|We started our long trip on August 18th at 9 a.m in one minibus which could accommodate 8 persons including me; another small car brought my two sons, 2 grandsons and daughter in-law. Maurice led the way and in the small car the driver Hoang followed him. |
The first point that we came to visit was the ” Mont Saint Michel” castle (convent) in the Normandie region. By areal view, it is the castle which was built a thousand years ago in the straits of the “Manche” shore (Gulf of St. Malo). The entrance in front of the “Mont Saint Michel” castle is a long, wide road; beside it there are two spacious parking areas which can accommodate a thousand travelers’ cars.
Under the blue sky in the afternoon the “Mont Saint Michel” castle easily held a thousand people crowded into it. Maurice’ s wife bought 11 tickets so I didn’t know how much “one” cost. Then we produced our tickets at the entrance. We followed each other along the narrow upward slope. At both sides on the road, there were restaurants, and small shops selling, several souvenir gift, postcards etc… The end of the reaching point was the castle’s top. I was completely exhausted by the curiosity which walked me off my legs. Along the wall board side, I stopped and stood there for a long time to get my second wind. The breeze hit me in the face with the open sea. I observed every direction, thinking.
Before my very eyes, the “Mont Saint Michel” castle, a long way apart from every thing, was surrounded by the quiet sea. I imagined, when the moonlight came out and under unsteady light, several vampires even returned from death to enjoy capering about all over the place sucking blood from humans who walked alone the deserted coastal zone, and what a horrifying fictitious thought! The water subsided. Under the burning-sun, some travelers walked on the sand-bank; the children enjoyed dabbling their hands in the sand and splashing about in the water. The sea-wind drew me into sleep. I proposed to my family to go down.
Midway going down, suddenly the crowd was convulsed with terror, everybody was agog by the piercing alarm signal of the emergency car coming up; then I found out on the ground along the road a man was frothing at the mouth, rolling his eyes awaiting first-aid treatment. He was carried away on the stretcher. The emergency car proceeded at a high speed. My familv and I rushed out of the castle.
At night we took a rest in the city of Combourg, the hotel “Chateau et Voyagers” place, Chateaubriand. We were not in the least tired with 288 km from the point of departure Cherbourg to Combourg.
The second cool morning, five minutes after leaving this town from 200 km to LeLude my son Hoang and his family in the small car lost their way at the cross-road Chateaubriand. This was due to an overturned car blocking the road, although his car followed after Maurice’s. Maurice’s car got through the hindrance then increased speed. Maurice didn’t know Hoang’s car was not behind, neither did we until he had to stop at 2 km to the point of departure to check the itinerary on the map; we then all found out that my son’s car had disappeared! I felt worried about my son’s inexperience in this foreign land. He was also unskilled at speaking French and inexperienced at getting himself out of a fix and disentangling the difficulty! Maurice stopped his car for a long time and proposed that everybody, got out of his car and went in many directions to search for them. Amyot and I went back to the point of departure, but they were no longer there.
Half an hour later, abruptly Amyot and I hit upon them at the corner in the public square at Chateaubriand place. Hoang told us that he didn’t know what way he could follow to pursue us so he had to stop.
We visited in turn 4 towns: Vitre, Laval, Sable, and La Fleche. This far gone night, we took a rest at “Hotel du Maine” after visiting Chateau “Son et Lumiere’.
Early next morning, we followed the national road to reach “Blois Citadelle” in the city of Tours. The bulwark has a thick, durable wall of about 5 meters. The throne could be long and steadily protected behind it.
At 9 a.m on the fourth lucky day, we departed the hotel “Saint Hubert” at Cour Cheverny to continue about 140 km to Bourges where a big venerated Catholic church was built a thousand years ago. When we were inside it, with our affection and frank respect, we stood for a long time with a small group of devoted travelers who had been eagerly listening to the young informant. He explained clearly about the church’s history. Over there, at a counter of the selling a lot of postcards and Bibles, several people were busy, searching for interesting souvenirs of their visit. Then, we got some tickets for about 10 Franc each to go down to the basement where the graveyard of many Martyr Saints who devoted their whole life to the truth was located. Several Christians, with their confidence, down on their knees in front of the Jesus Christ’s altar, bowed their heads in prayers to supplicate. I was quiet and so affected, standing near the statue of Saint AnLoine where his faithful pig tightly squeezed his feet.
Maurice wanted to go up to the top of the church. One after the other, we followed him and stepped on the circular staircase. Without talking, we had to climb on the very worn, narrow and slippery, cement stairs. Every, twenty stairs, I stopped; then sat down to relax. No attention was paid to each other until we were at the top. It was blowing hard on the flat roof. I was puffing as I was the last one to climb up. Everybody looked so exhausted. I leaned against the wall to contemplate the scenery. As far as the eyes could see the beauty of the countryside covered the color of the sunshine in the afternoon, and affected the surrounding wood, village or hamlet. The strong wind hit me upon the body like it would roll me down. To escape the chill, I had to sit down at the wall. Looking at the immense and infinite space, I thought over the supernatural creator who, with his miraculous green thumb, well created the immeasurable and endless universe. Who could know what’s up there? I felt sorrowful; and short lines in a poem quickly flitted across my mind:
Return to Dust,
Dust to dust,
Earth to earth,
Such is life.
That is life.
Being born, growing old,
disease and death.
Four real seasons proved,
Not to be wrong.
Human life is not so long.
We sing a song, “Love everyone’
And don’t make war to anyone.
Then I asked myself, “why do people always live in sin?” then responded, ” because of Ambition, Anger and Passion”. I remembered suddenly, a homicide my two sons told me off. When they were settled in Bassano, county-town (Alberta) in 1980 from the island, Bidong, (Malaysia) by their sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Reg Tomlinson, missionaries came from England. Their good foster father and mother gave them every thing: Food, Study, and Love. They also guided them how to be soon accustomed with their new way of life in Canada. Mr. and Mrs. Reg Tomlinson dedicated their whole life to Christ. They sacrificed to humane service and always protected the helpless. They both departed this life in one dismal and unforeseen afternoon by the foolish act of the crazy man. The murderer was discontent about his wife and children who frequented to church to listen to the Bible. He got mad. After killing his wife, 2 children and his dog, he rushed into Mr. and Mrs. Reg Tomlinson’s home; he shot at them and killed himself at that place.
The moment I was reasoning the meaning of life and religion, my family left me alone, and climbed down while the rainfall started in the distance. I had to interrupt my thoughts. I hurried to follow them; then we went out. Leaving the church with regret, I always kept in my thoughts the people who treated the charitable Jesus Christ with reverence.
In the windy evening on August 22nd, it was softly raining; we reached near the base of Mont Blanc where we hurried coming into the “Beau Site” a 2 stars restaurant-hotel which was built many years ago. It took us eleven hours to travel the 600 kilometers but we had a good route along the side of Alps. We felt very hungry, so after washing and tiding up every thing in the room, we hurriedly went down to the hotel restaurant. Sitting face to face around the table which had been already set out for us, we were talking idly to each other during dinner time.
One hour after …
My eldest sister yawned and wanted to go into her bedroom because she felt sleepy. She stood up; then I followed her. We both said-. “Good night” to everybody. Whenever I was in a strange bed, I couldn’t sleep easily. I was drowsy after many times of tossing; I thought about the last stage after leaving “Du Pont Neuf’ Hotel at Le Veurdre from the Bourges about 220 kilometers. The ecstatic impression always remained in my mind about the courteous and hearty welcome of the good looking mistress of “Du Pont Neuf’ hotel. She spoke French fluently. Her bilinguals and her comprehension drew us into the long interesting talk. Through our conversation, I discovered that her husband and she came from Hawaii.. Their 2 stars luxurious hotel will attract so many foreign-guests if they always keep their Atmosphere.
At noon, we had lunch under the shade of the big tree at the edge of the wood; we sat down on our heels around the meal, enjoying small talk and eating some loaves of hot bread with several delicious pieces of ham and a lot of fresh fruit that we had just bought at the grocery store at Saint Pierre Moutier citadel. I look up. Suddenly, I leapt forward; I was frightened by a thousand working bees in the big beehive on the tree branch; they flew around and over our heads. Then, I gave the alarm to everybody, who ran away. Some of us quickly got everything on the ground and we all rushed into the car. Only Maurice had an afternoon nap on his seat before continuing the trip.
From the Cherbourg to Combourg we had gone through the large flat areas. Along both side of the fields, there were a corn plants, the sunflower plants for producing oil, the fruit trees such as apples etc… and several sparse bales of straw. I observed the contented carves which were lying on the grass. I had pity on the oxen which were standing, eating the hay; and which fateful day will they be deigned to the slaughter-house’.?
I thought about the windmill “Moulin of Alphonse Daudet” which was written over hundred years ago. It was built on Fontvieille at Provence. I knew this celebrated writer from his illustrated book “Lettre de mon moulin”. My thoughts turned to Dijoin, Dompierre, Paray Le Monial, Charolles, Bourges en Bress and fine quite deserted sights of Gorges de l’Aim were very interesting to us.
I stopped thinking and dozed off…
On Thursday August 23rd, we continued to draw up our itinerary for our visiting Maurice’a youngest son who was taking his vacation on top of Val Thorens to participate carrying off the prize from the checker game. Val Thorens’ altitude is about 2000 meters. The road, which I began to worry about was full of abrupt turns and was very dangerous for us. At noon, we were already on the top of the Val Thorens. It seemed we were close to the top of Mont Blanc. Its top always has a covering of snow like the Rocky Mountains in Canada. My son continued filming the beauty of nature under the sunshine in the afternoon. After having lunch in a small restaurant, we hurried down as soon as possible because Maurice’s wife could not bear the atmospheric pressure. She felt she was suffocating.
On the way going back to Albertville, although it was so early, we had to turn another way to reach Roseland Dam in which Maurice had spent most of his time collaborating the construction of the Dam when he was so young. It is the most important “water power” in the Easthern country.
Maurice felt very happy; he smiled and pointed to the dam beyond, then said, “Can you believe that I was one of the workers together on this barrage thirty years ago? With his grim face, he continued, “I think, I have already contributed so much to my country”. Then, we came back to Albertville and took a rest at “La Berjann hotel.
On Wednesday August 24th, leaving the Albertville (Savoie) region we followed along the valley road from 350 kilorneters to Briancon, Embrun, Gap (Hautes Alpes), Sisteron, Digne, and Barreme (Alpes de haute Provence). At Savines le Lac de Serre Poncon, we stayed a couple hours, enjoying the lovely scenery and had lunch in the open air. My son continued filming the current of blue and calm water of the “Lac de Serre Poncon”
When the twilight came out, we hurried to reach Castellane and took a rest at “Nouvel. hotel de Commerce.”
On August 25th, we visited the “Gorge du Verdon”. Driving along the edge of the canyon, we saw people enjoying their canoes paddling in all directions over the lake’s blue water; we imagined that we were in paradise’s hot spring! The scenery was so romantic from Aiguines to Moutiers St. Marie. Many travelers enjoyed taking pictures and filming; so did my son. Then, we went to Riez and Valensole. At Valensole hamlet, we stopped for half an hour to appreciate the regional products and bought something as souvenirs. At night, about 210 km from Castellane to Cavaillon, we took a rest at “Toppin” hotel, 70 cours Gambetta.
On August 26th we visited St. Remy de Provence, Les Baux de Provence, Maussane les Alpilles, Arles; then we reached “Le Pond du Gard”, the colossal work of the Romans who took possession of France many centuries ago. We climbed on it; we stood there with several curious travelers who enjoyed looking around and smelling the freshness. I thought about the domination, when people could be under the heel of the invader and became slaves having to do everything they wanted. We ate pizza in one small restaurant and left that area unwillingly.
We followed the road in the valley which stretched Southward, then took the way “Auto Route’ to go to Montpellier city. At noon, we were exactly in front of Maurice’s eldest daughter’s house. She had to return to her office after fifteen days of vacation. It was 330 km from Cavaillon to Rodez. At night, we took a rest at “Les Peyrieres” hotel on the hill. The 3 star luxurious ‘Les Peyrieres’ hotel was situated in the quiet area and green surrounding land. At the distance of the town but close to the airport, is the comfortable place for travelers to rest after their long trip. The bright smile on the face of the hostess and the host were the first sign of a warm welcome. The happy atmosphere in the reception-room and the scent of a splendid meal wafted from the kitchen, this turned us on so I felt very hungry. In my room, lying down in the bed, I carefully observed everything around me: the color television, the direct telephone and on the desk with everything needed – the pen, the white paper and the envelop for mail etc… and through the window, I could appreciate the silence of country-life.
On August 27th, we had to pass Decazeville, Figeac, Rocamadour, St. Cere, Sousceyrac, Larequebrou, Aurillac, Vie sur Cere, Murat etc… Some stage of the mountain’s road side drive were very busy because of repairs. It was so difficult for us to move forward.
Maurice had just escaped an accident at an abrupt turn along the mountain slopes. It has slightly scratched his car’s paint. At night, we took a rest at St. Flour. After leaving “St. Jacque” hotel at St. Flour from Rodez 280 km, we had to give my youngest son a ride to the train station where he had to return to Paris by train to catch an air plane to come back in time to Calgary. His high school course was to started on September 9th.
On August 28th, leaving St. Flour from 360 km to Artemare, we had to pass Langeac, Chanteuges, Le Puy, Julien Chapteuil, St. Agreve, Lamastre, Toumon, Roman, St. Marcellin, Tullins, Voiron, Les Abrets, Virieu Le Grand. The scenery of those regions did not interest us sufficiently, so we kept straight on to Artemare which we reached so early and stopped at “Hotel du Valromey”.
On August 29th, we crossed the frontier to visit Switzerland. When we were along way on the high plateau, our car ran slowly on the mountain road side; I saw beyond and far away the longest, highest bridge crossing the valley; I felt very frighten looking down. We had to pass by Culoz, Seyssel, Frengy, Bellegarde, Collonges, St. Genis Pouilly, Gex Divonne then Nyon; we submitted our passports to the frontier guard and, Switzerland welcomed us under the soft rainfall. The persistent drizzle carried on until we reached the “Lac Leman”. The fog covered that area entirely; we stayed in our car a long time. Later, the wind swept away the clouds and the rain was over.
The rain had stopped. The weather turned fine in the afternoon; but it was still dark on the horizon. The damp place at the edge of the lake where we stood was crowded; we were enjoying this with several herons and wild ducks. The birds rapidly snatched many pieces of dried bread which we had thrown into the water. Then we walked along the lake and around the city. We took many pictures in the surrounding place and filmed everything. We entered a restaurant and ordered coffee. The scent of delicious coffee wafted abroad and over my nose. After a few minutes in my seat, resting and thinking about the peaceful Switzerland. I was impressed by all the times of peace in this nation and hope for no more war in the world; and let us have a good inviolable life forever and ever. My family and I left the restaurant. It seemed everybody got along from the special taste of coffee that we had just drunk there.
It was beautiful Sunday in Switzerland. I felt very happy and followed the others to penetrate the town. My daughter and I walked side by side along the street, talking of everything and about the neutral nation, Switzerland. Maurice’s wife stopped a Swiss lady in the street; it seemed she asked her something then came to the grocery store beyond. Maurice called his wife, then said, “Get me any newspaper please. ” She nodded her head, then smiled. We all followed her into the store except Maurice who stood outside. We bought many things such as: hot bread, fresh fruits, ham and chocolate etc. We passed by many stores along the road, then stop in front of the clock shop, admiring the watches shown under glass. My daughter in-law wanted to get a brand new Swiss wrist-watch for herself. She yelled, “Wait a minute, please! I’d like to take a look at the watch that I have wanted for a long time. ” Her husband replied, “sure”. We also entered. She looked into the show case. She picked it out then said to her husband, “This one, O.K.?” Her husband answered, “It’s up to you. ” At about a time we were in the clock shop, Maurice kept on going to seek the way and to search for a good outdoor place for us to have lunch together. At last, he ended up discovering a wonderful place. He joined us again. We made our way through a crowd in the open air market then cut a path through the trees. During my lunch under the shady branches of the tree, in the quiet place in the public garden, I was strongly inspired by everything around me. There were a pleasant smell of several special kinds of fresh flowers which I had never seen in my country. It seemed people here were enjoying themselves enormously. The cool wind abated the hot weather surrounding us. The breeze brought me along feeling sleepy. I was meditating about somebody who obviously had a green thumb in this garden. My two grand sons ran up and down on the green grass. Suddenly, my son shouted and complained to his wife, “Keep them off the grass please; Don’t you see the words: “Keep off the grass”.
All the way to Yverdon, the weather turned worse and worse while our cars were running along side the edge of the quiet sight of “Lac de Neuchatel”. The cool wind howled outside, but all the car windows were tightly closed. That kept us warm inside until we reached Payern. The night started; the light burned out in Avenches town site where we took a rest at “Hotel de la Couronne”.
It was 11 a. m on August 30th, Due to the persistent weather problem, we were overcome with sleep. We started our trip so late. We arrived in Murten; instead of turning the right way to go to Bern, the capital city, Maurice change his mind; he turned left to follow the road to Kersa, Neuville, Biel, Tavannes, Moutiers, Delemont. Then we reached Basel where we said, “Goodbye” to Switzerland and hoped we would see it again. It was 3:00 p.m We left the frontier passage in the heart of the dreary outlook, while in space the sun was hiding behind the dark clouds. We hurried to reach Mulhouse, Colmar then Riquerir where every one of us followed our own way, but my daughter held a grip of me. We penetrated the town site. We kept to the narrow sloping road to go straight to the stores along the road side. The other members of my family vanished in the crowd. My daughter realized suddenly and she asked me, “Where is my aunt Tuyet Van going now? She certainly has lost her way.” I calmed her down, “Don’t worry about that; I think she went together with Quang Nguyen and his wife.” She emphasized, “Are you sure?” I assured her, “Yes, certainly.”
We were standing of the toy store where we intended to get some postcards for my close friends. In the distance Maurice came up then asked me, “Do you know where Amyot is?” I pointed to the bakery shop and said, “May be she is getting some hot bread for us.” He turned his back and disappeared into the crowd.
Later, everyone of my, family reappeared from all over; the town site with a lot of things in hand. All of us who gathered in the small restaurant had lunch before directing to the “Hot Abbaye d’Alspach” hotel at Strasbourg. Strasbourg’s rich and full land with lush green vegetables and a large carpet of green along both sides of the road which embellished the North-East zone, stirred the commuters to be content with their heavy days. That night we took a rest at Zum Schnogzloch’s hotel at Obernai; 100 km from Strasbourg. The thunder storm started at midnight while I was asleep in my room.
On September 1st, Maurice got the latest news from the newspaper Le Figaro; by the influence of the typhoon-storm in Texas, the weather in some zones in France turned from bad to worse. The torrential rain followed later. We woke up so early and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Regardless of the rain and strong wind that fell out outside, we continued hurriedly to reach Chateau Thierry to see Vaux Le Vicomte castle; then Fontainebleau city to visit the castle in which the sound of Vietnam’s historic days echoed in the conference of the war between France and Vietnam. Finally, Chartre cathedral was the last point of visiting. The bad weather frustrated our hopes so we put some halting places off and decided to go home. The long lasting sunless day carried me along all the way back to Cherbourg. The road was slick with wet rain so our cars had to run very slowly. I myself felt worn out. I sank back in my seat and let my thoughts dwell on Canada, and my country Vietnam.
The day I just finished this writing, then received a phone call from France, Jean Claude Maurice, our big benefactor who, I wrote, in this books, soon departed this life an early unforeseen morning as on July 27th, 1991. His death is a deep mourning to us. We pray for him and think that god was receiving his soul… “Be proud to enjoy a Millennium Heaven”
Calgary, July 1991
My copyright 2002
Book’s Title is “A Moment Of Sorrow”