From 2009 until now, I have posted many series of wide-ranging photo essays. Â A total of 72 of these essays – surreal and otherwise, and consisting of just over 1,000 photographs – were devoted to Western Australia.Â Another 58 photo photo essays – surreal and non-surreal, and comprised of some 1,800 images – focused on America.Â
I reckon that for a while people have seen enough of my take on slivers of experiencing life in Western Australia and North America.Â As a complete change, let’s bravely have a bit of a gander at what it’s like to engage in what I’ve loosely termed as the Surreal English & French experience.
It is a surreal look in that every one of the 634 photographs in this series has been altered. This has been mainly accomplished by using Picasa but sometimes by also using Microsoft Paint as well to manipulate the images.Â Not a single image is as the eye would ordinarily see it.
We are taking each country in turn, beginning with England.Â And we kicked it all off by using shanks ponies and train to travel to London.Â It was a kind of reconnoiter, if you like … very much a case of tentatively dipping our big toe into the murky waters of the English experience.
Emboldened by surviving unscathed our first excursion from our home base at Sunningdale, we then journeyed by car along back roads and country lanes to see what the heck is within a couple of hours reach of home.Â We got to see lots of snug pubs with pints and pints of frothing cold beer … oops, I mean hot cocoa in hamlets and towns that soon floated by in a hot chocolate haze but I kind of remember Henley-on-something-or-other, Oxford University’s bicycle racks and Guildford in vain search of Charles Dickens.Â In the following expedition we ranged much farther, driving to Dover and catching a train to St Ives in Cornwall.Â Just because, really.Â We had no plan in mind other than to go look.
Once we’d returned to Sunningdale and recovered from that coastal ordeal, we headed off to Windsor Castle.Â It is not only Europe’s largest but is actually also the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.Â We put our feet up for a day or two and then caught the train to Waterloo Station to go exploring the Westminster area, including the knock-your-socks-off Abbey.Â A few days later we caught the train into London again to go see the bustling river Thames area.Â Some days after that, we once more caught the train to London, this time to trudge on blistered feet all about Trafalgar Square and then route march to Buckingham Palace.Â Liz and Phil didn’t invite us in for a cuppa.
Magnanimously, we chose to not live in bitter memories of royal slights in past days.Â Instead, we headed by car for France.Â Â As with all all of our expeditions, it necessitated beginning as soon as it was light enough to head off and then not putting our feet up until well after dark … the daylight hours in England andÂ France during late-autumn and winter are quite short.Â And the light for good photography is fast fleeting and very brief.Â It can be said that at this time of year, England and Europe are a very dark experience.
Having crossed under the English Channel via the Chunnel, we drove to historic Boulogne, the largest fishing port in France, if not the whole of Europe. Â The emperor Claudius used the town as his base for the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43.Â Some 1,800 years later, in 1805, Napoleon massed his Grande Armee in Boulogne to invade England.Â Â But the supremacy of Britain’s Royal Navy prevented any such actual invasion from occurring.Â And that was true again in WWII, when a mooted invasion by Hitler’s forces was manifestly impossible because the Royal Navy ruled the waves and the Royal Air Force ruled the skies.
Enough of this gibberish by me!Â It’s absolute rot, of course!Â Suffice to say that we explored the restaurants and the ancient part of Boulogne and had an interesting time looking around.Â Then it was a long drive to Paris and an early night at our hotel.Â Yet bright and early the following morning we were up and at ‘em … using the underground railway to deposit us near enough to walk to the Eiffel Tower.Â After Bob and the English Oracle returned from riding the tower’s elevator the almost 1,000 feet to the top to stare into thick fog, we walked to the nearby river Seine and went cruising on a ferry.Â Of course, we just had to disembark to go and visit the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame, on the banks of the Seine.
It was a tiring but exciting day. As was the next one when we tracked down the Academie Nationale De Musique – known as The Opera.Â There we saw two brass bands of buskers going head to head on the steps of the Academie.Â It was a blast!Â But easily the highlight so far was our next adventure into the milling throng that is Paris.Â We spent many hours in the museum to eclipse all museums – in the world renowned Musee du Louvre … known simply as, The Louvre.Â Despite the time we spent at the museum, we only saw a little of the vast collections gathered there.Â One day we really must return.
So, too, with the mother of all palaces, the Chateau de Versailles, which we visited on our way out of Paris as we headed for deep into Normandy.Â Having left Paris well behind, our initial destination was the picturesque town of Hornfleur - to see for ourselves why it is a holiday resort beloved by both the English and the French. And so we did.Â Then we covered still more ground in Normandy, driving to look at two firsts that occurred on D-Day, 1944.Â We went toÂ Pegasus Bridge and then to the town of Sainte Mere-Eglise.Â Today, after a detour first, we’re driving to the beaches of Normandy where the D-Day landings occurred.
But enough of my dreadful drivel!And I’ll keep my pathetic commentary very short.Â However, I will scrupulously cite any references, meticulously following the petrified encyclicals in the Dead Sea Scrolls Style Manual that detail the turning to salt procedures for use on defrocked scholars.Â Should such encyclicals deviate markedly from the Roman Army’s standing orders for the supervision by the Ninth Legion of the style of gladiatorial poetry contests written to death in Gaul, such deviation will be noted.Â C’est la vie!
A large billboard depicting a WWII coastal gun battery nearby, which was part of the so-called German Atlantic Wall, catches the eye.Â The roads of Normandy are dotted with such billboards, and with road signs pointing to nearby places and events of the Second World War.
Here in the town of Bayeux we stumble onto the magnificent Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux, consecrated on 14th July 1077 – and not one of us knew that it existed.Â I notice a man high up on a cherry picker and I walk right up for a much closer look.
(Source: the Dead Sea Scrolls citing an advertisement in the Roman Army’s pocket edition of its Annuity Plan for Ninth Legion Retirees, entitled: Supplement your income with cherry picking in Gaul.)
Opposite the cathedral this plaque captures my attention.
Other towns in Normandy also claim to be the first liberated by the allies.Â Probably the best known of the rival claimants is the town of Sainte Mere-Eglise and the village of BÃ©nouville, which is straddled by Pegasus Bridge.Â Both of these were scenes of fierce fighting, and were featured in the movie, The Longest Day.Â But this is not why we detoured here.
A few hundred yards down the road from the cathedral and plaque we see the directions to what we’ve been looking for – the whereabouts of the museum housing the 900 plus years old Bayeux Tapestry, made sometime during the 1070s decade.
This is the MusÃ©e de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, housing the world famous tapestry.Â In the courtyard is the only replica in existence of a Viking church boat.Â Don’t ask why – this is France, don’t you know.
The Tapisserie de Bayeux is an embroidered cloth – not an actual tapestry.Â It is nearly 230 feet long, having 50 scenes that pictorially tell the story of the Norman conquest of England.Â Stretched out before us here is about one-third the length of the cloth.
The English Oracle explains to Bob listening intently to the audio on her tape recorder that the 50 scenes are embroidered on linen with coloured woolen yarns.Â Â Apparently, outline stitching was used for the lettering and outlines of figures.Â Couching or laid work was employed for filling in the figures.
The scenes were first embroidered onto nine linen panels, with these these being three to fourteen metres in length, and the panels were then sewn together, with the joins disguised by subsequent embroidery.
(Source: photograph by courtesy of the French Foreign Legion’s Professional Development Battalion pamphlet to legionnaires, entitled Needle Point Embroidery Sooths Your Inner Child.)
We’re on the road again, with the colourful billboard reminding us of where we’re headed – the Normandy invasion beaches of WWII.Â Especially that of Omaha.Â
And here is our first sight of the coast.
And there are the remains of the artificial concrete harbour constructed in England, towed across the English Channel and deliberately sunk here.Â It was given the code name of Mulberry.
Here near the edge of a cliff placards line the road – entitled, The Price of Freedom.Â They are combat photographs of American soldiers in Normandy.
Here the size of the sheer cliffs can be seen, with remnants of Mulberry in the shallows – but is only shallow when the tide is out, as it is in this image.
High on a pedestal, the Virgin Mary overlooks the scene of so much carnage.
She stands, with her foot on the head of a serpent … surely symbolic of the Nazis.
And Jesus on the cross overlooks the township.
The tiny figures walking along the beach give a good idea of the scale of the difficulties facing the Allies storming ashore here through a hail of machine gun fire and exploding shells.
Once part of a harbour disgorging hundred of thousands of troops and huge quantities of supplies, this is now a home to seagulls and shags.
But mostly, the heavy chunks of Mulberry just lie abandoned as strange memorials.
Across these flats devoid of cover the Allied troops had to storm through withering machine fire and the shrapnel from raining mortar and artillery shells.Â Omaha Beach in particular was the killing ground for the slaughter of American troops.Â Ten thousand of them are buried not far away from here.
Have I photographed an apparition, a vision or a miracle?Â Sigh … it’s an optical illusion.
(Source: the Dead Sea Scrolls in The Prophecies cites Vatican Bull 666 which categorically states that the Holy Father infallibly declares that … this is not an image of the Holy Mother, who does not make a habit of standing on roof tops in France nor appears to unauthorized anonymous photographers – she only appears to upstanding Catholics nominated by the Church.)
A giant, breathtaking statue of a woman and bird.Â Don’t ask what it means.Â This is France.
(Source:Â an illustration extracted from the Irish Book of the Dead, non-Druid edition, and published in the French Foreign Legion’s secret handbook for Retiring Officers, entitled: Serve France – enlist in the British Army.)
Here we have a map of part of the battle scenes of D-Day.
Nearby the map is this German anti-tank gun – part of the German so-called Atlantic Wall to block any allied invasion.
Here the Sergeant-Major of the Royal Leprechaun Army inspects the gun sniffing the air.Â Perhaps the Leprechauns could acquire this as defense against invasion by the damnable English Garden Gnomes – thoroughly bad EGGS, one and all.Â Let’s find out a little more about this particular gun.
There we have it.Â Best leave this cannon here as a memorial.
A view from the gun pit shows that it could have controlled the inland area.
A little farther on along the beach front we find this WW II tank.Â And a plaque describing it.
By implication, the crew of this tank almost certainly perished – drowned.
And as we proceed along the coastline, this is another indicator of invasion activity.
This is Pointe Du Hoc. The 30 acre battlefield was the scene of massive aerial and naval bombardments, followed by savage hand-to-hand fighting.
Here at Pointe Du HocÂ is the memorial to the American 2nd Ranger Battalion.Â It is a poignant image.
Because Pointe Du Hoc dominates both Utah and Omaha Beaches, a savage firestorm of bombs and shells was unleashed again these gun emplacements. The size of the craters are an indication of the ferocity directed here.
What once was a gun emplacement-bunker now serves as a viewing platform for tourists.
Solidly built of layered concrete and steel, this emplacement survived fierce bombardment directed at it.
These were the sheer cliffs that the defenders thought were an impenetrable barrier, unable to be scaled.Â The American rangers proved them wrong.Â At heavy cost.
Here the Sergeant-Major peeps out of an observation position – she is smiling because there are no English Garden Gnomes about to unleash an artillery barrage.
Surreal English & French
003 Dover & St Ives
004 Windsor Castle
007 Trafalgar Square
015 Honfleur Bound
016 D-Day Firsts