Remembering the Sammies with Three Old Men and All That Jazz

‘She was not crying for France, or for the doctor, who represented France, or for her father, shot with his own revolver. She was not even crying for himself. He felt she was crying for something that he could never have understood without her, and now did understand because of her. Deep and complete, within himself, all these things were part of the same thing, and he knew that what she was really crying for was the agony of all that was happening in the world.’

HE Bates, the English author who lived in my former home county of Northamptonshire in England, wrote these haunting lines in Fair Stood the Wind for France, one of the finest war novels I have read. Lines that could have easily echoed the sombre mood in France in 1917 in the midst of the First World War. In the summer of that year, American soldiers (nicknamed Sammies by the Europeans) got off their ships in the commune of Saint Nazaire in Brittany.

A hundred years have passed. And such events have got to be remembered. So in commemoration of this centennial event, even as I write and we go about our lazy Sundays, four trimarans are racing on the Atlantic alongside the Queen Mary 2, the iconic transatlantic ocean liner from the Cunard Line.

(On the first day when we moved into our building in Bayonne, I remember standing on the rooftop, watching the Queen Mary 2 as it docked in the Manhattan terminal, with a sweet old woman called Lorraine. And that was a completely blatant aside. So blatant that a few eggs my way would be not welcome but well deserved.)

Now the race ends tomorrow. But my post is not about a transatlantic race where expert seamen are vying with each other for distinction as they trace the voyage of the Sammies, nor is it about a trimaran (which if you are wondering about it, is a sailing boat). Instead the post finds its matter in the twin American passions for jazz and basketball – that the American soldiers carted along with them to France.

In December of 1917, in the middle of the war, a New York bandleader called Lt. James Reese Europe led his infantry troops of black soldiers through the small farms and concert halls across France, introducing locals to the sounds of swing and jazz. It confounded the French alright but they could not ignore its allure. In time, the Nazis did their best to do away with this brand of ‘degenerate music’ during their occupation of France yet the end of WWII saw jazz clubs accompany the wonderful proliferation of smoky literary cafés in Paris.

Years and years later, there we were on a hot hot summer’s day in Central Park, sitting with a big bunch of Frenchmen and women dressed in vintage straw boaters, white dresses and pinstripes, fanning ourselves and tapping our feet to the thrilling sounds of jazz. All in remembrance of those brave men.

You see it was Adi’s birthday, and being broke – how a move slashes the pockets through and through – I wanted to reserve a fancy dinner place. It was the only expensive thing we could do last night. The thought of a free jazz concert made my eyes twinkle.

If you are in New York during summer, you will be delighted to go find yourself a place in the SummerStage concerts. They are often staged for free in the blissful part of the city where its heart beats. I mean Central Park, of course.

In the concert area, you might find yourself scrambling up to the top of the stands, and seated next to a trio of jolly old men. As we did. Three veteran concert goers they were, and by that I mean, they were darned serious about it, attending about 6-7 shows every week, if you would believe that. They are the NYC concert know-it-alls. We were in hallowed company.

The frail old man, a former Texan, who sat next to me, was one who remains on top of the game with Twitter. He receives 250 tweets a day, which inform him about every cultural event in the city, and they also importantly update him about the whims of the clouds. ‘It will start raining again, you know,’ he informed me seriously. ‘And then the police – who are wonderful in times when you need help, so I cannot say bad things about them – will wrap up everything. No matter how important the singer up there on the stage.’

Half an hour into sitting up there, I wondered aloud to Adi, ‘What about beer?’ I could see tumble-y topple-y times ahead if the stand filled up soon. A bit alarming that, given me my well-placed concern for beer, ah icy beer. Plus my former flatmate would arrive with her husband and son soon to say hello before they took off for an opera. I got up and turned around to take our leave of our chatty friends. Their eyes had crinkled up with amazement. ‘What, moving already?’ they seemed to say. I assured them quickly that there were matters of beers, friends and loos at hand to be dealt with.

‘Ah very wise,’ they quipped. We would probably see them soon anyway around the city, they promised us with big smiles on their weathered faces, gleaming with kindness and sweat.

It had rained earlier in the day and a blanket of humidity was ready to choke the happiness out of us even as the sun chose to mellow down gradually. That mellowing down took a such long time – isn’t it surprising how a stifling summer’s day can seem to stretch forever?

A couple of purple bands issued at the entrance helped us bag a couple of excellent India Pale Ales each, for free, and the evening was beautiful. Suddenly we could say hah to the heat with impunity.

The French crooner sang her heart out in deep, dulcet tones. The violinist did a wonderful solo, exhaustive and electric, making me want to go break into a crazy dancing routine, while the sounds of the trumpet and the saxophone and the cello came together in perfect harmony. All for the cause of the Sammies who had fought valiantly in a war in a land not their own and taken along with them these sounds across the Atlantic that stayed on in that distant land for a long, long time.

But our remembering had to be short because the clouds had gathered in their dark numbers in the skies like determined hooligans and the ushers had sounded out the ‘the-stands-shall-be-evacuated-soon’ routine. Our former Texan friend, it turned out, was bang on target about the drill.

So in going with the theme called life where a few gaps, inconsistencies and anti-climaxes have to have their say, the perfect-imperfect end was at hand. The heavens did break loose upon us.

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80 thoughts on “Remembering the Sammies with Three Old Men and All That Jazz

  1. I’ll have to hard harder to make it to a concert the next time I’m there. There’s nothing like free beer to cool hot heads. I’m glad to see that you’re enjoying exploring the city. Another great post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Absolutely, scarfing down four cupcakes from Magnolia, two each, and soothing our aching soles at home while watching movies and planning what to eat next.

        The free beers happened because one of the ushers was kind enough to let us in on the secret. Most people were driven away from where we sat on the stands – even though we were not VIPs. The thing is that you have got to reach there first and grab seats, possibly at the top like our old friends did. They do not have the heart to throw you out then, it seems. Plus get a hold of bands at the entrance that can give you access to the good things xx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, Happy Birthday to Addi! Many wonderful returns. Your story about the Sammies was fascinating. Didn’t know about them or the Lieutenant that brought Swing and Jazz to the farms of France! Just a note, Lex’s grandmother was born at the end of WWI and will be celebrating her 100th birthday next year! Aren’t birthdays great? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw that is wonderful! She must have a bag of stories to share. I would love to read about them if you consider writing a post on her. Everyday in life for me is a bit more about learning new things. So here’s to this wonderful life, and also, Adi send you two virtual Magnolia cupcakes for the lovely wishes 🙂

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      1. I will wait to read this special post on her and I shall make it lemon and blueberry. My senses are still swimming in all that buttercream frosting and the delicious tangy flavour! 😀

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      1. That’s so nice to hear 🙂 It’s great when little things have such a big positive impact in our lives, and we can look back on them with fondness. Especially when it is with a loved one.

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  3. Though it was only a small part of the story, reading this made me go back in time to middle school when I played the violin. I was so good at it and loved doing concerts, I wish I had kept up with it. Good times.✨

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      1. It would be a lot of learning all over again 😩 it’s been years. But I know most would come back naturally. I’d definitely love to play again when I’m not trying to do so many other things at once lol

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  4. 😇😇Hai!! Im new here! 🙂 would u mind to take a look my blogs and give me some ur opinions? It would mean a lot for me! Thanks and have a good day!! 🙂

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  5. What a delightful post, from the music that lifted the spirits of France to the beers that lifted yours, I was captivated. Thank you .. and happy mildly belated birthday to Adi! Xx

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    1. Thank you love! He grins in happiness. Since he is working from home and seated next to me. It was surreal to find history, jazz, Maurice Chevalier lookalikes and free beer within that gorgeous park. Struck gold there xx

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      1. Oh, you will understand … on the move – many questions about where I would be but it is now settled … for now! I will be posting a few little distractions in the next couple of weeks whilst I nip back to England to check all is well and then get back in the saddle in August. That’s the plan. But it may go squiffy … you know the ropes! Thank you so much for asking. It’s nice to be noticed by absence 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have been noticing it and missing your posts. Just thought I should ask why already.

        I am curious about where you shall be settling. All in good time – when you are ready to let everyone know. Ah, good ol’ England. Please give her my heartfelt hugs and good luck for the plans to fall into line. Love and hugs xx

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    1. Hiya Nina, it was indeed. Adi did make me happy by saying it was one of the best. The veterans were adorable. Their passion about the concerts and music and Maurice Chevalier lookalikes made me smile. Let’s hope I meet them again 😉 xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Tracey 🙂 Thanks! It was heartwarming and amusing too. To meet a man as old as my father who is yet so with it. Twitter and social media at his fingertips. My father cannot wrap his head around them even if I sit with him for a week and teach him everything 😉 xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks Cheila. Conveyed to him right away. He says thanks with a wide smile. I did gossip girling with my boy who identified spots like where Blair and Chuck got married. He is a closet GG fan! My next post will have more on Central Park xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, Chuck Bass. Remember Blair said she had an itch only he could scratch? There’s several types of men, then there’s chuck bass. I think Rui might have a crush on that Arrow Guy

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  6. Ahh, I always love reading your posts – they bring such a smile to my face! I’m glad you found something fun to do that didn’t break the bank . . . and it will be a lovely birthday to remember for Adi! (Also – I had no clue that you ever lived in England!) xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Mia, thank you 🙂 It was a lovely birthday for Adi, and we did splurge a little on food by the end of it, so I had to balance it out. Fortunately, some great things in life can also come free 😉 We lived in Leicester for some time but mostly in Northampton xx

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