Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Normandy Exchange Days 5 & 6: Living in and exploring Bayeux and a visit to Le Mont St-Michel

The last two days have been immensely busy and delightful for the whole group. In reality, we are no longer a group of 18 as we started out; we are part of the Lycee Jeanne d’Arc, and so many of their students have become fast friends with ours. Among the teachers too, old friendships have been rekindled and new friendships are developing. Today we visited le Mont St-Michel as a group of 47! One of the highlights was celebrating James Hurley’s birthday together in a restaurant overlooking the bay.  The waitress enjoyed bringing him his chocolate mousse — with the biggest “candle” I have ever seen! (It was essentially a sparkler.). We all sang “Joyeux Anniversaire” enthusiastically in various keys, no doubt alarming the rest of the customers.  Our visit to the Mont St-Michel was made particularly interesting by one of our hosts, Mme Isabelle Blair’s-Mathon, who gave us a fascinating guided tour of the abbey—all in French.  I was very proud of how well our students were able to understand her commentary. 

Yesterday (Tuesday afternoon) was our day for exploring the sites of Bayeux itself. We enjoyed a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry (with audio guide) followed by a visit to the cathedral. Having just learned about the latest school shooting in Maryland, we took a moment to gather together in the nave of the cathedral to pray and just to value each other. It was a special time. 

At 5:15, we joined our French host students and faculty for a reception by a representative of the mayor. They gave us a warm welcome, followed by a very moving presentation by a man who has spent the last 40 years researching the American soldier whose WWII helmet was found in the attic of this man’s home. He shared with us all that has learned about this man, who was wounded in the Battle of Normandy, returned to the fighting later, and was eventually killed in eastern France. Christian Corpening had the opportunity to try on the helmet, and it was a very moving moment. Seventy-four years after D-Day, the people of Bayeux still express so much gratitude to Americans, and it made us all feel both proud and humbled at the same time, if that makes any sense. Tomorrow we will follow up on this experience with a 5-hour tour of the landing beaches, including Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and the American Cemetery at Coleville.  

Meanwhile, I would like to share with you one student’s reflection on her experience with the Exchange thus far:
Despite the blistering winds and cold chills that have had my fingers in a constant form of frostbite, Bayeux has become home. The first two days were difficult in settling into the routine which is different than ours; weather, food, schedule, even the classes took some getting used to. Right away, however, Camille (mon correspondant) made sure I felt right at home by including me in dinner time conversations, showing me her DVD collections, and drawing together while listening to classical music. It has been an absolute blast getting to know Camille, her père, two cats and dog Elvis this week, and exploring Normandy!  — Marta Rich

 (Mme Van Way will post the picture of Christian, as well as photos of our day at Mont St-Michel. I’m still unable to integrate the into the post, malheureusement.)

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