On the first day of my high-school Latin class, Mrs. Duncan declared (as did Julius Caesar before her), “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.” Translation: “Gaul is a whole divided into three parts.”
Gaul? It was Greek to me.
Caesar conquered the three parts of Gaul between 58 and 50 BCE. Millions were killed or enslaved during the invasion.
The region known to Caesar as Gaul is now France, Belgium, and parts of Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.
The conquerors and the conquered proceeded to romanize the place. On a recent visit to France, I saw lots of evidence of their public projects.
My first stop was Reims (pronounced to rhyme with taunts), a city in the former province of Champagne in northeast France.
Founded around 18 BCE by a Gallic tribe, Reims became the second largest city in Roman Gaul with a population of over fifty thousand. Its residents enjoyed numerous amenities, including an aqueduct, marketplace, arena, theater, temples, and baths.
Nothing remains of these monuments above ground, except the mammoth Porte de Mars, the last remaining entry gate into the city. Below the surface, however, it’s another story, best told while the champagne chills.
At every summit, I hoped we were done with the uphill climbs, but, with each one, the top of another mountain loomed ahead in the mist.
The wind was now gusting to forty miles per hour and driving the rain sideways. I was soaked, even inside of the rain gear. The only way out of the storm was to keep climbing.
Picking my way carefully through mud and rocks, I lagged behind and lost sight of the others. Then, on a downhill section, I slipped sideways and fell.
As I tumbled, I grabbed at a wire fence to catch myself, spun around, and landed backwards against the pale.
Leaning against the wires, I paused to consider my situation. I was off-balance on a steep decline. I was ankle-deep in a mud puddle. Wind was howling at my back. And I was surprised to find myself ensnared by the fence.
As I struggled to get free, I realized the top wire to which I was clinging was barbed. The palm of my right hand was dripping blood from a couple of punctures. Another barb had impaled the shoulder of my rain jacket and held it tight. And one more had pierced both the pack cover and the pack.
James Connolly was carried into the Stonebreakers’ Yard of Kilmainham Gaol on a stretcher.
A few days earlier, he had been in command during the armed insurrection in Dublin called the Easter Rising. The revolt was launched on April 24, 1916, by Irish rebels attempting to break free of British rule. It lasted for six days.
The rebels chose the General Post Office (GPO) to serve as their headquarters due to its central location and position as the country’s telegraph center.
After occupying the GPO, Patrick Pearse, one of the movement’s leaders, stepped in front of the building and read aloud the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
Over the next few days, fighting occurred in pockets throughout the city center. However, with greater numbers and better weapons, the British suppressed the rebellion in less than a week.
The GPO was destroyed by fire, except for the granite facade. Connolly was wounded. Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender.
The rebel leaders were arrested, quickly tried, and sentenced to death.
Three postponements later, I was finally able to set off. Traveling internationally during a global pandemic required some additional measures.
In total, I took three COVID-19 tests—one within three days of flying, one upon arrival in London, and one within three days of returning home.
The first I took at a local pharmacy; the second, at a test station within Heathrow Airport; and the third, in a hotel room using an online test kit. All were uncomfortable. All were quick.
In England, wearing masks was mandated on public transport, such as trains and the Tube. Elsewhere, they were optional. Few of the British wore them.
At the time of the trip, eighty percent of England’s population over the age of twelve were fully vaccinated (compared to not quite sixty percent in the United States).
Due to travel restrictions, foreign tourists seem to be curiosities in England. At Waterloo station, I asked an agent to validate my rail pass. He seemed fascinated by it. “I haven’t seen one of these in two years,” he said.