Nice’s Enduring Pain

That’s not a carousel — it’s a living, changing memorial to the July terror attack on the French Riviera resort of Nice.  The stuffed toys appear fresh, as if more of them have marched in every day or so, clean and untouched by the elements.  They’re so raw, and real, and since they’re in a small park just by the seaside promenade, they’re impossible to miss.

There are signs, too.  Some deeply angry.

Some grief-stricken still.


Just before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, this all felt especially immediate as this tiny Statue of Liberty watched over the sea nearby.


We saw and did so much more here in Nice, but these are the images we carry with us as we leave.



Cambodia, the Buddha and the Past


Monks lunch
Temple monks at lunch

We weren’t supposed to bomb Cambodia, but we did.  I remember the day that the revered Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield first learned of Nixon’s “secret” attack on what seemed to be a gentle, somewhat innocent country for which he held considerable affection.   He was almost trembling with rage.  I know now that his anger arose from what he knew would happen to Cambodia as a result of this assault on a nation so far not actively involved in the conflict.


Here are the tenets of Buddhism described by our guide YuKu; they inspired gentle Cambodia then and still do today: Neutralism, Tolerance, Compassion and Sympathy; Learn to know, Learn to do, Learn to be, Learn to live together. In many ways, our bombing wiped out the capacity to follow them.

In the years before Richard Nixon ordered the bombings in 1970 (there were, to be fair, Viet Cong racing over the Vietnamese border into Cambodia to avoid US and South Vietnamese troops) Buddhism offered a foundation, and the Cambodian economy was growing well. The bombs put an end to that growth and threw the country into the vicious chaos that brought on the killing fields. In thosse terrible years, the Khymer rouge herded most of the people into the countryside to farm.  Those who were were well educated were often executed instead.  More than 2 million met torture and death.

For me, the visit to the temple and the rest of our day were haunted by my growing awareness of just what our bombs had retarded or destroyed.  Not just temples and Buddhas.  Not even just the futures of the educated or political.  No.

We destroyed lives.

Cambodia has had to build or rebuild much of its infrastructure from roads to hospitals to schools.

We visited a school.  And we met Monica.

Second-grader Monica, “#1 student” in her class — 41 kids jammed three to a desk.

We all know poor countries have fewer resources to educate their children but the gap between our worst school and this one is pretty big. The kids go to school free but must buy their books, workbooks and supplies. And the teachers? Their documents and supplies are stored in a dusty filing cabinet in the one-room office. Not a computer in sight.

Monica and her 40 classmates


The school library

This is a tiny school that lets tours pass through once in a while.  I know it’s a tourist resource but there is no way to fake 41 kids singing to you about hygiene and brushing their teeth.  Or to imagine the poverty and determination that surrounds their classroom.  They lost so many years — maybe chunks of a generation, in fact, and are still far from recovered from those years.

For the village farmers it is the same.  The simplicity of their homes and paucity of resources is shattering.

The “spirit house” and, behind it, the outhouse.
The “living room” and bedroom for all but the girls who sleep behind a jerry-rigged door because “girls need privacy.”
The rest of the living space, next to the TV
The pantry.
The kitchen (pardon the shadows)

Part of the reason it is so painful to remember those days, whether here in Cambodia or in the US, where US universities exploded and four students died at Kent State at the hands of the National Guard, is that it doesn’t take long to determine that there is a basic sweetness in the Cambodian people that ill-prepared them to face down what landed upon them once the bombs began to fall.

You can see it in the face of our guide here as he sang to us before we left the bus to fly to Vietnam.  I know this post is all over the place but I kept rewriting it and there’s so much more to tell you about that I’m just going to leave it as a meditation on a terrible time.  Being in Cambodia and even more in Vietnam (that’s next) has awakened all kinds of things in me.  Which is what is travel is for.  It doesn’t help Monica and her friends though.

Our sweet, excellent guide YuKu singing us a farewell at the end of our day.