Last week I announced that our family is travelling to see a total eclipse of the sun in the USA. On Monday 21st August 2017 millions of people in parts of the USA will see the phenomenon. The eclipse will make landfall in a narrow strip from the Pacific northwest all the way to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina. We’ve been dreaming of seeing this total eclipse ever since we saw one in the Champagne region of France in 1999. I wrote my story in Views of a Total Solar Eclipse from France but I’ve also asked friends who were there for their memories too.
Andy got bitten the eclipse bug
“It was my second eclipse, because Graham and I had sort-of-unwittingly seen the one in Antigua a couple of years earlier. They remain among the most spectacular natural things I’ve ever seen. Absolutely jaw-dropping stuff. And you have the build-up of partial eclipse, and remember seeing those as a kid and being a bit underwhelmed. Even at 99% totality it all feels a bit like a normal day, but a little colder. And then suddenly everything changes.
The nerd in me wanted to see all the science-y things like the crescent shadows and the multiple shadows and to try and see Baileys Beads and all that. But in reality I just stood there gaping.
In France we were next to an old church, on a ridge, having a picnic. It seemed as fine a spot as any. Well, the previous one we saw on the beach in the Caribbean with a volcano erupting across the straits… which might have spoiled me a bit.
It may be that too much champagne has meant that I don’t recall much else. I remember a very good couscous restaurant, and everyone being in a really good mood all the time, and how much I enjoyed the whole thing. We finally made plans to see the 2017 one. I’d gotten a little shoulder-shruggy blasé I think, because I’d seen two, but now I’m like a little child again.”
Simon got some perspective and some booze
“At the moment of totality I suddenly became overwhelmingly aware of perspective the huge scale of what I was witnessing and how small we are. We got a great view and the weather cleared just in time. The village itself may have been dull but what does that matter when all eyes are on the spectacle in the heavens?
Memories of the holiday that stand out: Knocking on the doors of champagne merchants more or less at random and (with our terrible French) buying bottles and bottles of the stuff to take home. Verdun and the Great War battlefields. Janet’s shopping expedition. Going out for a posh meal on our last night, getting somewhat boisterous and all the other diners frowning at us…
I’d like to see an eclipse again, but I wouldn’t travel halfway round the world for it. It didn’t turn me into an eclipse hunter.”
Alison soaked up the culture
“It was an incredible experience. I remember feeling very moved by “le retour de soleil” The chill in the air when the sun went in was also a moment when I felt that I was experiencing something very special. The quietness of the birds at the total eclipse was eerie. It didn’t matter at all to me where we were; it was the company that was important and the shared experience of being there with a group of friends. The clear view was important – it didn’t matter at all that we were by a road!
It was a great trip; I loved the tour of Mumm Champagne; the coolness of the cellars; the suggestive way the female tour guide removed the corks from the champagne. The trip to the top of Reims Cathedral also stood out for me as a highlight; at the top there were incredible carvings of wild boar. The Chagall Windows were beautiful too.
We went on a trip to the trenches as well; I had previously visited the Belgian trenches on a school trip; but these trenches had a very different feel; you were free to explore them on your own; you could go down tunnels and walk through the trenches. Wildlife had taken over and it was particularly poignant to see the beautiful trees and shrubs while trying to imagine the horror of what the trenches had been like during the war.
Janet – your impressive shopping trip – never have I seen a woman with quite as many shopping bags in a short afternoon! (Editor’s note: I deny it! I bought one pair of trousers, a top and a notebook!)
I would love to see another eclipse; and also to share it with my children. I have seen a partial eclipse since then; it didn’t have the impact!”
Sally made great memories
“It was a truly unique and magical moment, I felt really at peace when in the stillness then with the swirling during the eclipse. I have great memories of just being on an adventure with friends.
The champagne was great (and now I can only drink the best!) The Chagall window at the church in Reims is something I will treasure seeing forever. I definitely wish I could take my kids to see a total eclipse when they are a bit older.”
Time has eclipsed Mik’s memory
“It was dark. I can’t remember where we were, it was nearly twenty years ago! It would be nice to see another eclipse.”
People see it differently
I am hugely grateful to these friends for sharing their memories. Eclipse hunters are very enthusiastic people and understandably so because it’s a spectacle that just cannot be matched. However I have met a few people who have seen totality once or twice and don’t feel the need to repeat it. These friends tend to be the type who like to do everything once. Nothing wrong with that. But at least they are happy that they saw it because a partial eclipse is far more common and nothing at all like totality.
“Get your ass to totality!”
Read the first part of this two-part travelogue – click here