Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Flee, yes. But... where?
When the sanctuary is no longer a sanctuary. St. Lo, France, July 18,1944

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Flee, yes, but where?
After more than two thousand years of doing laundry in their quiet streams, a thousand years after William the Conqueror left Normandy for England, after four years of being conquered by German occupation, and a few days after leaflets dropped from the sky to flee the bombardment for a few days, the women came back to their town, or up from their cellars, or out of their caves, and found their city and every other town and village and hamlet, to look like this.
The war had come to them and, like their river, it had flowed beyond them.
Their homes were in ruins, all of them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Flee, yes, but ... where?
The laundry women may first have heard the sound of war twenty or thirty miles away at the landing beaches, but they would not have known that the war coming to them until this notice fluttered out of the sky, telling them that their town was a likely military target. "Bear in mind that the bombing is not aimed at you but at the Germans who have set up in your town."

The leaflet tells them to flee and take with them enough food, water, and clothing 'for several days.' If they cannot leave, they should go into a cave, a cellar, or 'lay on the ground.' "And, stay away from Germans."
Few could leave -- they had nowhere to go. Every bridge was a separate battle and rivers were no longer for trade and gossip. Life under German occupation meant you could use the roads only with a travel pass. Life under the allied invasion meant that the Germans were the only ones on the roads, and the roads were under constant assault.
The 'few days' of bombing lasted from D-Day, June 6, until the last Germans were forced out in late August, 1944.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rivers not only brought boat loads of wine, grain, fruit, and construction materials (and Norsemen), they also brought people together. Every village in France had a place along the river for women to gather. In a European equivalent of the red tent, they brought their clothes, their gossip, their stories, their wisdom and myths, all to share far from the prying eyes of men and, they thought, far from the intrusions of conflict and war. This image from John Singer Sargent captures the sturdy tranquility of rural women who can not imagine that their lives are about to change forever.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Engaged in War

Rivers were the roads of France since before Caesar led the Romans into Gaul. Towns were built on rivers for trade but, as the French learned, the rivers also brought disaster: the Vikings drove deep into France on the Seine and the Vire, then stayed and took over in the region named for the Norsemen, now 'Normandy.' William the Conqueror (a Viking descendant) used the Vire to launch his fleet against England. Almost one thousand years later, the Vire was to become the dividing line in another invasion: in 1944 it separated Omaha Beach from Utah Beach in the Allied landings in German-occupied France. Before then, and more recently, Normandy was peaceful, a picturesque countryside of farms that produced exceptional cheeses and more exceptional white-lightning brandy known as Calvados. The town in this photograph was destroyed in the war.