Copyright © 2003 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
Well it is about a month since my last letter so I guess I have to stop being lazy and get to work.
The end of the postal strike was very welcomed. Our letters and cards to you eventually reached their destinations and we, at last, got letters here.
During December we coped with the Mêtro strike. It made it difficult for us to get to the American Library. Martin and I went together once and then the next two times I let him struggle alone. Now we are reaping the benefits of the strike's aftermath. The monthly mêtro commuter card "The Orange Card" is half price this month. Perhaps as compensation for those who bought cards for December. So we bought orange cards and can have unlimited bus and Mêtro use this month.
The strike benefited the workers at the Bastille Mêtro stop. This stop is getting a complete overhaul because of the new Opera House and also perhaps because this year is the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. The Fall of the Bastille played a somewhat significant role in that affair. This week the workers are installing a tiled mural that looks quite nice. They got a lot done once the line shut down and they didn't have to worry about the riders.
Our Life Aboard
1. The plastic storm windows worked very well, but unfortunately our water collection containers were too small. I unsealed the corners to empty them, but then couldn't reseal them tightly enough. We just bought empty plastic bottles from the drug store to use as bigger water collectors and new plastic and new double faced tape and will try again.
2. The heat is excellent. At first Martin was taking the shopping cart and a jerry can to the garage and buying car diesel to burn in the heater until we learned that a fuel barge comes into the marina about every third Saturday morning and delivers "red" heating diesel. In Europe they add red coloring to the diesel for home heating and this is, because of the tax, almost half the price of car diesel! Unfortunately the first Saturday morning that the barge came we had just filled all our jerry cans. The next time, we didn't have any money, but the third time we were prepared with empty tanks and full pockets.
3. Toilet facilities. Martin spent one day taking apart the "head" and replacing the rubber gaskets, valves, and fittings. This, unfortunately, is a job that has to be done three times a year by liveaboards. He is getting to be quite an expert. If he ever wants to earn an honest living again he could be a marine plumber.
4. Water pump and transformer. He also is a pretty handy electrician. After he electrified the boat - 6 different 220 volt light fixtures plus 4 outlet fixtures - he bought a small transformer. This device changes 220 volts into 12 volts and runs the water pump and shower discharge pump. It worked great for two months then this week the water pump began to fail. First he tried to buy a new pump. Luckily the marine store was out because then he tested the transformer and discovered that it was malfunctioning. He managed to get BHV (Bazaar Hotel de Ville) to give us a new one, but we don't know why it failed. They are made for boats and motor homes, but can they resist the moisture in this environment? Right now we are using the 12 volt batteries again.
5. Does anyone know anything about calcium salts and deposits in water? We get white flakes and caking in our pots and thermos. Someone said it was calcium and harmless, but it is certainly unsightly.
6. Neighbors and New Friends. We had our "next door neighbors" in for dinner. They had invited us in to visit on our first or second day here and have been quite helpful, although actually Martin has done more for them than they for us. Charlotte is fluent in English and very lively. Michel is a retired French Army Surgeon (Viet Nam, etc.). He retired 12 years ago and they have been sailing and living aboard ever since in Greece, Italy, etc. Recently Michel received a pace-maker and is now very passive. They will have to stay put. They sold their sailboat and now have a large motorboat that is jammed with electrical appliances: washer/dryer, dish washer, microwave, sewing machine, electric tools, TV. But they don't seem to know much about amps, watts and the limitations. Twice they have had blackouts and Martin had to rescue them. He put in quite a few hours one day tracing the problem to a short in the computer extension. Anyway we had an enjoyable dinner together and they are nice neighbors.
A few days ago we had a young American couple in. They have been living here on a small canal boat for two years. Their only boating trip was a 100 km trip bringing the boat to the marina. They would like a larger boat but can't afford it. They seem to be a very nice couple.
For a week we visited back and forth with a lively British couple, Brenda and Dave. They had just sailed over on a 26' boat. They had landed at Calais a month and a half ago and were overjoyed to find English speaking people. They seem starved for conversation. We spent one evening on their boat and they visited us twice. Once was unexpected, on New Year's Eve, so we never got out to see how the French celebrated over in the Latin Quarter. People got a little noisy here. We could see fireworks and some boaters sent up distress flares (they shouldn't). The apartment dwellers came out on their balconies and shouted. The boats blew their horns and rang their bells. Two or three boats took off and paraded down the canal, not very far, just to the lock. There was probably a boater's party down by the captain's office but by that time we had had enough.
One December evening we went out for a walk and crossed the bridge to the Left Bank. Near the Pantheon we met an American couple and stopped to talk. He was an airline pilot and came to Paris often, but his wife hadn't been here for 25 years. We talked for quite awhile. They asked if we didn't miss anything from the US and we said yes, we needed a paper bag! I wrap my iron Dutch oven in an oiled paper bag and mine from Florida's Publix was getting threadbare. A week or so later as I am putting my garbage in the container on the dock by the boat, I find stuck on the top of the container a Safeway paper bag imprinted with "Merry Christmas" and a wreathe!
The Picasso Museum houses a huge collection of his work acquired by the French in lieu of estate taxes plus Picasso donated his private collection of other painter's paintings. The museum is in the Marais area in a beautiful 17th century mansion, the Hôtel Salé. The mansion has been successfully recycled as a museum and the collection is fantastic - paintings, ceramics, and sculpture. He experimented with so many different ideas and media. It was quite an experience to see such a vast display of his work covering the various periods of his life. We both thoroughly enjoyed it and will go again.
Paris Boat Show. Naturally we couldn't pass up a return visit to this. It was held in a different exhibition complex this year. They had more motor boats than last year and loads of American boats. The exchange rate must be favorable for American exports. Let's hope the French buy American and improve our trade balance.
Church of St. Paul and St. Louis. Every other day while walking on Rue St. Antoine to do our shopping we pass this church. The exterior is city dirty with ugly wooden doors painted a dark maroon/purplish color. Yet if you walk down the facing side street and see the building from a distance it is quite impressive. One day we went inside. Amazing! Built in 1627 on land donated by Louis XIII, it is quite beautiful with a lovely dome and beautiful art work. Since it is only a few blocks from the mansions in The Marais and the royal residences at Place des Vosges, it was at one time "the" church.
Sacré Coeur. By French standards this immense white church is a baby, built between 1876 and 1919. We took the Mêtro to Pigalle and looked around the Parisian Times Square area. Since it was in the morning everything was quiet and people were just going about their normal shopping routines. From there we walked up the hill to the funicular which is run by the Paris Mêtro and for one Mêtro ticket apiece rode that up the incline. The view from the front of the basilica is great but I walked up the spiral stone staircase to the top of the dome where I could see in all directions. It was a beautiful clear day, quite a rarity for Paris in the winter. I walked around the dome twice picking out all the landmarks I could recognize. I kept looking for Martin so I could wave to him, but he was standing on the porch below me. From the church we walked the two blocks to the Place du Tertre, the Greenwich Village type square filled with painters, portrait artists and tourists. We had lunch in one of the cafés and then wandered down the hill ending up by mistake on the far side, but catching the Mêtro home from there.
Grand Palais. This building and the Petit Palais across the street were leftovers from the 1900 World Exhibition. They are located between the Champs Élysées and the river. The Grand Palais houses a science museum in one part and temporary art exhibits in another part. We went to see an exhibit of 17th century Italian art but arrived on Tuesday when the exhibit was closed so just walked around and looked at the building which is always a pleasure here. Then we looked at some shops and tried to see into the garden of the Élysée Palais, the French White House, but the fence is covered with steel plates. We did not walk around to the front, you probably can't see the house from there either. Instead we walked by the American Embassy and then in through the Tuileries past the temporary amusement park. People were riding the water canoe "Flume Ride" even though it was a January day. We walked up to the Louvre and then home. The next day we came back to see the exhibit. There was a waiting line to get in. It is the first time we have had to wait but we were entertained by a poor cellist playing for his supper. He was a poor cellist in more ways than one. The exhibit had been open for, I think two or three months, and was closing that week. It was very large and well displayed but too many religious works for our taste.
Bois de Boulogne. We spent two Sundays exploring sections of this enormous park on the outskirts of Paris. There are some lovely little lakes used by row boats in the summer and by toy remote controlled motor boats when we walked by. Families were out trying their new Christmas presents - boats, remote controlled cars, bikes and skates. Inside the big park there are little parks, gardens and play areas for adults and children, plus two race courses - Longchamp and Auteuil. We walked in the Poet's Garden and Pré Catelan garden and had coffee at a café in the middle of the woods. The gardens and woods must be beautiful in the spring, but I like to walk in the woods even in the winter.
Our rose garden at the marina still has flowers blooming! I can look out my window at the lovely pink and red roses. The gardeners come regularly and really keep the place trimmed and neat. After writing this in the morning, the gardeners came this afternoon and cut down the roses for their winter sleep. Oh well.
We made two trips to the American Services offices of the US Embassy to get new documents notarized for the renewal of our French resident cards. We have to renew this month. Hopefully the process won't be too long. We also got a list of English speaking doctors and dentists and will make appointments to get our teeth cleaned and examined soon.
We have been following the good and bad news via the French papers, the International Herald Tribune, VOA and BBC. Just in case any of you have any contact with George Bush tell him we would like to hear only good news.
And we hope that your news to us continues to be good and everyone stays well in 1989.
Love to all,
Well here is another of my letters from Paris. We are continuing to enjoy our honeymoon in Paris - Notre lune de miel. The weather has been magnificent: no rain, not too cold and quite a few days of sun. After weeks of gray, overcast days, the appearance of the sun during the day and the stars at night has been miraculous. For the French, the weather has set records, however the lack of rain has meant no snow for the ski resorts and bad news for the farmers. But for us it has made it safer to get on and off the boat. To reach the dock we have to walk across the top of a large Dutch sailing boat and both the top of this and the floating dock are treacherous with a thin layer of frost. The weather has turned colder during the last couple of days, but it is still dry.
We successfully renewed our one year resident permits (Carte de Sejour) with a minimum of time, fuss and bother. Having been through the routine before we knew what to expect and Martin had all the papers prepared so it only took a couple of hours. We had only a short wait on the outside line. Last year the crowd was so large that it took most of the day. We should get a letter later in the month informing us when to return to pick up our cards - hopefully both on the same day.
Martin reverted to his past life and became a high school professor for two hours. Chantal Fontaine asked us to visit two of her senior English classes and give a talk about American TV! As part of their graduation tests, these students have to read a series of one page English essays and then be able to discuss one with an examiner. Chantal had found an article about TV in a magazine and had cut it down to one page. Unfortunately in taking the paragraphs out of context she had ruined the article. It was impossible for us to tell if the article had anything to say or if the author had proven his points. But she had already given it to them so Martin was stuck with trying to discuss the role of TV in America. Not exactly a subject either one of us knows much about. I can imagine David's reaction to his father trying to discuss TV. But mainly it gave the students a chance to hear some American accented English. A few of the braver students asked questions which was good practice. These students were very bright, but science and math majors. Chantal said that they didn't work very hard on their English.
The school is a private, Catholic school - grammar and high school and is only 4 or 5 blocks from our marina. It is located in one of the old "hôtels" (mansions) of the Marais area right opposite the Seine. It was built in 1630 by the famous architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart (of Mansard roof fame). The mansion became a school in 1877. At night the building is lighted and looks quite impressive - very old with elaborately carved stone decorations. There are two stone sphinxes sitting on top of the exterior wall guarding the gate. During the day it looks old and shabby; private schools are always strapped for funds.
We walked through a small door in the wall and entered a large courtyard and then could see the hidden face of the building - again quite impressive. The school has another internal courtyard which is used as a playground. The first day we visited we ate lunch with the teachers in the basement cafeteria. An elaborate lunch by American school standards: choice of salad, sliced roast turkey and spaghetti, yogurt, pudding, or cheese for dessert. Then on the teacher's tables were bottles of beer and wine. You would never see that in the States! On our second visit we took Chantal out to lunch to a nearby café. The small room was packed when we arrived and we had to wait for a table. It was an excellent lunch, but I am afraid that Chantal was late for her afternoon university class.
On one of our more glorious January days we went over to the Trocedero area and watched the roller skaters and skate boarders. The Trocedero is a huge museum and theater complex on the Right Bank across the river from the Eiffel Tower. The building has two large curving arms with a huge plaza area in the middle. I believe that there is a theater under the plaza, the guide book says it is one of the biggest in Paris, but we haven't seen it. This complex sits on a hill, below are long fountains flanked by two roads leading up to the theater under the plaza. There are no cars on these roads, at least not on Sundays, only skaters. The plaza is also full of skaters, tourists, and families out for a stroll. There are beginners, out with their parents, just learning to skate, pre-teens, teenagers, and boys in their twenties. The stunts are spectacular. One group had a "steeplechase jump" set up. They would go flying over their fence, soaring over a short flight of stairs and land miraculously on their feet and then weave through the sightseers. On one of the lower roads 30 to 40 red plastic road cones were set up in a long line. The experts were slaloming in and out as they raced faster and faster down the slight hill. Sometimes a cone would go over, but not usually. Some of the boys could even do it on one skate. One boy did it carrying a girl in his arms, an unbelievable sight. The fountains were playing, the sun was shining, everyone was having a great time and the view across the river to the Tower was fantastic.
On Sunday, Jan. 29th we decided to join Pres. Mitterand and the American Ambassador at the American Stakes trotting race. Our engraved invitations must have been lost in the mail, but we decided to go anyway. We did not want to disappoint the Ambassador, and besides the weather was spectacular. We took the Métro to the Vincennes stop where we found a line of buses transporting the crowd to the race track at the other end of the park. In all our years in Baltimore we never went to Pimlico for the Preakness. Probably we shouldn't have gone to Vincennes for the American Stakes. The crowd was so immense we could only see the tops of the horses. We had to watch the races on a huge screen in front of the grandstand. But it was quite exciting. The American Stakes was the fourth race. Before the race the screen showed the arrival of the President, the Ambassador and the other important people. Then the French cavalry rode around the track in their parade uniforms, fancy feathered hats and bugles. This was followed by a parade of the racers. The first jockey wore a blue outfit with white stars all over it. His horse was covered with a red and white striped blanket, perhaps made of flowers. By standing on tiptoes I could just see the horses and band, but it was easier to watch the screen. All the jockeys and horses were decked out in their finest. The favorite did not win. Unfortunately neither did our choice.
January was a good month for us as far as transportation went. We enjoyed the convenience of our half priced "Orange Card", the Métro and bus commuter card. You have to give the Métro ticket seller a photo. He puts this on your card and encloses it in a plastic case which has a little pocket for the small month orange ticket. The small ticket is put into the Métro turnstile just like the regular yellow individual trip tickets, but the orange one comes out unstamped and is used over and over again all month. On buses, however, you don't put it into the machine, you just flash it at the driver. I don't know what method is used in NYC nowadays. They used metal tokens when I lived in there. Here the tickets are paper. Ten for about 30 francs or about 50 cents each. No bus transfers, but you can easily transfer from one Métro line to another. The Métro cars are filled with musical beggars and the busier underground passageways have musicians also. You always get a concert in the Paris Métro whether you want one or not.
We made at least 96 individual one way trips using our Orange Cards in January. Most of the time with a destination in mind, but some of our bus trips were just for fun and to look at the scenery. Great way to see the town!
Eventually we got to the Rodin Museum, after two failed attempts. The first due to the December Métro strike, the second due to a long line. A recent movie about Rodin and one of his lovers, Camille Claudel, has probably doubled the attendance at this museum. On January 11th we tried again and made it. The museum is near the Invalides and across from the wide park leading up from the river. The house is not that old by Parisian standards; it was built in 1723. Its last private owner lost his head in 1793. In 1820 it became a school and convent. The nuns tore out the decorated carved wooden wall panels in most of the rooms, but the building is still magnificent. In 1904 the nuns were turned out and the state took it over and made the mansion into an artist's residence. Rodin lived there until 1917, not paying rent, but giving the state his statues instead. (France has acquired its enormous art collection in quite a variety of ways.) The works are, of course, very beautiful. Seeing the famous ones was nice, but seeing the ones I didn't know about was even better. Some rooms contained works of Camille Claudel. Personally I thought some of these were as good as his, but then I am no expert.
We did not go to see the movie "Camille Claudel" since it is in French, but we did go to see "Bagdad Cafe". It was the first movie we have seen since last spring in Enkhuizen and we both enjoyed it. The story line is quite odd, but it works. The best thing about going to the movies here is no popcorn, cokes or candy. People go to see the movie, not to eat. Paris has an interesting government. Martin read in the paper today that the government is going to subsidizes half price movie tickets for a week in February for the 6 o'clock show. Usually you can get half or reduced prices on Monday night, but this is the theater policy not the governments.
We also visited the Delacroix Museum located in the house and workshop of the artist, but this was not a grand mansion just a modest home with a modest sized garden and a building in the backyard housing the workshop. The buildings hold a small art collection, no major works, some very interesting illustrations of Shakespeare's plays. My major interest in this museum was in just finding it. Periodically I study French using language tapes and one of the lessons mentioned this tiny museum tucked away in an attractive corner of Paris. Actually it is in the heart of the city but quite hidden. When we finally found the block we almost missed the sign for the museum. Then if I hadn't heard the tape I wouldn't have known about the garden and that you had to go outdoors to find the workshop. It reminded me of Paula's first apartment in Annapolis which consisted of two apartments separated by an outside stairway.
On February 1st, we visited the Petit Palais, which isn't too petit, but is opposite the Grand Palais. The Petit Palais houses one of the city's art collections. We saw their regular collection and also a special exhibit of "art nouveau" . They called it "Symbolism". All in all quite a nice human size museum with a pleasant variety of arts and styles.
One Sunday we walked to Père Lachaise, a famous cemetery jammed packed with elaborate monuments and mausoleums. It was a beautiful day and we had plenty of company. People go there as they do to art museums. Most of the tourists buy maps at the office in order to find the graves of famous people, but we just wandered around and found numerous interesting and beautiful sculptures.
We continue to follow the news by radio and newspaper. Martin buys Le Figaro everyday now and follows the news in French. I try my hand at some of the articles - some are easier than others. The Wednesday edition includes a tabloid section for theater, movies, concerts, restaurant reviews, and weekly events. The weekend edition includes a TV magazine (no good to us) and two big glossy magazines which are always interesting. The main magazine is also published in Houston, Texas and available for $225.00 a year, so it must have a readership in the US. The newspaper always has a political cartoon on the front page and this is usually a challenge to figure out. Right now the French/American stock scandal is big news. Martin and I were interested in the Bastille Opera House conductor dispute. Living here and watching the progress of the construction we feel that we have a personal stake in the matter. On our semimonthly trips to the American Library I've been reading the Tribune or sometimes Time and Martin checks The Wall Street Journal.
Our big purchase for the month was a remnant of linoleum for the galley and head floor (kitchen and bath, for you landlubbers). These floors are bare concrete, actually the ballast of the boat, and in direct contact with the hull and water and therefore cold! We had tried to paint them but the paint didn't stick, even though it was the good outside deck paint. I had rug remnants down but wanted the linoleum for looks, cleanliness and for an extra layer of insulation. The salesman gave us the piece for 28 francs, about $4.65, not a bad deal.
Our very best to all,
We continue to watch the progress being made on the new Opera building. It is so immense; the work goes on and on. They are laying marble on the grand staircase now. Last week they were playing with the night time flood lights and we enjoyed the evening light shows. The lights were quite beautiful but then they added blue neon edges at the various tops of the building. Slightly gaudy. I think I like it though. Martin definitely doesn't.
At last we wandered over to the Place d'Aligré and its market. We have so many good stores right here and a big open air market on Sundays and Thursdays that we hadn't bothered to look at the other neighborhood markets. The Place d'Aligré market is open every morning except Monday. There is an old covered market building with granite floors that slope in the middle forming a little sewer/gutter. In the middle of the market is an old fountain (just practical, not a work of art). There are plenty of pigeons wandering around although I noticed that there is a chicken wire inside "roof" to prevent the birds from roosting above the stalls. The doorways to the market are hung with wide plastic strips to keep out the wind and cold. Then outside the covered market, stalls line the circle and two or three adjoining streets. Alongside this traditional way of shopping, just opposite the covered market we found a huge American style supermarket. It was practically deserted while the streets were jammed.
In our immediate neighborhood on Rue St. Antoine we usually patronize the small shops: a butcher, a baker, a fish market, a self serve vegetable market. (I like this vegetable stand. At the open market you can't pick out your own tomatoes, vegetables and fruits and sometimes I am quite disappointed. These stores on Rue St. Antoine are also completely open in front. They expand their shops by using the sidewalks. The shops close at 12:30 reopen at 3:30.
To buy paper goods and can goods, we go a Monoprix. The Monoprix is a low price department store chain. Ours has two floors. The first floor has clothes, kitchen supplies, beauty products, paper, etc. A typical American 5 & 10. Downstairs is a complete grocery store: meats, fish, deli, vegetables, cereals... You can buy toilet paper and paper towels downstairs, but if you want Kleenex or sanitary napkins, you must go upstairs. A large area is devoted to wines and liquors. There is only a small case for fresh milk. The French don't use much fresh milk. There are large stacks of sterilized milk in cartons or plastic bottles. I didn't like it at first but have gotten used to it. Now we keep an extra milk carton on the shelf since it doesn't need to be refrigerated until you open it.
Quite a few brands of products are familiar. Some because they are European products or companies like Nestles's and Nescafe coffee. We can buy Lever Brothers soap, Rubbermaid plastics, Knorr package soups, Kellogg and Quaker cereals, Coke, Colgate, etc. We were buying table wine there, then saw that our neighbors got their wine delivered so we bought a case of red wine in a milk carton box and save the bottles to return. Very cheap, but good. Everyday we buy a long thin French bread for 3 francs 10 ( about 50 cents). We usually manage to resist the croissants and pastries, but once a month I weaken and buy a beignet.
Our neighborhood continues to fascinate us. After Rue St. Antoine crosses the Bastille circle, it is called Rue du Faubourg (faubourg means suburb) St. Antoine. This is the furniture street for Parisians - and has been for centuries! On our first or second day here last October we went looking for a grocery store and walked all the way down this street. Just one shop after another of furniture, any style you want, with the work shops tucked into the alleys and in the center of the blocks. Eventually we retraced our steps, crossed the circle and found Rue St. Antoine where we found the food shops that we needed.
There is an old hospital behind the new Opera building, hospital des Quinze Vingts (15 times 20). It is for the blind. Martin suggested the name had something to do with eye sight like 20-20 vision. The name has puzzled me for months. At last I found the answer in my Michelin guide book. King Louis IX (St. Louis) founded the hospital around 1250 for 300 blind patients. In French our number 300 is 15 times 20. Well 80 in French is 4 times 20 and ninety is 4 times 20 plus ten, so it makes sense.
There is a small hotel, in the American sense of the word, a block away called the Hotel of the Three Gares (railroad stations). Now we are about 5 blocks from Gare de Lyon on this side of the river and across the bridge is Gare Austerlitz - I can see the top of it from my rear windows. Eventually I found out that there used to be a railroad station on the land where the Opera is being built. So that solved that mystery.
On Feb. 12th we stepped way, way back in time. We walked across the river and found the old Roman arena, the Lutetia Arena. It had been buried under the ground for centuries and was only rediscovered in 1869. It is still hard to find. It is hiding inside a city block. A lovely, secluded park. You can walk across the arena floor or sit on the steps and dream of lions and gladiators. From there we walked over to the Cluny Museum and visited the Roman Baths, unfortunately dry now. The Hôtel de Cluny is a 15th century house built on top of Roman ruins - one of the three oldest "private" houses in Paris. It is now a museum devoted to the Middle Ages. It has beautiful tapestries. The walls of the excavated baths are very impressive. The biggest room is 69' by 36', 47.5' high with 6.5', thick walls. They knew how to build a public bath house in those days!
I don't believe I ever told you about one of our first Parisian excursions to the excavations under the terrace (Place du Parvis) in front of Notre Dame. Here, under very poor light, we could see the archaeological digs uncovering 3rd century to 19th century ruins. Two Roman rooms, a Roman rampart, Mediaeval cellars, etc. The island was the original site of Paris (Lutetia) and there must be ruins under all the buildings, but not too accessible to the diggers. I don't think they want anyone digging under the Palace of Justice or the Police Station or Notre Dame. Then, of course, usually the stones of old buildings were used in constructing the new buildings. The stones of the Bastille were used to build a bridge over the Seine, the Pont de la Concorde, in 1791 so "the people could forever trample on the ruins of the old fortress". Since the King was executed on the guillotine erected in the Place de la Concorde at the end of the bridge quite a few people have trampled over the bridge - including us. Speaking of stones, in the dark Métro tunnel just after the train leaves the open air platform above our canal, there is a lighted plaque on some of the old foundation stones of the Bastille. And in a little park a few blocks away there is a pile of these foundation stones that were removed during the building of the Métro. They make a nice rock garden.
We were wandering through the town on Feb. 7th and the streets, especially near schools, were covered with white powder and broken eggs. Some of the high school children that we saw in the streets were in costumes and clothes that were liberally dusted with white chalk having been pelted with chalk bags. We waited in vain for a bus and finally walked to another stop where we found a posted notice. The bus wasn't running due to Mardi Gras. The morning buses were probably so dirty that they had to take them out of service to wash them.
We celebrated my birthday at a nearby Spanish restaurant with Paella. Very good, but different from my recipe. It had mussels, the tiny tops of squid (very tasty), miniscule white clams (they call them Venus clams), chicken, monkfish, two shrimp and two langoustines complete with heads and shells. (They don't shell shrimp in Europe, much to my disgust. When I go out to eat I think they should do the work, not me.) But no Spanish sausage. I always used hot Italian sausage in Paella and was looking forward to tasting Spanish sausage.
We are planning a trip with Chantal to visit her family in Normandy for Easter and then we plan to go to see Mont St. Michel and the Normandy Landing Beaches. I am reading Henry Adams book on Mont St. Michel and also bought a guide book and a Michelin on Normandy. This is very good because it has a brief course on architecture with pictures so perhaps I will at last be able to remember the differences among/between Gothic, Flamboyant, and Renaissance styles.
The weather continues to be unbelievable. Sunday, the 17th broke the 1950 record. Ten degrees C. (50 F.) in the morning 12 to 13 degrees during the day. Here at the marina the crocuses are in bloom and the daffodils are almost ready to open.
Love to all,
Our boat is no longer our boat. It now belongs to an all black kitten with one white whisker. But she lets us stay here as long as we provide five good meals a day.
We had been talking about getting a cat for months and last month came close to adopting the local stray, a very friendly female who was probably lost off a boat. But she has a "home" at the marina restaurant and we couldn't be sure that she would stay with us. Besides she needs to be spayed. On Feb. 23rd we took a walk along the Seine in the area where the garden and animal shops are. There are three or four blocks lined with pet shops: dogs, cats, birds, chickens, fancy pigeons, rabbits, etc. We saw pure bred expensive cats and a few house cats. On the way home we bought a newspaper and found this ad under ANIMAUX : CACHOU cherche une famille. Donne chat noir 7 mois, vacciné et castré en bonne santé. Domicilié à Paris. Téléphone heures de bureau. Urgent.
The next morning we called and then went over. They had gotten the kitten and then discovered someone was allergic to cats. Cachou (a licorice candy) seemed a little wild. As soon as the apartment door was opened he raced out. We should have raced out also, but my heart overruled my better judgment and we took the cat. We had brought two open weave plastic baskets which tied on top of each other made a good cat container. Cachou was very good. He thought it quite an adventure to take the bus and see so many interesting sights.
The first few days on the boat were quite eventful. He raced up the ladders and down. He chased corks, paper balls, played with string and stared out the windows. Our big wheel house windows delighted him. He watched the birds, the seagulls, the boats, and the people. We put up a scratching post (a cardboard contraption filled with catnip) which he delighted in ripping up, but still our plastic storm windows took a beating. Plastic windows and cats don't mix. He didn't mean to rip them, it was just that he wanted to catch that seagull. Martin wanted to keep Cachou inside the boat for a few weeks so he would get acclimated to his new home, but after 7 days I couldn't take it and threw him out. Let him sink or swim, as my father used to say. (He has only fallen in once; the night guard fished him out.)
Cachou is now the official greeter of the Port de Plaisance marina garden. He plays with the children, the grown-ups, the dogs, and the other cats. He is absolutely fearless. He leaps from boat to boat, jumps to the floating dock, flies up to the quay, plays in the flower beds, visits the children's playground, checks out the deliveries at the restaurant. But he does come home for meals and a nap.
Like the cat, Martin and I are also enjoying Paris in the spring. The early flowering trees and bushes are beautiful. The daffodils are in bloom. Our lawn has just gotten its first mowing (and we didn't have to do it). Our small park is very popular. At lunch time students and workers come and eat their lunch here. On good Sundays the place is jammed, like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.
Not wanting to visit any more museums and indoor places on these lovely days, we began to explore the parks. Buttes Chaumont Park to our north is perhaps the loveliest. Located on the top of an old quarry on a very hilly site, the unevenness of the ground and the old rock piles give the park a special quality. There is a long suspension foot bridge crossing high above the lake. The flowers were very beautiful on the day we visited.
Monceau Park at the other side of town is also very lovely. It is only a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe, a small park surrounded by mansions. Again, extremely well landscaped and very lovely. We visited two small museums bordering the park: the Cernuschi, which contains Chinese artifacts and the Nissim De Camondo containing furniture and fine arts. The father had given this beautiful mansion to the city in memory of his son, Nissim, an airplane pilot killed in WW I. But there was also a plaque on the wall commemorating the remaining members of the family and their children who were shipped off by the Germans to the death camps. We pass so many of these plaques. One, on a school in the Marais says, "150 students and their teachers were taken away, one teacher survived," but it is always a new shock.
A few days ago we went to Montsouris Park which is opposite the foreign student university dorms where Martin lived for almost two years from 1950 to 1952. Then we walked on the campus where each country has its own dormitory building. There is also a large park behind the buildings and the students were out running, playing and enjoying the spring weather. Martin looked for his old landmarks: his restaurant, his grocery, his bakery. Alas, urban renewal has taken its toll. New apartment buildings have sprung up over the years, although he did find some familiar buildings.
Speaking of urban renewal - to our east, just beyond the Gare de Lyon (our neighborhood railroad station) - the area of "Bercy" is being transformed. An enormous government financial complex is being built running from the Gare to the Bercy sports building which was recently completed. The Finance Ministry is moving out of the north wing of the Louvre, which will become museum space and greatly expand the Louvre. The new financial building will be quite different from the Louvre. One of the buildings has two enormous "arches" that span the roadways, using the air space above them.
The Bercy sports/concert building is also ultra modern and unusual. The sloping sides are covered with grass! We first thought it was astroturf, but it is real grass and even has dandelions. Last week, on March 14th, we went to the opening of the World Figure Skating competition and saw a couples event. There were a large number of reporters, but there weren't many spectators for such an enormous stadium. The Bercy is used by rock stars (Milton John for five days this week is practically sold out), horse shows, stock car races, etc. The opera, Carmen, will be presented later this spring with a cast of 600!
The area just beyond all this and perhaps what was on part of this site is a gigantic step backwards in time: a large woodsy area of low dilapidated barns and warehouses, still being used by small wine companies although it seems unbelievable. It looks like a moonshine area in East Tennessee.
During this past month we visited the American services office and applied for Martin's social security which will soon be a welcomed addition to our finances. It will take awhile for this income to make up for the boat taxe we just paid the French.
We did not pay the 20% import tax on the boat when we entered France, but since our legal six month period was running out we had decided to pay the taxes before we were caught and fined double. You wouldn't think it would be hard to get someone to accept our money, but it took us two full eight hour days. We went to one office and then were sent to another. The clerk there suggested we go to some office 60 km outside of Paris. Martin said that there must be an office in Paris so she telephoned the central douane (customs) office in Paris. After her conversation, she wrote a note, "Pursuant to our phone conversation, I am sending you Martin Reff, etc." The next day we take the Métro to Place de La Republic and go the douane. The clerks there say, "Oh, but we don't handle boats." Martin replies, "But we called." Eventually the clerks send us to the boss. He keeps touching our letter like it was carrying the Black Plague and then tells us to follow him to his office. He pulls out big books. He consults his computer. He telephones other agencies and then tells us to go to the bureau on Quai Austerlitz, the Bureau of Tourism. Now this office is within walking distance of our boat. Not a short walk but it is doable. You walk down to the river, across the Austerlitz bridge, then down along the quay almost to the next bridge, the Bercy Bridge.
We arrive at the Bureau of Tourism; the clerk takes all our information, examines the boat's papers, the bill of sale, our Carte Sejour, etc. He says he needs proof of our residence and tells us to bring back a rent receipt from the marina. So we walk back to the boat but at that point I give up and let Martin make the second trip by himself. This time the douane officer wants a 30 franc "Official Stamp" which you can't buy there or in a post office, but you have to get in a Tabac (a store that sells tobacco). He also wants to come over and examine the boat.
On Martin's way home he went to 7 Tabacs but couldn't buy a 30 franc stamp. One store had three 10 franc stamps but by that time he was gun shy and decided not to buy the stamps until he knew that three stamps would fit on the document. The douane official arrived at 6:15 PM and checked over the boat to make sure we were strictly a pleasure boat and not a commercial vessel and to double check the worth of the boat.
The next day Martin bought the stamps and made his first third to the douane office to get the bill. Then he is told that since the boat is over 12 meters in length (which everyone had known since the beginning) he had to go the office that handled commercial vessels , even though our boat was clearly not a commercial vessel. At this, Martin blew his stack. "NO, no, no.," he said,"If you do not take my money, I wil not pay the tax." After a big enough fuss, the supervisor of the office finally told the clerk to finish preparing the papers. Now Martin had to come back and buy a bank check because of course a personal French bank check wouldn't do.
Buying a bank check was again a lesson in French bureaucracy. We went to our local bank where we have an account. Martin goes into the bank once a week to withdraw funds so the clerk should recognize him by now. The previous week he had deposited the necessary money into the account and had had trouble on that occasion. She didn't want to accept such a large deposit! Now she sends us upstairs (to the office that deals with foreigners, but we are no longer strangers, we have an account in the bank). The woman upstairs wants to know what we need the check for. Since we want the check made out to the Public Treasury we feel that it is none of her business. She says we have to go downstairs and actually walks downstairs and argues with the downstairs people. They say that the official who writes bank checks isn't around and she says to get someone else to write the check. So eventually we get our check which costs us an extra 50 francs.
So Martin makes his fourth trip to the Austerlitz Douane Office and this time I came along for the finale. An hour later we have our papers with lots of rubber stamps and Official Stamps and they have our money. I believe we in the United States fought a revolution over a stamp tax and the French also fought a revolution about bread and taxes, but perhaps neither revolution was too successful.
This past Wednesday night, Mar. 22nd, there was an unusual amount of noise during our dinner time. The traffic noises, car horns, and police whistles were louder and more frequent than normal. A loud speaker was blaring and we could hear the bass drum beat of what we thought was a loud rock band vibrating through the air. After we finished the dishes we decided to see what was happening. We thought that there might be a big party up at the restaurant or on one of the tour boats, but both were quiet. We walked up to the Bastille and found that the circle had been closed to traffic, which accounted for the horns and whistles. A huge screen the size of a football field had been stretched across two cranes. There were enormous spot lights, generators, a sound and projection booth, but a sparse crowd since we had just had an enormous downpour. Some group was putting on a sound and light show of seven revolutionary events with a combination of original illustrations, pictures and old film clips and newsreels.
The first event was, of course, the fall of the Bastille. They had gun shots and smoke, backlit the screen with red lights, lights flashing into the sky, and fireworks. Quite exciting. Although our French is too weak to follow the dialogue in detail, we got the main ideas. The use of modern film clips of the French battling in the streets with cars in the background, or using pictures of Queen Elizabeth riding in her carriage during official ceremonies to illustrate the contrast between rich and poor and royal pomp seemed in dubious taste. To illustrate the "abolition of privileges" they showed yachts and Rolls Royces, quite simplistic. We stayed for awhile and then went back to the boat where I had a great view of the final fireworks display. Lots of money was spent to entertain very few people with perhaps questionable history.
On the first of March we took Métro to the Garden of Ranelagh, a small city park near the Bois de Boulogne and visited the Marmottan Museum which contains among other things a large collection of Monet's paintings. It was a nice spring day and the crab apples were just beginning to bloom but while we were in the museum there was a hail storm. When it was over we walked down to the Seine and looked at the Radio France building, an enormous circular modern structure. We picked up a schedule of the free concerts, but still haven't gotten around to attending one . From Radio France we walked across the river past the Statue of Liberty (this is a small version facing downstream at the tip of an island) to an urban renewal skyscraper area and walked through the shopping mall. From there we walked on the Left Bank to the École Military area near the Eiffel Tower.
We did go to one free concert, an organ and choral recital at the church of St. Roch. It was an excellent performance - beautiful voices. St. Roch was were Napoleon first appeared on the stage of history. His artillery unit mowed down a troop of royalists Oct. 1795 on the steps of the church.
On March 6th the temperature hit 70 F. , breaking the record. In the evening we walked to Blvd. Michel in the Latin Quarter and sat outside at a café watching the passing scene. There were two Spanish/Mexican Americans sitting at a nearby table wearing white Texan cattlemen coats. I thought this was strange, but the next day saw in the newspaper that there was an international cattle show in Paris. A picture of a bull made the front page of Le Figaro!
We revisited the Rotunda and the water basin at La Villette on the St. Martin's Canal (the canal we live on). On our first visit to Paris in Dec. 1987 we had walked along the bank of the canal in the northern part of the city, but this was our first revisit. They have been rebuilding the area and have put in lovely fountains. The Rotunda, the old circular Greek/ Roman style toll house has been renovated and with the fountains make the area quite classy. The basin which is, I think, larger than our marina basin had only 3 or 4 boats. I would think the city would want to make another marina, but perhaps they don't want to encourage boat traffic or perhaps they don't want more liveaboards.
There are 9 locks on the canal and more boat traffic might be too much work. In April there is going to be a boat show of some type in this basin. The yacht club here has reserved 20 spaces for our boats to tie up and visit. We were asked if we wanted to go and said yes. It should be fun.
We have started our spring chores. So far we have repainted the head and galley and touched up some spots outside on the upper part of the boat. The deck will be the big job. It is quite rusty.
We visited with some New Zealanders who came to pick up their boat which had been tied in front of ours. We made friends with a Frenchman who lives alone on a sailboat that he built. Etc.
Sunday morning we drive to Chantal's house in Normandy and then plan to visit Mont St. Michel. We plan to be away for three nights and are looking forward to the change of pace.
Love to all,
Our beautiful black kitten disappeared on Friday night, March 24th. Someone probably thought he was lost, picked him up and took him home. I feel sorry for them if they try to keep him in an apartment. Cachou is not an indoor cat.
Friday night on Bastille Circle is motorcycle night. Every Friday night the motorcyclists of Paris meet at the circle to show off their bikes and meet their friends. The parking lot on top of the canal tunnel becomes filled with cyclists. Others park on the sidewalks in front of the restaurants and cafés that line the circle. A few of the cycles are hardly more than motorbikes, most are "regular", and others are futuristic monsters in glossy red or sparkling black with padded dashboards, wrap around windshields, and stereo systems. The quantity and variety of cycles are fantastic.
The noise level on Friday night is also not to be believed. It wasn't so bad during the cold weather when we had the doors and windows closed. On March 24th and on March 31st we had the windows open and the roar of the arriving and departing bikes was quite deafening.
Because of the warm weather every restaurant and café had put extra tables on the sidewalk. Between the parked motorcycles and the cars that also park on the walks and the café tables there wasn't much room for pedestrians. We saw three blind men, one leading and the other two with their hands on his shoulders trying to thread their way through this maze of obstacles. They managed amazingly well. I guess if you live in Paris you accept that cars and bikes park, on the sidewalks. (Motorbikes will even ride down the walks to beat the traffic.) There is a school for the blind on the left bank with a fence running down the middle of the wide sidewalk to protect the students from the cars (and prevent parking) and the Métro entrance has a bar across the entrance so they don't fall down but I haven't seen such protection any place else. It must be extremely hard for the blind right now. The sidewalks and road in front and on the side of the Opera building are a disaster area. Everything has been torn up for months because of the construction and the eye hospital, Quinze Vingts, is right behind the Opera House.
Our clocks were changed on Sunday, March 25th, a week before the USA, so we lost an hour on Easter. Martin got up early to pick up the rental car for our trip to coast to visit with Chantal's family. The office opened at 6:30, but then he couldn't get through the marina driveway gate. The combination had been changed and he had to find someone to tell him the new magic number. Still we managed to pack the car, eat breakfast and get off by 8:30.
The roads were fairly empty that early on Sunday morning so we managed to get out of town and get on the correct road to Caen without any missteps. On our way out we saw a street market being set up which surprised me since it was Easter. Outside of Paris we encountered fog so for the first hour and a half we did not see the scenery. It was like our first trip to Normandy in Dec. '87 when we drove to Flers and couldn't see anything. But finally we escaped the fog and were able to see the countryside which was quite beautiful, very rural, mostly rolling and sparsely populated.
Except for the fog it was an easy trip. Since we were in a hurry we stayed on the main toll road. The toll booths were scattered along the way - no New Jersey turnpike tickets. We were in dense fog when we came to the first one and this caused a big back up. There were no lights above the booths and no guidance as to lanes. People got on the correct change lanes who didn't have correct change. We didn't know what we were doing either and didn't even know what the charge was until we reached the machine. Luckily we came up with the right money. By the end of the trip it cost us 50 francs, about $8.50.
Chantal had promised to send us a map, but we didn't get it. She keeps sending us mail to "75011" (zip code) when we live in "75012," but our Michelin had a map of Ouistreham/Riva Bella. (Riva Bella is the section directly on the water where they live, but the PO is Ouistreham.) We managed to find her street and house without any trouble.
Ouistreham is at the mouth of a small river, the Orne. A canal runs the six miles between Ouistreham and Caen which is used by industry (iron and steel) and pleasure boats. During WW II, Ouistreham and all the beaches to its west were the scene of the Allied Invasion. Caen was completely destroyed except for the church and two abbeys where the people took refuge and managed to inform the invading forces so those areas weren't bombed.
Ouistreham/Riva Bella is now a popular summer resort town. It is the terminus of a ferry from England. There is also a good size marina and probably quite a few sailboats go back and forth. The town is small; it reminded us of a typical New Jersey beach town. Mostly small private stone and concrete homes. We were surprised at the relative lack of development of the entire coastal area. (Relative to the over development on Maryland s Eastern Shore coast.)
Chantal's father has his own small construction firm and built the house they live in 30 to 35 years ago. A solid house with a full basement containing his office, a garage, laundry, spare room/store room. There are three bedrooms on the second floor, and living room, dining room, kitchen and a bedroom downstairs. There is a large, open back porch/terrace which was very pleasant and where we sat for cocktails. There was a second, free standing garage in the yard, a large dog kennel/yard, and a small chicken run with two laying hens. They also own the corner lot but it contains the tools of his trade: :truck, piles of sand, dirt, wood, etc.
Chantal's mother comes from Alsace. When the Germans invaded, her school switched to German as the language of instruction so she is fluent in that language. Her sister's daughter and her husband were visiting along with their five year old son. One of Chantal's brothers with his pregnant wife and their little four year old son also came for dinner. Later the other brother, his wife and their little boy came over also. I hope our presence didn't keep them from sharing Easter dinner with the family.
The cousin's from Alsace had brought homemade sauerkraut and sausage and we had Choucroute Garnie, sauerkraut with fresh and smoked pork and sausage meats, a very delicious and popular meal in France. We have had it in two different restaurants. We went through a number of different wines with the various courses - whites, reds, and sparkling. The cheese course was followed by an apple pie in the French manner of an open tart.
After dinner Martin got a chance to play boules with the men out in the yard. Boules (bowls) is one of the favorite games of Frenchmen. They play it in any open patch of dirt all over Paris and France. Alongside the Blvd. de la Bastille on the other side of the marina wall there are many good playing areas. From "my seat" on the boat I can always look up and see the heads of the players. Martin has wanted to learn to play for months and finally got his chance. Naturally it takes years of practice to acquire the Frenchman's accuracy, but he enjoyed himself.
Later we all walked over to the beach, about three blocks away, and watched the wind surfers and sand surfers. The latter had small sailboats or sometimes sailboards mounted on wheels and were sailing on the sand. I knew about ice sailing but had never seen sand sailing. The tide was low so there was a decent amount of exposed sand for the sailors. The boys in the water wore wet suits of course. The weather was warm but I am sure that the water was frigid.
We ended the day with a supper of shrimp flavored fish soup. This was followed by a plate of langoustines which look like tiny lobsters with tiny claws. We somehow managed to find room for a few of these after our enormous dinner.
On Monday Martin and I went off to look at the town and port. There was an open air fish market selling fresh fish. I saw one of the fish on a stand flip over it was so fresh! A group of pleasure boats were idly crisscrossing behind the lock waiting for the opening. There was a fleet of fishing boats tied up in the outer harbor and also behind the lock. The pleasure marina was off to the side on a branch of the river. There were quite a few marine stores and sales offices for new and used sailboats and small powerboats. To get to the marina we had to drive over the narrow wooden road on top of the canal lock. There were traffic lights on each side to make sure two cars did not try to cross at the same time. We would have enjoyed having our boat in Ouistreham for a few days. It was very pleasant.
I was expecting a light lunch at the Fontaine's on Monday and was looking forward to some of Sunday's leftovers but instead we had another full dinner. First they gave Martin three raw oysters. I didn't understand what was happening. I didn't understand why only he got them, but they had asked him earlier and I think that the others had gotten some before we came in. This was followed by a large tray of cooked oysters on the half shell with a delicious sauce, somewhat like Oysters Rockefeller. Then we had a roast lamb, white beans, and string beans. By the time we finished the dishes it was 4:30. Chantal was leaving to go back to Paris. The schools in Paris were in session Easter week and would have their vacation the following week while the schools in the rest of France were closed Easter week and would be back in session the following week. This split vacation schedule was to alleviate the pressure on the roads, Paris, and other holiday spots. When the Paris schools closed, Chantal was going to supervise a contingent of French students in England for two weeks. They would each be staying in an English home as she was also, but if they ran into problems she would be there to help solve them.
We had been invited for two nights but what with Chantal leaving we decided it would be easier if we left on Monday so the Fontaines could enjoy the rest of the evening without the pressure of our presence. They had been very gracious and generous. (By the way they had visited with Lesley at her apartment in NYC during an August heat wave. It sounded like they had found NYC exciting but the heat wave and Lesley's hospitality were probably their overriding memories.)
After our goodbyes were completed we drove along the small
coastal road. There are numerous memorials, museums and monuments
to the Allied Landings of WW II. Each town has something. Markers
and monuments have been put up by the French and by the Allies,
frequently by the regiments or divisions involved in the landing
at that particular point. We drove past Sword, Juno, and Gold
Beach stopping here and there. At Arromanches-Les-Bains you could
still see in the water the remains of the "Mulberry"
artificial port that played such an important role in allowing
supplies to be unloaded during the invasion. We saw the remains
of German shore defenses; some of the viewing platforms and information
areas being located on the tops of these.
(On Easter, while we were eating in Ouistreham a fishing boat had caught an old mine in their nets and had been blown up. When the rescue horns go off, all conversation stops while everyone counts the blasts to find out where the problem is. In this case our hosts told us there was an emergency at sea. Monday's newspapers gave the details. )
Below is a poem Martin wrote a year later.
"The canyon that kept the mine..."
The canyon that kept the mine
Held it fast
For one more year and yet another,
As each spring tide loosed it,
Foot by foot,
Until the spring of '89
When it floated free.
At Ouistreham on the coast near Normandy
The jarring klaxon sent the message home
In five long tragic blasts.
Jean-Pierre, son Jacques, mate Raoul,
Aboard the trawler "Marguerite"
Filled with cod
The death of brave men in another's battle lost.
In November, Bertrand
With his only son, Gerard....
And in '87, Michel...
Paris, February 1990
At Port-en-Bessin we turned south and went to Bayeux for the night. Bayeux for some reason had not been destroyed during the war. It was a lovely town. We found an excellent hotel and explored a little before dinner. (With the change in time and the spring lengthening of the days we have more daylight in the evening now.)
On Tuesday morning we went to the museum housing the Bayeux Tapestry (erroneously called Queen Matilda's Tapestry since she was the wife of William). This was made in England soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066 by William, the Conqueror. It was made to be hung in the Bayeux Cathedral. The museum explains the tapestry with displays and films. The tapestry is 73 meters long by a half meter wide or 231 feet by about 20 inches wide. It is really an embroidery on linen cloth and not a tapestry. There are some holes in the cloth, but for something from the 11th century it is in remarkable condition. It tells the story of the Norman Invasion in 53 scenes and since this is the history of England the English come to the museum in droves. All the explanations are in both languages and the English language film alternates with the French one.
After we left the museum we took another walk around the Cathedral but were again too late. On Monday night it had been locked when we arrived and now it was closed from noon to 2:00 PM. Since we wanted to reach the Mont. St. Michel area by the evening we pushed on. The exterior was lovely and we have seen and would see so many more churches.
We returned to the beach area because we wanted to see Omaha Beach and go to the American Military Cemetery. As in the Netherlands most of the Americans who died in battle were returned to the States. There are therefore only two American cemeteries in Normandy. We visited the biggest one, St. Laurent, which has 9,335 graves. (That was the one I found on my map. I don't know where the other is. The Michelin is written more for British tourists than for Americans. The nearby German Military Cemetery contains the graves of 21,500 soldiers! The Michelin lists dozens of British and Commonwealth burial areas. I guess they didn't try to put everyone in one big place.)
The American cemetery is very beautiful, right on the cliff over looking the beach. These were some of the cliffs that were so hard to capture during the invasion, but they look beautiful and peaceful now. On a large semi-circular wall behind the main monument and terrace are the names of those missing in action from the various branches of the services. There were a lot of names. The walls surrounding the terrace show large maps of the battle for Normandy and France.
There were numerous visitors to the cemetery including a bus load of young people. While we were in the information office, we heard the superintendent on the telephone "complaining" about the large number of visitors. He said, "I've been here five years and it gets worse each year." He spoke about trying to close the gate at 6:00 PM but there were a number of tour buses and dozens of private cars in the parking lot and it wasn't until 7:30 that the last visitor had left the previous evening.
We continued along the coast stopping by a beach wall to have some bread and cheese. We explored a few little villages, drove through Carentan and then across the lower part of the Cotentin Peninsula to Coutances. We stopped to look at the Cathedral there. (I had read the first part of Henry Adam's book on Mont. St. Michel and Coutances.) The town is on the top of a high hill with the cathedral at the crown, very impressive. We made only a brief stop, which isn't the way we like to visit a town. The next day you can't even remember where you were. But it was getting late so we continued to the Atlantic coast to the town of Granville.
Granville is also an old fortress city with the walled section located high up on a cliff and the newer part of town, the beach and port area at its foot. We stayed in a famous old beach hotel and found a very popular restaurant a few blocks away. A couple from Wales had to share their table with us. At first they were reticent but after awhile became sociable. They had lived in Africa, Zambia, and Iran at the time of the Shah, so we had a very interesting conversation. We also talked about Wales and Welsh nationalism and the language. They were all for it. I believe they said that the government was now going to allow school instruction to be given in Welsh. Everyone wants to keep themselves divided in their little groups. It is hard enough with all the major languages in the world. I wish people would let the small languages die out.
The harbor at Granville is quite unusual. While we were looking for a hotel we passed this enormous harbor without any water! All the boats were just sitting on the ground. Of course we were near Mont. St. Michel and knew that the tides there were spectacular, but we had never seen the results of these tides ourselves. Next to this mud harbor and in deeper water there was a second enormous harbor surrounded by high thick stone walls with two openings to the sea. This harbor contained 300 to 400 pleasure boats moored to floating docks. The docks were attached to high concrete pillars towering above the low tide. You could see how high the tide would raise the docks by the water marks on the pillars. We have the same arrangement in our Paris marina, but our pillars are half the size of the ones in Granville. The gangplanks down to the docks were very long and slid on tracks at the bottom as the tide changed. When we saw them at low tide they were very steeply inclined, dangerously so for the people who had to use them. Posted to notice boards around the harbor were the tide tables for the month. The harbor was closed during low tide and you could only enter or leave at high tide.
We were planning on visiting the upper walled town in the morning and seeing more of Granville, but in the morning we couldn't see across the street because of the fog. Our hotel was directly on the beach but the sea was invisible! We left anyway and drove slowly to Mont. St. Michel. We missed one turn in the fog, but managed to turn around and eventually got on the correct road. Now usually you should be able to see the hill from a great distance since it towers above the low lying countryside. We just followed the other cars and parked in a lot at the side of the road. Then we walked in the same direction as everyone else up to the causeway and almost bumped into the lower walls before we saw them! We could look up and see just the lower parts of this enormous stone structure. The effect was quite eerie. We walked through the gateway into a narrow medieval city street lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. Some people complain about this, but from what I've read this is a 500 year tradition. Pilgrims to Mont. St. Michel always arrived hungry and wanted to buy food and always wanted to buy a souvenir or a religious medal.
The town is on only one side of the mountain and consists of just this one winding street climbing up and up to the Abbey and church at the peak. At places you can go out on the walls and there were a few quiet gardens hidden away. In the town there was a museum, a wax museum and a house you could go into, but we passed these commercial places by. Eventually we reached the ticket windows in order to tour the Abbey and church. Then we climbed more stairs to the terrace in front of the church. At one time there was only a tiny terrace, but the front section of the church fell down so the church was just shortened, a new and plain front built for it and the terrace enlarged. There is only it and the church at the top of the mountain with the abbey buildings clinging to the sides of the church and the mountain.
From this point you must take a guided tour. The sign said there was a tour in English at 10:30, 2:30 and 4:30. The French tours were probably every 15 or 20 minutes. No tours were given from 12 to 1:30 but the church was open if you wanted to attend services. We had arrived at 11:30. No one stopped us so we went into the church and looked at that for awhile and then walked all the way down again. We picked a restaurant and decided to prepare ourselves for our second ascent.
After lunch we climbed back up arriving around 1:45. The crowd on the stairs leading to the ticket booths was immense. So we sat on the wall and waited. People had their dogs and baby strollers with them. It was mad. Why you would lug a stroller up all those stairs is beyond me and once in the abbey you have to climb up and down all kinds of castle stairs. It was a good thing everything is made of stone. If there were a fire it would be a disaster. When the crowd thinned a little, after the first two French tours started, we showed our tickets at the gate and went up to the terrace again. There was an exhibit next to the church that we had missed on our first trip so we looked at that. It included models of the abbey at various points of its history so you could see the growth of the construction.
The group waiting for the English tour was big, and seemed to grow bigger and bigger as the tour went on. Late comers perhaps joining along the way or stragglers dropping back from the French tour. I was glad we had looked at the church on our own because the tours are so close together you aren't given enough time to stand and stare.
We left the church and entered the cloister which sits at the top of the abbey rooms and then went down through these rooms, crossed over to the other side of the building and then up through those rooms.
Books and pictures of Mont. St. Michel are readily available so I won't try to describe these rooms. Needless to say, the construction is fantastic. Unfortunately trying to see everything in such crowded circumstances leaves much to be desired. I have wanted to go to see Mont. St. Michel ever since my high school French class where the teacher had a poster on the wall. When we left, the fog had lifted and at last I could see the mountain rising out of the sand and water surrounding it just like in the poster.
From there we drove back toward Paris . We had to pass a number of interesting towns, but we were too tired for any more explorations. We picked Alencon for our evening stop since it was about the right distance and also had a good write-up in my guide book. We wandered around and found a decent hotel and then a good restaurant. But something Martin had eaten along the way got to him since he was sick during the night. He seemed a little better in the morning and we took a short walk around the town center and visited the beautiful church. It was market day and since we always enjoy exploring the markets we wandered through this one. It was more rural than others we had seen. Many small tables with the farmer's wife selling just a few chickens or eggs or some home made cheese or a few flowers or vegetables. We bought a small piece of cheese for lunch and then checked out of the hotel. We stopped for bread along the way. Martin seemed to be feeling better and ate a bite of cheese and bread.
We had (or Martin had) carefully planned the roads we wanted to take to return to the marina by way of the least crowded parts of Paris. Unfortunately the best laid plans of mice and men do not take into consideration Paris traffic and street signs. But there was the Eiffel Tower and there was the river so we just followed the road home. We didn't hit anyone and no one hit us which is always a miracle in Paris.
Apart from the fog the weather had been marvelous during our trip: warm and spring like. We had brought our winter coats, scarves, and gloves. In addition to a spring dress for Easter I had brought a woolen skirt and sweater, but we never needed the warm clothes. It was glorious in Paris also when we returned. In a fit of optimism I decided to remove our plastic storm windows which were dingy and gray from the diesel heater, cooking smoke and city air. I washed the windows, walls, ceilings, curtains; everything sparkled and we could see clearly out our windows again. On April 1st we had a hail storm. Huge pellets. On April 4th it snowed. Not much snow, but the wind blew and the rain poured and the temperature dropped and we didn't have any storm windows. You wouldn't think plastic windows would be that effective, but I am willing to write a testimonial for the company that makes them. We had three days of cold and rain before the sun returned on the 7th. Let us hope that was the last of the winter weather.
The workers have completed their work on the July Column on Bastille Circle. Yesterday they removed the scaffolding and curtains from around the figure of Liberty at the top. It has been covered with gold Paint and is now quite spectacular. The column is 171 feet high and covered with the names of Parisians killed in July of 1830 and 1848. These names have also been redone in gold. Because of the protective construction wall we can't see what was done to the foot of the monument. It took almost a week to put up the scaffolding so we won't be able to see the entire monument for awhile.
While I've been working on this letter Martin did our US taxes and attended to more prosaic tasks. The water pump has been performing poorly. He disconnected it, took it apart and cleaned all the parts. Then, like the man who took apart the clock to see what made it tick, he was faced with the task of reassembling all the springs and pieces. Eventually the puzzle was put back together but although it was now spotless it still kept switching itself off. This was especially annoying when you are in the middle of a shower. Sometimes it would work again if we hit the electric switch area with a hammer so we concluded that the electric switch was shot. We will try to get a replacement for the switch and then keep the pump as a spare . Meanwhile we went shopping for a new water pump which is now installed and working well.
Now Martin is covered with dirt, diesel oil, and grease while he plays in the engine compartment with hoses, filters, and all the other mysterious engine parts. Working in a small engine compartment is never an easy task - you have to be a circus contortionist - but it is slightly easier for Martin this year. He has shed 16 pounds in the last two months and is looking and feeling much better.
We have decided to stay in Paris until the end of May. We were toying with the idea of staying for the summer and then straight through until next spring. There are hundreds of things going on here and many taking place at the Bastille. It is like taking off just before the celebration in NY harbor for America's bicentennial. We hate to miss July 14 in Paris.
We bought two tickets for a performance of Carmen at Bercy on May 17th. The tickets cost more than we wanted to spend, but with 600 performers what can you expect?
Friday night, April 7th, we went to see Dangerous Liaisons at our local movie house. Rain Man and Accidental Tourist are also playing. I've read most of Anne Tyler's books but don't know if I want to see the movie .
There is going to be a huge antique show here soon. Workmen are installing booths along the side of the walk, not on Blvd. de la Bastille, that is still torn up while an underground parking lot is constructed, but on the parallel road that runs along the other side of the canal, Blvd. Bourdon. The booths already stretch for two long blocks and are still being assembled. They are also going up in the parking lot on the circle. I didn't know what was happening so asked my neighbor. She says the antique show is an annual event and will last for a week.
Love to all,
The Antique Show at the Bastille livened up our home turf for ten days. An enormous building was constructed on part of the parking lot above the entrance to the canal tunnel. This building housed the most expensive stalls. Then the outside booths lined one side of the marina wall and the rest of the parking lot. They offered you everything that you ever threw out of your attic, cellar or garage. As resident boaters we were given passes so we could walk through the show when we went grocery shopping rather than around it. We were therefore able to to look everything over. Thank goodness nothing tempted us. Where would we have put anything?
On April 16th I discovered the "dock cat" - which was supposedly left behind by a transient boat last summer and has since been scrounging food from the marina restaurant and various boaters especially my neighbor, Charlotte, searching for a place to have her kittens. The weather was very nice that afternoon and we had left the door open. I found her in my clothes cupboard making a nest in my sweaters. I fixed up a box for her with an old blanket and put it outside on the aft deck. The next morning we found 6 kittens with her in the box. The restaurant owner had killed her first litter of kittens but I was only able to do away with two. I figured that with all the people walking by in the park we should be able to find homes for four little kittens. The restaurant manager has since been over twice to see how she is doing. He seems genuinely fond of the cat and thinks she will return to the restaurant, but we aren't too certain of that. The kittens will be four weeks old on Monday and are just beginning to play and are taking a few tentative looks outside their box. Mother is very devoted.
A few days after the kittens were born we took off in the boat for our big journey up the canal to the Boat Show at the La Villette Boat Basin. Another couple, Roger and Annique, who weren't taking their boat rode with us. Roger is a retired physician and his young wife is still working as a nurse. He is also this year's president of the yacht club. They live on a large wooden boat with a small dog, but because of the cat they left their dog at home. It was nice having them since they were better able than we to keep in contact with the other boaters and the lock keepers on our marine radio. Unfortunately their English is on a level with our French so our conversations were limited and halting.
Charlotte, our immediate neighbor was the organizer of this jaunt. She had made up plans on the order of procession. There were 4 or 5 boats in each group, arranged so they would fit into the locks. Some boats had gone on Friday. One group left on Saturday at 8 AM. We were scheduled to leave at 8:30, but then our time was changed. Traffic in the locks and the tunnel is one way and we were told we had to wait until after 9 AM.
Martin had been busily preparing for this jaunt for days. Friday he had switched our water pumps from 220 volts (shore power) to battery power, which involved about two hours of electrical wiring work. We had brought down our flag mast which is too high for the tunnel. He had filled the steering transmission fluid container and had spent quite a long time fussing with the steering which didn't seem exactly right. The battery was charged. The water tank filled. We had diesel for the engine and for the heater. Saturday morning we switched the refrigerator from electric power to propane power, thank goodness an easy operation. He turned off the main electrical switch in our box so our shore power lights wouldn't work and thrown the switch for the battery lights. The engine was on and we cast off the mooring lines. Annique and I were in the bow trying to push out. We are moored together very closely at the marina so it is necessary to get the bow out before engaging the forward gear. We pushed and pushed. Martin put the boat into gear and still we seemed stuck.
Martin was still worried about the steering, was the rudder stuck? I had a horrible though. Perhaps we had not cast off all the lines and ran aft to check, but the lines were off. The engine struggled and then suddenly we were free. Unfortunately the electric cable was now in two parts. One end attached to the boat and one to the dock's electric box. When we had the outside electric power fixture installed on the wheelhouse exterior wall, we had put it up high, above head level, so we could walk under it and not trip over it. Excellent installation and location. Unfortunately after awhile we completely forgot that the wire runs across the top of the empty boat next to us and then down to the dock box.
Well so there we are, having made this fantastic start, with the President of the Port de Plaisance Paris/Arsenal Yacht Club aboard. Things can only get better, or can they? Roger was very nice and he called the marina dock master for us and asked him to turn off our electricity before anyone got shocked or electrocuted.
We entered the tunnel followed by a parade of smaller boats. The tunnel is two miles long; there are no electric lights, but there are skylights every once in awhile providing some natural light. There is a walkway on each side - the original tow path. At this point Martin decided he needed a glass of water or to use the head and he gave the wheel to me. Now I can usually manage the helm reasonably well, but I think that at that point I was still a little flustered. The boat began veering toward the the left tunnel wall. I turned the wheel slightly to the right and nothing happened. Suddenly I decided to steer as if I had a sailboat tiller in my hand - old habits die slowly - so I turned the wheel left. Naturally being a powerboat and not a sailboat the boat increased its leftward aim toward the tunnel wall. I continued to panic and screamed for Martin who raced up and got us back on course. So much for my brilliant boating capability.
There are four sets of double locks and a couple of small bridges after the tunnel. We all piled into the first lock and managed to get tied up. Charlotte had made a drawing of how we were supposed to arrange ourselves. Our boat was first on the right hand side of the lock, there was one boat behind us and three on our left. In order to fit in we had to have our bow very close to the front gate. We were ascending which meant we couldn't reach the bollards on the top of the lock. Someone had to take our line or someone from our boat, Annique did it twice, had to climb up the wet ladder in the side of the lock and then catch the line. We managed the forward lines pretty well. Unfortunately when Martin puts our boat into reverse in order to stop the forward motion (it is considered bad form to ram the lock gates) the stern always decides to swing out from the right hand wall and hit any unfortunate boat trying to tie up on the left. But there were no major collisions, just a little mass confusion.
We rose in the first lock and went immediately into the second and tied up again and went up again. There was a short stretch of canal, then a swing bridge and then we repeated the process - all this was in a light rain! In the next canal section we had to tie up to the side and wait for a tour boat coming down the locks. After the sixth lock while we were moored and waiting for the traffic ahead, I left the boat and found a bakery to buy bread for sandwiches. Naturally as soon as the sandwiches were made and I got one bite the lock was ready for us and we had to cast off again. All this time Martin was having increasing difficulty shifting gears. The gear mechanism seem stuck. By the last lock it was taking all his strength to move the lever from forward to neutral and then reverse.
We passed through the last two locks and then entered the Basin. The boat show booths lined one side of the basin and about 20 boats, mostly canal rentals were on display. Quite a sorry looking boat show by Annapolis, Miami, or NY standards. By VHF we were told not to moor that instead we were to stand by and then lead the parade of yacht club boats that was scheduled for 1:30. We had left our marina at 9:15 and here it was all ready 1:00 PM. The distance we had traveled was probably only six miles but the time spent was over three hours, almost four.
The back half of the basin contained three or four lines of temporary red buoys which marked off the "show area". Every hour or half hour there would be demonstrations: wet bike races, model speed boats, search and rescue teams, helicopter rescues, and diving. (One man jumped off the overhead pedestrian bridge and a diver raced out and rescued him.) Two or three small boats were guarding this area and also the one open channel on the far left for barges, tour boats, and pleasure traffic. Unfortunately all this was not immediately obvious to us and we were not at all certain exactly where we were supposed to stand by. There were four boats behind us and everyone was confused. We went forward and were chased away. We got into the ship's channel and were chased away. We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go backwards. The Friday Yacht Club arrivals and the group that left first on Saturday were moored off on the left. The group that was following us was still in the lock system. Martin threw up his hands in despair and pulled over to the side and moored.
I had spent Friday evening blowing up balloons and tying them in bunches. Our aft cabin was filled with these bouquets. We were supposed to decorate our boats with balloons and flags for the parade. We couldn't ride through the tunnel or the locks with balloons all over the place and we thought we would have plenty of time to fix up the boat after we arrived. Martin didn't even get a chance to raise the flag mast but we quickly tied the balloons forward and aft. The fenders were still hanging out, the boat was mud spattered from the rain and the wet mooring lines, but when we were called we lead off the parade of boats with Charlotte at the microphone on the reviewing stand announcing, in French of course: "And leading the parade of Port de Plaisance de Paris/Arsenal Yacht Club vessels is a beautiful 18 meter Dutch built converted coastal freighter, owned by American visitors to our shores, Martin and Marcia Reff"
After everyone was moored, we went with Roger and Annique to visit two other couples on a smaller boat where we were expected for lunch! No one had told me! I had heard plans for some kind of evening barbecue that sounded something like a pot luck supper. Charlotte had been very vague and I hadn't been able to pin her down as to what I should contribute. Therefore I bought a kilo of chicken wings which I planned to fix like Maryland crabs: hot, crispy and spicy with Old Bay Seasoning - a very unfrench hors d'oeuvres. The French, however, are fond of foreign restaurants. Only American tourists look for real French places I sometimes think.
The other two couples were very nice, very lively and we all got along well. The wine and champagne flowed freely. Lunch lasted from 2:30 to 5:30 - cold rolls of ham, delicious cold chicken, coffee, dessert, lots of laughs followed by more champagne. One woman crawled off into the cabin to sleep, Roger and Annique went back to the marina to walk their dog, the others went visiting and I helped our hostess clean up. After that I went off to cook my chicken wings and while they were cooking went visiting also. One couple had a new boat called "Sky, my husband," which is the title of a book they wrote in French and English explaining strange phrases such as that one.
It was a typical yacht club party - continuous all day and night. The barbecue never materialized, although I think at least one man did set up a grill on the dock. We rejoined our original group around 9:30. At 10:00 there was a fireworks display put on by the boat show, quite good and after that we started dinner. Wine, champagne, cold salmon followed by cold lobster. My chicken wings were hardly appropriate and certainly not needed with such a feast. By midnight I felt like a stuffed lobster myself and crawled off to bed leaving someone else to clean up.
The next day the other boats started leaving which shocked us. Why, we had just arrived! By 2 PM we were the only boat left, but we had planned on staying until Monday and besides we couldn't go anywhere until we repaired the gear mechanism. Martin couldn't get the boat into reverse to stop it. First we found the local open air market and bought food - didn't want to starve to death.
Sunday's weather was a big improvement over Saturday's and so we visited the boat show. This was only the second year that it has been held. There wasn't much to see but the location is good and perhaps in a few more years it might develop into something. We sat on our deck and watched the demonstrations. Julie and Richard, two American friends from the marina who hadn't come up on Saturday rode by on their bikes and stopped in for a visit. And we alternated between guarding our balloons and giving them away. That neighborhood seemed to have more than its share of urchins.
On Monday we got serious about the boat repair. Martin removed the wood covering the mechanism in the wheel house and checked the other end in the engine room. He greased everything he could reach but did not have a grease gun to force grease into certain areas. He called Rollin, another young American who lives at the marina and Rollin rode up on his bicycle with one. But the gear still wouldn't work. The shaft goes from the wheel house through two closets at the rear of our bedroom (which is under the wheel house), then over the far side of the bed, then through my clothes cupboard and then finally into the engine room. This entire length is enclosed behind nailed-in wooden panels and in the case of the clothes cupboard behind two layers of nailed-in wooden panels.
I pulled out all my clothes from one of the closets and my storage bag of summer clothes from the shelves at the rear of the closets and Martin crawled into this miniscule space (the closet is only half size) and ripped out the wood covering that section of the shaft. They still couldn't find the problem and Martin decided he would get a professional in before ripping out all the rest of the panels. Before Rollin left he and Martin called and got a tentative appointment for a mechanic to come over later that afternoon.
The mechanic, Charles, however, didn't show up until 10 AM the next morning. He arrived with no tools and no work clothes. He kept saying, "Well, this is a curious problem." After looking everything over - without climbing over the engine in the engine room and getting his clothes dirty- he suggested ripping open the rest of the panels. I emptied out the second closet (my attic) - and my cupboard. Martin proceeded to do 90% of the work while Charles supervised.
They discovered a series of wooden blocks (rings) holding the shaft and the old grease, perhaps from 1915, had congealed into a solid mass. The rings rather than permitting the shaft to move back and forth were preventing any movement. A bunch of nuts were also missing from these rings so I went off to find a hardware store and buy new ones while Charles and Martin worked. Eventually we were both successful. Martin got all the old grease cleaned off and new grease put on and I returned in time to see the grand test. The gear worked so easily that Martin practically fell down backwards. He was using both hands and putting effort into it and instead it could have been moved with a feather. Martin replaced the wood panels, this time with screws, and I put away my clothes and cleaned up the mess.
That evening we were visited by the Harbor Master of the Basin - the day before the marine police had stopped by - both wanted to know why we were still there. Everyone was very kind and understanding, and we told the captain that we would be leaving in the morning. This basin is an enormous man made rectangular body of water just perfect for a marina. It was probably originally designed for the mooring of barges, although I saw one early painting showing the basin being used by row boats and small sailing boats. Now it is hardly used. One tour boat company and a rental company, otherwise just empty space. We understand that during the summer when our marina is full boats are allowed to stay in the basin for one or two nights. Personally we can't understand why the city doesn't develop another marina. In a few years we think it will happen.
Rollin showed up early and unexpectedly the next morning to see how we were. He had ridden up on his bike again. We offered him a ride back on the boat, but his bike was faster than our boat going through the locks. The lock keeper doesn't start work until 9 and one of the tour boats went through first so our turn didn't come until about 9:30. For six of the locks we went through alone, which was a pleasure, but the last set of locks we shared with one of the smaller tour boats. We had a 20 to 30 min. wait just before this set of locks. The large tour boat which had started before us was also tied up and waiting. The second tour boat showed up during this wait and then because commercial vessel have the right of way went in ahead of us. He then waved us forward because we were both narrow enough to fit in together. Somehow I got caught up on the quay when we were in the last lock and the boat descended so fast and so far that I wasn't able to get back on. Luckily there were stairs and I climbed down to the entrance of the tunnel and jumped on as Martin edged by.
The trip through the tunnel was uneventful, but the cat got quite agitated. We didn't know if the sudden darkness spooked her or whether she smelled "home". She had been so calm on the trip up. She had stayed aboard while we at La Villette, but soon after we were moored she went off to check the gardens.
During the afternoon Martin repaired the 220 V cable and rewired our water pump systems back to shore power, so we along with the cat settled back into our old home.
That evening we celebrated our successful return from "darkest Africa" with dinner out. There we met an interesting English couple who had found "our" restaurant through the book Pauper's Paris. The young woman had just completed the text to a "coffee table" type book on William Morris, of Morris chair fame, and so they were celebrating with a weekend in Paris. They returned to the boat with us for an after dinner drink and the conversation was very lively. We enjoyed each other so much we made a date to have dinner together again on Saturday night. Unfortunately only the wife was able to keep that date. The vacation, or change of diet, had been too much for her husband who had to remain in the hotel. On May 13th we received a letter from her and a copy of Pauper's Paris which she thought we might enjoy. A lovely gesture. It does have good hints and I am sure we will find it useful.
At the end of May we began work on the boat's deck, chipping, scraping, and sanding away rust, spot painting with orange lead paint, then red lead paint, and then primer. It is an endless job, but we removed a lot of rust - not all - and hopefully left enough steel deck to support our weight. At least we haven't fallen through yet. The next job is the railing and then the exterior of the hull, above the water line. We will borrow a dingy for that.
The May Day parade appeared to end at the Bastille Circle. Traffic was closed off and a band stand was set up beside the monument. There were lots of food and drink stands and vendors selling red revolutionary hats and red, white and blue lapel pins. We walked up twice to see what was happening but it wasn't very interesting. There were groups of Peruvian revolutionaries, various Communist labor and political groups, Palestinians, Africans demonstrating against South Africa, etc. The beautiful weather brought out a good crowd but it was nicer sitting on the boat than standing around the circle.
The French have a number of holidays during the first two weeks in May and that combined with the warm weather has brought crowds to our little marina park. People were sunbathing lying on the cobblestones. The policeman keeps chasing people off the grass which is a losing battle. He is very friendly and takes his job philosophically. What is amazing is how clean the park is even after the biggest crowd and there aren't any trash containers.
0n May 4th we took the RER (the commuter rail service) to Versailles to see a parade reenacting, 200 years to the day, the parade of the États General called by Louis XVI to help him solve his budgetary crisis. ( Although we went to Versailles we still haven't gotten inside the gates to see the buildings and park.) The three estates, 200 years ago and today, assembled by a church in the town where there was a service and then marched to another church 6 or 7 blocks away. We had arrived early and still found large crowds along the parade route. But we found the street at the beginning of the parade route relatively empty, perhaps because it was further away from the bus and RER stops. We had a long wait and our area filled up also.
The 578 members of the Third Estate, dressed in somber black costumes with white wigs, were the first to arrive . Then the 291 Clergy arrived in their robes of various colors depending on their standing and position in the church hierarchy. Then a troop of uniformed guards and a troop of musicians. Finally the 270 Nobles dressed in their best finery marched up.
Our location was excellent since it turned out that our street was the meeting point and staging area of all the groups. Only our side of the street was supposed to be used by spectators, although local residents and their friends, the shop keepers and a few others were on the other side. That side was where the members of the Third Estate and the Clergy had to wait. The guard fell out of parade order and took up their positions at about 10' intervals facing in on each side of the street. The Third Estate and the Clergy stood and waited on the other side of the street facing us. A few of the men had a smoke or downed a beer. We assume that many of the men were local residents, their wives and children were all excited and everyone was taking pictures. One man had his two little girls in costume and had them pose with everyone. He must have taken 40 pictures!
Finally the king and his family arrived in four horse drawn carriages (four and six horse teams). The carriages probably came from a museum collection. We couldn't see but we assume that the king went into the church for then there was another wait. Eventually the men formed ranks again: the Third Estate went first, followed by the Clergy with huge crosses and religious banners and each man carrying an enormous candle.
The band went by, followed by the nobles and this time the King, Queen and family walked by followed by the empty carriages. There were also people costumed as workers and peasants probably shouting "Death to the King" and a few dandies and women of ill repute to add to the atmosphere. Each time the King and Queen passed the spectators cheered and shouted. Everyone seemed to be joining into the spirit of the occasion. Of course there were TV cameras and lots of reporters and cameramen. Everyone wanted to interview the "King". There were numerous events at Versailles that evening but we made our way through the town to a café for a cold beer; it had been an extremely sunny and hot day, and then caught a train home. The RER had put on extra trains however we still didn't get a seat right away but didn't have to stand for long.
On May 10 we went to the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty Flame honoring French/American Friendship and sponsored by the International Herald Tribune to mark their 100th anniversary. It has been placed on the "Right Bank" at the Alma Bridge which is near both the American Cathedral (Anglican) and the American Church (Protestant) and also where we get off the Metro to walk to the American Library. We don't know if the spot was chosen because of its nearness to these places or if it was chosen because it was the only corner left in Paris without a statue! Nevertheless it is a good location and it was a nice ceremony. The Mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, made a speech. Also the Pres. of the American Club and someone from the Herald Tribune, of course. The band played the Star Spangled Banner and The Marseillaise, and the sun shone so what more can you ask for. We then walked to the library where I found an Anne Tyler book I hadn't read, Breathing Lessons, and loved lt.
We have decided to stay in Paris for this Bicentennial year. If we leave now we will never get our dock space back. One of the other long term boats is leaving, (a Doctor got transferred to another city) and we think the marina captain is going to let us take over their yearly contract. The regulations allow only 115 yearly contracts and everyone else pays monthly, which is more expensive. The city put in the marina to provide space for transient boaters and this is one way they try to regulate the space problem.
We keep meeting interesting people. Last night we had dinner with an American couple who teach at the university in Gainesville, Florida. This morning (Sunday, May 14) Martin and I went to the art museum at the Pompidou Center. We went early in order to beat the crowds, and then this afternoon brought an endless stream of visitors - not to see us but to see our kittens! Rollin and Annie rowed over in their dinghy. The restaurant manager brought his wife, daughter, another woman and an older man. Then a French girl (another English teacher not Chantal) we had met a few weeks ago came by with her girl friend to see if the kittens were old enough to leave their mother. It began to feel like we were living in Grand Central Station!
Our best to all,
Martin and I are getting brown and muscular from the sun and all our labors on the Opperdan. After we completed as much as we were going to do on the deck and railing, we borrowed Michel and Charlotte's dinghy and began on the exterior hull. We knocked off large blisters of rust and then chipped and sanded away years of neglect. (Last year it was done at a yard in Enkhuizen by two young boys who probably ignored the rust and just painted over it.)
Then we painted the sanded spots with first orange, then red anti rust lead paint making the boat look like it had a bad case of the measles. This paint was covered with a primer and then finally a coat of green on the hull and black on the trim with a little white at the bottom of the bow. After all that work it doesn't look much different than it did before, but we know it is in better shape. In addition we put on a good show for all the passing tour boats. Our pictures were taken by numerous tourists with both still and video cameras as we sat in a rocking dinghy trying to hold on with one hand as we sanded or painted with the other.
The port hull on the free water side of the boat was the easiest. The starboard side where we are tied on to another boat was tough. We would loosen the aft line, leaving the forward line tight and then push the aft out so we could get the dinghy in-between the two boats. Then reverse the procedure for the forward section.
An unfortunate accident occurred as a result of our work, trying to be helpful and friendly, and clumsiness. It began simply enough. One day we were shopping in our favorite department store, BHV, when we overheard an American couple trying to find out - in English - where they could buy a garment bag. The clerk suggested a floor they had just visited which wasn't the right one. I knew where the garment bags were so I told them and then since they seemed so helpless I took them there. We have been in similar fixes. You go from floor to floor and still can never find what you are looking for. As we walked along the woman said, "You live at the marina, don't you." She had seen me putting out the garbage! She lived in a penthouse apartment overlooking the marina, but not our boat. She was alone during the week while her husband was off on business trips. She enjoyed walking in the marina gardens and was always hoping to meet a fellow American. I suggested that they come over but they were expecting friends from the States later in the day. In fact we ran into them with their friends twice that same day as they were showing their friends around the neighborhood. Again we extended an invitation and they said they would after their friends left.
Unfortunately the wife did come by about five days later. We had spent the morning sanding and painting in the hot sun. Since we hadn't finished, the aft line between the two boats was still loose and the dinghy was between the two boats at the stern. After lunch we were taking a siesta when we woke to hear a knock on the door and this woman's distinctive mid-western voice calling us. I got up, pulled on a robe and went to the wheel house. I opened the door just in time to see her fall backwards - her feet on the other boat, her back on ours, with her body pressure pushing the boats further apart leaving her stretched prone between the boats. She was toward the front of the boat where it should have been fairly easy to cross, but naturally she was carrying an enormous pocketbook. She said that she was afraid that she would drop her bag. In doing so she forgot Martin's cardinal rule: One hand for yourself and one hand for the boat. I was able to get her up and she sat on the side of the boat awhile, then came in and sat with us until she regained her composure, but she had given her body a severe crack. It was even worse than we thought. About five days later her husband stopped by while she a sat on a park bench. He said he had returned a day and a half after the accident and found her still in pain so took her to the hospital. She told me that they walked, thinking the hospital was nearer than it was!
The doctor found two broken ribs and congested lungs. She had difficulty talking when I saw her and was going back to the doctor the next day to have the fluid drained. In the two or three weeks since this happened she has made a good recovery and we have seen them again. However I don't believe she will ever try to visit the boat again.
During the past two months Martin has also been keeping busy as a paid consultant. Charles, the man who came to the Basin at La Villette when our gear mechanism stuck, wants to sell and ship to the United States old French canal freighters (Péniches). We both told him that not too many Americans are interested in converting a 37 meter barge into a pleasure boat or a liveaboard as they do here. We marshaled all our arguments. The major one being the lack of dock space available for such boats in the USA. But he has thought about this project for such a long time that he just discounts any negative information. He is positive that there is a mini market out there for his barges. The barges can be cut down in size, but only to about 25 meters (80'). So Martin has been working with him, getting from the US Coast Guard the necessary information, suggesting places to advertise, getting him the names of boat brokers, helping him prepare his brochures and also translating articles he has written about the history of the French Canal system. This has taken up a sizable chunk of time, but it is nice to have a few extra francs to spend, plus he has enjoyed the new challenges.
My major job has been finding homes for the cat's kittens. After they were about six weeks old I started to take them outside, trying to get them used to the big world. They were very frightened. One day I took all four kittens to the garden in front of our boat. The mother cat saw us and became quite worried about her kitten's safety. She attacked a small dog walking by. The poor dog was on a leash and hadn't even noticed the kittens. I apologized to the owner and to the dog, which was probably psychologically scarred for life. After that I had to sneak out one kitten at a time. I made a sign "Chatons - Gratis - Né April 17" and taped it to a box, but would hold the kitten. People kept coming over to look for the other kittens in the box, and then I would go into my sales pitch. In this way I spoke to many people and after two or three afternoons found homes for all four kittens.
Cat is a great hunter and tried to teach her kittens about birds and mice. She would catch a mouse and while carrying it in her mouth traverse the gardens, leap from the quay to the floating dock, jump up on the Malibu, cross that, jump on the Opperdan, go through the window onto the helm chair (a very tall bar stool), jump to the floor, walk down the stairs and deposit the mouse in front of the kittens. At that point the mouse would try to escape; one did for about 24 hours. After the first two mice and a bird we had to keep the window closed most of the way and make her pass inspection before she could come in. Since we wouldn't let her in, she put some of the mice down on the deck and then would chase them around outside. Two ran out the scupper holes and fell into the canal; the rest met a quicker fate. Boat cats are supposed to keep boats free of rodents, not bring them in.
The boat we are attached to is the Malibu owned by Janine and Sid. They live in California in the winter and here in the summer. Janine was French. We had met them when we first arrived in October just as they were leaving. On June 18th they returned, unfortunately with two little grandchildren, a dog and an old Siamese type cat. I say Siamese type because every Siamese I ever saw was skinny while this one looks like an old bruiser. The grandchildren are temporary - for a month - but the cat may pose a slight problem. Our cat thinks their boat is hers. It will be interesting to see how this situation works out.
The day after we mailed my last big letter home, May 17th, we went to see Carmen at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy or Bercy for short. It had an enormous cast and still it was lost in this gigantic arena. There were horses and wagons galore. The smuggler's camp scene looked like a cross between an American wagon train heading west and an army of Napoleonic camp followers. No cigarette factory in Spain ever employed so many women. The café scene had more tables than the Café des Deux Magots. The dance scenes were spectacular, but it was like going to a circus, you didn't know where to look. The cavalry rode in and then rode out, the singers then had to step over the horse's droppings. The bull fighter's parade was huge and colorful, but not being an opera expert I can't say much about the singing. It sounded all right to us but with so many people on the stage, the lead singers tended to disappear. Usually Carmen stood out because of her costumes. Her leading man was harder to spot.
A few days ago Pavarotti gave a performance at Bercy. From what I could read of the review, the major complaint was the American built sound system which distorted his voice. But although Bercy is used for many musical events - mostly rock and popular concerts - it was built for sports not music. It is too big. I would have thought that Pavarotti would have sung in a regular opera house. Perhaps he needed the money!
While we are on the subject of horses, the Garde Républicaine, which has a huge complex of barracks and stables a few blocks away, held its annual Open House. There were bands, costumed cavalry, and the Presidential motorcycle Gendarmes putting their instruments, horses or cycles through their paces. The precision marching and riding was impressive and colorful. We toured part of the facilities looking in at the permanent historical display, the veterinarian hospital, the blacksmith's room and the stables.
I visited the new Louvre entrance. This ultra modernistic glass pyramid has been extremely controversial. It certainly is in stark contrast to the sides of the Old Louvre, but it appears to fulfill its function. The museum wanted to create more space for museum offices, services, and storage plus better visitor facilities - restaurants, bookstores, access from one section of the museum to another, etc. In about four more years the museum will expand into the entire Louvre building. (The Ministry of Finance is about to or has moved out.) The Louvre has so many works jammed together in storage that they don't seem to be worried about filling this space plus all the new space in the courtyard under the ground. As to the pyramid it is becoming one of the sights of Paris.
We walked over to the Pantheon one Sunday morning hoping it would be free, but it wasn't. It should be. Most of the building is closed for repairs and has been since before we arrived. I thought the work would have been completed by now. The crypt downstairs wasn't interesting, but what we could see of the main building was impressive. Martin stayed outside and I climbed the stairs to the dome and enjoyed the view from both inside and outside the dome. The Pantheon is on the second highest hill in Paris, so you get a great panorama from the top.
The church service at St. Étienne Du Mont next to the Pantheon had just ended so we went in. Last winter when we first visited this church it was filled with scaffolding. The city which owns most, perhaps all, of the old churches was cleaning and repairing. The contrast between the clean and dirty sections was unbelievable. A church or chapel has occupied this spot since the earliest days. The present building was constructed between 1492 and 1626 so it definitely needed cleaning. The church windows and interior decorations are very beautiful. I think I will go back and spend more time; the deacon chased us out. He wanted to go home for his Sunday dinner.
We also visited one of the landmarks in Paris that is not normally opened to the public. The Hôtel de la Marine facing the Place de la Concorde. It was originally the royal furniture store! At the time of the revolution it became the Admiralty Office and is now Navy Headquarters. The Navy has quite an elegant building and location facing the Obelisk with the Hotel Crillon next door and then the American Embassy. Outside under the arches was a recruiting exhibition with huge models of modern ships and navy planes and missiles. Inside we toured palatial rooms with displays of naval mementos.
The City of Paris under Jacques Chirac (the papers say he wants to upstage Pres. Mitterrand, his political rival) threw an immense celebration for the 1OOth birthday of the Eiffel Tower.
On Thursday, June 15th, two days before the event we went to, or tried to, go to a Spanish dance program on the other side of town. We went with a retired British dentist and his wife who were passing through on a sail boat. Unfortunately we left late and the seats were all gone by the time we arrived. So instead we started aimless wandering. We walked from the Bois de Boulogne at Porte d'Auteuil to the Radio France building on the Seine and then ended up on the quay opposite the Eiffel Tower. A rehearsal for Saturday's event was taking place. We could just make out a band playing on the tower, but had an excellent view of the light show. We could hear all the music and watch the technicians trying to coordinate the lights to the music.
On Saturday afternoon Martin and I went back to the Tower to reconnoiter. The tower was barricaded off on all sides. No tourists could ride the elevators and that must have made some people very unhappy who were just in for the weekend. Enormous loud speakers lined the Champs de Mars from the École Militaire to the Tower. There was one gigantic screen set up in front of the Tower plus scaffolding towers for the TV cameras. We wandered around, walked down to the river and then walked across to the other side to the Trocadero Garden area. There was a stage near the riverside with chairs set up for the VIP's, but everything was blocked off and there wasn't any large TV screen for the crowd. The roads running up to Trocadero were also blocked off. This was going to be an enormous stage set using as the background the Trocadero with its enormous statues and the immense fountains.
Unfortunately the area set aside for the average spectator was small, basically the road running beside the Seine which was closed to traffic. At 3:00 people were all ready arriving for an event due to start at 10:30. Because of the police barricades we had to walk the long way around to get to the top of the hill and on the other side of the building. The "birthday cake" was on the terrace at the upper level. It was smaller than the Washington Monument, but not by much. We tried to get into the restaurant at the museum because the outside tables would have given us a fantastic view of the preparations, but it was closed. With the biggest crowd that place has had in years, they were closed. Unbelievable!
That evening, the English couple dropped by and wanted us to join them and another English couple for the festivities. There was a huge crowd but still room to stand and we found a place half way up the field. Unfortunately the screen which had looked high in the afternoon wasn't and only the tallest of the men could see it above the heads of the crowd. We waited for about 45 minutes. I suggested that we go to the bar at the nearby Hilton. On Election Night - USA- Martin and I had gone there and they had a big TV. We found the Hilton, but no TV. We still had a good view of the Tower from their terrace, so at least were able to sit down and watch the fireworks and the light show in relative comfort.
We left the Hilton before the final fireworks blast and still found a crowd in front of the Metro entrance. Martin and I got caught up in the crowd, but as we were engulfed our four British friends yelled to Martin that they were going to walk. When we reached the Arc de Triomphe station we changed Metro lines and miracle of miracles met our British friends on the platform! They had walked across the river and picked up the train at the first stop on the other side. So everyone got home safe.
I don't know if Mayor Chirac won any Brownie points for his celebration. The TV watchers probably had a spectacular show but most of the 12 million people on the streets of Paris didn't see much besides the lasers and fireworks. Well we will see how President Mitterrand's July 14th celebration compares. The Caesars gave the people Bread and Circuses and apart from the Christians and the defeated gladiators, everyone else thought that was a great combination. A French loaf of bread only costs 3F 50 about 50 cents. I hate to think about the cost of the Eiffel Tower's 100th birthday.
Paris had a Fête de la Musique on June 21st, the longest day of the year. This has been an annual event for a number of years. Our newspaper listed 195 free musical events between 10 AM and midnight and these were only the ones that got in the paper. There were probably hundreds of small groups performing in streets and squares, schools and churches all over town. Naturally a gigantic stage was constructed directly in front of the new Opera. The stage was put up on the 20th and groups performing/ rehearsing or making videos that evening drew a small crowd. We stopped to watch but it was too loud for us. On the 21st the food vendors set up their stands and around 4:30 the police blocked the car traffic.
Martin and I had taken the cat to the veterinarian's on June 20th to be spayed and had to pick her up on the 21st at around 3:30 so weren't completely free during the afternoon. But at 5:30 we went to the Hôtel Sully (a national mansion, not a hotel in the American sense) for a trio playing Haydn and Mendelssohn. The Sully is about four blocks away and opposite where we frequently buy our groceries. It is an impressive building. (Sully was a minister of Henvi IV, the house was built in 1624.) The building is used by "The Ancient Monuments and Historical Building Commission" and in addition to a bookstore and the offices has two exhibit halls. Even though it is right in our neighborhood we have never gone to an exhibition there. The subjects never appealed to us.
The Sully has two courtyards. The first is cobble stoned and the second contains a formal garden. We had walked through the courtyards a few times before. The best view of the facades of these hôtels is usually from the courtyards and The Sully is quite impressive. There is a passage from the second courtyard directly into Place Vosges. (I believe I spoke about this square before but briefly - It is the oldest square in Paris. 36 symmetrical houses line the square, built between 1605 and 1612 under Henry IV. It was called the Royal Square.)
The Sully on the 21st was the scene of at least ten different groups. One of these we had seen on Sunday in one of the church concerts. A group that played 16th and 17th century music on "antique" trombones.
The violin, cello and piano trio was outstanding. We came too late to get seats so sat on the floor at the back of the room, but it has been a long time since I've heard such beautiful playing. On our way out I asked Martin to wait for me while I took a quick look at the rest of the building. The Commission offices are usually closed to the public.
Every room I entered was lined with tapestries, but in one room I saw a smoking object next to one of the tapestries. At first I thought I was seeing steam from a humidifier but then I went over to it and looked carefully and saw flames. There was only one other woman in the room and I spoke to her and then went into the next room and grabbed an official who disconnected the device. It was a defective halogen lamp and it should never have been so close to the tapestry. After this I got involved in conversation with this woman who had been next to us at the trio concert. She had also decided to take advantage of the opportunity of visiting the Commission Offices. She was fluent in English, thank goodness, and very knowledgeable and was able to answer my questions about the tapestries. Martin was waiting for me, but I wanted to continue talking so I asked her to join us for a glass of wine. She was delighted. Although she lived in Paris she didn't know that there was a port de plaisance at the Bastille. It turned out that at one time she worked as an aide to the one of the American Ambassadors in Paris.
Because of her visit, we ate dinner very late. Eventually we started back to go to the jazz concert. As we walked toward the gate between the marina and the Circle we could see huge crowds listening to the popular music show in front of the Opera House. It was a replay of the huge crowds at the Eiffel Tower and a tiny preview of what it will be like on July 14th. There was a guard posted at the gate with a police dog to prevent the entrance of the people into the marina. Our protection here is quite superb.
Not only was the Circle blocked off to traffic, but people were walking down the middle of Rue St. Antoine. It was a real mid-summer eve party. There was a crowd in front of Sully: half the people were going in and half the people were trying to get out. Eventually we made our way into the inner courtyard and eventually actually got seats. We listened to one jazz band finish their set, waited and then listened to the next one begin. This band was playing a form of modern jazz. Too modern for our tastes, so we made our way through the crowd and out the passage into Place Vosges. We wandered around there for awhile and then through other streets back to the Circle. By this time it was after midnight so the concert had ended and the crowd was thinning, although there were still plenty of merrymakers around.
Well I must end this letter. There is so much going on that if I don't mail this letter tomorrow it will run to ten pages. Tonight at 10 PM we are going to see a famous silent film on Napoleon being presented with a live orchestra in a specially constructed building in front of the Hôtel de Ville (city hall).
The weather has been outstanding, although the drought is very worrisome. Even with the heat the boat has been comfortable. Luckily we have been getting a good breeze and we close the window curtains against the sun. Martin built a frame and I made an awning. He did the tricky part of putting in the grommets. This gives us a nice shady place to sit outdoors. We bought a barbecue with a rotisserie run by a D cell battery - quite ingenious - and are trying all sorts of new things.
Love to everyone,
So much is happening that I better start now or else I won't be able to keep up with it.
In my last letter I mentioned that we were going to see a famous French silent movie,"Napoleon". This turned out to be a spectacular event. The City of Paris had constructed an enormous temporary auditorium, seating 2,500 spectators and a full orchestra in front of the Hôtel de Ville. Between June 8th and the 24th the city had been presenting a free film festival related to revolutionary events. I had read the write up in the paper, but not being French hadn't realized the special nature of the films being shown. The other six films were talkies so it would have been difficult for us, but Napoleon was one of the last silent films made. It was directed by Abel Gance between 1925-1926 and is 5 and a half hours long. He utilized an amazing variety of what we consider modern techniques including the use of three synchronized cameras to give a wide screen panoramic effect to the final scene of the film which was the invasion of Italy. This monster film was supposed to be the first of a series and only took the story from Napoleon's education to his first marriage and the beginning of the Italian campaign - so did not touch his time as head of the French State nor the European Wars. And we a saw only the second part of this film. The film was accompanied by a full orchestra, L'Orchestra des Concerts Lamoureux directed by Carl Davis, playing selections from Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, etc. Just fabulous The film played for 4 days, one part each night, with the orchestra and then because demand for the tickets was so great, a special presentation was given of the entire movie on Sunday, but this time with an organ.
We would have missed this event if I hadn't met Simone at the Féte de Musique. I mentioned her in my last letter, but not by name. We meet at the Hôtel Sully. In fact she and her son attended the same performance that we saw, although we didn't meet at the show. A few days later, however, we got an invitation to visit her for supper and a walk around her neighborhood. She lives on Rue Madame a block from St. Sulpice, a very nice area and a lovely apartment. Her daughter, Olivia, is starting college in the fall. She has been accepted at the Sorbonne and also Boston College. Olivia wants to go to Boston; her mother wants her to go to the Sorbonne. Olivia has already taken a summer program at Mt. Holyoke and is bilingual. Clement, her 16 year old brother, attends a private school in England. Their father is American but lives in England.
After a glass a wine we went for a walk. We visited the Rohan courtyards, three small yards hidden away inside a very busy block. Actually we had tried to visit these before, because my Michelin mentions them and also and my language tapes. But there was a sign that said "Private" so being law-abiding Americans we didn't go in. The courtyards aren't really anything that unusual. Paris is full of both big and small hidden courts. The passageway that the Rohan yards branch off from is quite historic. Dr. Guillotin killed his sheep here in 1790 while inventing his humane device, Marat printed his tracts here, etc. Today it is a popular alley lined with shops and restaurants. We toured St. Sulpice again and then walked up and around the L'Odeon National Theatre and into the Luxemboug Gardens. A pleasant stroll with an interesting commentary.
Clement had his first baby sitting job that evening so did not join us for supper. Olivia did and the four of us had an enjoyable evening. Clement returned and shared his adventures with us, the trials and tribulations of trying to get a six year old to go to sleep.
On Saturday morning, June 24th, Martin and I walked down to the River and stood on the Austerlitz Bridge to watch a parade of barges leave for Conflans (a town northwest of Paris). They were going to the "Pardon National de La Battellerie", the annual barge fête with races, parties, and balls. I believe there is also a ''Blessing of the Fleet" ceremony. We had been tempted to go up, but decided against it. There weren't many people watching the boats leave, although it was a large and colorful parade. I am sure that many people saw them pass as the river winds its way through Paris and under the numerous bridges and then as they made their way to Conflans-Ste. Honorine. We had stayed over night at Conflans on our way to Paris last year tied up to a group of barges. I think we saw more barges there than in any other place.
Around noon we walked over to the Plaisance Restaurant to listen to a band that the manager had hired. He treated us to wine and gave me a lovely painted bicentennial plate and Martin a Port de Plaisance T-shirt. We have never eaten in his restaurant but he always says hello. I think he misses his cat, but cats choose their own homes and this one has definitely chosen us.
In the afternoon we went to the Fête at Les Halles bypassing a big Chinese freedom demonstration that had closed the Bastille circle. Les Halles used to be the city's central market. Then it was torn down and a modern shopping mall created - mostly underground with a park on top. It is a very popular and lively area, especially with the under 30 set. The Fête was one of the better ones. There were musicians, artists, dancers, etc. We listened to some music, watched a stilt walker/ mime/dancer/music group which was quite amusing, wandered around and just enjoyed the afternoon.
We have been getting most of our information on current happenings from the French newspapers, mainly Le Figaro. On Wednesdays they publish a large tabloid containing about 80 pages with news of the week's concerts, museum shows, movies, fêtes, etc. We have come to rely on this but now they have stopped for the summer. Vacations are so required and regulated by law here that in addition to this supplement the paper is losing its opinion page for the summer and who knows what else. We had heard about Paris closing down in August. It must be true. There is a sign on "our" bakery saying (rough translation), "In order to comply with the law on Paid Holidays this business will be closed from July 29th to Aug. 27th. For information call the Paris dept. of Police: Operation Vacations.
On Sunday, June 25th, we took our bikes out for our first ride in Paris. We rode to the Bois de Vincennes and explored a section of that park. There were more runners than walkers around the lake. We didn't see any bikes at first and thought they might not be allowed, but they are. In fact there are even two special "roads" available for bike racers. Eventually we found these and pedaled sedately along while the racers whizzed past us. The Bois is immense so even with the bikes we only explored one section. (We had visited the race track in this park earlier this year and I had visited the huge flower garden. The castle is outside the park itself although adjoining it.) We also found a trout casting lake, but licenses are lOO francs and it is really too far away for Martin to use regularly. After leaving the park we found a pleasant cafe just across the street for lunch and then rode home. We entered and left the park in different areas so the ride back was completely different from the ride to the park.
We had an international 4th of July. In the morning we went "downtown" to the Tuileries, Concorde, American Express, Opéra area on a variety of errands. We explored and wandered around for awhile and finally caught a bus with an open air rear platform for a nice ride back to the boat. This is the bargain way to tour Paris.
At 5:30 we walked up to the Circle to welcome Gorbachev to Paris. He came for a "walk around" but the news pack was so dense that he couldn't really be seen by us poor peasants. Security, as always, was tight: metal barricades, sharp shooters on the roofs, and lots of police. Nevertheless, if a limit had been placed on the number of photographers, we would have been able to see him. It didn't make that much difference to us, but some people had been waiting for a number of hours.
For our American 4th of July dinner we made reservations at the Marriott Prince de Galles Hotel (Prince of Wales) on Avenue George V, a very upscale street running between the Champs Élysées and the Seine. The weather had been fine all day but around 7 it began to pour. Unfortunately I had rejected the idea of buying an umbrella the day before - something that Martin will never let me forget. My argument being (1) we have our foul weather gear - Martin's bright yellow coat and hood (and bright orange pants) and my green coat and hood. And (2) if it rained when we were out we would never have the umbrella with us anyway. The possibility of us going out to a 5 star hotel dinner/dance in our "good" clothes in the pouring rain did not cross my mind. Actually I have a decent gray trench coat and wore a scarf, but couldn't do much about my open toe sandals and stockings. But the Captain of the Opperdan had a non waterproof sky blue wind breaker and arrived at the hotel with trousers that looked and felt like they had just come out of the washer.
The French like to eat outside. The streets are lined with cafes and restaurant tables. People spend 400 francs a piece to eat on a dirty sidewalk next to roaring motorcycles, honking cars, pecking pigeons, dogs, cats and strolling people. The Prince of Wales does have a winter dining room but, in the French tradition, it was using the courtyard restaurant. (At least the tables were around a court and not on the street.) The tables lined three sides of a lovely sunken garden court that also doubled as the dance floor. (On July 4th it was an extremely wet dance floor.) Our table was under a solid roof, but one row of tables was under a large canvas awning. The awning covered the tables and almost but not quite all of the floor where we had to walk to reach our table and the waiters had to walk. Two men with long handled squeegees spent the evening pushing the water running off the awning into the courtyard. When we arrived I was relatively dry (not counting my toes); after leaving my coat at the check room and walking to our table the sleeves of my dress were soaked.
Besides the entertainment provided by watching the men wielding the squeegees we had music. The hotel has a popular piano player (show tunes, nostalgia) who attracts amateur and out of work American singers and musicians. Paula and Lesley know the type. This night all his group showed up. They occupied the largest round table and others, who arrived too late to share the glory of the head table, were scattered around the room. He played and the girls sang and "danced". There was a four piece band for dancing, but the rain prevented that. It did stop or let up for awhile and two Black tap dancers performed. Tap dancing is "in" again.
Dinner was a fixed menu - good, but a little odd for what was billed as an American 4th of July dinner. Vichyssoise, Roast beef and yorkshire pudding, mashed carrots treated in some odd fashion, fried (?) and cut in squares, coleslaw, a salad with hot goat cheese and two desserts: apple pie à la mode and brownies.
Security has been tightened at the marina. During the winter huge chains and locks were wound around the gates at 10 or 11 PM, but the locks were just for show. You unwound the chains and then just opened the gates. Now because of the summer sunlight and all the crowds and demonstrations the gates are really locked. We have been climbing over the walls and jumping down into the garden. This I refused to do after all the rain with my only good shoes and best dress. We walked to the main entrance and luckily found that open since the guard was nearby.
We were planning on going to Rouen which is hosting a fleet of "Tall Ships" from July 9th to the 16th. We made train reservations, but then couldn't get a hotel room so had to cancel. Perhaps later in the year we will go just to see the city. It will probably be better then because it won't be crowded.
In our wanderings around Paris we at last stumbled on the "true" Paris. One day we walked from Opéra (the Metro stop at the old opera house) all the way back to the Bastille. Along the way we walked down Rue St. Denis. I didn't think this Paris existed any more, but it does. A woman or two in each doorway for street after street. See through costumes, leather outfits with belts and chains, skin tight jerseys, spike heels. You name it, they wore it. (or didn't) The outfits have to be pretty flashy to get attention. If the men just want to see nudity they only have to come to our marina. On any hot, sunny day there are always three or four topless sunbathers. The sun worshipers have to - or do - stay in one section, but it appears to be acceptable behavior and no one seems to bother them. Although men line the wall above their area and stare down. My husband would never be so crude as to stare, he just takes a look to see how I compare and then always says I am better. Where do men learn to lie so?
After passing through Rue St. Denis we eventually reached the Hôtel de Ville where we found a nursery school teachers' strike in progress. The women were sitting in the middle of Rue de Rivoli (the extension of "our" Rue St. Antoine) blocking rush hour traffic and singing songs. City Hall was barricaded off and the women were surrounded by police. The riot police, however, were just packing away their plastic shields. They had obviously realized that such protection wasn't necessary. The teachers were sitting there and singing nursery songs, not throwing rocks or bombs.
In the publicity that was published at the beginning of the year there was supposed to be a gigantic American Salute to the French Bicentennial on July 8th. A parade of 50 American bands, one from each state. That was the dream. The reality was six (perhaps 7) bands: Indiana, Georgia, Montana, Virginia, South Carolina and Michigan. After the bands there was to be an orchestra and in the evening an American Waterways Wind Orchestra playing from a barge on the Seine.
Then an anti-Bicentennial, Abolish the Third World Debt, Anti Industrial Nations Summit, Abolish Solitary Confinement group was given permission to hold a big parade/rally/concert here at the Bastille Circle. On the 7th an enormous stand was constructed and dozens of trailers set up for the musicians and technicians. The loud speakers began to blare as groups tested and practiced. On the 8th dozens of food stands went up and the crowds began to arrive. We watched this parade start off. It had a good size route, up to Place Republic, then around through a few neighborhoods and then back to the Bastille. The main sponsor of all this seemed to be the Communist Party, but we don't have anyway of knowing where all the money came from.
This parade started at 2:30. Then we walked to the Hôtel de Ville to see the American Parade (stopping to buy a golf umbrella along the way). No street had been mentioned in that morning's newspaper, but it said Chatelet to the City Hall. This turned out to be two, perhaps three blocks. Six huge bands and only three blocks. Unbelievable! Since the route was so short, the crowd was immense along the street and surrounding the plaza in front of Hôtel de Ville.
While we waited for this "parade" to get underway we gossiped to another American couple who work in Paris. He had some biting comments to make about the French lack of organizational skills and their lack of punctuality. This parade was certainly an example of organization at its worst. Lots of good publicity, good bands, a big crowd and no parade route. Yet the protest parade was given a route. Suddenly I turned and saw Simone and her daughter, Olivia standing next to us! What a shock. We talked with them awhile, tried to see the bands passing by and then gave up on that location and walked over to the City Hall Plaza. It was worse there and then on top of everything else it began to rain. The bands that had already arrived and played their numbers were standing in formation on the plaza. I felt so sorry for them. It was teeming on their lovely uniforms and instruments. We all decided to give up and go home.
The rain stopped by 8:30 so the big protest concert took place at the Bastille. We went out to dinner so weren't bothered by the music. Security was so tight that there were police boats patrolling the marina all night and even the main gate was padlocked, but we jumped over. By 9 AM the next morning when we went to the Sunday market, the food stands, the loud speakers, the scaffolding for lights, cameras and TV, the performers' trailers, the stage, all had disappeared as if by magic. Now I maybe complaining but if they could do that why didn't the American bands get a raised platform? Or why weren't there grandstands for the spectators? A few weeks before the city had that 2,500 seat auditorium on that same spot for the film festival. The day before the Hôtel de Ville was blanketed with Russian flags for Gorbachev's visit. At least they got those down and some American flags up.
The marina is bursting with visitors: dozens of British and Belgian boats, smaller numbers of Danish, Swedish, German, and Americans. We have seen perhaps half a dozen American boats arrive, but they all acquired their boats in Europe like we did. This week a young couple arrived on a 25 foot 1974 Ericson sailboat with an outboard. It looks almost identical to the one we owned our last year in Baltimore. Gary had sailed it solo in 21 days from Newfoundland after trailering it from Michigan. Sue had joined him in England. He is one of only seven people to have crossed the Atlantic in that size boat. A wet, lonely, tiring, and dangerous adventure. Now they are on their way to Spain where they plan to leave the boat until next year. They could only allocate six months for this trip so don't have that much time left.
Week of July 9th to 15th, 1989
It has been a tremendously busy week for us personally and for just about everyone else in Paris. The Bastille Opera had its first Gala Performance - by invitation only - on July 13th. The security precautions were enormous. Construction is still not completed on parts of the building, but the front part looks finished. The workers have been rushing to complete the plaza, sidewalks, and curbs. The construction shacks and debris from the parking lot above the canal tunnel were removed. New posts put in, holes filled, all the cars were removed from the lot and from the surrounding streets.
Helicopters came and practiced landing on the 12th. Two came and stayed on the 13th. Barricades seem to be a permanent part of the landscape. Huge first aid tents were put up for use during the entire weekend. The apartments overlooking the circle were checked by the security forces and sharpshooters stationed on the roofs. (The topless bathers had to leave: the soldiers would be staring at them with their binoculars rather than looking for troublemakers.) Here at the marina everyone had to leave copies of their passports or ID's at the marina office and were told to stay around or leave their keys for the police to spot check the boats on Friday afternoon. A policeman came by, but didn't board us; just told us not to move our boat.
We tried to watch the arrival of the Heads of State but were shooed away from a nice quiet spot we found - so gave up. Besides we had been invited to a dock reception. There were three this week. The first was for a group of Italian rowers who make a long trip in a open boat each summer. This year's was on the Seine. They were on their way to Le Havre. The Italian Ambassador and his people were here plus publicity people and yacht club members. We had a nice conversation with an English journalist and a woman companion and also with one of the Rowing Team publicity or language people. Charlotte, our friend and neighbor, seems to make most of these social arrangements and always makes sure we are invited and makes sure we feel at home. She has made our stay here very enjoyable.
Then a couple of days later there was a party for a group of French young people - also rowing. Quite a colorful group. We didn't go to this affair but did wander by. The one on the 13th was in honor of a large (20?) fleet of Belgian pleasure boats that arrived "en masse" with a Belgian youth training ship (marine scouts?) . At this event we talked to the manager of the Port of Leige and were able to thank him for our pleasant stay in Leige and in Belgium.
The Bastille Day dances were held on the night of the 13th. There are five or six official monster dances sponsored by the city and then dozens or perhaps hundreds of others. Because of the Opera Gala at 7 PM the Bastille Dance started later than the others. We walked up around 1O PM and I was shocked to see the base of the monument covered with people. Martin had bought a lottery ticket from a fireman so we skirted the crowd and walked down St. Antoine to the Firehouse (looks just like any other house on the block) to go to the fireman's ball. It was a repeat of the Eiffel Tower birthday celebration and the Music Fete night. The streets were full with people, half going toward the Bastille and half going away. The firehouse was impossible. Near the entrance we started to get engulfed and Martin grabbed me and forced our way back and out into the street. (A friend who got in told us it was bedlam inside.) From there we made our regular tour, down to Hôtel de Ville across the bridge to Notre Dame, and then across the bridge to the Left Bank. We don't usually walk on the quay at night, but the crowds made everything safe so we strolled up the river along the water front. We had to detour around an enormous wild party; a crush of people waving their arms and trying to move their legs to the music. From here we recrossed to the Right Bank and back to the marina. We didn't bother to go back to the Circle. We could enjoy the music (couldn't turn it off that is for certain) just as well on the boat. We thought all the people that we had seen were very well behaved - celebrating and enjoying a lovely summer evening. Except for the firecrackers everything was peaceable.
On the 14th our immediate neighbors, the Franklins, got up early and took their grandchildren to the Military Parade. They were very lucky. An elderly man in a restaurant had given them his tickets for the stands reserved for people who had fought in the war. We hadn't gotten to bed until after 2 AM so went back to sleep and got up late.
The Metro stops near the parade route were going to be closed - for security reasons, (The Metro and buses were free that day, for what ever good it did people.) so we decided to ride our bikes. The crowds as we got near the parade route were just too daunting. Many of the streets were completely blocked off. Military trucks and buses that had carried the marchers filled some streets. The streets that were opened were jammed with pedestrians. We decided to just go exploring in the deserted streets away from the parade. We had seen the military airplanes and the helicopters flying over our boat two days before on their practice flights, so thought we might have seen the best part and would be satisfied with that.
In our exploring we saw a church/monument that we had never seen before and rode around the block to discover what it was. In this way we paid our respects on Bastille Day to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. We had discovered the Expiatory Chapel. The 600 Swiss Guards killed protecting the King at the Tuileries and then 1,343 of the guillotine victims from Place de La Concorde including the King and Queen were unceremoniously buried in this square. Later, after the monarchy was reestablished the chapel was built (1816-1821). However the supposed remains of the King and Queen were taken to St. Denis so now only their statues and perhaps wandering shades are still in Paris.
From the chapel we eventually made our way to the road that follows the Seine on the Right Bank. As we rode along we looked back and saw a squad of police motorcycles, the special group we had seen perform at the Garde Republicaine barracks. They passed us, then a squadron of helicopters flew over us; they had huge spotlights on and it was quite impressive. Then we were overtaken by a group of tanks with soldiers standing at attention half out of the turrets. We decided to switch to St. Antoine so rode over to that street. Groups of people were waiting here also and soon more tanks, anti missile carriers and all sorts of military vehicles came by, the men standing like Patton. A very nice old French woman was cheering and waving as the soldiers passed. When we started to leave she indicated by words and gestures that we should wait for the cavalry, then she asked a policeman and told us to go back to the river to see the Garde Republicaine return to their barracks.
Back on the river road we watched more military vehicles ride by. There was a lively little group watching. We clapped as each group went by and some of the soldiers tried to keep a straight face and others broke out into grins. A few drivers even broke the rules and honked their horns in greeting. A military policeman was on duty whose job it was to stand there with his arms pointing in the right direction. A regular policeman was letting traffic cross the bridge in between military groups and also trying to stop traffic from going into town on the quay road. Every once in awhile a car got by him. He came over to us and asked us to put our bicycles in the road, so our bikes became a makeshift barricade on the Quai de Hôtel de Ville. We stayed until the Garde rode by in their magnificent uniforms - followed by four street cleaning machines and then we followed them back to their barracks and then on to our boat. We might not have seen the July 14th parade on the Champs Élysées, but we had a great private parade right in our own neighborhood with front row seats!
The morning's military parade is the traditional Bastille Day Fete, but this year a second parade was scheduled for the evening of the 14th. The publicity for this second parade has been enormous. One day I saw a tiny ad in the Herald Tribune asking for American volunteers. On June 26th we hurried down and applied. The parade management was using an empty museum building, the Jeu de Paume, in the Tuileries Park bordering Place de la Concorde. We filled out applications and since we didn't have a telephone were told to call the following week. For awhile we thought we had a good chance to be accepted, but when Martin called he couldn't get a yes or no. Then we even went again in person but still didn't get any answer.
The volunteers were wanted to ride on "grandstands" behind the Florida A & M marching band and represent a cheering section. Just after we volunteered we told Simone about it and she got very excited and went right down to try to get in herself. (She is French, but was married to an American and the children must therefore be American and perhaps she has papers also.) Simone is quite attractive, so when she mentioned her 18 year old daughter they told her to send the girl down to try out for a cheerleader roll. On July 8 when we met them at the Band Parade, the big news was that Olivia and her mother had both been accepted. At that point we started to give up hope. Finally we received letters - thank you for your interest but we were overwhelmed with volunteers, etc.
We had very mixed feelings about trying to see this parade. Our success at seeing parades and events had not been great. This one would be coming down the Champs Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, but Concorde was off limits. Huge grandstands had been erected, but entrance was by invitation only. In addition we had learned by trial and error that the best parts of these events are put on for the TV cameras and for the VIP's. In this case the latter would be at Concorde or like Pres. Bush and the other Heads of State on the balconies at the Hotel de Marine and Hotel Crillon overlooking Place de la Concorde.
On our way out neighbors met us and advised us not to go downtown. They had just come home after finding it impossible to get anywhere near the parade route. We went looking for a TV. But France is not America. There are no TV's in bars or cafes here. We went to some nearby luxury hotels, they cater to foreigners perhaps they would recognize foreign needs. One advertises "American Bar", but no TV ( no customers either). We tried a number of places and then finally passed a small hotel with a TV in the lobby (probably none in the rooms). Martin asked the desk clerk if we could sit and watch, later giving him a nice tip, and in this way got to see the big parade.
It was tedious. Went on and on - slowly. The high point was Jessye Norman singing The Marseillaise at the base of the Obelisk and if you were on the Champs Élysées you would never have seen this. The American contingent did not show up on the screen until two hours into the parade and then for only a few minutes. We only saw one of the "grandstands" and only a couple of the cheer leaders. The camera never panned the stands so we never saw Olivia or Simone. We don't know if they were there or not but will be having them over soon so will find out.
The VIP performance on the night of the 13th at the new Opera House was called "Ia Nuit D'Avant le Jour" The Night before the Day. What was billed as The Inauguration Concert was on the 14th, a free concert, to the first 2,700 people waiting on line on July 10th. We decided to let others fight for these free tickets and bought tickets for the first paid concerts for Sunday night, July 16th. Special price 100 francs each!
Until very, very recently the concert schedule was non-existent - because of the firing of the previous conductor, etc. Then someone got Leonard Bernstein to set up four opening concerts and seven recitals for this week. There probably won't be anything else until October. The concert we went to was magnificent. An orchestra of young musicians from the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (see July 17th Time Magazine). There were three different conductors plus Bernstein. Each piece and conductor was enthusiastically appreciated. Bernstein, of course, received a standing ovation.
So far all the dire warnings about Paris in August have not come to pass. According to the Cassandras it was supposed to be hot, muggy, and unbearable. So far it has been very cool and comfortable.
The city's regular population has disappeared. This morning (Aug. 12) as we crossed the Bastille Circle on our way to the Sunday open air market we thought that we were the only ones left in town. The streets were deserted. Only a few tourists searching for the nonexistent Bastille jail. Many of the market spaces were empty, their proprietors being on their annual vacation, and you could actually walk through the market at a normal pace. Usually the crowd is so thick that it takes half an hour to go two blocks; your way is always blocked by baby strollers, huge dogs, shopping carts (the kind city people pull behind them, not supermarket types), and the general crush of the crowd in front of each stall. One stall had corn on the cob, a rarity here, 5 ears for 10 francs. Martin asked for 4 for 8 francs. Usually this would start a bargaining process, but today the stall owner looked at the lack of customers and just gave up and accepted our offer.
Friday night's motorcycle gathering is also halved. In fact it seemed that only a quarter of the regular group gathered this past Friday night. The parking lot above the Metro and above the canal tunnel is not manned in August - annual vacation naturally - so parking is free both day and night. This has probably caused some confusion to the tourist trying to park his car, but the word must slowly go around the camp grounds. At the beginning of the month there were only one or two motorhomes parking there, then three or four, now perhaps six or eight are there. It is a great place to camp; right in the heart of Paris and for free. Friday night the campers looked like a wagon train being surrounded by the Indians, although these Indians were on cycles and not horses.
Sunday afternoon the marina park should be crowded with strollers and instead only a few people are wandering by and admiring the beautiful roses. Of course I am sure that there are long lines trying to get into the Louvre and crowds at Notre Dame and at the other big tourist areas, but the average Parisian has decamped.
We took advantage of this and the reduced traffic and went for a bike ride in the middle of the week. We rode up to see a new park to our north; very interesting use of a steep land site. Then we rode to a larger, stunning park that we had visited in late winter, Buttes Chaumont. We had brought some wine with us and bought some sandwiches at a bakery and enjoyed a lovely picnic with a gorgeous view overlooking a lake and an enormous rocky hill (remains of an old quarry). We had a surprising experience entering the park. We rode by a woman pushing a baby stroller and she called out to us (in French), "Don't you live on a boat?" She was the sister-in-law, la belle soeur, of Janine Franklin, our neighbor on the next boat.
I love the way the French refer to in-laws. Une belle mère is a mother-in-law or a step mother, un beau père is a father-in-law or step father, un beau fils is a son-in-law or step son, etc.
Updating my last letter. Yes, Simone and daughter Olivia rode in the July 14th parade. We didn't see them because the TV camera rode on one grandstand and therefore concentrated on the "cheerleaders" and "spectators" on that one stand. It made for a very static TV show because you always saw the same people in each of the parade groups.
We have been fairly active as tourists the past few weeks. We paid a second visit to the d'Orsay Art Museum. (The d'Orsay was a railroad station that was remodeled into a museum. A stunning building inside and out. Yesterday I said to someone, " If you have time and inclination for only one museum go to the d'Orsay.'') On this visit we started on the top floor and spent our time with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists: Gauguin, Van Gogh, etc.
One day we went to the just reopened and enlarged City of Paris museum, The Carnavalet, here in The Marais area. Great old buildings with a collection of art and artifacts featuring Paris. Another day we dropped into one of the small private museums, The Museum of Wine. Just finding this place was an adventure. We climbed up steps and then down. Paris had many stone quarries which were then put to other uses (the park at Buttes Chaumont, the catacombs). The wine museum was in a quarry beside the Seine just beyond Trocadero. Years ago wine growing monks used the old quarry as a wine cave. I wouldn't recommend this museum to any busy tourist, but it gave our day's excursion a goal and a chance to explore a new part of town. We didn't buy any wine, but Martin bought a cheese map and studies it assiduously before making his purchases now.
We took the train to Versailles and explored the gardens. Still haven't gotten inside the buildings, but one of these days I might! The gardens are immense, hundreds of statues and fountains, formal gardens and woodlands. We walked from Versailles proper to the Grand and Petit Trianons and then to Marie Antoinette's hide away, The Hamlet, so we had quite enough to do and see in one day. Plus we had a nice lunch sitting by the "Grand Canal".
We stopped by three of the 30 American choral concerts given in the Luxembourg Gardens during July. Actually saw four groups since there were two one Sunday. One high school group from S. Carolina was especially good, but even if the concerts weren't always great any excuse to go to the Luxemburg Gardens is always welcomed. We found a model of the Statue of Liberty in the gardens among the hundreds of other statues. The French certainly have collected a lot of statues.
One of the places that I explored by myself, Martin does draw the line at some of my suggestions, was the Museum of French Monuments at Trocadero. It was monumental! Not many visitors, but quite impressive and great views of the city out the windows.
Last Sunday we walked over to Notre Dame to the regular free Sunday organ concert. Notre Dame is so big I didn't think it was ever full except on Christmas, but by the time we stuck our nose in each interesting window on the walk over, the church was jammed. People were sitting on the floors and leaning against the pillars. The organ notes reverberated through the vast expanses of the church, very powerful and moving. Next time we will have to get there early and get seats where we can listen to the music and at the same time enjoy the light coming through the stained glass windows.
We nearly always take an evening stroll. Usually just around our own area, but at least once a week we cross the Seine. Sometimes just to walk along the river, sometimes to wander among the tourists on the Left Bank perhaps in the warren of streets in the Latin Quarter filled with Greek restaurants. Then we usually cross to the island and Notre Dame, then back to the Right Bank in front of Hôtel de Ville and walk home. The tourist boats on the Seine have enormous banks of lights, very annoying to the residents, but the buildings and trees do look marvelous when the lights hit them. Notre Dame is especially beautiful at night.
One afternoon last week we strolled across the river to the railroad station, Gare Austerlitz, to look at the train schedule for Orly Airport. Paula and Dede are arriving on the 25th. and we need to go to the airport to meet them. From there we continued up the block to look at the Salpêtrière Hospital built by Louis XIV and named after a saltpeter arsenal workshop that was on the spot. We discovered a lovely flower garden and when we walked through into what we thought would be the courtyard we found a small woods, extremely quiet and peaceful.
On Saturday, Aug. 12, my husband decided to become a chimney sweep and cleaned the diesel heater. He stripped to an old (30 or 40 years) pair of shorts and was just getting a nice coat of black soot on his body when someone knocked at the door. Neighbors of Paula in Annapolis dropping by to say hello. Why is it that no one ever comes to visit when your house is spotless? Visitors always come by when every tool you own is on the dining room table, the couch is covered with ropes, the bathroom is decorated with drying underwear and you have just finished eating and the kitchen is piled high with dirty dishes. Nevertheless we enjoyed meeting them and tried to make them feel comfortable and at home - it all depends on how they keep their home. We did make a date for dinner (tonight, Aug. 14) over on the Left Bank. Their son lives here and suggested the restaurant. It should be fun.
In addition to cleaning out diesels, Martin has rewired the galley pumps so we can switch instantly from 220 volts to 12 volts in case we want to go for a ride or in case of a loss of shore power. He has added another 220 light to the aft cabin, a great improvement, and made a knife rack for the gallery, a nice convenience which also frees drawer space for other utensils. A major hidden improvement has been a strong support for our bed. Our hand built bed was built to support one bedspring, but since a single spring could never have gotten through the passageway to the aft cabin, we bought two twin size springs. (The form rubber mattress was folded and pushed through the doorway.) Recently we noticed - hard not to- that the bed was sinking in the middle and one of the springs had an alarming tendency to land on the floor in the middle of the night. We lugged back a huge board from BHV, our local department store, (That "we" should really read Martin. I just guarded the end so he didn't bop anyone on the head.) and Martin reconstructed the bed. Quite a professional job. It received my good house keeping seal of approval.
Speaking of beds, we hunted and hunted for a good folding cot, one that would not fold up in the middle of the night, to use for guests in the forward cabin. Eventually we found a camping store, occupying 12 different buildings in a three block area near The Sorbonne. There we purchased a folding army cot. It seems to be well constructed, fairly easy to set up and yet folded it fits in the compartment under the couch. We will see how it works when Paula and Dede are here. Our couch has two foam rubber mattress so one will stay on the couch and one will go on the cot.
Life's Minor Problems
I have a cat who likes to bring in mice and I have a husband who likes to fish. So my husband said, "I will catch some fish for the cat and then perhaps she won't bother to catch mice." At the fishing store my husband bought some tiny, tiny worms to catch the tiny, tiny fish. At first these worms were in a plastic bag, but I said that even worms had to breathe air so he transferred them to a small metal cigar box. Our French neighbor told us these worms were called "asticots . Now that is a nice pretty name, but when you check the French dictionary you discover that "asticots" are maggots!
The next morning we found that those tiny worms had escaped the tin cigar box by crawling through the hinge holes and were crawling around on the helm counter and were falling down to the floor and were filling the cracks between the floor boards and every other hiding place they could find. We swept, we used our new ''dustbuster", we scrubbed, we dug them out of the cracks with a screw driver. But do you know, we learned a strange thing. Maggots grow up and become flies. Six days later we spent the day waiting for these flies to emerge from their hiding places .We felt like the cats sitting beside a mouse hole. Luckily we discovered that newly hatched flies are very slow and easy to kill. It is only when you have to go out and come back two hours later that you find that they are quicker than you are. We now have earthworms in the refrigerator!
Our love to all,
Parisian weather has been quite delightful during the past four weeks, although it became brisk enough for me to get out and wear some woolen skirts during the final few days of August and the beginning of September. But I believe the chilly spell is over and we will have a number of warm weeks in September. Personally we will welcome any Indian Summer we get, because starting Sept. 12th, if nothing goes awry, we plan to take a van trip into the Loire Valley, visiting wine growing and cheese making areas (Martin's choice) and castles (Marcia's choice).
We are planning on exchanging our boat for ten days for the caravan belonging to our Dutch friends. The van is a very good one and Hank built the living quarters inside the van himself. His workmanship is excellent and the interior is very attractive. However it is extremely small compared to what we have now. There is a seating area with a dining table that converts to a bed and there is a small kitchen with a two burner stove, sink, and electric/propane refrigerator. The refrigerator will work off the car's battery when we are under way and either electricity or propane at a camping site. There is also a portable toilet and a limited amount of storage space. On the outside there is a large awning that unrolls from its case and provides a nice place to sit under. It also has a tent extension for the rear, but I don't believe we will have any use for this. That would be something to use if you were setting up to stay in one place for a number of days.
We have kept in touch with the M's since leaving Holland and had discussed this idea by mail. They said they wanted to drive down ahead of time to show us the van (and also I am sure that they wanted to look at our boat again), but we weren't expecting them when they showed up on Aug. 15th; their postcard giving their arrival date followed them by 2 days. Nevertheless we were glad to see them and gave them a tour of the boat and explained how everything works and in return had a tour of the van to learn where the water tanks are, how to put things together and take things apart and how to operate all the various devices. The M's spent the night in the parking lot on Bastille Circle and we joined them in the morning for croissants and coffee before they drove home.
We are both quite excited by the prospect of this coming excursion. Although the Loire River played an important role in the early history of France, the river is no longer navigable and does not have a working canal system, so we would never be able to visit it by boat. Many chateaux have been saved - repaired and rebuilt- from the destruction of time and wars, and I am looking forward to visiting a few plus seeing the towns and villages along the way.
If you would like to share this adventure with us and read about this area, I recommend a book printed by Newsweek, called "Chateaux of the Loire" by Christopher Hibbert. We are taking this book with us plus the Michelin guidebook by the same name, which is excellent - very detailed- but lacking the gorgeous photos of the other one. We also bought the Michelin Camping Guide to France and have made a list of the available camp sites. Since August is the big touring month for the French, many of the camping grounds close by Sept. 15th, but I still found enough open to give us plenty of convenient stopping places. The M's say that they only take their trips in the "off season" months and thus avoid the crowds. This year they went to Corsica and Sardinia, crossing the Mediterranean by ferry, of course.
Our expected visitors, Paula and Dede, did not arrive in August. When they tried to board the airplane in the US they discovered that Dede's passport had expired. They cried, tore their hair, and begged for an exception to the rules, but the French do not make exceptions and they weren't allowed to board the plane. Meanwhile Martin and I got up before the crack of dawn (4:15) to catch a train and a bus in order to meet them at the airport (greater love hath no other sister and brother-in-law), but eventually when we couldn't find them we gave up and came home. When they didn't show up at the boat by noon our time, we called Annapolis and found out what had happened. Great disappointment was felt on all sides. And here we had arranged for 20 young and handsome, future British naval officers from the Royal Navy College to be visiting the Port during Dede's stay!
Since we didn't have anyone to entertain we had to entertain ourselves. We made one small trip to the Parisian suburbs to visit a town called Nogent Sur Marne (Nogent on the Marne). The Marne is a river (and canal) that joins the Seine just outside of Paris. We took the Metro and then a bus to go and got off the bus at what turned out to be the upper town but eventually found our way down to the riverside to look at the town's marina. Nice, but not like our marina. The Marne, at least the part we saw, was quite lovely. On an island reached by dinghies was a rowing club and a summer colony and we watched the people coming and going for awhile before having lunch in a nice hotel on the river bank. After climbing back up the hill we found and took the RER, the suburban railroad line back. It dropped us off at Gare Lyon which is within walking distance of the marina.
Then one day we finally visited The Arab World, a huge building on the Seine and only a few blocks away from us. The building is very modern and interesting looking, but what with all the political problems and turmoil in the world, we had avoided it. The main present exhibit, "Egypt, Egypt" has been heavily advertised, so we decided it was time to visit. The exhibit turned out to be very small (fewer than 30 items, albeit probably extremely rare and valuable artifacts) and we were slightly disappointed, although we admired the presentation and the building itself. I believe the Egyptian exhibit was in honor of the fact that Egypt has just been allowed by the other Arab States to join this organization, after being excluded for many years because of their rapprochement with Israel.
We weren't at all disappointed with a visit to Bagatelle, the special garden area in the Bois de Boulogne. Martin went on this excursion primarily to please me, but then he enjoyed it as much as I. The garden is enclosed by a wall, so our first challenge after a kilometer walk from the Metro stop was to find the entrance. Eventually, with help, we did but no one was selling tickets - there is a minor admission charge - so we just walked in. The small chateau on the grounds was built by the younger brother of Louis XVI, who eventually did become King after Napoleon's defeat. He bet Marie Antoinette that he could have his castle built and the grounds landscaped within three months, and he won the bet! On the day of our visit the chateau wasn't open but I could look in the windows and see practically everything. As castles go this one is more like a doll house. The park is beautifully landscaped now; I don't know how it looked when Marie Antoinette saw it. There are lovely flower gardens, rose gardens, water lilies, trees, shrubs, ponds and grottoes.
We also saw an art exhibit in the Orangery. We always worry that we are not buying the next generation's Van Gogh or Picasso when we look at art exhibits here in Paris. There are so many great exhibits and, setting aside the pleasure derived from owning the art per se, if perhaps some painting we bought now for $l,OOO. would be worth $1,000,0000 to our heirs they would be quite disappointed with our lack of foresight. But then they wouldn't know about it anyway and we wouldn't be aware of their disappointment so... Anyway we enjoyed this exhibit at The Bagatelle Gardens. The artist and his daughter were there and it was especially interesting to see the young woman and then contrast her to her portraits at various ages and to see him and to see how he portrayed himself.
Across the river from our marina along the bank of the Seine is an outdoor sculpture garden park - modern art mostly, not the classical sculpture you find in the Luxembourg Gardens. One day Martin found one piece that really impressed him. We talked about it and I, from the depths of my vast knowledge of art said, "Oh, but that artist has an entire museum devoted to his work here in Paris." (I have memorized my Michelin Guide to Paris.) So last Sunday we found hidden away in the heart of Paris, the Zadkine Museum, a small studio/house inside a Parisian courtyard near the Luxembourg Gardens. The artist had lived and worked here for 40 years and probably left everything to the city of Paris. It was all so delightful, perhaps more so because we didn't know what to expect. We are both growing in our appreciation of art, enjoying more and more variety. At least I no longer say, "Bah, humbug!" when I look at "modern art" - at least not all of the time.
On Aug. 22nd we were passing the Hôtel de Ville when we saw a crowd of bicyclists and army trucks. Martin went over to a couple of the riders and asked them in French, ''What's happening?" They, being Americans, couldn't speak French but eventually, when everyone decided to use English, we found out that the bicyclists were following the "Liberation Trail" and retracing the path taken by the US Army in 1944. The trucks were old American ones and the men, and at least one woman, were in WW II army uniforms bedecked with medals. Somehow we hadn't noticed this!
Then on the 25th we deliberately went to the Hôtel de Ville to see the official Liberation of Paris' ceremony. There was a choir, a band, and units of the army, police and firemen. The speech, which we believe was delivered by Jacques Chirac, the mayor, sounded very stirring. I admit I could only understand a portion of the French, but I got enough words to get the general drift. This one was particularly easy to follow, since he was retelling the story and naming streets, areas and people. The thousands of wall plaques through out the city marking where resistance fighters died were decorated with flowers and other ceremonies were also held in the city , but I believe that we attended the major one.
We were invited to a dinner party at our neighbors, Charlotte and Michel, with two other couples (the Sidney and Janine and Francine and Marcel from a boat further down the dock). Charlotte's table actually seats 8 for dinner! She has a lovely boat, crammed with art work picked up on their various postings when her husband was a doctor with the French Army and on their sailing journeys around the world. The wheelhouse is Michel's workroom. He makes ship models which then end up in museums and private collections. Their stateroom is forward and then aft is the salon, galley and Charlotte's sewing room. It was a great dinner party and a fantastic dinner. A whole rack of lamb roasted on top of a bed of unpeeled garlic cloves. The aroma and flavor was stupendous and we just popped the cooked garlic cloves out of their covers and devoured them. There were two good vegetable dishes, followed by cheese, and dessert. Needless to say it was a late night with lots of good stories and jokes and everyone left feeling no pain.
The Americans have invaded the Port de Plaisance. Directly behind us and staying for the winter on a 30' sailboat (They have crossed the Atlantic 3 times, the first two were just practice runs, he says!) are the Allens. Plus there are about five other transient boats in this week. Mrs. Allen and I are almost the same age and I believe we will become good friends. We are already planning to visit the zoo together since we discovered that we both have non-zoo going spouses. Perhaps we can even go window shopping together.
My spouse does like to go swimming. He has on a number of occasions suggested that we go to a pool, but I am afraid I was always the wet blanket about this. I don't really know why, I always used to love to go to the beach. Anyway, this week he said, "Let's go to Aquaboulevard," and we did. This is one of the newest attractions in town and turned out to be quite fabulous. It is an enormous, private sports complex: tennis, squash, bowling, billiards, golf, body building, plus stores and restaurants. The main attraction is the pool. Not a straight rectangular pool for swimming laps, but a serpentine fantasy with scattered hot tubs, four immense water slides/toboggans (two indoors and two outdoors) and a variety of spectacular special effects. There were water canon that shot spray hundreds of feet across the pool; you let the spray hit your back for a water massage "trés fort" i.e. very strong. There were erupting geysers, waterfalls, whirlpools, and a wave action machine creating small breakers rolling onto the beach. The various special effects are probably computerized so at one time the water is calm and then it erupts and for five or ten minutes you can play South Sea Islander cavorting under an umbrella of showering water. Some of the pool edges are painted to resemble beaches and you walk into the water gradually.
There are lots of beach chairs and mats available. You can swim indoors or out, sun yourself indoors or out. Most of the women sunbathe topless so at my husband's urging I did too. It felt very nice. Pretty soon we will join a nudist colony if this keeps up. We both made a number of trips down the water toboggan which was quite an exhilarating experience. Unfortunately I have always had trouble with circular motion (I can't ride merry go rounds and can't be swung while dancing) and on my third trip down became dizzy and started to feel ill so had to chose a less strenuous activity. The sauna had a cold tank next to it for those hardy souls who wanted to plunge their hot bodies into a cold mountain stream after their sauna. We passed this up. It was hard enough just getting back into the regular water after leaving the hot tub. The cost for four hours in the pool is only 60 francs, less than $10.00, which seems very reasonable.
The next day we spent some time touring the French National Assembly in the Palais Bourbon on the Left Bank of the Seine facing Place de la Concorde. This is the first time in 200 years that this building, which houses the French equivalent to our House of Representatives, has held an exhibit open to the public. I wanted to make sure we saw it before our trip to the Loire because the exhibit closes on the 25th. When Martin was here in 1951 he was able to attend an open meeting of the National Assembly, so he had been in the assembly room before, but the other rooms weren't open to the public. The main room is in the shape of a half circle, thus it is called L'Hemicycle. It is like a small theater with the rows of seats for the deputies rising sharply and the public and press seats lining the back wall. We saw about ten other rooms including the library with ceiling paintings by Delacroix plus the exhibit. All quite interesting.
Love to all,
Our vacation (!) in the Loire Valley
Well it was fun to go away and visit so many new places, but it was even better to return to our own boat! The advance research I did on the area, on the tourist sights, and on the camping sites was very useful --- except for our first night.
It was 4 PM by the time we made the transfer of our belongings to the van and the M's belongings to the boat, said goodbye and left Paris. So it was getting late when we reached the town where our first camping site was supposed to be located. I had picked out a site, Michelin rated as "2 tents''; however the road signs that we followed led to a very rural and primitive campground. The name over the gate wasn't what I was expecting and I was also expecting to be at the side of a canal. But it was late and at least we had found somewhere to park. The next morning we found the camp site recommended by Michelin nearby, and it was on the side of a canal and looked very nice. But the one we had stayed in was certainly very quiet; if it had been in the book it would have had a "savage" rating.
From this camp we drove to Sancerre, a small town, noted for its wine, perched on a high hill. It had once been a defensive position and the ruins of the old fortress remained. The streets were extremely narrow, winding, and difficult to negotiate with the van. We met a group of Americans who were traveling on a Dutch "hotel" barge. They had gotten a taxi to bring them from the canal to Sancerre. The presence of a working canal surprised us, but this eastern end of the Loire Valley is obviously still reachable by boat. The Loire itself was very dry due to the French drought; nothing but a small shallow stream in most places and this was the only day we saw a usable canal.
The view of the surrounding fields and vineyards was very lovely from the heights of Sancerre. We explored the small streets and visited a handicraft shop. The Americans had dropped broad hints that they wanted a ride down the hill, but Martin wasn't too certain that we could manage it safely on our own, much less with passengers, and had ignored them. It was for their own good, walking down was safer for them.
During our descent I saw a sign "Tourist Wine Route" and told Martin to turn left. It definitely was scenic, but naturally we got lost and ended up in a farmer's yard. The folks there smiled and gave us directions. We probably weren't their first lost tourists. The route cut across the rural countryside, bypassing the Loire and the towns of Gien and Briare, although these would have been interesting. We were heading for Sully, further up river. On the way we drove through a hamlet called Thau and stopped at a beautiful "farmhouse" restaurant. The fixed menu at about $10.00 offered a delicious marinated beet salad, a great rabbit stew and goat cheese, a soft, mild, white cheese. This area is famous for its Sancerre wine and goat cheese (chèvre), especially a form called "crottin". During our trip Martin managed to taste every available variety of chèvre. It is good, plain, but delicious in a green salad heated on small rounds of French bread. I even bought it hidden inside a roll.
Our luncheon was enlivened by two French women. One was flirting and kidding around with my husband in a shameless manner. I couldn't understand all the French, but I knew better than to leave her alone in the room with Martin. She said she had recently lost her husband and was looking for a rich American. She was full of life and cracking jokes right and left, unfortunately in French, so I missed the punch lines. They were probably too risqué for my delicate ears anyway.
After lunch we drove to Sully. We looked at the outside of the château and then crossed the river and this time found the right campsite. All our campsites were pleasant. Naturally we liked some better than others, either because of the setting or the facilities. The costs were extremely moderate in comparison to hotels, ranging from 25 to 40 francs ($4. to $6.) which included electricity. We paid extra each night (except for the first) for electricity rather than using propane for the refrigerator. It might have been cheaper the other way, but the small cans of propane are ridiculously expensive, so who knows? The camping cost is based on the number of people and whether you have a car or not. We saw quite a few bicyclists who camp in pup tents. Their costs are really minimal. All the sites provided toilets, showers with hot water, sinks for washing dishes, and laundry tubs. We stayed in some camps with very nice, new facilities - one or two with laundry machines and two had ironing boards. Even if you didn't pay extra for electricity you could use a hair dryer or electric razor in the bathroom.
The next morning we took the road that "follows" the river. I put follows in quotation marks because the river twists, turns, and winds; the road is slightly straighter and only touches the river in spots. During our trip, on this day as on most days, we made numerous short stops: to walk around a pretty village, to visit an old church, to buy groceries, wine, or cheese, to take pictures. On this day we stopped at a very old church that houses the remains of St. Benedict. The Saint didn't bother us, but even though it was 10 AM we were accosted by an old drunk who berated us mightily for some unknown reason. He probably wanted money which we didn't give him.
We recrossed the river and eventually drove south of Orléans. The guide book said Orléans had been badly damaged by the Wars and although still historically interesting I was in a hurry to get to the "best" tourist areas. We stopped in Meung on the Loire, a small town again, as is the case with all fortified towns, perched on the high ground above the river - winding streets, remains of ancient forts, a château, old houses and gateways. (Just about every town has a château; if you tried to visit them all you would need a year and lots of money. The ones owned by the government usually cost 22 F (about $3.25) while the private ones range between 15 to 35 F ($2.25 to $5.00).
We continued our lunch time winning streak by finding Le Rabelais Restaurant. On the fixed menu you could get for 89 F ($13.70) hors d'oeuvre from the buffet table, a main plate, dessert from the buffet table, and all the wine you wanted. You filled your pitcher from 4 barrels: red, white, or rose wine, or - heavens forbid - water. For 85 F you got the same menu, minus the main plate! I looked at the marvelous array of foods on the buffet table and chose the 85 F meal, planning on sampling a taste of everything. Martin, who has an irrational dislike of buffets, chose the 89 F meal. I definitely got the better deal. Martin took one plate of hors d'oeuvre and then sat and waited forever to be served his main dish. The restaurant does not expect such behavior. It expects you to take four plates from the buffet table and then a main plate. His main plate therefore was small and surprisingly not that great, while I had a Rabelaisian feast.
From Orléans the river goes southwest. We followed the river for awhile and then turned further south by driving through the Forest of Chambord. This was one of the King's hunting preserves and it is still surrounded by the longest wall in France - 20 miles enclosing 13,600 acres. It is now a National Hunting Reserve, a strange name for an animal sanctuary. We drove by the castle and just out of the park to reach the town of Bracieux which we made our headquarters for the next three nights.
On the 14th we visited our first French château. I had planned this trip to start with a bang and it did. Chambord may not be as large as Versailles, but it must be a close second. It is the largest of the Loire castles. The guide book says it has 440 rooms. We visited quite a few but certainly not 440. Chambord was built by Francois I, starting in 1520 - 140 years before Louis XIV started Versailles. Both are monumental creations built by kings with enormous egos who depleted their country's treasuries for their own satisfaction.
All the castles we visited are open in the mornings until around 12:15, then closed for lunch, reopening after 2 PM. By the time we changed our van bed back to a dining table, ate, showered, and got to the castle it was 10:45. Then we spent almost an hour just gawking at the exterior and taking pictures. Chambord is everyone's fairy tale image of a castle; lots of turrets, spires, and gewgaws. It was built purely for pleasure; no massive defensive walls with moats and drawbridges, although the basic plan is feudal with a central structure surrounded by a walled courtyard with towers at the corners. Chambord's most famous architectural feature is its huge double spiral staircase. Through the windows (openings really) you are able to see people on the other staircase, but the staircases do not meet. (A similar structure is inside The Statue of Liberty if memory serves me right.)
During the remainder of the morning we looked at the rooms on the first two floors, then after we were shooed out we ate in the van, took a nap, and then returned to visit the third floor and the roof top terrace. The lower floors contained some nice tapestries and furnishings - sparsely done which was good because it allowed you to admire the building. The top floor had been furnished by the Parisian Museum of the Chase, which was appropriate, since this castle was basically a gigantic hunting lodge.
That evening we walked the few blocks from our campsite to the village and enjoyed a very good, but slightly expensive meal; couldn't get roast venison so had to settle for roast rack of lamb.
The next day we drove north to Blois on the Loire River. The castle at Blois is a hodgepodge of styles: four architecturally different buildings - a 13th century feudal building, a Gothic building, a 16th century Renaissance wing added by the same Francois I who built Chambord, and an unfinished 17th century Classical wing. It was never finished because Louis the XIV was born and when he grew up he had Versailles constructed.
The chateau at Blois seemed to have more rooms than we saw in Chambord, but on the whole Blois did not please us. The most impressive room was The Great Hall in the Feudal section. It was here that the Ruler held court. Two famous States General meeting were held here in 1576 and in 1588, many years before the one that led to Louis XVI downfall.
In the morning we wandered around the town (a small size city really) finding a few interesting streets in the old quarter with 16th century buildings, then had a pleasant and inexpensive lunch near the base of the castle walls. Although hundreds of tourists come to Blois, it isn't just a tourist town so we could find a regular restaurant with normal prices. At 2:00 we toured the castle and afterwards explored another part of the town before returning to our third night at our Bracieux camping grounds.
Our choices on Saturday were bewildering; we were within an hour's drive of so many châteaux. We decided to see Cheverny in the next town and then drive a little further down the river to our next campsite. Cheverny was a good choice. It is a private chateau. The owners live on the grounds although I don't believe that they occupy the big house any more. Cheverny was built between 1604 -1634. A very attractive, Classical style, white stone building - solid and imposing. It was built by a count, not by a king. The building was in excellent condition, inside and out. The rooms, both the museum type and the "private apartments" were lovely, with beautiful art and decorations. The dining room has preserved its original painted ceilings and wall panels that recount the adventures of Don Quixote. The walls are covered with painted Spanish leather.
The owner of Cheverny is a hunter and has a pack of 70 large hunting dogs that were lounging around in an enormous kennel. Near the kennel is the trophy room containing 2,000 deer antlers. They cover the ceiling and all the walls. This room is rented for "affairs" and it was set for a luncheon when we looked in. The dogs, who had been surprisingly quiet, suddenly starting baying when costumed men with hunting horns walked out on the lawn and formed two groups on either side of the main drive.
They didn't even have to blow a note. As soon as the dogs saw the red suits, they rushed for the fence hoping for some excitement. Instead everyone just stood around and waited for the arrival of the luncheon party. The owner of the château, his daughter who had greeted us at the door, and three or four others, everyone waited and waited. Eventually to pass the time, the huntsmen played a song for the benefit of the tourists and posed graciously for innumerable photos. We waited for almost 45 minutes and then gave up. As we drove off the guests arrived for we heard the horns sounding their fanfare.
We stopped in a small café for lunch and then drove on to our main stop of the day, the castle of Chenonceau. Chenonceau is a beautiful castle with a picture book setting astride a small river, the Cher that flows into the Loire. I think that the write up in the Michelin guidebook is so interesting that I will get it copied and include it in this letter.
From Chenonceau we drove to a campground at Montlouis on the Loire. Montlouis makes a delicious white wine and a huge wine bottle marked the entrance to this camp ground. Even though we had visited two castles during the day, Martin decided we needed more exercise and that we should walk over and explore the town. It was only 2 km. away, but one of these was almost straight up. The town was very nice but I was so exhausted, I thought I was going to have to crawl back. I think even Martin was a little tired by the time we got back.
The campsite at Montlouis was very nice with individual sites marked out by small hedges. There was a washing machine and the next morning I did the laundry, strung a line between the trees and hung it to dry. I never did find a campsite with a dryer. Dryers must be for city dwellers! Sunday was declared a day of rest (apart from the laundry), but we did walk back to town for lunch. Again we found an excellent restaurant (about $10.50 a piece, plus wine).
Monday, the 18th found us "On the Road Again". We skirted the city of Tours and went to visit the gardens of the castle at Villandry. These are formal boxwood enclosed gardens, both floral and vegetable. Very nice and we enjoyed the place, but felt that at 20 F it was too expensive, at least for us. We have seen so many beautiful gardens in Paris for nothing that perhaps we are jaundiced. The castle was an extra 10 F @, but I hadn't read anything to indicate that it was worth the time or the money. (Villandry is a private château so they do need the money to keep up the grounds and the house, but 20 F each should have included the château.)
From Villandry we drove south about five miles to Azay-le-Rideau. We parked in the town square and after our usual scouting expedition made one of our few wrong choices of the trip for a restaurant. But after so many good meals, I suppose you have to have a bad one.
The parking lot in the town square was not shaded so after lunch we drove around to a park/parking lot under the trees with a delightful view of a stream, a tiny dam, and some old houses being renovated. The original house was probably a couple of hundred years old, but soon someone was going to have a lovely home right on top of the stream with huge glass patio doors providing a fantastic view. Martin sat and sketched and I leaned against a tree and took a short nap during the rest of the lunch time break. Later we walked over to the château entrance.
Azay-le-Rideau, like Chenonceau, is built partly on top on the stream (the Indre), but does not bridge it like Chenonceau does the Cher. The setting is very attractive and we had a pleasant hour's stroll through the rooms and around the château. This château was also a private dwelling and not a king's castle, although it is now owned by the State.
Leaving Azay we drove through a forest to the town of Chinon. Chinon has a fascinating history. It was the site of Joan of Arc's first meeting with the Dauphin in 1429, but before that it was an English castle built by Henry II (12th century), the father of Richard, the Lion Hearted. We arrived in Chinon on the city's heights and then descended to the river, the Vienne, another of the Loire's numerous tributaries. We crossed the bridge and found our campsite right on the river's banks facing the castle ruins.
Chinon was the only ruins we visited, but such impressive ruins! Actually the site reminded us of the Belgian towns we had moored in, Huy, Dinan, and Namur, with their huge forbidding ruins and forts towering above the River Meuse.
The town of Chinon was especially pleasing. Between the castle and the river are two or three reasonably level streets (although on different levels, like terraces) crossed by streets climbing up the cliff. These streets are packed with 15th, 16th, and 17th century houses. We saw an old engraving of Joan riding through the town and then saw the actual half timbered houses still overhanging the street.
The next day we climbed up to the château entrance. One tall 14th century building called the clock tower is still in excellent shape. We climbed up the curving stone steps to visit the Joan of Arc exhibition that it contains. There was a good recorded commentary you could hear by pushing the button marked English. An interesting aspect of Chinon are the enormous dry moats surrounding the various sections. Because of the castles position on top of the cliff, these moats never contained water, but by incorporating the natural gorges into the defensive walls, the fortress was made practically unconquerable.
Most of the rest of this enormous fortress/castle is now in ruins, but not because of war. It was abandoned in the 15th century and eventually the peasants took it apart stone by stone to build their homes and barns. Right now it looks like the government is repairing some of the castle walls, but I don't know whether to preserve what is left or whether they plan to reconstruct parts of the castle.
We had a nice lunch in Chinon and then spent the rest of the day planning the remainder of our trip. In the morning we drove up the hill to an Intermarché, a French supermarket chain store, that was running a big wine sale. We had discovered a number of reasonable priced wines that we liked - Chinon especially. It is excellent now but they advise keeping it for two years. We bought three boxes of six, plus wine as gifts, however I don't know if we will ever manage to keep any of it for two years.
From Chinon we drove to Fontevraud Abbey, a fascinating place, started in the 12th century. It grouped five monasteries together: one for nuns, one for monks, one for lepers, one for the sick, and La Madeline for fallen women. A woman abbess, usually of royal blood, was placed in charge of the whole place. Henry II of England, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son, Richard the Lion Hearted were buried in the Abbey Church (the only English Kings resting on foreign soil, although it wasn't foreign in their day).
Of course the only thing remaining now are the tombs. The Protestants attacked in 1562 and then the French Revolution destroyed some more of the buildings and all the furnishings were lost. Napoleon turned the place into a prison which wasn't closed until 1963. When it was a prison, floors had been built dividing the church into storeys. These have been removed and the church cleaned. To enter you go down a small flight of stairs to reach the entrance doors and then you go down another flight of stairs inside the church. The ceiling soars above you, all the walls are stark, bare and clean. Flooring stones in the front part of the church have been removed and an archeological dig is in process. There are some open stone coffins visible and then walls of ancient buildings discovered under the church's floor. The three English sarcophaguses (or for my Latin scholar mother, sarcophagi) are displayed behind a glass partition. Leaving the church by a side door, you enter a large cloister. On one side is the refectory, and on another, the nun's chapter house. The walls of one of these rooms are covered with 16th century mural paintings which I assume were recently restored. There were some missing pieces, but the majority of the paintings were in outstanding condition.
A huge restoration project is underway and, as in Paris, it was fascinating to compare the unfinished parts to the finished parts. Of the five original monasteries only two seem to be still in existence. One of the most unusual of the surviving buildings is the Romanesque kitchen. It was originally a large, free standing 8 sided building with 8 towers topped by chimney spires, plus a bunch of other chimney spires. From the outside you think it might have been a church. Three of the towers were destroyed in the 16th century when the building was connected to one of the monastery buildings, but it is still a good looking structure. The curved towers provided space for 8 cooking fires. Which ones were used each day depended on the direction of the wind, so there was never a problem with smoke. A very ingenious solution.
Our lunch stop on this day was at a crossroad's café, surrounded by acres of grape vines, that had a lot of cars in front of it. The bar area was busy but we found an empty table. Martin asked for a luncheon menu, however the answer confused us. Eventually the man pointed to a closed door. We opened it and discovered a large restaurant. The food was excellent - working man's portions and cheap - a good mixed salad, slabs of roast pork, green lentils, cheese and ice cream, plus of course, good inexpensive wine.
A short digression will be necessary here for you to understand how we spent the rest of the afternoon (and also where the workers came from who filled this café). The Loire Valley is a very rural area. There are a few small cities on the river, Orléans, Tours, Saumur, for example and then hundreds of scattered villages surrounded by fields of feed corn, sunflowers, and grapes. (Also small herds of cattle and goats, in addition to the normal complement of chickens, etc.) The land is rolling, with hills or cliffs especially alongside sections of the river. These hills have been extensively quarried over the centuries and the stones used to build the villages, churches, and châteaux. The empty quarries were then put to use for wine caves, but also for homes, barns and storage areas. Riding along we passed hundreds of houses, called troglodyte homes, that were built right into the sides of the cliffs. You would see front windows, a door, perhaps even a porch. The rest of the house was inside the hill. Other houses stood further out from the cliff with just their back rooms inside. Along the road were garage entrances and used and unused entrances to the caves. Tremendous numbers of these old quarries are also used for mushroom cultivation. Near where we ate lunch, we passed women leaving work carrying the lighted miner's hats that mushroom workers wear. The Saumur area (where we were) alone has 497 miles of underground galleries devoted to mushroom cultivation and produces 120,000 tons annually . I don't know how many miles are devoted to the wine trade, but it must be quite large also, especially considering the aging time that good wines need.
Most of the wine producers welcome visitors to their "caves", usually a cellar like salesroom where you are given a small glass in hopes of a purchase. But I had noticed two or three sentences in the Michelin guide about a cave where you could get a real tour of the whole wine making process. So after leaving the restaurant we followed signs pointing to the "Cooperative Caves". We weren't too certain if this was what we were looking for, but it was the only sign we saw.
Tractors coming from the fields hauling loads of grapes were turning into a huge building. (The grapes were being dumped into hoppers and into the caves below.) We stopped here first, but then saw a tiny sign "visits" pointing beyond this building. We continued following the signs until we arrived at a large warehouse/reception center.
The next tour was at 3 PM and it was only 2:20. There was a sales desk and you could taste the wines and there were interesting pictures and displays to look at. We talked for awhile with a British couple who had come over just to buy wine. They weren't going to wait for the tour. They were just going from cave to cave making purchases. After they left another group of English people came in and a Dutch couple and we all waited for the tour.
At 3 o'clock the guide took us outside and indicated that we should get into our cars. Since we had the most room, the guide got in with us. He only spoke French, fairly rapidly at that and it was all a little confusing. He directed us around the building, "à gauche, à droite," and then down a road as if we were going into a underground parking lot. It was then that we discovered that we were going to drive into the caves and we were leading the other cars.
In front of us is this narrow and low cave entrance. It looked fine for the autos but our van is very high. I started praying and Martin started sweating. The M's would not appreciate it if we returned their car with a crushed roof! I kept telling myself, "Well the guide has done this hundreds of times. He is riding with us. He got into the car. He must know that we can fit. I hope." Martin, very slowly, inched in. No loud scraping sounds were heard, so we continued slowly.
"À gauche, à droite," came from the guide. We negotiated a few hair pin curves as we continued to go deeper and deeper. We parked and then the guide gave a lovely French description of the wine making process to our group of British, American and Dutch travelers. Most of us managed to understand the general points (some of us more than others - his hand movements and Martin's whispers helped me.) There were stacks of wine bottles, empty and full, and a whole bottling plant. That part was easy to understand since you could watch the action. The bottles were washed, filled, corked (that was cute) and placed in boxes to be stored in the caves to age. After walking around and looking at various things, we were brought to a big wine tasting room and given wine before driving back to the surface. Can you get arrested for drunk driving in a wine cave? It was quite an adventure and naturally we bought some wine when we reached the surface.
Although it was now 4 PM we were only about 15 miles from a town, just south of Saumur, whose one street was lined with different wine caves and also a mushroom museum. We drove over, didn't go into any of the wine caves, but did take the mushroom tour. This wasn't as interesting as the wine tour. I was annoyed that the guide who could speak fluent English didn't throw in one or two English explanations during the tour. It wasn't until we were out of the cave that we found out she spoke English. This cave wasn't a working mushroom cave, but a tourist exhibit. I don't think the growers wanted to have tourists wandering through their caves; lack of light is important for the development of the mushrooms, I think.
We were heading back to the camp site at Chinon when we passed a camp ground at Montsoreau on the Loire. We were riding along the river next to a troglodyte cliff. I was able to sightsee, unfortunately Martin had to keep his eyes on the narrow road, so stopping here gave us a chance to walk around the town. We were in luck. The camp site was very nice, right on the Loire with outstanding, new sanitary facilities. You could even control the hot water shower yourself. In all the other campgrounds, you had to hold on to a chain with one hand while washing with the other and also couldn't change the hot/cold water mix. Whatever came out, that was it! Usually the water was warm enough and we are used to one handed showers because we have to hold our hand held boat shower, but to suddenly have a real hot shower with two free hands --- What luxury!
Montsoreau has a "private" chateau, but we skipped it. Alexandre Dumas wrote a novel "The Lady of Montsoreau" using this castle as his setting. We did walk up and around this imposing 15th century fortress. The water of the river used to come right up to the wall, but now the road and a tiny "beach" separates the two. The town was a miniature version of Chinon: two or three streets between the cliff and the river, extremely old stone houses, plus troglodyte homes.
The next morning we stopped in the next little village, Candes (1 km away) to peek into its 12-13th century church and then drove across the river and upstream to visit our last château, Langeais. Although this château has been excellently kept and restored, we did not enjoy our visit because we were forced to take a guided tour. The guide gave out booklets in Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Japanese and English to all the foreigners and then proceeded to say the same thing in French that we were reading! It was all so unnecessary. The French could have used guide books also and then everyone could have gone at his own speed and have looked at what he was interested in. I assume they required the guided tour for security reasons, but a good video security system would be better. Besides how easy is it to steal a 10' by 10' tapestry or a 50 pound suit of armor? Writing on the walls is the biggest problem in castles. There is graffiti from the 13th century on some castle walls.
From Langeais we headed toward Tours, then north past Vendome and Châteaudun to a camp ground at a small town called Bonneval. Along the way we stopped for lunch at a French truck stop. Interesting. They had a huge TV, a very unusual thing for a café or restaurant in France, but obviously the truck drivers like to watch it during their breaks. We watched the news and saw pictures of the hurricane damage in the Caribbean and then some American soap opera, dubbed in French - pretty bad!
Bonneval was a lovely woodsy camp site, very isolated, quiet, and again with great sanitary facilities. Too bad we could only stay one night.
Chartres was our destination for our last day of touring. Martin had been there before and was looking forward to his second visit. The windows are, of course, justly famous. They are in the process of being cleaned, which involves a bit more than my washing the boat windows. It looked like they were planning on cleaning and resetting about ten windows a year. The difference between the cleaned and restored windows and the others was spectacular. Besides the windows the most interesting facet of Chartres, for me at least, was a series of sculpture pictures of the life of Christ running around the altar area. I believe this is called a "choir screen", but I can only guess at its total length - perhaps 150 feet. It was placed slightly above my head level and was like a series of dioramas. When new the sculptures were white marble, but now they are very dirty and also poorly lighted. If the church charged 20 francs to all the visitors like the châteaux do, it could soon acquire some money for further cleaning and restoration, but there is no admission price to a working church.
It began to rain during our visit to Chartres. We returned to the van for warmer clothes and an umbrella, had lunch and then explored the town in a light rain. A tourist walking tour was mapped out that showed us some of the older and more scenic streets and also took us past two other 13th and 14th century churches with beautiful windows. A charming stream, crossed by attractive little bridges, runs through the lower section of town behind the cathedral. There are even covered sheds lining the stream that were originally used by women washing their clothes in the river. My husband thought they were provided by the city especially for lovers out in the rain.
For the evening camping site we drove north a few miles to Maintenon. There we had a nice Dutch couple as neighbors and exchanged adventures.
We had met so many friendly people all along the way: British, Belgian, and Dutch couples, an English girl on her way to a teaching job in Spain, an Australian couple who had spent a year touring the US, then sold that camper and had bought a new one in England and were now touring Europe!
Our campground was outside of the town of Maintenon, so it wasn't until the next morning that we saw the town itself. Charming with a castle! Absolute shame that we had no time left, but we were due back in Paris that afternoon. Nevertheless, we took a circuitous route - not completely on purpose - to reach the main highway and in the process drove through some lovely small towns and even past a Roman aqueduct! Eventually we got on the main highway and still the route was lovely and rural, just straighter and faster.
We had been very lucky with the weather, rain in Chartres, but otherwise beautiful late summer weather. Paris, however, had been drenched during the first few days of the M's stay. They had three sunless days. Fortunately the weather during the rest of their stay improved.
The M's welcomed us back. They were glad to see their van again and it was still in one piece. We were overjoyed to be back aboard. We had had a great trip and really appreciated the opportunity to try the camping experience. It is a nice way to see the country, but for us a van is a little too small for comfort. So nice to be back in my big old boat. It may not be a château, but it's home.
Paris also welcomed us back. A thousand musicians performed the next day on the quay. There were fire eaters, clowns, bell ringers, 50 little children dressed in gold angel costumes (representing the genie of the Bastille), a decorated péniche with a model of the Bastille monument and two tight rope walkers walking on a line stretched above the boat's deck. A very nice welcome home, even if a little extravagant; a small banner stretched across the canal would have sufficed.
What a place to live!
Our best to everyone,
Help! We are drowning in a sea of Americans! Last winter we were almost unique. This year we are surrounded. Our immediate next door neighbors, Sid and Janine F., are on the way home to Carmel in California. They were quite worried by the recent quake. Carmel was only 35 miles from the epicenter, but neighbors told them that there was only minor breakage.
Immediately behind us are two other American boats staying for the winter, "Fiddler's Green" and "Robin." Linda's husband, Ed on "Fiddler's Green," flew home to St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands. In Hurricane Hugo they lost the roofs on a group of apartments they own and rent out. Their own home was even more seriously damaged. We don't know when he will return.
Scotty and Maggie from Mississippi are on the "Robin." I've mentioned them before, I think. They arrived in August. Just behind their boat is a man from NYC (the boat's transom says Brooklyn) and his French wife. Although he was born in the USA he has a lovely English accent because he went to school in England for many years. He was teaching in a private school in Brooklyn and just gave up his job (he is 50). Because he is married to a French citizen, he is going to get French working papers and then, hopefully, a job. They have an aluminum sailboat which they had constructed in France doing a good portion of the work themselves during their summer vacations. They used to live in a very run down marina in Manhattan.
Then directly opposite us, on the other side of the marina we have a second NYC boat with a lovely couple. The man graduated from the same HS that Martin did. Further down the dock is another boat from the US. The owner just flew back, but left his son and another young man aboard.
With so many Americans in the Port our social schedule tends to get crowded. Before Ed left for St. Croix six of us shared a supper on his boat. Linda cooked a pot of mussels, Maggie made potato salad and we brought the bread and wine. Then when Ed left he gave us some money and asked us to buy flowers and champagne for Linda's birthday and invite everyone in for a celebration.
It was quite a party. We had 14 people in for champagne and nibbles and finished four bottles of the champagne! All 14 were downstairs in the galley and saloon area. I had thought I could get half the people upstairs in the wheelhouse and half downstairs and had put out food in both places. But since the first guests went downstairs, they all went down. Amazingly they managed to fit, some sitting and some standing. Afterwards 12 of us went out to dinner together. We had asked everyone about the dinner ahead of time and had gotten a few maybes, so had made the reservation for 7 people (it should have been 9, we forgot to count ourselves), so we called the restaurant and somehow they managed to squeeze us all in. They did a great job also.
In addition to the various small get togethers there have been two big dock parties. The Port de Plaisance Yacht Club held their annual barbecue on the dock in front of the Harbor Master's Office. A tent was set up to cover the tables but it was a fine evening and not needed. One of the members has a band and they played sitting on top of a houseboat that tied up next to the party. There were endless bottles of wine to wash down the brochettes of lamb and a very popular spicy, red, skinny sausage called a Merguez. Large bowls of a couscous salad, absolutely delicious, were served to moderate the spicy sausages. The band played good old fashioned American music along with some French music and we tripped the light fantastic on the uneven cobblestones.
The following week four or five couples threw a party to celebrate their acquisition this year of "new" boats. One of the couples, a young American couple, were here when we first arrived. Their first boat was miniscule and this one isn't any longer (they couldn't afford to pay any more rent which is figured on length) but it is wider and therefore gives them more space. Everyone in the marina was invited including the newly arrived Americans. Most of us brought along a bottle of wine. Platters of fresh vegetables were served and franks grilled and everyone had a good time despite of a few rain drops.
The northeastern Bastille area is honeycombed with artist garrets. This is the Greenwich Village of Paris. Last weekend the local artists held an Open House. Actually there were three groups of artists holding separate Open House exhibits. One group of about 50 were "juried". They had submitted work, were accepted and listed in the official program. The second group of perhaps 40 had either not submitted any work on the grounds of artistic freedom or else had and been rejected. However this group had an information center also and had posters and a program printed just like the first group. The third group didn't have their name in either program; they just put out a sign and left their door open. (One of the best artists that I saw, in my humble opinion, fell in this last category. She was English and said that she heard about the juried show too late but didn't say why she didn't join the second group.)
Actually there were even more artists than this, since each "Open House" of the first group hosted a second artist, who lived outside of Paris, and was being given a chance to display his work in the big city. Also there were about a half dozen galleries participating in the show.
Martin, after climbing three or four flights of high narrow stairs in slummy buildings to look at strange metal sculptures, black on black canvases and various other monstrosities, decided to call it a day. But I persevered. I continued to explore on my own and the next afternoon Linda joined me and we spent three hours investigating the state of modern art in Paris. It was an adventure. We would see a sign, follow a passage into one of the hidden courtyards within the block, then climb 1, 2, 3, or 4 flights of stairs. You just never knew what you would find at the end of the stairs. Most of the art was strange, some very strange, but some was lovely and lots of it was interesting. No matter what, it was fun to see the apartments and studios and to explore the hidden courts. The majority of the artists were poor and the apartments ranged from dumps to dumps fixed up with flare and taste, with a few semi luxurious, at least for this neighborhood, apartments. In addition to the English woman we met an American artist, a tenured art professor from El Paso University in Texas. I assume she had taken a sabbatical. She didn't sound in a hurry to go back, but said she couldn't afford to give up the tenure. Personally I can't see anyone buying any of her paintings, so I think she will have to go back to teaching.
We have gone to two musical programs; an oboe and harp concert - a lovely combination and a boy's choir. The boys sang sacred music in French, German and Latin and Negro spirituals in English. A small orchestra and an organ provided the accompaniment. The voices were lovely and the tone was deepened by the addition of a few men including the director who sang the lead for two of the spirituals.
Montmartre had a wine harvest parade, an annual event, which didn't get much publicity, thank goodness, since we actually could see and enjoy the parade. We couldn't even find out the starting time but by luck arrived at 3 PM just at the start of the parade. There were about 30 small costumed groups: bands, folk musicians, folk dancers, wine societies and wine growers including a group from Montlouis, one of the towns we visited last month. And of course a wine princess accompanying Bacchus who was very handsome in his white Grecian gown with a bunch of grapes hanging from his belt and decorating his hair. A delightful neighborhood event.
Martin also managed to find time to strip our wheelhouse floor and put down six !! coats of varnish. This was the new wood floor that we laid in Holland. Unfortunately the first finish that we put down proved completely unsatisfactory. The sanding was a very messy job. We tried to confine the dust to the wheelhouse, but some of it sneaked by us. The wheelhouse, of course, had to be cleared from top to bottom and then the floor varnished in sections since we had to be able to get out the doors and into the back cabin to sleep at night. The whole process disrupted our lives for two weeks, but the floor looks lovely again and hopefully stays that way this time.
Now he is varnishing the two entrance doors and putting some extra coats on the woodwork in the galley as preventive medicine. In addition we started attacking numerous rust spots that have developed on the decks during the summer. I thought we had chipped off so much rust this spring that there wasn't enough metal left on the boat to rust again, but no such luck.
My lack of progress in French has been disturbing me so one day I stopped two high school girls outside a nearby lycée. I wanted to hire a girl to help me. First I asked if they spoke English. One of the girls did, in fact she spoke excellently. I explained my problem and she said that she would speak to her mother and to call her that evening. After my call the mother and daughter and her younger sister came over to check us out. The mother was probably wondering about this strange woman who had spoken to her daughter. But after meeting us she has been delightfully helpful.
They introduced me to a college girl who lives in their apartment building and who wanted to improve her English so we are exchanging lessons. Although she is on advance English and I am on beginner's French. We are meeting twice a week and perhaps both of us will make some progress. The mother also introduced me to an elementary school teacher (she herself teaches in the nursery school) who gave me her schedule of class trips. So one day I went on a class trip via Metro to visit the Basilica of St. Denis where the French Kings and Queens used to be buried.
On the Metro the children wanted to know English words and I worked on my French words. They have a scheduled trip almost every other week so I will probably go with them again. Besides the language practice the St. Denis trip was a worthwhile excursion that I had been planning on making. The church predates Notre Dame and so is interesting architecturally in addition to its historic role as the Westmininster Cathedral of France. Due to this role, it sustained extensive damage from the revolutionary mobs. The bodies were dug up and thrown out, but many of the tombs were saved from destruction by an art lover. The gold and silver treasures were looted but the statuary has been repaired and the building has its own beauty.
Martin and I made one small excursion to the outskirts of the city. We went to visit the modern area called "La Défense" where the newest Paris monument is located, The Grand Arch. It has been built beyond the Arc de Triomphe on the other side of the Seine and continues the straight line from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. Paris proper has only a handful of high-rise office and residential buildings; La Défense has been entirely built as a modern office/residential area with a fantastic mixture of glass and steel buildings. The best thing is that the roads run underneath so there is no traffic on the surface. At this time Metro Line Number One from Chateau Vincennes past the Bastille goes only to this side of the river, although it is being extended. (The RER railroad system and the buses stop at La Défense now.) So we went to the last Metro stop and then walked across the river and up to the Arch crossing the pedestrian area that covers the road system. This is quite attractive. There are trees and flowers, fountains, benches, art work, play grounds, etc. Underground on three or four levels is an enormous mall with a gym, swimming pool, bars, cafes, restaurants...
I assume that everyone has seen pictures of The Arch. It is an enormous office building reached from the pedestrian walk by a pyramid size flight of stairs. We walked up the stairs. It was a hazy day but still the view is great. There is a steep charge for the elevators that take you up to the roof, but it wasn't a good enough day to spend the money.
We had the Allens in for dinner last night (the 25th). Then today they left by train for a trip to Brittany with perhaps a visit to the Channel Islands and perhaps over to England.
Then the carnival people set up their stands in November so we had rifle shooting stands, games of chance, and bumper cars on the circle again. The amount of work involved in setting up and dismantling the bumper car ride was mind boggling, yet when we walked by they never seemed to have enough customers to make a decent living. I assume they manage however. It appears that they move from one neighborhood to another on a regular schedule. There is probably a special government office somewhere in charge of granting permits for the use of public land by carnivals and circuses. There is a small open square nearby that is used by a circus in the winter. On it is a marvelous statue of a man cut in half and resting on his own feet, a very amusing monument to the circus people. On December first we saw and heard a circus wagon passing, maybe the circus has returned for its winter engagement.
We have had a number of interesting experiences during the past month. For one, we attended a European marriage in the City Hall of the 14th arrondissement. Walking in one of the parks during the fall we had met a couple, perhaps five or ten years younger than we, invited them to visit us and subsequently received an invitation to their wedding. He is French, she is Finnish, so they use English in order to communicate with each other! They had met in German speaking Vienna where Tuula worked in the hotel management field.
At their wedding and reception there were many Finnish friends: a woman who works and lives in Manhattan (with a winter hide-away in St. Petersburg, Florida), a man who works in Sweden, some friends from Vienna, plus an assortment of Finnish relatives. On his side were various French relatives, friends and business associates, plus a nice English/Indian couple who had crossed the Channel to attend the wedding.
The wedding ceremony was held in the marriage hall, an impressively mammoth room, which might have done justice to Napoleon's coronation ceremony. We discovered that one of the functions of the 20 Parisian mayors of the 20 arrondissements is to perform marriages. The female mayor of the 14th had two assistants, a young girl and a majordomo wearing a large ribbon/necklace like a sommelier in a five star restaurant. The majordomo told everyone when to stand and sit and after the ceremony took a collection.
We got invited back to the newlywed's apartment after the ceremony, although this was mainly a family gathering and we probably shouldn't have accepted the invitation. But we were curious and had time to waste before the reception. Their apartment was directly across from the City Hall. It was very nice, had a new modern kitchen and bath, and an excellent view. The drawback was it's location on the fourth floor of a building that lacked an elevator.
After a glass of champagne and some small talk we left to find our way to the reception which was being held on a barge on the far side of Paris. We think that their visit to our boat gave them the idea of holding their reception on a boat. We took the Metro to the last stop and then tried to catch a bus, but it ran only once an hour and we had just missed it, so we had to take a cab. There were plenty of hors d'oeuvres and champagne at the party, but I find it hard to eat and socialize at the same time so left slightly hungry. We were going to try to walk back to the Metro, but the path we took to reach the roadway led directly to a bus stop and the hourly bus was due in three minutes. Such luck is not to be believed! The walk would have been almost impossible in my good shoes.
Our month has been full of the various comings and goings and get togethers of our American compatriots here at the marina. Linda,returned to her husband and the island to try and rebuild after Hurricane Hugo. We spent a lot of time together, however, before she left. She cooked a dinner for us. We cooked two for her and on her last night she slept on our boat after all the winterizing chores had been completed.
There was a festival nearby in the Marais neighborhood the week before she left. One night we went to an Austrian beer and dance street party and the next night we took Linda to an American Square Dance. It was great fun. The band was French, the caller was British. He gave his directions in French and then called in a combination of English and French. (Do-si-do is French, dos à dos, back to back, but I am sure that is not how the French would pronounce it.) Martin got the most exercise since he danced half the time with me and half the time with Linda, who is a very attractive woman in her mid 40's. If I hadn't been there I would have been worried.
The square dance attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd. People came in cowboy outfits or jeans, a few full skirts and one man showed up in a Civil War uniform. One little boy wore his 6 shooters. The street party was being held in one of the city's small old market squares. After the first hour or so there were just too many dancers for the available space. If the non-dancers would have moved further back it would have worked but people kept crowding in to watch, so we gave up and retired to a café table. It was an amazingly warm night just a few days before Halloween. Speaking of which, the "American" bars all held costume parties, but this is not a French custom. November first, All Saint's Day, is a national holiday when people take flowers to the cemeteries.
We went to two other "temporary going away parties". The wife of one of the New York couples (Barbara and Shel) went home to see her family and children for Thanksgiving. We think she is planning on being away for a few months. They held a gathering of the American clan on their boat the night before she left, a very nice party although it gets slightly crowded on a small sailboat.
Shel seems to be managing quite well on his own. He has joined forces with one of the long time residents and is earning some spare cash working on boats - painting and sanding. Probably wants the activity more than the money. He used to own a chain of college bookstores and was in other related retail trades. I assume he was fairly successful since he retired quite early to take up the cruising life. So far they have wintered in the Caribbean, sailed across the Atlantic and wintered in London and last winter lived in Amsterdam. If anyone listens to the Mets baseball games on radio, Shel's son is the announcer.
Since Barbara was gone, we celebrated Thanksgiving with Shel. Last year we had the poultry shop roast the turkey. It was good, but that meant no stuffing and no gravy, so this year we cooked it on the boat. I had a hard time finding sweet potatoes. The French markets carry a marvelous variety of vegetables but sweet potatoes are not common. The same store that had the potatoes also had fresh Ocean Spray cranberries, but by then I had already bought a can in a small store that caters to homesick Americans looking for a box of Cheerios.
I also looked for pecans to make my favorite pumpkin/pecan
pie, but was unsuccessful. French stores do not carry our volume
or variety of can goods; you can't buy canned pumpkin, but fresh
pumpkin is sold in sections as a vegetable in the market.
But Martin voted for chocolate cake. For months I searched for cooking chocolate, eventually discovering that the French don't use it. They use regular candy bars: milk, dark, or bittersweet chocolate. Since my recipes were useless I bought a French chocolate cookbook. Of course as soon as I did, Shel's brother came to visit and brought me a bar of Baker's chocolate. Nevertheless I used my new French book and was very satisfied with the result. I had packed a glass measuring cup that has American cup measurements on one side and metric on the other, but French cookbooks give sugar and flour requirements in grams not volume. Martin managed to convert the directions to volume since we don't have a food scale. I've since discovered that the French measuring cup has columns printed on it for measuring sugar, rice, flour, and cocoa by grams. Also they don't seem to have standard measuring spoons - use a pinch of this or that, or a coffee spoon. For liquids they say use a mustard glass or a water glass or a wine glass. Very, very confusing. Thanksgiving dinner was a great success. David wasn't here so we had enough stuffing and we still have turkey in the freezer.
We also attended a party aboard a 40 foot C & C sailboat from Marblehead, Massachusetts. This man is still gainfully employed, so he plans to fly back here periodically - 1 week each month. He has bounced in and out a couple of times already this year. The party was held in his cockpit and after one or two glasses of wine, he decided he had to take one final cruise of the season. There was, however, one small problem: he has an enormous mast. The mast had been lying horizontal, but because it increased the length of the boat, it would have cost him extra in dockage fees (also it overhung the dock walkway), so he hired a crane to step the mast. His final cruise was therefore between the pedestrian bridge crossing the middle of the marina and the tunnel entrance. For this trip of a few hundred yards he had to refasten the steering wheel, which had been removed to give more room in the cockpit, disconnect the electricity cord, untie the dock lines, and run the New York Yacht Club burgee up the flagpole! Actually his son and paid mate/captain did the work, but he had the glory!
We had Chantal (Lesley's friend, who spent one Thanksgiving with us in Baltimore and invited us to visit her family in Normandy this past Easter) over for dinner one November evening. Last year Chantal had been going to college and working very hard to prepare for her professional English teaching license. She took the exam and orals in late spring, but did not pass, so she is still teaching in private schools. This year she has part time work in three different private schools. If she does pass the state exam she is guaranteed a job, but it could be anywhere in France, so she would prefer a full time permanent job in one of the private schools. (Like my position at McDonogh, the pay is not great, but the conditions are better.) The school we visited last year where she teaches is a good private school, but they can only give her part time work. She has to wait for someone to leave or retire.
Chantal and one of her roommates went to India, Pakistan and Nepal for six weeks this summer and we asked her to bring her photographs with her when she came. She had taken some beautiful pictures of the cities, temples, monuments, and the countryside they had visited. In addition to this trip, she had made at least two trips to England as chaperon and teacher/guide for groups of French students. She said even her mother went to England this year with her church choir to sing in an English church. Her mother speaks French and German (her town was under the Germans when she was going to school), but not English, nevertheless she enjoyed herself with the English family she stayed with.
It was an Indian weekend. The next night we went to the apartment of Agnès, the college student who is exchanging French/English lessons with me. Her father is a mountain climbing enthusiast and spent his vacation in India and Nepal also. He and his group of nine fellow climbers also visited many of the same places that Chantal went to. But they spent most of their time reaching the trekking area and the mountain peak. He had invited some friends and neighbors to see the stunning slides he had taken on his trip. It was a large gathering and he and his daughter had prepared a generous buffet table. We were the only English speaking guests so the commentary with the slides was in French, but between the pictures and the words that we recognized we were able to follow and enjoy his adventures.
Although we have recently enjoyed all of these parties we were just sidewalk spectators for the biggest bash. The French magazine/newspaper, L'Express, rented the new Opera House for a 50th anniversary party. Now that is doing something in style. A huge crane spent a day lifting laser lights to the roof of the building, providing banks of blue lights radiating into the sky. All night long moving images showing the highlights of the newspaper's past and of the past 50 years were projected on a number of the buildings around the circle and onto the column of the Bastille Monument. Truck loads of decorations were brought in and the huge front staircase was covered with a red carpet. These preparations were more elaborate than the ones on the opera's opening night!
During the past month we also did our normal amount of gadding about. We went to the Louvre to see the big Jacques Louis David exhibit. There was a crowd waiting to buy tickets, but nothing like the Gauguin show and inside the exhibit hall the crowd was well spread out.
We went to the Marine Museum to see an exhibit of excellent paintings, to the Carnavalet just for another visit, and made our first visit to the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris. It seems to hold mainly the late 20th century work which hasn't won a place in the other big name museums, but it does contain a few works of well known artists - probably their discards, still it made for an interesting excursion for a late Sunday afternoon.
We took our usual number of exploratory walks and a couple of bus trips around town. We stopped into the American church for one of their regular 6 PM free Sunday concerts and then afterwards walked across the beautiful Alexandre Bridge when all the lights turn Paris into such a fairyland. The dome over Napoleon's Tomb sparkles under its new coat of gold, as do the statues on the bridge. You walk across the bridge with the Invalides behind you and the Grand and Petit Palais in front of you, and the Eiffel Tower soaring above - quite impressive. The dome of the Petit Palais was bathed in purple, perhaps in honor of the Cartier Jewelry show that it is housing.
On the night of Nov. 30, fifty-five art galleries in the area running from the Pompidou Center to Place des Vosges, stayed open until midnight - plus the Picasso and the Carnavalet were free and open late, so after dinner we went gallery hopping. Art may be alive in Paris, but it isn't well! How can people create such things and then expect others to want to buy and display it? Well it was good exercise and we saw a number of new places. The only one that was worthwhile was a gallery/museum of contemporary Russian art, it had some unusual but interesting pieces. The International edition of Time magazine carries a half page column called Traveler's Advisory and one of the five subjects this past week was this event. Art has been big news lately.
Paris has lots of artists and students, of course. We saw a large group of Chinese adults sitting in the Notre Dame plaza working on paintings of the church facade. Some of the paintings were extremely well done. Art classes come regularly to the marina to sketch the boats and the water. And of course people are always on the various bridges and squares. Martin is working in water colors right now. After visiting all those galleries, I will have to stop making fun of his efforts. Perhaps someday one of his works will be put up for auction. I will settle for 40 thousand rather than 40 million. I'm not greedy.
We applied for an received our 1990 Carte Sejour (French resident card). The system has been streamlined, but it still takes two visits to the police station. The second was very quick, however.
France is in a turmoil over Moslem and other immigrants. The extreme right has been making political gains with their anti-white, anti-immigrant, and anti-Moslem campaigns. There was a political crisis over the wearing of head shawls by girls in the public school system. No public display of religion is permitted by priests and nuns who teach in public schools, or private schools like Chantal's that receive some state aid. They are not permitted to wear robes or clerical collars. Jews must have strictly private schools in order to wear their yarmulkes, etc. But the decision was made to permit the wearing of the shawls - perhaps in hopes the issue will blow away or in fear of bombings, I don't know.
Of course we are not living in a vacuum here and we, like you, have been amazed by the spectacular changes occurring in Europe. We follow the current events on the radio: BBC, VOA, or the daily one hour English news program aired by Radio France. Once in awhile we tune in the Christian Science Monitor and even Radio Moscow is interesting, so we hear quite a variety of news and views. The Herald Tribune gets passed from boat to boat and we pass on our Time Magazines. Lately if you forget to listen to the news for a day you wake up to a whole new cast of characters on the next.