergoing a complete overhaul, the hair frizzers are exactly the same.  I overheard at least half a dozen other women complain about these at breakfast.)

It’s difficult to respond to l’amour with frizzed out hair.

Fortunately, I did remember to pack a curling iron and adapter, and with the help of a little French cuisine, our last night in Paris was saved.

Kate at a bistro in St. Germain

Plus, wearing French lingerie (for once) instead of the usual we’ve-been-married-forever t-shirt didn’t hurt either.

But we must move on.  After just two nights in Paris, we drive to Normandy because Hubby is a big World War II buff and wants to visit the beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day.  As a typical Lexus Liberal who has never actually experienced war, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this.

And I still don’t know how to write about it.

First, here is the view from our hotel room in Arromanches, overlooking Gold Beach (and you know how much I LOVE gold):

View of Gold Beach from our room in Arromanches, Normandy

The countryside and beaches in Normandy are stunning, which makes it that much harder to understand everything that happened here 68 years ago.  We visit four of the five invasion beaches: Sword, Juno, Gold, and Omaha.  Each is more difficult to view than the last.

Imagine being in your early twenties and scaling these walls at Pointe Du Hoc, knowing that if you make it up you’re likely walking straight into your own death:

Pointe Du Hoc

You can see the remains of German bunkers, fox holes, and gun stands here, and the earth still has bombed out scars everywhere.  I can’t help but be reminded of Stone Henge when I see the circular configuration of some of the former weaponry sites:

Gun stand at Pointe Du Hoc, Normandy

Gun Henge?

Fittingly, the weather is windy and rainy during our visit which makes it easier to envision what the Allies were facing.  (The original invasion date was delayed due to bad weather.)  We take shelter at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial:

American cemetary in Normandy

Thousands of veterans are buried here; most barely in their twenties when they died.  (And across town at the German cemetery, hundreds of the dead were still children, as the Nazis actively recruited 16 year olds.) 

I am particularly struck by one line in a film at the American Memorial:

“The fate of the free world once rested on their shoulders.”

And I wonder: Did they realize this?

Thank you.

Your lives were no wasted journey.

Artist Anilore Banon expresses this far better than I can with his Les Braves sculpture at Omaha Beach:

Les Braves -- Omaha beach sculpture

The memorial sculpture is meant to symbolize Hope, Freedom, and Fraternity.  Or, as Pepé Le Pew says:

“War eez fine, but zee louv eez bettah!” 

By the way, Pepé was created on January 6, 1945, just a few months after the D-Day landings.  For me, this is just a reminder that among all the other freedoms our war heros won for us, the ability to laugh is one of the most dear.

Incidentally, I accidentally left my curling iron at our tiny hotel room back in Paris.  My hair in Normandy is a flat and frizzy mess.

And for once, I don’t care.