Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Where did summer go?

Texas friends, I will apologize up front.  Having spent MANY summers in the so-called dry heat of both south and north Texas (including half of this summer), I completely understand the misery everyone is going through there.  In fact, I realize that most of the U.S. is enduring unusually hot days this year.  Lump on the economic problems, and my heart goes out to you (though we are by no means immune to that issue!)  But, I have to have my say on this weather in Luxembourg. I have never lived anywhere where the temperature can rise and drop 15 degrees in the time it takes to walk in and out of a grocery store, hardware store, etc.  I also have never lived in Seattle or Oregon, but I can only assume that this weather must be similar (we are somewhere close to that latitude). I can check out every morning, rejoice in the fact that we only have a 30% chance of rain for the day, only to realize a short time later that 30% really means "yes, it will definitely rain today" and that anything greater than 30% means "continuous downpour of rain followed by chilly wind and ominous clouds."  I never imagined that I would spend most of the remainder of my summer in jeans, sweaters and rain jackets.  I have learned to dress in layers and to never go anywhere without an umbrella in my purse, because as soon as I do, I will have to walk several blocks from point A to point B with some spitting rain showering me.  I did spend about 3 years in Chicago and have had a few deja vu moments.  We moved to Chicago in the summer of 1996 and I distinctly recall a string of days in the summer where all we had was fog rolling in from Lake Michigan followed by a drizzily day of rain.  I am keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed that we don't have winters like we did there!  No, Luxembourg is not known to get a ton of snow.  Just cold, drizzily rain. *sigh*

Since Joe is working during the week and I am spending the weekdays getting ready for our upcoming move into our house, we have already begun what I have determined to be the European tradition of Sunday road trips.  Unlike the U.S., stores are not open on Sundays, so you really have no reason not to get out and sightsee.  Also, since Lux is so centrally located in Europe, it is really easy to drive an hour in any direction and often find yourself in a quaint little town, most likely in a different country.  This Sunday we ventured to Arlon, Belgium.  It only takes about 10 minutes to reach the border between Lux and Belgium (see prior posting on Ikea :), and Arlon is only a few minutes past the border.  I had read that there was a little flea market held the first Sunday of each month, so I thought it might be fun to check it out.  As far as flea markets go, it wasn't anything particularly special (I have been to one in Paris that I kept comparing it to).  There is one in Metz, France at the end of August that is supposed to be much larger, so I figure this was a good test run.  We did have a nice time checking out the local church and having a leisurely lunch at a local bistro.

We followed this venture with a short trip to the American Cemetery of Luxembourg.  Joe and I had already been there once before on our sell trip (our host for the trip is a big WWII history buff), but we thought it was about time to expose the boys to the rich history that now surrounds us.  My mom was a history major in college and I spent many years trying to understand why she was so fascinated by events that happened in the past (i.e., I thought it was boring).  In fact, the last vacation I took with her was to Virginia to visit my brother who was then stationed at Norfolk.  We did a day trip to Williamsburg on that vacation and I can remember being baffled at how excited she was to see where our country's history began.  When we moved to Richmond years later, I found myself wanting to understand that intense interest.  It didn't take much.  I learned quite a bit about U.S. history through the boys' social studies classes at their school.  A few field trips to Jamestown, Monticello and (yes) Williamsburg, I finally understood my mom's passion.  Now, I find myself in her shoes, wanting our boys to understand why we are who we are because of the wonderful, brave people who preceded us.

For those of you who might not know, George Patton is buried in the American Cemetery in Luxembourg.  His cross (grave) sits on a slight rise that overlooks the other 5,075 graves of soldiers who were killed in the fighting in the Ardennes hills just north of the cemetery's location.  The cemetery was established in December of 1944 by General Patton himself as a temporary burial ground for the soldiers.  As you walk through the rows of crosses and headstones carved in the shape of the Star of David (118 soldiers were Jewish), you can't help but notice that many of the soldiers died during the winter of 1944-45, and represented just about every state in the U.S..  Turns out, many of these brave soldiers died during the Battle of the Bulge, which was Hitler's last offensive move against the Allied Forces.  The cemetery was developed in 1946 by American labor troops and German POWs.  They built a chapel, an office building, and other structures, as well as stone pathways that wove through the then 28 plots containing the remains of over 8400 soldiers.  In 1948, the cemetery was closed and local laborers were hired to exhume the remains of those soldiers whose families had requested the repatriation of their loved ones so that they may be buried in the U.S..  Over 5000 of the dead were shipped back to the U.S., while the others were reburied in the current concentric arcs according to the revised design of the cemetery.  An additional 1700 American dead were brought to Luxembourg for reburial from other temporary cemeteries in France and Belgium.  Of the original 267 unknown soldiers, all but 101 were positively identified.  Each of the remaining unknown soldiers bears a cross that declares that his identity is "known only by God".  I can't help but get chills knowing that that poor soul's family may have little idea that he resides there.  In recognition of the unknown soldiers who lost their lives in battles near this location, there are two very large marble tablets that list the names of 371 MIAs who were never recovered or rest in unknown graves.

The boys seemed to understand the relevance of our visit, despite the chilly air and spitting drizzle.  I am actually looking forward to them starting school, not just because I am looking forward to not hearing "I'm bored" anymore (though I haven't heard it much since we arrived here), but because I look forward to learning more about the centuries of history that surrounds us.  Next weekend, I think we are heading off to Trier, Germany - the oldest city in the country.  Mom would be proud :)

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