Thursday, November 5, 2009

All Quiet . . .

La Grenouille and I went to stock up on her bread baking flour that she likes to get at an organic farm just a short drive north of where we live. In a village very close to the farm, there was a German military cemetery from World War I. .. It never fails to amaze me in a sobering sort of way that the front lines of that incomprehensibly tragic conflict came so close to Paris. For brief periods Paris was even shelled by long-range guns being fired from the north. I just finished re-reading Erich Maria Remarque's story All Quiet On the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues or A l'Ouest Rien de Nouveau) and its powerful message about the utter idiocy of war. Sites like this cemetery in Lassigny serve as a reminder that the Germans also suffered huge losses during their excursion into France. I wonder how both countries' populations dealt with the terrible task of mourning all the fallen ?
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And speaking of Erich Maria Remarque, just out of curiosity, are any of you familiar with his other books which came after All Quiet On the Western Front ? Did you know that he wrote a sequel to All Quiet about life in Germany in the years just after the war called The Road Back (Der Weg Zurück or Après), as well as several other works, all of which (imho) are excellent, well worth a read . . .
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Hundreds of thousands of men perished over those four years. They fell like Autumn leaves . . . littering the landscape, returning to the soil.
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In this cemetery alone 1777 German soldiers buried, and such sites dot the landscape, for both French and Germans, as well as British, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and others. I even stumbled on an Italian military cemetery yesterday near an area called Le Chemin des Dames.
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There has been alot of talk in the press these days about the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Here, in Lassigny, France, lies the Lieutenant Wilhelm Berlin, in a mass grave . . . and more fallen leaves . . .
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Josef Gabriel had some silent company . . .
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On the lands belonging to the farm where we went to get flour they are still regularly plowing up unexploded ordnance from over 90 years ago . . . Must be slightly unsettling running heavy plows through soil knowing that potentially lethal objects like this still lie buried in the ground . . .
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38 comments:

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Stunning photos. Thanks for sharing.
All the very best.

Laurie said...

Thanks Owen. Really great photographs. The shell reminds me of once having the good fortune (or should that be misfortune) of being given a guided tour of the shell collections by one of the experts involved. I couldn't believe how many piles there were at the edges of the field - just stacked there by the farmers.
Laurie

The Sagittarian said...

Wonderful photos and prose as usual, thanks Owen. How strange that the old shell would still be left lying there, you'd think someone would have counted them up back at base and realised one was missing and then they should have refused to issue anymore until the missing one was returned....

louciao said...

Crosses-- powerful symbols, as are your photos here. That one of the field of crosses behind the autumn leaves feels almost 3-dimensional. Gorgeous texture and contrasting colours in the shell photo; the b&w crosses seem to be caught in mid-march. I must admit, too many words for me to take in--my loss.

Haven't quite assembled all my own dimensions since returning to the east coast but am working on it. Don't give up on me.

robert said...

All quiet, but still loud enough to avoid not hearing it, I hope.

Allegria said...

Stunning photos. I have to go back for another look. For the third time. Beautifully done, both the writing and the photos.

Steve said...

One lot of men fighting another lot over some land that all can share is truly idiotic. And because of that fight, they all end up sharing the land anyway, lying side by side...

Margaret Pangert said...

Beautiful elegy, Owen. The falling leaves fluttering down to the graves, the cross in the middle, the thick iron crosses... There was a movie called Le dernier metro (The Last Metro) about the German occupation of Paris and Catherine Deneuve trying to save her husband Gerard Depardieu. There is also a huge American cemetery in Verdun, crosses as far you can see. And then the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. One step forward, three back.

Adam said...

Your photo with the crosses and orange autumn leaves is amazing.

Soon we'll arrive at the 100th anniversary of this conflict. It was a terrible conflict on a massive scale, but I wonder why it still seems so close to us? There were many terrible conflicts, massacres and mass burials in the 19th century, but they have all seemingly been confined to 'history'.

the watercats said...

fitting post for the time thats in it... beautiful picture!

Tom Bejgrowicz said...

It's often very difficult to imagine that these grounds ever hosted such violence and turmoil. More often than not, visiting these places offers beauty and solace, quite a contrasting state from once this earth once endured. As always, thanks for sharing, Owen. – Cheers!

Dedene said...

An appropriate and moving post for the upcoming Nov. 11 holiday.

TechnoBabe said...

Does La Grenouille make bread by hand or do you have a bread maker machine? My hubby makes all our bread and he has two bread machines. We haven't bought bread in over four years except once in awhile I like to buy pumpernickel bread. These photos are a reminder of such hard times and it shows that the French respect humankind.

@eloh said...

I could type for hours in comment to this post.

I do hope you used some sort of magic lens to photograph that shell. They can and do explode.

I did not know of the other books, but like you, I have read "All Quiet On the Western Front" more than once. I think I was thirteen or fourteen the first time. Along with "Run Silent Run Deep" it was and has been a favorite.

Kim said...

Nathalie sent me round to your Magic Lantern and I'm so glad she did. I enjoyed browsing through your images, which then became impossible to do because your writing about them pulls one right in. Next week is Remembrance Day, or Veteran's Day as it is called here in the States. Thank you for these images and reading recommendations. My father and uncle served in France in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge. My father was a conscientious objector who served as a non-combatant medic, and my uncle was a Sargent in charge of a ten man artillery crew firing shells from a Howitzer. My uncle tells of having an enemy shell hit right in his foxhole, but it didn't explode. He said the forced laborers in the German ammunition factories sometimes sabotaged bombs and shells so that they would not detonate and credits their actions with saving his life. Remembering the fallen on any side of a conflict, and the greater loss each name represents to their families and communities that must have echoed down all these years is sobering. Wonderful images and post. I've bookmarked your blog and look forward to having more time to come back and dig a bit in your achieves.
-Kim

Alberto Oliver said...

I did like so much your reflection about men falling like atumn leaves. Excellent pictures and moving stories behind. I wish you a nice weekend. =)

jeff said...

Owen... tu pourrais garer tes suppositoires ailleurs que sur ton blog ! ! !... conseil d'ami !

Tu vois, je te l'avais dit... il n'y a que toi pour faire des posts pareils ! ! !...;-)))

Amitiés...:)
A plus !

Arnaud said...

Texte et photos se mêlent à l'unisson. L'Histoire et les histoires jouent à s'entrelacer... Toujours aussi efficace, Owen !

Janie said...

Your pictures from the cemetery with the autumn leaves and weather-worn stone crosses are both poignant and beautiful.

Owen said...

Hi Romantic Query & Happily Ever After... what an intriguing name for a blog ! You are very welcome, thanks for dropping in here...

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Hey Laurie ! You're easing your way back into the blogs ? I haven't checked any hard facts recently, but from what I hear there are still, 90 years later, impressive quantities of old explosives being unearthed. I think each department in the areas involved has a "service de déminage" which comes around and collects old shells to haul them off to be disposed of somehow... I wonder what they do with them. The people at the farm said they won't come for just one shell though, it has to be for several... Just spent a couple of days roaming around the Verdun area battlefields; very intense places, one can almost sense the ghosts there...

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Dear Saj, I guess this one got forgotten in the accounting for all the millions of shells that were fired over the four years of that particular period of madness... and even if only a small percentage didn't explode, that would still be a large raw number... now, did you find that bottle you were looking for ? Hopefully it hasn't exploded either...

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Hey Lynne, glad to hear you made it back safe and sound... and were right on the heels of the Saj to stop by here and check in... So, too many words ? Does that mean I was too verbiose... ? Or are you just sleep deprived ? Don't worry, we're not about to give up on you... no way !

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Tag Robert, the silence was deafening...

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Dear Allegria... a thousand thank you's !

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Hey Steve, lying side by side, and not very comfortable the double beds they've got, no heat, no hot water for a bath... there's got to be a better way to solve problems than by trying to blow up everything in sight...

Owen said...

Hi Margaret, When you say the huge American cemetery in Verdun, I'm guessing you mean the one at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon ? It is the largest of all the American cemeteries in Europe, with over 14000 dead buried there... have you been there ? I was there today for the first time. An unbelievably moving place. 14246 white marble crosses, each one marked with the name, their rank, military unit, state of origin, and date of death; the vast majority between 26 September and 11 November 1918. Photos will follow soon... Not far from there, I found a monument erected by the State of Pennsylvania, to honor all the people from Pennsylvania who died in that area...

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Adam, thank you... The 14 - 18 conflict does seem close, especially here in France, where nearly every village in the country has a well tended memorial to their dead. The 1870 conflict did not get the same level of coverage... I know almost nothing about what happened then, other than that Paris was under seige and people reduced to sending letters by balloons and eating the Zoo animals. But yes, WWI remains alive for some reason.

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Hi Vicky... a simple thank you...

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Tom, yeah, this old earth has endured alot at the hands of man... time for some peace and quiet. And you are entirely welcome, it is a pleasure to have good people like you stop by from time to time...

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Dedene, the 11 Nov. is sneaking up on us fast, eh ? Can't believe how fast these past two weeks of vacation have flown...

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TechnoB, we make nearly all our bread too, except for the occasional baguette which I can't resist... but otherwise we use a mixer for the dough, but not a machine for baking, we bake the loaves in the oven... And yes, it is hard to imagine just how hard those times must have been. I visited a series of destroyed village sites in the Verdun area yesterday and today, entire towns that literally disappeared off the face of the earth, reduced to broken stones and fields of shell holes...

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@eloh, would love to hear more of your reflections on this subject...

Don't worry, I wasn't about to touch the thing... explosives can get volatile with time, unstable even... Was not familiar with Run Silent... will have to take a look... thanks for the tip.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Sad but beautiful graveyards, great photos,love the symbolism of the fallen leaves.They are great colours and shapes. (The oak is my favourite.)Thanks for sharing.

Owen said...

Dear Kim, so glad you stopped in, Nathalie is wonderful... And thanks for this excellent comment. Sounds like your uncle is one lucky guy. I just can't begin to grasp the size of the mourning that must have been happening throughout the conflict and for years after... all those widows... all the parents and siblings and children missing sons or brothers or fathers. Incomprehensible.

Thanks so much for stopping by, I'll have to come take a look at Seattle Daily Photo... that's Tom Robbins country up that way...

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Alberto Oliver, many thanks indeed... you too, a fine weekend...

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Ah, sacré Jeff, oui, mais parfois on a besoin d'un suppositoire qui nettoie tout, je certifie, ceux-ci sont très efficace... après utilisation, plus aucun souci intestinal possible... car plus d'intestins... bref, merci mon ami... je ne sais pas si tu aurais aimé tout ce que j'ai vu ces derniers jours, mais bon, c'est notre histoire...

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Hi Arnaud, et quelles histoires ! A bientôt...

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Janie, thanks so much ! These places are incredibly touching...

K'line Bloom said...

Hi Owen,
Just to continue with stories about cimeteries, ghosts and witches - I must admit that I'm little bit late for Halloween :((, please have a look at the following...
http://www.penelope-jolicoeur.com/page/3/
...and enjoy!
Kind regards,
K'line

Roxana said...

another brilliant documentary, both challenging and infused with a quiet sadness...

i also read "Heaven has no Favourites" and i liked it, indeed. it deals with sickness and death and joy of life, very powerful...

Selina Kingston said...

Amazing photos, as ever. The second one, my favourite,is SO poignant. Thank you

The Poet Laura-eate said...

What stunning photographs in particular the black cross amidst the autumnal leaves.


How long every errand must take when you find such a wealth of inspiration every time you go out!

I have not read 'All Quiet' but was very moved by Alan Clark's 'The Donkeys' about the senseless slaughter that was WWI.

Chilling that the bombs still crop up with such regularity though - you'd think they'd have all been ploughed up by now. We certainly lost a few of our farmers over here, after WWII in particular when their ploughs struck unexploded bombs.

Margaret Pangert said...

Hi Owen~ I spent a summer in Liege, Belgium, and one weekend a group of us went to Verdun (not too far). It's on the Meuse River and a beautiful historic town. I recall that there was an American Cemetery of Verdun, but I can't find it now. I thought the French Cemetery was in Montfaucon, but there could be combinations. There were so many buried there in WWI. I remember the white crosses stretching on and on... we never get it, do we? Take very good care of yourself, Owen.

louciao said...

OK. I read all the words. Finely put. Don't forget the Canadian soldiers, too, eh? Canada is still actively engaged in shipping off war fodder. Oh, sorry, I meant to say "peace keepers."

jeff said...

Aaahhh mon ami ! Je peux penser que tu as dû voir des choses bien terribles... puisque tu le dis ! Pour ma part, c'est aussi terrible...

Amitiés Dear pote... scrunch !

Jeff

Catherine said...

wonderful shots and sobering thoughts... that is what I liked most about Harry - the last English survivor of the First World war who in his final interview shortly before his death commented extensively about the losses also suffered by the Germans - I had never heard that stated quite so vehemently in England before...

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Owen said...

Hey Total Eejit ! Nice to see you hear, I've been enjoying your comments and other stuff over at the Watercats for a little while now... Many thanks. Guess there were a few Irish also involved in the "Great War"...

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Bonjour K'line, hey, I think this is the first time I've seen you write in English ? Seems you either have a good translator or a great command of the language of Shakespeare... So who is this Penelope ??? A friend of yours perhaps ? Very, very funny pages there... sorry looking french pumpkin attempt. Am bookmarking her site, to go back and look some more. Mille fois merci pour le lien... errr, thanks alot for the link !
:-D

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Hi Roxana, ah, so you know a bit of Remarque's work... he's wonderful. I never get tired of reading him... a real romantic in every sense. Quite a life he led... so you have moved on to film-making now ? I watched your video but didn't have time to comment yet, will be back soon... one cannot stay away from the Floating Bridge for very long... it is like drinking a good coffee in the morning, one looks forward to it...

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Hi Selina, many thanks, hope all is well with you...

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Laura, many thanks, I love places like this, that speak so eloquently about mankind and our follies... And many thanks for the book recommendation, I was not familiar with The Donkeys, will have to go find a copy. Sounds like it caused quite a bit of controversy among historians...

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Hi Margaret... there are so many French and German cemeteries in the area around Verdun, it is shocking. But only one American one, just a short distance from Verdun, at Romagne. There is another American cemetery to the south east of Verdun farther away, near St Mihiel, at Thiaucourt. Such places bring powerful emotions with them... And you are right, the human race just doesn't seem to "get it"... not enough of us anyway...

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Hi Lynne, no, one cannot forget the Canadian contribution to that incredible conflict. Especially not with the likes of Robert Service coming over from Canada to write about the war, and his brother Albert who served in the Canadian military as an officer, and died in France...

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Jeff, oui, des choses terribles... à cette époque là c'était des pièces d'artillerie qui faisaient "scrounch, scrounch", et non pas des chenilles, les seules chenilles qu'il y avait étaient sur des chars d'assaut...

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Catherine, time flows inexorably on, the last survivors gone, even those who lived through the war as children will be leaving us, before long the only memories will be second hand... up to us all to remember...

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Anonymous, thank you, whoever you may be...

jeff said...

Owen...
Je reviens sur ton post et je dois dire que je me sens tout penaud à la relecture de mon "commentaire"...

Je dois dire que ce "billet" au sujet de ces soldats allemands et de la poésie que dégage ce cimetière où tant de personnes reposent, j'espère, en paix, témoigne d'un immense respect au sujet de l'humain !
Je me suis trompé de sujet ! Les fins de semaines sont parfois terribles ! ! !...

A l'heure de l'anniversaire de la chute du mur de Berlin, les Hommes sont témoins d'une Histoire où la folie de l'Humain est sans communes mesures avec la Barbarie de la 2ème guerre mondiale et cette oppression vécue en ex RDA, dans un quotidien qui était proche de celui de l'enfer ! Mais les enfers se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas ! D'autres murs restent à faire tomber alors que d'autres essaieront d'en ériger d'autres ! ! !
Owen... qu'est-ce qui peut motiver les êtres humains pour se faire autant de mal ?... Le pouvoir, la peur, la domination de l'un sur l'autre, les enjeux économiques...?
Je vois ce message d'une autre façon maintenant ! Il m'interpelle de cette façon même si tu évoques autre chose...

Ciao amigo !
Une tisane ?...;-)

Jeff

Owen said...

Jeff, une tise avec plaisir... à partir de n'importe quel sujet ou image, il y aura toujours une multitude de façons de l'interpreter, une multitude de réactions possibles, une multitude de pensées partant en tangents, en sauts, dans tous les sens... Et ce que l'auteur d'un texte ou image peut avoir en tête au moment de pendre son travail en publique n'est pas forcement ce que le publique va voir et penser...

Mais au bout de tous ces mois passés ensemble dans le blogosphere je commence à comprendre que mon pixel pote JF est qqn de profondement intelligent, vif d'esprit, une sensibilité profond pour les mots, les jeux de mots pas possibles, rapide comme un éclair, sans crainte de dire ce qu'il passe par la tête... et j'admire toutes ces qualités... et ne suis pas choqué si tu parles de, err, des suppositions, ce n'est pas bien grave, l'humour et le sourire doivent primer dans ce bas monde. Bien qu'il y ait certains sujets que je traitent avec un immense respect, je sens en même temps le "unbearable lightness" kundera-ien, la notion profond de l'absurde dans beaucoup d'activité humaine, surtout les violences de tout genre... bref, resers moi un verre stp, tout ça me donne soif...

Nathalie said...

Ta deuxième photo est une véritable merveille, champ de croix silencieux qui peu à peu se recouvre de feuilles rousses. Jolie profondeur avec le bouquet de feuilles au premier plan. Beaucoup d'émotion aussi....

Owen said...

Merci Nathalie, tout simplement merci... je trouve des endroits comme celui-ci plus qu'émouvant ; des livres entiers d'émotion et d'histoire qui se résument dans ces feuilles pleines de couleurs intenses, avant de tomber...

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