The War Memorial Effect

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(Dun sur Meuse)

We’re back in France and we’ve been wandering along the river Meuse while we’re here. Never heard of the Meuse and very happy to find it. And we’ve visited another war memorial/museum. It was at Verdun, called Mémorial Verdun. It was very interesting and again very sad. Each of these war museums have an effect. I had forgotten that and didn’t realise why  I was feeling a little bit miserable for the past few days… ah that’s it.

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(Dun sur Meuse again)

It was quite a new museum and I felt a sense that the objective seemed to be one of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. I do wonder if that’s just where my mind is at the moment and if maybe every other war museum has had the same objective. In this museum for every French piece of information there was a similar piece of German information. For example they had quotes printed on the walls, one from a French soldier saying something like…there was death all around and he was afraid. Then a different quote from a German soldier saying… there was death all around and he was afraid. I wish I had taken pictures of these quotes because my memory is not doing them justice.

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(At Mémorial Verdun)

There was a lot to take in, we were there about 90 minutes but after the first 30 I was just wandering, getting a feel for the place and I had stopped reading. It was only when we got to the part about how the postal system worked during the war that I seemed to wake up and start reading again. I like writing letters, in fact I always think of this blog as a letter home. I also send postcards or cards for a celebration but have no idea what they say… I recently sent my niece, Caoimhe, a Congratulations on your Graduation card ( in Dutch). Well I thought it was congratulations… it was condolences. Her mother said she took it well. Dutch is a difficult language to understand, I can confirm.

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(At Mémorial Verdun)

Anyway, I had noticed in previous museums, memorabilia including letters from soldiers at the front. I wondered at the impossible logistics of delivering letters or even of writing letters. Yet here was the proof again and again in the glass cases of museums all over the battle lines of France and Belgium, that letters were sent and received.. Of course letters counted then to the families. Later they counted as historic references and connections to real people.

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(Taking a picture of the Teddy Bear story at the Canadian War Memorial near Arras)

The vastness of the numbers of people killed in the first world war keeps me disconnected from the reality but their letters reconnect me. I remember one of the first museums we visited on the trip was the Canadian World War I Museum near Arras and there was a letter from a Dad to his daughter talking about her teddy bear. The daughter had given her Dad a teddy bear to take care of him when he was away and the Dad was saying that teddy was doing fine. Unfortunately, the teddy bear was returned to the little girl but her Dad was not. That little girl would be 112 now if she was still alive.

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(Beauty continues)

I have a nightmare, it is the future. There is a woman in a museum, she is related to me but a hundred years after me. She is wandering from screen to screen reading all the information. She is troubled. She understands herself to be a good person but in this museum she does not feel like a good person. The technology is very advanced and everything she reads is related to her own ancestors. She can read and see what I was doing while the wars were going on. The wars that are going on now. She cannot understand why I did nothing. She can’t understand why I did nothing to help even one child who was hurting in these wars. She is ashamed to be related to me. She leaves the museum and vows to do something now, something different, something useful. The nightmare ends and I wake up never knowing what it is she does…

(On the way out we were given a sheet of paper with a quote from a German soldier on one side and a French soldier on the other)

It is so comforting to have someone to blame for bad stuff happening. There’s a grand place to lay the responsibility – at their feet – and walk away. When there is no one to blame, there is no place to lay the responsibility… except here at my feet where I stand. Mairead.

Posted in Blogroll

Moseying along the Moselle

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(Lots of half-timber houses in Germany)

Just arrived in the Moselle region of Germany. We have been on our way here since Denmark, about a week ago. This area is famous for its wines. We got the last spot in municipal motor home car park in Brauneberg. As we passed through the town we saw lots of posters – there’s a wine festival on this weekend. When we stopped plugging in things (electricity) and taking out things (table, chairs, awning) and turning on things (gas) we found ourselves surrounded by vineyards. On top of that there’s a view of the Moselle river. It’s a big view and it kinda insists you stop, sit down and just be here. Our chairs are positioned facing the river and the steep bank on the other side is covered with vineyards. I’m definitely here.

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(And statues…)

For those of you who’s geography is as bad as mine… as well as a river the Moselle is an area in the west of Germany. I’ve found it on the map and followed it along with my finger… I’m not sure where it starts but it comes into Germany from France running along the border with Luxembourg. Then it meanders a bit around this area giving the soil the nutrients it needs to grow vines. Then off it flows into the river Rhine. As I sit here a few pleasure boats and a couple of large barges have gone past but mostly it’s just doing its thing, flowing.

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(Our camping spot last night, just south of Frankfurt)

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Flowing. Doing your thing. Or… not doing your thing. Blocking your flow. Ok let’s imagine someone in France or someone along the Luxembourg border decided to block the Moselle right outside their house… Blocking it so well that it could never, ever reach Germany. There would be no river here. No Moselle region. No vineyards. No wine. No wine festival. No barges. No pleasure boats. No pleasure of watching a river flow.

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(Love this!)

You and I have a thing to do. When we do our thing, stuff flows. Stuff flows to us and stuff flows around us. We nourish the land we stand on and we have an effect. Flowing isn’t static. It’s active and sometimes it’s work but mostly it’s about a feeling. A feeling that generates energy and lightness in us and in others. We have a responsibility to generate that kind of energy in ourselves, our families, our community, our earth. This is not the heavy responsibility that the words duty or obligation conjure up. This is the light responsibility of love and it starts with you and me.

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(Our view today 😄)

If you don’t know what your thing is or how to flow, find one small thing that you love to do. Then do that. When you feel the lightness of energy in you, know that the rest of us feel it too. Now you are doing your thing… and your duty!

And the earth thanks you and the river flows, Mairead.

Posted in Blogroll

Breakfast at the Traditional Danish Longhouse

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(Danish cow. Don’t worry, she’s behind an electric fence)

We’re in Germany today, in a town called Friedrichstradt, having arrived from Denmark this morning. We’ve been rambling around a tiny portion of Jutland for the past four days. Not really long enough or far enough to have a good look but we will return in the future.

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(Pretty house in Tønder)

Last night we stayed in a small old town called Tønder (I think the ø is pronounced uu, also the d seems to be silent.) Very pretty, very old with a cobblestoned street, adorable thatched cottages and pretty cafes. We spent the night in a car park beside a forest on the edge of town. The night before we were in a specially for motorhomes site on the island of Rømø with very timely washing/drying machines. The night before we were in a field beside the site owner’s house and the night before that on a dairy farm.

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(Wheat field and beautiful clouds)

Denmark is very, very like Ireland. First the weather – they seem to get all the weather in one day too – hot sun, blustering wind, driving rain, then back to sun, a little fog and some soft rain. Danish grass – it’s green-green and the fields are surrounded by hedges and small trees. Agriculture – there are lots of cows and sheep and fields of wheat, barley and corn. The language – everyone speaks English! Well, they speak Danish and German too.

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(Cobblestones in Tønder)

It rained most of yesterday but when I got up this morning the sun was shining and the sky was full of fluffy clouds. It’s one of the gifts of a rainy climate – beautiful clouds. While I waited for my porridge to cook I stood in the car park looking up at the clouds and remembering gratitude. I had had a moment in Portugal last April when I understood gratitude for the first time and I realised because of that moment I would never, ever again complain about anything…ever. Again. (May have been over-reaching here….)

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(The church in Tønder. That’s the graveyard in front of the church where small hedges surround each grave)

Anyways, there I was standing in the Danish car park thinking about gratitude and how it’s a feeling thing, not a thinking thing. So I stopped thinking about gratitude and started feeling gratitude. I looked up at the clouds and felt grateful.

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(Possibly Barley?)

And just at that moment a dog ran out of the forest! Followed by his owner who was looking at me funny (maybe because it was 7.45am and I hadn’t brushed my hair?) To make myself seem less frightening, I said, “isn’t it a lovely day?” and he said, “yes, the weather in Denmark, always changeable.” And, as you do, I replied, “just like Ireland” and he said, “You are from Ireland? I just got married to an Irish woman from Monkstown!” Of course he did.

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(Daisies for Daisy)

Long story short, he ran home to make the coffee, I hopped inside to tell Denis and we all met at his house for breakfast, a surprisingly deep chat and a tour of his traditional Danish longhouse! His wife was at work but she rang and I can confirm she is Irish. She was confirming that we were not axe murders from Greystones, I think we convinced her.

Well, I can tell you, I’m back feeling the gratitude. Please remind me if I start complaining again, Mairead.

Posted in Blogroll, gratitude

Peace Perfect Peace

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(Peace is the same no matter what the language… panels from the Memorial at Notre Dame de Lorette National Cemetery)

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We are travelling again. In fact we have been travelling for a bit now… We travelled through Normandy (France) and into Belgium and now we are in Holland. We are staying at a farm in the middle of the countryside.

(There’s a pet hen who thinks she’s a dog!)IMG_2049

I can safely say it’s the most peaceful camping spot we’ve been to this year. But we’ve been to other peaceful places.

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(Veulettes sur Mer in Normandy.)

We don’t usually stay very long in northern France when we travel in the off season. We’re in search of warmth and the warmest place is the south. But this is summer and so the warmest (that is, not the hottest) place is the north so we thought sure it’ll be grand, probably not as nice as the Loire or further south but still… We were wrong, it is truly amazing.

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(Sunset in Saint Valery en Caux)

Denis is very interested in history and he has for a long time wanted to do a tour of the first World War sites in France and Belgium. A couple of Sundays ago in France we visited two near the town of Arras. The first one was Notre Dame de Lorette National Cemetery. It’s the largest French war cemetery with 40,000 soldiers buried here.

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(Some of the graves at Notre Dame de Lorette National Cemetery)

Opposite the cemetery there’s a modern memorial to all the soldiers who died in two local departments (kinda like counties, I think) – Nord and Pas de Calais, between 1914 and 1918. The memorial is for ALL the soldiers… no matter what country they came from nor what side they fought on.

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(We even found our names on the list…)

 

 

 

 

There are 580,000 names listed. That’s over half a million people. Does it sound weird to say it was a really peaceful place? Well it was, really peaceful.

 

 

I’ve been thinking about peace a lot on this journey, Mairead.

Posted in Blogroll

What if life was just about being?

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(On the road to Nantes)

Today, Thursday, we are in Nantes, France with just three days left of this journey. We have been travelling back since Sunday morning from Lagos in the Algarve, Portugal. We spent Sunday night in a lovely car park in Estremoz, Portugal, near the Spanish border. Monday night we were in the beautiful city of Burgos, Spain (thank you to Angela for this suggestion, two years ago!) Tuesday night we were next to a huge lake near the town of Mimizan south of Bordeaux, France. Wednesday night we stayed in the town of Surgeres, France. For both Friday and Saturday night we will be at Mont St. Michel and on Sunday night we will be sailing home to arrive in Greystones on Monday. At this moment I am very, very tired and very, very grateful.

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(Like two old friends by the lake)

I often think about the messages life brings us… not necessarily the hard messages, the illnesses or the problems. But the small warm and gentle encouraging messages. Messages that in a normal day, we can miss. When we started this journey I didn’t think I would be blogging but it turned out I couldn’t stop myself. I missed the extra something writing brought to the experience of travel. Now, I think I know what the extra something is… writing makes those messages visible. When I started with the first blog it had a step, Step 1. Write. I didn’t expect there would be more steps but a step turned up each day when I sat down to blog. Now that I see them all together I can see the gentle encouraging message life has been sending me.

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(Write…)

  • Step 1. Write.
  • Step 2. Stop Talking to Fear.
  • Step 3. Repeat Step 2.
  • Step 4. Take it easy and find a way to enjoy the journey, whatever it brings.
  • Step 5. Take more tram rides.
  • Step 6. Do the work.
  • Step 7. Stay awake to the beauty.
  • Step 8. Acceptance, it’s not always possible to fit in.
  • Step 9. Gratitude… for the old, slow computer that is working.
  • Step 10. Live in the present.
  • Step 11. Make time for rest.
  • Step 12. Believe it, you are so, so beautiful.
  • Step 13. Always wait until Monday.
  • Step 14. Say thank you to your washing machine.
  • Step 15. Less junk, less storage.
  • Step 16. Listen, you are alive, isn’t that amazing?
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(Beautiful Burgos)

I am human so I like to think that I’m not wasting my time flitting around in a camper van. I’d like to think I was accomplishing something… or at least bringing something useful into being… Now I think that the only thing I can be bringing into being is myself. Wouldn’t it be great if that was enough? Yes. Maybe it is.

Step 17. Be, Mairead.

Posted in Blogroll, gratitude, Life Story, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Complain App

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(The end of a journey)

This week we are as far south as we’re going. That is, on the Algarve coast between the town of Lagos and the beach at Luz. Soon we will be turning around and heading home. I always find this bit difficult, like re-crossing a threshold when you’d really like to stay in the room. This time is slightly worse, when I thought it would be slightly better but there it goes… I’m grumpy and grouchy and frustrated and irritated and it’s like I have an app running, the Complain app…. and then I’m reminded of the washing machine.

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(Time to leave)

Say thank you to your washing machine, Mairead. Gratitude, do I appreciate what I have? Nope. I am sitting looking out at the sun, the temperature is increasing and it will be a hot day but unless I stay super aware all day I will forget that this is amazing, that there is hot sun and I am bathed in it. I will become busy searching for what is missing or using what is found or filling what is empty or emptying what is full. At some point I will sense a niggling discomfort but I will not realise it is coming from a place deep inside and it is whispering, Listen, you are alive, isn’t that amazing?  Instead of listening to the discomfort I will launch the Complain app and I will point an accusing finger at the discomfort and I will never know that the discomfort is me, wishing I would listen. You are alive, isn’t that amazing?

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(New life)

When it is gone, when the blue sky turns to grey cloud and the increasing temperatures turn to decreasing temperatures… I will remember what I had. And will I be grateful? Nope… I won’t, unfortunately, I won’t be grateful. I will launch the Complain app again and this time I will point an accusing finger at the grey clouds and I will long for the sun and the heat and the blue sky. I will feel the discomfort but I won’t hear it’s message… and I will never know that even in the grey cloud place, I am alive and that is amazing.

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(A new journey)

Unless… Ok I’m going to delete the Complain app! Then I’ll download the Gratitude app in it’s place. Every time I am tempted to complain I will become super aware.. like a prowling tiger. I will listen to the discomfort. I will hear it’s message. I will start to realise that no matter where I am and no matter what is happening and no matter how much rain is falling (or how many jobs I have to do or how miserable I feel) I am alive right now and that’s pretty amazing!

Step 16. Listen, you are alive, isn’t that amazing, Mairead?

P.S. Thank you to my two friends who reminded me about my washing machine. I am grateful.

Posted in Blogroll, Travel

The castle at Alcácer do Sal

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(I took the scenic (i.e. scary) route to the castle)

We’re still at the campsite with the great washing machine and I finally went to see the castle. It’s not really a castle, just the ruins of the walls of a castle with little chapels and a former convent which is now a Pousada (fancy hotel) inside the walls. When they were turning the ruins of the convent into the hotel they excavated the area and now there’s a museum under the hotel.

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(Nice view from the top)

First up there was a video presentation (in English) about the area. Just in case I didn’t make it clear we arrived here by accident, someone posted a nice review about the campsite and the washing machine and here we are. But there’s something a bit different about this place and that’s what i learned watching the video… there’s been people living here in this town since 3,000 years BC.

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(It’s a very cute town)

That means the people walking down the street, the people we meet in the supermarket, the people serving our coffee, their families have been living here for the past 5,017 years (approximately.) Ok some of them may have moved here more recently than that (the Romans 2200 years ago, the Moors, 1200 years ago, they built the castle, the christian armies on a crusade 900 years ago) but there’s been people living here in this small town for a long time. I think that makes it very interesting.

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(I love this piece, can you see the skull near the clasp?)

After the video I went into the crypt part of the museum, it’s not very big but it’s really nicely arranged with plenty of exhibits. My favourites were the beads and the sewing tools – scissors and pins. I also liked the jewellery. There were also remnants of walls from the Iron Age, the Roman period and the Islamic period. It made me wonder what would survive from our house, from our stuff in 900, or 2000 year time…. probably the plastic storage boxes!

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Step 15. Less junk, less storage, Mairead.

Posted in Blogroll, Travel | Tagged , ,