Sunday, April 5, 2015

Rouen ~ the seat of Norman Kings

Former colleagues and family members sick with cancer are still circling the drain.  That is to say, they remain alive if not well.

Years ago Jude and I went to Vancouver, BC to visit with a Friend From England.  I swore I'd do my best to keep in contact and see folks I'd made friends with over the years.  This, after a different friend died of cancer at a terribly young age.  Both my deceased friend and our Friend From England were and are fellow motorcycle riders, motorheads, intellectual, and wonderful eccentrics.

On the trip to Vancouver a close friend of Jude's had died.  We stayed to see our Friend From England and did the best we could under the circumstances.  Jude's friend was already in the ground after we'd returned home.

So it was with not a little trepidation that we climbed aboard a regional train bound for Rouen.  We were off to see our Friends From England.  I hoped no one passed away while we were out of town.  The odds were stacked against us.

A first thing I noticed when we arrived is that some people are blatantly in-your-face-religious-Catholic.  Such as our taxi driver from la gare a l'hotel. After the staunchly secular Paris (where Catholics tend to be quite reserved, even as some other religious-types stir the waters vigorously), this came as quite a shock.  History is as alive as the people still living it.  Rouen has many hundreds of years of Catholic history.

Things turned instantly for the better at the sight of our Friends From England waiting for us in the bar.  They'd come over from Honfleur to spend the day with Jude and I.  Greetings heartily shared, everyone's well-being inquired after, and luggage safely stowed we set off in search of something to eat.

Jude descends from the Dukes of Normandy.  Rollo the Viking Warrior made Rouen the seat of power.  Like in much earlier times when medieval Provin was an Important Place, so too was medieval Rouen.  The city was at the epicenter of the 100 years war between les anglais et les francais.  It was here that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.  More recently the Nazis occupied the place and it, in part, took the English and Americans bombing the cathedral to drive the Germans out.

I don't know about anyone else, but I instantly fell in love with Rouen.  Half timbered buildings everywhere.  Ancient stone cathedrals in three places around town.  The place is lousy with warm, cozy eateries.

The four of us stumbled around a late winter deeply cold and drizzly wet town to check out as much as we could see in a day.  We had a cuppa, and ate two large feasts.  The wine and cidre weren't bad either.  Topped off with a wee-dram of Calvados, the local Fire Water, the day ended in Perfect Harmony and Contentment.

We received word that our Friends From England had successfully negotiated the trip back to Honfleur and were off to do a little Calvados tasting of their own.  Jude and I set off in search of her ancestor's tomb.  We read that that Americans bombed the original 10th century tomb during WWII, but that a copy had been installed somewhere in the cathedral.

Alas, No Joy.  The Catholics had the apse gated and locked, no doubt to prepare for the celebration of Fertility Bunny Day (Easter to normal folks).  We could see where Rollo/Robert I's tomb is likely to be found.  But we'll have to await a future trip to see if we can't get the pere to unlock the place.

In all, the locals have kept Jude's ancestry in decent order.  The old parts of the village are clean and beautiful.  The cathedral is mostly repaired and celebrations of mass take place daily.  The bells that the Americans bombed back to molten metal in WWII have been recast, the bell tower rebuilt, and the bells re-installed.

While listening to the bells of Good Friday, we explained to a local what our Friends From England had told us not 5 minutes before.  The bells tolled for the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  The Frenchman was surprised to learn this, nodded his head in understanding, and wished us a bonne soiree.

Needless to say, seeing our Friends From England was the highlight of the trip.  They are doing well.  We plotted and planned a visit for later this summer when Jude and I will head their direction in search of fan-vaulted ceilings, the likes of which are only found in Merry 'Ol.

I'm glad we can experience these kinds of things with friends.  This is life.  If it's not lived now, when will it be?

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