Feb 5, 2014

Proud of US: Livarot


Traveling around the world, in various countries at various points in time, it's hard not to be embarrassed sometimes about being American. We're just such a big country, and so very visible, that every moronic thing done by American politicians or celebrities inevitably makes me cringe when abroad. But here in Normandy, it's different. If ever there was a place where one is truly proud to be from the good old U.S.of A., this would have to be it.

Today, we tour coastal towns, beaches, museums, and the American Cemetery of the D-Day invasion. It's not just at the specific sites that we are treated well; so many people we've talked to here in Normandy, even those born after the War, make the connection between us, the U.S. that is, and D-Day. In one movie we see at a museum, an elderly American woman who was a nurse here with the Allied Forces comments that it seems that the French have a much greater appreciation for what the Americans accomplished -- and suffered -- here than most Americans. That's absolutely true. Perhaps understandable, since this is their land, and the reminders are all around them. I think possibly the only other time I traveled abroad and really felt that everybody I encountered was "on my side" as an American was when Anthony and I were in Peru for 9/11 (which we only learned about on 9/14, but that's a story for another time). 

But this is different, because Americans weren't the victims here, but the heroes, and what we receive is not sympathy but gratitude, even generations later. It's not only about the Americans, but all the Allied forces. You never have to look far for a statue, plaque, or memorial dedicated to the Americans, English, and Canadians. A tiny street right around the corner from where we're staying has the rather large name "Rue du North Shore Régiment." 

Every time Anthony or I need to explain something to the girls, we end up choking up. It is just so moving, and so heartbreaking. Gigi understands quite a lot and becomes absolutely fascinated by World War II. We haven't told her the gory details of the Holocaust yet, but she seems old enough to handle D-Day. She asks us to buy her some books about it (meant for children), and keeps thanking us over and over as she clutches them. She particularly loves one book called "The Heroes of D-Day." Frankly, Anthony and I are fascinated by it, too. As for Pippa, we're not sure exactly what she's understanding, but she has her own ideas of the horrors of war: During one of the movies we watch (at Arromanches), they have real footage of the Allied forces fighting to gain a village.  Pippa walks over  and whispers in my ear, with grave concern, "But Mommy, when they were fighting, how did they eat?!" 


The Normandy American Cemetery is a must-see. I have to scold the children at the beginning for shrieking and chasing each other. This ranks near the top of places where you don't want your children to be loud and silly. Naturally, in trying to explain why this is a place of respect, I get all choked up again. This is the cemetery featured in the movie Saving Private Ryan, which was based on a real family, and two of the Niland brothers are buried here. 

Pippa finds the grave of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Teddy (this is obviously not the one she's looking at in the photo below, however). It's emblazoned with a gold star, since he died here a brigadier general with a Medal of Honor. Next to it is the tomb of his brother Quentin, who died a young man in World War I. They exhumed him from another cemetery to bury him here next to his brother. One interesting fact I learn: We are standing on American soil. The land has been granted in perpetuity to the United States by France. The Stars & Stripes fly on the flagpole, and I think I feel more patriotic here than I ever have, anywhere, in my life!

Just west of Omaha beach, known as Bloody Omaha, is the cliff-side spot where the Germans had artillery that had to be taken out in order for the D-Day invasion to succeed. Called Pointe du Hoc, the ground is so full of bomb craters, it appears dimpled like a golf ball. The kids have fun swooping down and up, but at least the older children recognize how many bombs these craters represent.  Literally as far as the eye can see, all the way to the horizon, the ground undulates.

Ever wondered why it's called D-Day? It turns out there is an old expression in France used to describe an auspicious day to accomplish something. They say it's a Jour-J. The J is simply the first letter of the word Jour. So, when they translated this to English, they called it a D-Day. I guess the closest English equivalent would be to say it's a "red letter day" or even "day with a capital D." And what a day this has been for us. Really moving, really educational, and we cannot help but think over and over how happy we are to be seeing it with sunny blue skies, and the sound of our children laughing as they chase each other up and down the dimples.


Livarot, which takes its name from the village in Normandie where it originated, is a washed-rind cheese colored with annatto. It is a common and popular enough cheese that not only will you find it in all the books, websites, and cheese stores, you'll even see it on billboards.

It's made from raw or pasteurized cow's milk, usually artisanal or industrial, and is aged at least three weeks but often between 1-2 months. Though it comes from the land of Camembert, Brie and sweet, buttery, milky cheeses, this one is none of those. Instead, it is a strong cheese that borders on meaty and bitter (but if it tastes too bitter, almost like ammonia, it is probably past its prime).

It's semi-soft and will get a little sticky when warmed up. While it won't ooze around the plate like a Camembert, it does get soft and melts nicely in the mouth. Anthony's co-worker very kindly brings us this Livarot, direct from Normandie, and it's the strongest -- and orangest -- thing on the plate, though I must admit something happened with the lighting in the photo and it doesn't actually appear this neon in real life. We all like the Livarot, but with some hesitations; you have to really appreciate a good stink.
Livarot comes from a small village not far from the D-Day beaches. And it's a cheese the locals are proud of -- a cheese that might overpower you, as the Allied forces overpowered the Nazis.


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