A double whammy.
A late November weather front swept in from the southwest today, bringing its rain-sleet-snow announcement that winter has come to the North Country and will hang on like a long-term visitor. That is to be expected, but the second blow of the one-two punch is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a malady that medical websites describe as “a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms.” Maybe it is just a common cold, but RSV sounds much more intimidating. A serious disease.
(I had no idea how to say “Syncytial,” so I visited another website that told me the correct pronunciation is sin-SISH-uhl. A fancy medical term for “a lot of sneezing and coughing and snot.”)
The rain-sleet-snow storm is welcome across the upper Midwest because most of us have been locked in a summer-long drought and we desperately need the precipitation. This storm will not bring enough to restore ponds, lakes and rivers to anything like their normal levels, but the not-yet-frozen ground is gratefully sucking down the moisture.
So I feel pangs of selfish guilt for complaining this weather has ruined a day of pheasant hunting for me. If I was as tough and bold as I was forty years ago, I would be out there hunting in spite of the storm. If I was as tough and bold as I was forty years ago, I would be doing all kinds of the crazy stuff that has made me what I am today: old, feeble, incapacitated, achy, slow, dull-witted, with an immune system that can no longer fight off a piddling virus like RSV.
My goal for the day is to drink 10 or 12 cups of tea to flush this ailment out of my body so that in a few days I can resume life as a chasseur with my French spaniel Abbey.
Which brings me to the educational element of this blog post.
Chasseur can be translated from French to English as hunter, but chasseurs à pied is more properly translated as light infantry, an important unit in Napoleonic army formations. (Bear with me here.)
I learned that on this snowy November morning while reading a history of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, and I was shocked to discover that it was NOT (as I had long assumed) the French general Pierre Etienne Cambronne who spoke the most famous words of that world-changing battle. When a final French army assault by Napoleon’s select Imperial Guard was repelled with devastating losses by the musketry volleys of the English 1st Infantry Brigade, the battle was hopelessly lost. The English brigade’s commander major-general Sir Peregrine Maitland allegedly shouted:
“Surrender, brave Frenchmen!”
The commanding general of the Imperial Guard replied:
“La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!” (The Guard dies, it does not surrender!)
Long known to historians as the words of Cambronne, that alleged reply to Maitland’s plea for surrender was in fact spoken by General Claude-Etienne Michel who commanded the 1st Chasseurs à Pied of the Imperial Guard. True to his word, Michel continued to fight and was killed.
The exchange of shouts between the generals is almost certainly apocryphal. If anything of the sort did occur, the few survivors of the 1st Chasseurs à Pied reported that Michel’s reply was a single word:
Michel’s “La Garde meurt…” response is of course more gallant and glorious, more honorable in the military code of the early 19th century, but if any word was spoken, I have no doubt the word was “Merde!”
Probably because that’s how I’m feeling today.