Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chuck Visits Code Name Omaha Beach

History is sometimes hard to imagine.  The brutality of it.

Which is why I made the harsh decision to sit my rascal cat, Chuck, down to watch the work of a master craftsman--Steven Spielberg, whose movie, Saving Private Ryan, shows in horrific detail (and, here, I'm talking about the opening 27 minutes) one of the most realistic battle sequences ever filmed--the Allied invasion of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

Omaha Beach was the ”code name” for the largest of the five beaches in the German occupied area of Normandy, France
during World War II.  It was the American’s responsibility to take control of the beach.  There were no less than twelve German strongpoints that directed fire on the troops that landed that day as part of the Allied invasion. The casualties were enormous.  In fact, Omaha has been called the “most intensely fought after beach” ever.

The soldiers who lived through the battle have an understanding of what it was like to be on the beach that day.  For the rest of us, we can look at the photos or read the accounts or watch the film.

No one can forget the close-up of the Tom Hanks’ character in the opening minutes, giving last minute orders to his men, as the boat brings them closer and closer to the shore and to the enemy fire and his words, “I’ll see you on the beach,” which rings out like a death sentence. 

Today, the area known as Omaha Beach is more built up, of course.  The towns and villages that surround it have expanded and changed with the passage of time, but the actual geography of the beach remains eerily as it was.  

As Chuck and I walk around this now famous tourist spot, we see the landscape, the inroads that were used by the men when they came in from the beach.  

We see the pill boxes, the concrete dug-in guard posts, equipped with loop holes with which to fire weapons, which still exist.  We see the bunkers. 

The flags of all the liberating countries now fly on the beach.

A sculpture, built in 2004, is dedicated to peace and to the soldiers who fought for the Allies.  We know that 34,000 Allied forces landed on the beach. The casualties numbered 2,400.  

Today, the beach is once again at peace.    


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chuck Sees Paratrooper on Church Roof in France

To this day a paratrooper hangs off the roof of a church in the small town of Sainte Mere Eglise, Latin for the Church of St. Mary, in Normandy, France. 

He’s been hanging there for a long time. 

He’s not real, of course. The fake paratrooper is a memorial to the real paratrooper, John M. Steele, whose parachute became caught on the roof spire of the church in town when he landed with a slew of other paratroopers on June 6, 1944.  Their mission was to liberate Sainte Mere Eglise from the Germans.  Trapped on the roof for two hours, pretending to be dead, he watched the battle raging below. He was later captured, but he managed to escape. 

Ironically, he suffered a kinder fate than most of the other paratroopers who landed.  Some were caught on trees and utility poles and were shot before they were cut loose.  Others were sucked into the fires that raged around them.  Casualties were high.

I never considered Chuck, my rascal cat, a history buff, but it’s become clear to me that lately World War II and anything connected to the Second World War holds a certain fascination for him.  We were in France, and Chuck heard of St. Mere Eglise and what happened in that small village on one of the most important days of the war.

Location is everything, and it seems that Sainte Mere Eglise was located smack in the middle of the route that the Germans would have to take in order to launch a counter attack against the Allied troops landing on the Utah and Omaha beaches of Normandy.   

The Allies needed to take the town. Chuck knew the story.  He’d seen the film The Longest Day

Chuck wanted to see two things.  First, we went to the church so he could see the paratrooper--the memorial.  

He was impressed.

And then we went inside the church.  He wanted to see the stained glass window.  Here, too, John Steele, is immortalized.  He is one of the two paratroopers landing near the Virgin Mary.  

He was impressed again.

Sainte Mere Eglise was occupied for four years by the Germans,  but after June 6, 1944, it became the first village to be liberated by the Allies.  The people in the town don’t forget.  Tourists still come to see a bit of history.  And Chuck, well, he wanted to see the paratrooper.  


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chuck Lured to Enigma Machine in France


              Chuck can usually be lured to a place he doesn’t want to go by the promise of a pretty girl OR a snack.  This time . . . when we were bound for The Peace Museum - a museum and war memorial in Caen, France - established in 1988, dedicated to peace and considered the best World War II museum in France . . . it was a machine that proved to be the ultimate allure. 

Chuck agreed to visit The Peace Museum because of a promise. Chuck would see one of the actual Enigma machines used by the Allies during World War II at Bletchley Park in England to crack the secret German code used during the transmissions.

It all started the year before when Chuck watched one of my favorite movies -- Enigma, starring Kate Winslet of Titanic fame.  The story of Enigma takes place during World War II in Bletchley Park, England.  A cryptanalyst returns to the park to help the codebreaking team regain their ability to break the German code used during their transmissions. Obsessed with his missing former girlfriend, he and his girlfriend’s roommate help to unravel the mystery of her disappearance.  

Enigma was co-produced by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones who not only put up the cash to make the movie but also lent the movie use of his Enigma machine to add authenticity to the movie.  

When we arrive at the Museum, I tell Chuck-- be prepared to be wowed by the experience.  I’ve been warned that going through the museum is quite an experience.  Chuck, however, is of one mind.  He only wants to see the machine.  

He doesn’t much listen as I explain that the Peace Museum traces France’s role during World War I and World War II to stop the spread the Fascism and Nazism.  The museum’s displays capture “moments in time.” 

We pass an exhibit of nap sacks, helmets, and leather pouches.  I’m fascinated by this type of display and try to imagine the real people over 50 years ago who owned these objects. 

        We pass a brick wall with a poster and again I try to see myself on a deserted street, perhaps, in Paris, in an occupied city.  

         We pass the side of a building with graffiti and a bicycle, evocative of a, perhaps, secret meeting inside.

There are symbolic exhibits.  The river of red lights stand for all the Holocaust victims.  

When we FINALLY reach the Enigma machine, Chuck stands in rapt attention. He understands that during World War II, because the enemy created an elaborate code where one letter stood for another letter when they transmitted messages, breaking the code without the machine was almost impossible . . . because the possibilities for variations were endless.  

I stare long and hard at the Enigma machine, too.  It saved many Allied lives.  

Yeah, again for technology, even the 1943 style!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Chuck Misses Wild Partying at Giardini Naxos

If you like hot, you visit Sicily in the summer.  The average temperature in Sicily in July and August demands that you stay at lovely resort villages and spend your days in the water and at the beach. 

On the other hand, we decided to visit Sicily in November when the days were a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the nights, well, you needed a jacket or a sweater because it was a bit nippy.

Chuck doesn’t always understand the finer points of weather and appropriate times to travel.  He knew we were staying in Taormina and that nearby was the infamous and  very popular seaside resort town of Giardini Naxos. Although the town used to be a quiet fishing village and before that--dating back to the mid 1500‘s--it even had a history of pirate invasion which is why the Vignazza Tower was built, since the mid 1970’s all that had changed and now it was known for its beaches, panoramic view of the bay and surrounding hills and almost bustling fishing port.  

Giardini Naxos attracts Italians and foreigners in equal numbers, who flock there--looking for accommodations in its hotels and pensions and looking for food in its pubs, restaurants and pizzerias.  

But neither accommodations nor food interested Chuck.  The rascal cat had heard stories of what happened on the beach and he wanted to be there to witness the sight. 

Chuck heard that people pitched tents and partied on the beach.  And then at midnight they ran into the sea for a swim while fireworks crackled overhead in the dark sky.  

Well, who wouldn’t want to see something like that?

Now the story was true all right, but the only problem was that it took place only once a year--on August 15.  We’d missed that date by two months.

August 15 or Ferragosto is very special in the Italian calendar.  It has a rich history and a varied past.  But in the present day, Ferragosto is when most Italians take a short holiday and go to the beach and enjoy a large meal.  It makes sense that they would celebrate on the beach.  

I tried to explain the reality to Chuck, but he wouldn’t listen.  

“What harm can it do?” Bob asked.  “Let the kid see for himself.”

I was hoping that maybe one confused person would set up a tent, but, of course, no one did.  Giardini Naxos is lovely, but in November it is not the same bustling resort area as July and August.  

That evening as we rode back to our hotel in Taormina, I resisted the urge to say, “I told you so.”  The Chuckster looked just too disappointed.