Monday, 10 March 2008


I went off to Bayeux on the weekend, it's a town in the Normandy region, almost directly west of Paris, really close to the D-Day landing beaches and famous for it's tapestry (though it is really an embroidery). It was in this town that I saw my first fat French people, I didn't know they existed until I saw them here. The weight distribution in Paris is not even a gaussian, it's more of a delta function centred on the lower side of the healthy weight range, it's enough to give anyone an eating disorder living here. So I was a little bit surprised to see larger French people in Bayeux, and then I tried the food there and it all became clear.

I absolutely gutsed myself on Saturday, the food really was delicious. My starter for lunch (yes I had a three course meal for lunch) was Salade Normande and it consisted of deep-fried camembert, bacon, potato and lettuce all drizzled with olive oil. This was then followed by a pork steak which was literally half the size of my plate covered in what was basically melted camembert. My dessert was a little more reasonable, being a stewed apple with ice cream. Camembert was invented (if that is the right word) in Normandy and so it seems as if it must be incorporated into every dish otherwise you will be banished from the region, or at least have to remove the slogan "cuisine traditionelle" from the restaurant window. Whilst we are on the subject of food I also got to finally eat frog's legs in Bayeux (that was part of Saturday's dinner), which is the picture to the left, a little eated frog. It's very hard to describe tastes, all I can say is that I would eat them again and they had a much better texture to snails. I guess the texture was closest to chicken but the actual meat was much whiter, almost translucent. Now the only really freaky French thing I have to eat is the steak tartare, but that could prove to be too much for me.

Enough about food, on to the town. It was a really pretty little town, at least the old part around the cathedrale was really nice, it got a little more suburban/industrial further out. I was a bit freaked out for a little while there because I thought I saw French people with bad haircuts, that would have really shaken me, fat French and bad haircuts in one day, it looked like the French were starting to lose their style grip. But then I got closer and realised the bad haircuts belonged to either English or eastern European. They were really bad haircuts, it's like a short-back-and sides gone wrong, it looked like these guys had either gone AWOL from the Russian army or thought a particular 1930's German political party was on to something, do they honestly think that looks good?

Anyway back to the town, so Bayeux was the first town to be freed after the allied landings in 1944 and was pretty much untouched by the war, unlike poor Caen up the road which was completely
destroyed after the landings and now looks really ugly. When I
think of Bayeux though I think of the Bayeux tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror in a 70m long embroidery. I really wanted to see this tapestry as the only English history I know was from an historical-fiction book I had read about England just before the Norman invasion and the author had got the idea from one particular panel in the Bayeux tapestry. It really blew me away to see this thing in the flesh, it is almost 1000 years old and yet the colours are still really bright, much brighter than any of the actual tapestries I have seen. It is like the world's first comic strip and listening to the audio tape as you walk along the 70m really brings the story alive. Some of the pictures are pretty funny though, at the entrance to the museum is a replica of some of the pictures in the tapestry. There really are little panels where there are people sitting in the boat and then sitting next to them are their horses, very comical.

There was a massive crowd of British school-kids in front of me at the tapestry museum and walking around the town you would ever now and again see more groups of British kids. This must be a right of passage for all the schoolkids in England (at least the southern part) to come over and see the tapestry and the D-Day beaches, lucky bastards.

So no photos could be taken of the tapestry, for obvious reasons, but I made up for that with my thousands of photos I took of the cathedrale in the centre of the town. It's mainly 13th century and walking inside you get the most amazing sense of space and light. Nearly all the big churches I have been in have been pretty gloomy, they never have large windows, I guess because of structural issues, but in this one you couldn't help craning your neck up. It's really hard to capture that sense of openness in a photo so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Once I had taken enough photos of the cathedrale, that took a while, it was off to the war museum and the cemetery. The war museum was alright, but a bit more of a collection of stuff than a coherent story of what was happening and why. They did explain who the main characters were on either side and how the allied landings played out. I really didn't learn any history at school, in fact looking back on it the only thing I can remember actually learning in my combined history/social studies class was that the national day in Canada is called Dominion Day. It's not as if we were spending that time learning Australian history either, we were just seen as a captive audience for my teacher's ravings about the glory of war. Talking about the glories of war, after the war museum it was across the road to the Bayeux war cemetery, these places must be scattered all over France, with the numbers of people who died here during both world wars.

Overall it was a really pretty town and it has the river Aure running through the centre of town, making for some pretty photos. So I'll leave you with a few of the town of Bayeux. The photo below shows one of the few really old houses remaining in Bayeux, check out the overhanging upper floor, with of course the cathedrale in the distance.

A house alongside the river, this cat didn't need a water bowl, it drank straight out of the river.

The Aure river, looking away from the town, there were quite a few waterwheels at different houses/restaurants. And finally, the necessary shot of the cathedrale at night.

No comments: