Clio keeps smiling

Brittany, Monday  July 31st 2017

Clio is well known to historians: she is their muse, one of the Godesses of the arts and sciences in the Greek and Roman mythology. She must be smiling observing the affairs of the world, and how human beings keep reinventing the wheel.

Just an example: big turmoil here in France last week about the firing by President Macron of the Army chief of staff, General de Villiers, who had uttered in a private meeting , hearing that the Army budget would be cut by Macron, that he ” will not get fucked like that” . Unheard of, says the French press unanimously. First big mistake of Macron, pummels the opposition.

Clio smiles and reminds us of April 15 , 1951, when General Mac Arthur was fired by President Truman for the same reasons.

To say nothing oF General Patton, twice relieved of his post for controversial public statements.

Clio knows that in every nation the balance between civil and military powers is a delicate one. James Mc Cullough, one if not the best author of history books ( John Adams, the Brooklyn bridge, Truman, the Wright brothers, among other books), said that ignoring history before acting is like planting cut flowers. How true!

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Dunkirk: a shameful miracle

Riec sur Belon, Brittany, July 19 , 2017

Today the movie “Dunkirk” is released in all movie theaters in France. Quite a good news, as most people have no clue what this name means. And though, it means a lot, as it remains in the English culture as the  symbol of resistance to the last drop of blood. In France on the contrary, Dunkirk is linked to the memory of a shameful defeat.

What happened and why does it mean two opposite things in UK and in France?

May 1940 : the German army invades in a few weeks  Belgium, the Netherlands and the north of France. At the end of the month, 400 000 men, mostly French and Brits, are trapped along the coast near Dunkirk: on one side the German divisions, on the other side the Channel.Let’s be clear: Hitler’s Wehrmacht could have crushed and destroyed them under it’s artillery and bomber planes. For reasons that historians still debate, it did not happen. The Germans stopped a few kms away, and let the French and the Brits a few days to organise their escape by sea. 400 000 men on a beach. How to embark them on war ships anchored 2 miles away for fear of running aground? This is precisely when  the miracle took place: hundreds  of small embarcations, sailing ships, trawlers, motor yachts, anything floating and able to cross the 30 miles wide Channel, sailed  over to rescue them, carry them from the beach to the big ships waiting offshore or shipping them directly across the Channel. Within 9 days, from May 25 to June 4, 200 000 British soldiers and 140 000 French could be evacuated to England, under the constant attacks of the German Luftwaffe and the shelling of German artillery.

A shameful retreat , but a miraculous rescue operation, thanks to the mobilization of the whole  population of sailors of the southern coast of England.

Dunkirk remains in French collective mind as the symbol of a crushing defeat . For the Brits, it illustratestheir capacity to resist collectively and never surrender, even in the most desperate situations.


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John

Riec sur Bélon, Brittany, July 18 , 2017

Exactly a year ago, Monday July 18, 2016,  at 7 pm, 35  Cavaliers de Lafayette gathered in the lobby of their hotel in Epernay in the Champagne region of France. They should have happily tested some Champagne after a 150 kms long ride. But they were stunned, speechless, and immensely sad: they  just heard that their fellow rider John Snyder had fallen off his bike and broken his neck, and that he was lying between life and death in the ER at the hospital in Reims.

They were gathered to pray and mourn, not to drink Champagne. What had been so far a wonderful group ride around Alsace and Lorraine turned into a tragedy in the wink of an eye.

John Snyder died two days later at the hospital in the arms of his wife Michele and his son Mike.

A brilliant man, a dedicated physician, loved and appreciated by all those who knew him, disappeared in a split second in the most stupid, tragic, unfair accident, on a lovely French  backroad in the middle of a quiet summer ride, leaving an enormous hole of sorrow and pain for those who remain. 

Dear John, words are powerless in front of such injustice. Just know that wherever you are now, you are with us in each of our rides, be it in France or in the US, and the Cavaliers de Lafayette will honor your memory as long as they exist.

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Lafayette we are here!

Paris July 14, 2017

Whether the famous sentence was uttered by  General Pershing himself or by Colonel Stanton or invented by a journalist, does not matter, as it remains a beautiful symbol of the Franco  American friendship and summarizes the two highlights of our common history: the French intervention in the American war of independence in 1781, and the American “doughboys” coming over 150 years later to fight with us and win the decisive battles against the Germans.

Bastille day’s ceremony today was organized around the celebration of the 100 th anniversary of the American intervention in July 1917. French President Macron invited to the celebration the President of the USA as such, and not a particular Donald Trump. Beyond the current quarrels between the two men over  climate change and the Paris agreement ( let’s the planet be great again), it is the imperishable friendship between our two nations that was reminded.

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A Canadian tragedy

Dieppe, Sunday June 9, 2017
Riding their bikes along the côte d’albâtre south west of the town of Dieppe, do bikers recall the tragedy that took place here on Aug 19, 1942? If they come from Canada, probably yes. Otherwise, few people remember the disastrous raid on Dieppe where more than 2000 young Canadian soldiers lost their lives in one if the most stupid operation ever.

What happened, in a nutshell?
August 42: Hitler is still victorious on all fronts. The Allies already plan an invasion in France but are way behind from its implementation. Stalin already urges for it, in order to relieve his own eastern front. So Churchill agrees to a “test” on the French coast: Let’s see , he says,,if we are able to seize a harbour, which will be so strategic later to pin a beachhead and pour equipment and troops inland, when we carry on with the real invasion 
On Aug 19 at 4.30 am some 230 ships carrying 5000 Canadians and 1000 Brits start landing on the pebble beach of Dieppe. But they face up to heavy fortified German troops who expected them, well prepared. It is a carnage. At noon, the beach is littered with corpses, burning vehicules, wrecks of all sorts, and above in the air 160 planes have been shot down by the flak and german fighters.
German propaganda will exploit the disaster and tout the unprofessional and amateur way of the allies. Shame oh shame, Petain and the Vichy press will stick with the Germans in praising the “anglo saxon disaster “.

In Canada today, Dieppe still clings as a most painful tragedy. A small museum in Dieppe near a memorial next to the beach pay tribute to the young men who lost their lives here for nothing. Tourists visit the historic city center, the medieval churches and the castle. Very few remember the failed  raid on Dieppe, Aug 19, 1942.

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The Barcelonettes

Jausiers, French Alps, Friday June 30 , 2017

French people do not have a reputation for emigrating abroad. Apart from  the Bretons who massively settled in the US, very few French made the big leap across the Atlantic. Therefore the story of the Barcelonettes is particularly remarquable.    

Barcelonette is a small town in the Alps. In the early 19 th century people lived poorly in their isolated valley from sheep, goat cheese and some crops. A first peasant from the valley emigrated to Mexico in 1850, and in a few years developed a successful textile business. When he first returned to his valley, wealthy and established, other people from Barcelonette and nearby villages thought “why not me” ? Thus began an immigration that draw between 1860 and 1920 some 6000 people from the valley to Mexico. There they successfully developed huge textile manufactures and became very wealthy. But they loved their alpine valley so much that many came back and built houses for their retirement. Houses? Mansions . The game was to show off and build a house larger, more luxurious than the neighbor’s. And when they died, they wanted their grave to testify their earthly wealth. Some 50 of these houses remain in Barcelonette and Jausiers, and the cemeteries are filled with pompous monuments. Have a look:

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The Eagle’s flight

Gap, Isère, Thursday June 29, 2017

The road that goes from Grenoble to Nice ( see chart below) is called the route Napoleon. Why? In 1814 Napoleon , having been flat beaten by the coalition led by the Brits, was sent to exile on the island of Elba, between Corsica and Italy. Bad idea: it was only a stone’s throw from the French Riviera and the devilish man , chomping at the bite to reconquer his imperial throne, was not long to arm a few vessels and to land in Juan les pins with 1200 men, with a view to overthrow the newly restored monarchy under King Louis XVIII. From Golfe Juan he headed north, passing through the southern Alps to reach Grenoble. This route was chosen because of its remoteness, and therefore the chance that his small army would avoid hostile royalists. From Grenoble he subsequently continued to Lyon and then Paris, acclaimed all along by crowds of enthusiastic supporters joining his army. The adventure , called ” the Eagle’s flight” by the Napoleonic legend, was not to last more than 100 days. Napoleon was sent back to  exile, this time in the island of Sainte Helene in southern Atlantic, where he died soon after.

The ” route Napoleon ” today is a large scenic road punctuated with memorials of Napoleon’s last glorious flight

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