Friday, August 27, 2010

Frivolous Friday

Friday is the of the week and time to look upon the stupidities that have come my way this week.
First of all there was the promise made by the head honchoes of the STM who promised the people who take their buses that they would never have to wait more than ten minutes. Now this is really nice but they must have been smoking more than tobacco because this is just not going to happen in any regular way. Well maybe at one a.m. in the morning but certainly not at rush hour. As the president of the union so aptly pointed out, they don't have a magic wand to control the weather and the traffic on the bus routes. Hades they can't even keep enough buses on the road to cover all the routes in a timely fashion much less guarantee that there will be a bus every 10 minutes.
To top it all off, the promise is only for some of the routes, so no matter what, you are still going to piss off a lot of people. Knowing them, they'll probably pull buses from the suburbs to fulfill their promise. I don't know who thought of this one but they are really geniuses at making the maximum amount of people angry at them. Way to go guys, that is really going to make people take the buses in to work.
Now this morning I saw another group of peole who really haven't got a clue a out how things should be done.

We are Friday morning and I am driving down the road to work. It is in the middle of rush hour and there is a ton of traffic, suddenly in the 2 lanes coming towards me I see flashing lights. Guess what, it is a convoy of extra large vehicles. The kind that drive in the middle of the white line because the load is so wide it takes up both lanes from the side to the median divider. Of course they are creeping forwards at about ten km/hr blocking all the traffic going into Montreal. Thank deity, I was going the opposite way. I really don't know what they were thinking when they planned this one. Maybe they could have done it at night, you know when there is little or no traffic but face it that would have been way too intelligent. But what is even more frightening is that this had to have been done with the cooperation of the authorities. Good lord the mind boggles. I sometimes wonder how our human civilization has got this far. Stupidity reigns.

- Posted from my iPhone

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Carnac home of the menhirs

Today was a really nice sunny day so off we went to visit Carnac. Carnac is a a world renown center of the megaliths. There are acres of rows upon rows of standing stones all aligned off into the horizon. An interesting fact is that they are usually aligned west to east. The stones that are west are the largest (2-3 meters) and the eastern ones the smallest (1 meter). When you stand at the western end of the rows the fact that the stones get smaller accentuates the feeling of perspective giving you a feeling that the rows are farther than they really are. I wonder if this was deliberate on the part of the builders or if there is another reason for the discrepancy in the stones.

There are also many megalithic tombs. Some are small but "Le tumulus St. Michel" is big enough for the villagers to have built a small chapel on the top. It looks more like a small hill than a man made object. Also the were many menhir or standing stones. If any of you have read "Astérix le Gaulois" will know that Obélix, Astérix's friend has planted them all over Gaul. LOL I guess it's as good an explanation for their presence all over the region, except that they were put there about 3000 years before the Gauls were in the region.

- Posted from my iPhone

Normandy and Brittany

We are presently in Vannes in Brittany, although there isn't much to see here it is close to the megalithic stones of Carnac. Since the last post we've travelled across Normandy and visited the landing sites of D-day. Those soldiers had a great deal of courage because even today it a daunting sight.
We also visited Mont Saint Michel, a medieval monastery perched on top of a rock in the Bay Mont Saint Michel. It was very impressive but there were way too many people visiting there must have been 30 buses parked in the car park along with the cars of course. Wall to wall people. After having gotten out of there without kicking anyone we went and visited the Chateau de Fougère, which is the biggest medieval castle in Europe with an area of two hectares.

Yeterday we visited the port of St. Malo. This is a walled medieval town that was one of the principal seaports of France. In the 17th and 18th centuries it supplied 25% of France's wealth in trade. It is also the hometown of Jacques Cartier the French explorer who discovered the Saint Lawrence river. He sailed all the way to Montreal before turning back down the river. At a café the had American style coffee which they called "jus de chausettes" or sock juice. Their coffees are small and very very strong.

In the afternoon we visited the Chateau de Combourg, the home of Chateaubriand (no not the steak the author). It was a medieval castle that had been refurbished in the 19th century to make livable, but none the less it can't be all that comfortable. The descendants of the Chateaubriand family still live there.

The pictures are taken with my iPhone since I haven't had a chance to download them from my camera and post them.

- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Photos instead of words II

We are now in Normandy after having driven across the north of France. We pretty much followed the front lines of the First World War. We noticed as we drove along ruler straight roads, that there are no really old buildings, everything pretty much dates from the 1920’s, nothing medieval or even 18th century. Then it dawned on us, everything looked new because everything had been destroyed, nothing was left so they had to rebuild everything. It was a very sobering thought, even the straight roads were a result of war, when you rebuild a road why make it crooked like it was before, just draw a straight line and get on with it. There’s nothing left anyhow.
20 to 25% of all the headstones where unknown at the cemeteries of the Battle of the Somme

Canadian cemetery at Courcelette

In Flanders field where poppies grow...

The British Monument to the missing

Unknown French soldier

Unknown British and Canadians

The Battle of Vimy was the crucible of hell where Canada’s identity was forged. It was the first battle where Canadians fought as Canadians and not as a part of the British army. Forty thousand fought to capture Vimy Ridge and they succeeded where both the French and the British had failed with terrible losses. After Vimy we no longer considered ourselves to be colonials but we were Canadians able to do what other countries had not been able to do. From then on we fought together and under our own leaders and we were considered to be second to none. We had developed new tactics, new ways of doing things and the others came to us to learn how. Canada paid a heavy price, 10 000 casualties, 3500 dead or missing. Vimy was burned into our nations soul.
Today Vimy is a quiet, wooded park that France has given to Canada in perpetuity. It still bears the scars of that day. In fact you are not allowed to wander around the park since there is still live ammunition hidden in the ground that are still dangerous. Here and there, you can see remnants of the trenches, the craters and the underground bunkers. 
Finally on the highest point of the ridge is the monument to those who have no tomb. They are just names, thousands of names along the walls of the base of the monument. I may be biased, but I found that the Vimy memorial is the most beautiful of all those I saw in France. There is nothing in the monument glorifying war, just emblems of sadness and loss. 

The trenches

One of the craters over 3 meters deep
Canadian Cemetery
Danger Explosives

The Vimy Memorial

But northern France is not only sadness, waste and loss. It also reflects mans higher instincts for beauty and light. Northern France has probably the most beautiful gothic cathedrals, which are a poetry of light and stone that reflects man’s better nature. This is the most beautiful cathedral we visited, the Cathedral of Amiens. It is simply breathtaking.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Makes you think

We visited the battlefield of Verdun this afternoon. One of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, today the area is covered in woods. Dispersed through out the woods are bunkers and redoubts of scared and pitted concrete. There were over 300,000 casualties, 168,000 French and 148,000 German. It was the longest battle of the war, lasting 300 days and the sequels can still be seen today. The land is still cratered like a lunar landscape and the traces of the trenches are still there. There a villages that were completely destroyed and nothing but the name remains today. Even the farmers of the region are still digging up live artillery shells when they plow their fields.
However what really brought home the scale of the carnage is the cemetery of Douaumont where the 15000 crosses are perfectly lined up row on row. Under the monument is an ossuary where the skeletal remains of a further 130,000 unknowns are stored. After the war the people of Verdun located as many bodies as they could and brought them to the cemetery. Many were unknown, some were buried in mass graves and some were never buried but came to light at he end of the war as the land was cleaned up. Are there still soldiers unaccounted for in the area? Most probably since human remains are still being found here and there.
Needless to say it makes you think and I can tell you that I left there a lot more quietly than when I had arrived.

- Posted from my iPhone