With André as our navigator and guide today, I drove from Mougins, where he and his wife Jacqueline live, to Nice and then into the Principality of Monaco, site of an eerie collection of human bones and artifacts, many of them discovered on the site of the museum. I was particularly fascinated in seeing bones of animals depicted in caves of the Dordogne region of western France, because the review I’m finishing up this week is of a potent, difficult book based on those cave images—Juniper Fuse, by Clayton Eshleman. Actual bones of wild ox, horses, and stags were displayed in Monte Carlo beneath reproductions of drawings based on the Dordogne images, made between 10,000 and 35,000 years ago.
Intrigued though we were by prehistory, what Darlene and I will most remember of today is André on the ride back to Mougin talking to us about World War II, which began when he was a 10-year-old boy living in a town in Normandy that was carpet bombed as part of the D-Day invasion. School friends of his died in the bombing, and his family retreated to a part of the town that was, by sheer luck, left standing. At the time of the bombing there were no German forces in the town. André learned recently that Eisenhower opposed the bombing of the town, but the British general Montgomery ordered it anyway. Andre related how British intelligence outfoxed the Germans into expecting the invasion in the wrong place, and how British ground forces were much slower and less effective than the Canadians and Americans. But what made the ride memorable was simply sitting next to a man who, as a boy, had lived through a war that I’ve only studied in history classes. He spoke of the lack of food for healthy diet in those years, and how it wasn’t clear until Stalingrad and the defeat of Rommel in North Africa that the Allies would be victorious. Perhaps it is the knowledge that he knew these things as a boy which made the stories have such impact. I’m not sure exactly, only that I’ll never forget the casual comment he made in answer to my first question, “Yes, I was 10 years old living in Normandy when the war started…”