“Pour nous, c’est très présent,” remarked my octogenarian friend, a distinguished French scholar of English literature at the Sorbonne, when I told him of my plan to leave behind the delights of Paris for the somber battlefield at Verdun. A century ago his grandfather, a young subaltern, had served there and been incapacitated in a German gas attack. Today, and perhaps then as well, this defining struggle of World War I could not seem further from the oblivious bobos strolling below the aged academic’s worn but high-valued flat on the Rue des Beaux-Arts. Or could it? From Paris’s Gare de l’Est, Verdun and its surrounding combat zone lie less than two hours away via tgv. An early morning start...

 

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