Paper, pencils and professorial prattle tidied away, a quick video call to C and some speedy packing later and we were walking towards the ‘gare’. At the station, we rendezvous-ed with R, and had a good chat during the north-speeding journey.
M, the American assistant whose flat was the place of the Thanksgiving fête, lived about a thirty minute walk from the centre of Bayeux. Thanks to R’s crushed Google directions, we arrived easily, and in our haste discovered that there were two single beds. The decision not to squeeze a blanket into my tiny rucksack had been a measured one. The reasonable snooze was jarred only at 3am with the return of M’s Nordic flatmate, who grabbed a pot from the cupboard and stabbed the radio on.
When the morning light pushed violently through the thin curtains, I’d had only about four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Oh well, we grabbed shopping bags and hunted for provisions. The store had everything we needed (essentially just wine and baguettes) and decorations buzzed around us, developing my humming excitement for Christmas.
At lunchtime, we snacked on baguettes and nuts, and helped M and R cook while the other guests began amassing in the small apartment. There was around fifteen of us altogether. Snacks wandered around the table edges; alcohol jumped from glass to glass; a Spanish girl looked hazily at us and said, “I feel like that English word for when you are a little drunk.” Tipsy, we informed her. Meat waddled out the oven and soon the spread was on the table.
Turkey, cranberry sauce, pepper gravy, creamy cheese mash, vegetables, green bean pie, bread stuffing, baguettes… Unreal amounts of food, and screamingly delicious. The other assistants either sat or stood around the elevated wooden circle to eat. After pumpkin pie and Canadian nanaimo bar, we played at proper Thanksgiving.
“I’m thankful for M and this evening”, “I really appreciate my family”, then the spinning bottle reached Y and she said, “I’m just so thankful for L and K, we’re having a great year so far.” My breath jammed and the tear ducts welled, so I threw napkins towards K and exclaimed, “No! Don’t make us cry!” My watery reality seemed a mixture of strange sentiment and evident irony. My year was a struggle.
Sunday morning; a dry day for a change. M went to mass at the spiny cathedral, and picked us up for our Tapestry visit. It really was astounding. I had been fairly cynical about how interesting a piece of cloth could be, but the history (explained by audio guide – thank you technology!) really expanded my knowledge. I now understand the roots of France and England’s bloody past…
Further down the road was the British war cemetery, a beautifully landscaped area, apparently designed to resemble an English country garden. I found it really interesting and very humbling, scribbling my name in the visitors’ book which slept underneath the scraped stone. “We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land.” Footsteps among the white graves, growing from the decayed soil like erratic teeth. Some didn’t even have names. Others had evocative inscriptions, others showed solely the age of the soldier who had died (a few younger than me). The others appeared to tire quickly, but I could have rested ‘longtemps’ in admiration and silence.