‘A Good Drink’ and the Norman Hole

Have you ever heard of the Norman Hole? It has to do with the cherished apple digestif Calvados, which has been made in towns here in Normandy for centuries. Our guide Jean-Paul Herbert educated us about this tradition while we ate fish at a beachside restaurant in Le Havre this afternoon. The Norman Hole is what you have between meals, a shot of the fiery apple brandy in between courses to cleanse your palette. He said that some women now prefer to have a little bowl of Calvados sorbet, or even a few drops on a sugar cube. But the burly fishermen and farmers swear by the shot. Tonight we sipped our Calvados after the meal, not in between.

Herbert also talked of having ‘a good drink.’ We paused at that, and he explained that he meant a drink with friends, a collegial sort of belt, a social time. That’s a good drink. We walked for what felt like miles across the shore and docklands of this bustling port city, and watched two oil tankers and then two container ships make their way to the huge cranes of the port. While Marseille claims the title of shipping the most freight, Le Havre has big plans to expand, adding ten cranes and dredging their port to accommodate the biggest container ships, which dwarf today’s models. The city also has plans to build a tram, like they have in Caen, to wean people off of having to bring cars into the city. We saw a model of this big plan when we went to the Hotel de Ville (city hall) to view the city from the 17th floor.

Le Havre’s harbor area was nearly completely flattened by allied bombers, and the rebuilding was led the great architect Auguste Perret. His work was so lauded by people around the world that the redevelopment area has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site, rare for an urban area, but a designation that made everyone here very proud.