Copyright © 2003 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved
Happy New Year everyone! And I thought 1984 was a significant year! When I first read Orwell's book it seemed that 1984 was in the far, far future and then suddenly it was here and gone. Now it is 1990 and the world as we knew it has been turned upside down. 1992 is fast approaching with its "united" Europe. Before we know it, it will be 2001.
We have heard a lot of talk this year about the greenhouse effect, but our correspondents in Dallas, New York, and Florida all report unbelievably low temperatures. Paris has been cool and dreary. We haven't seen the sun in days, assume it is up there somewhere, but at least the temperature isn't too cold. The French and English coasts were hit by a storm in December. The side effects brought wavelets into our quiet canal.
Due to the weather we have done a bit of "cocooning" during the past month, not sitting in front of a TV, but curled up with some good books; yet we haven't become complete hermits. We threw the Christmas party of the Paris season. I misplaced Ivana's address, so couldn't invite the Trumps, but we did entertain 17 other VIP's plus the two of us aboard the Opperdan. People were upstairs and down, so it wasn't even too crowded. We had a nice mix of French and English speaking guests so everyone could feel comfortable and most could move from group to group.
Our first guests arrived at 8 PM and the last left at 2 AM so we think the party was a success. There was only one mishap. Julie a young American (thirtish) liveaboard, decided to get dressed up and then proceeded to drop her beaded evening bag into the canal while boarding! I heard a commotion and rushed out to find her lying on the gunnel in her black velvet suit trying to fish it out. (She did.) High fashion and boats do not really mesh well, no matter what the glossy boat ads try to tell you.
Our party fare was slightly unusual due to space and equipment limitations. Besides the usual pre-dinner snacks, (nuts, potato chips, platters of vegetables, deviled eggs) Martin made two pots of chili reasoning that if you had to balance a plate on your lap, it was easier to eat with a spoon than with a knife and fork. I actually had 13 of my own bowls so didn't have to borrow that many more! Then using my recently acquired American baking chocolate I made a roasting pan of sinfully rich brownies and served them in cupcake papers which eliminated plates and forks. It wasn't a typical American holiday buffet, but it worked and was devoured!
Simone and her daughter Olivia, who goes to college in Boston and had just arrived home that day, were the only non-marina guests we could fit in. (Olivia was the French/American girl who was a "cheerleader" on the American float in the French bicentennial parade.) Simone was so impressed and pleased to be the only non-marina guest that she immediately had us to dinner the following week. A more elegant although much smaller - dinner for 7 - affair than our party but with matching china and fine linen. Her napkins were the size of my table! Yet even her party wasn't without excitement. Why is it that whenever you have company something usually breaks? Simone's kitchen faucet decided that Dec. 30th was a good night to stop functioning. Martin tried to stop the water flow, but Simone's toolbox left much to be desired. At midnight she had to call a plumber. No matter it was a lovely dinner with a fantastic leek/mussel soup first course that was four star.
Early in December Martin and I made two trips to the Paris Boat show. This show is held in part of an enormous exhibition complex in an area of Paris called Porte de Versailles, meaning the gate on the road from Paris to Versailles. Historically the city of Paris was surrounded and defended by seven walls which , as the city expanded, were constructed further and further away from Notre Dame, the city's center. Our marina wall was part of the second of these walls, the Philippe Auguste Wall, built between 1180-1210. Today's wall is the city's four lane beltway. The traffic is definitely wall to wall.
The exhibition center at the Porte de Versailles has also expanded
over the years. In addition to the boat show, there were two
other exhibits taking place, but I think the boat show was the
biggest. It used three buildings. We window shopped the new
boats, or as the French say, "Nous faisons du lèche-vitrine"
- we licked the windows. We saw a nice three cabin, three bathroom
model with separate crew's quarters, unfortunately it was slightly
beyond our pocketbook. We looked at the boat equipment, Martin
dreams of a bow thruster, but the only thing we bought was a new
pair of Irish-made boat shoes - for
Maggie A., who lives on the sailboat behind us, and I made a few excursions together. We braved the stores at Christmas time, looked at the automatic doll window displays, and discovered a nice roof top café with a great view on top of Printemps, one of the big stores. She accompanied me to the big French archaeology exhibit of new discoveries unearthed during the past 30 years usually accidentally due to the construction of roads or buildings. It was an enormous exhibit, but crowded since we didn't go until the final week.
One day the four of us took the Metro to Pigalle and then the public Montmartre bus that climbs the hill. We looked at the permanent outdoor tourist trap art display. We circled Sacré Coeur, but didn't go in again. We found the last remaining Parisian vineyard. We glanced into the cemetery and found a nice little park - nothing too exciting, but a pleasant winter excursion.
We went to see the musical "Evita" on Jan. 3rd. It was performed in the largest theater that I can ever remember being in (besides the Bercy Sports Center where we saw Carmen, but that isn't really a theater. We had bought the cheapest tickets (100 F), but when we arrived we were directed to the office where we were given orchestra seats! The entire back half of the theater was curtained off and everyone with the 100 to 150 F seats got 250 or 300 F seats instead. The show, however, was very disappointing. In general the singing was more screeching than anything else and quite unpleasant. There were a few imaginative dance numbers, but most of the dancing and staging was dull and routine. The music itself may or may not be nice. When you are forced to listen to such loud and unpleasant sounds you can't be bothered to listen to the music. If that is the best we can export we are in deep trouble.
Odds and Ends:
1. French theaters do not give you a free program. The ushers hawk programs, records, and cassettes. There was even a candy/ice cream hawker walking through the auditorium during intermission.
2. During the holidays the meat markets were overflowing with pheasants, geese, ducks, etc. The feathered birds, the unskinned hares, the fur covered deer legs, skinned baby pigs, wild game animals and goats were all hanging from hooks like baubles on a Christmas tree.
3. Shellfish, especially oysters, are big traditional holiday foods. The markets lined the sidewalks with extra shellfish stands.
4. Santa Claus wears a skirt here. Santas with photographer buddies line the department store sidewalks trying to get you to pose with St. Nicholas.
It is beyond us how we ever managed to find time to go to work; our days are always full, much too full for work.
My endless struggle to learn French brings us unexpected dividends: introducing us to new people and bringing dinner invitations. I had been working once a week with a college student, but as she got further and further into her college term the increasing load of work combined with family and health problems eventually brought that to an end. Then Chantal Fontaine sent a letter suggesting I contact one of her high school students who needs tutoring, so now I work with this young girl, Florence B., once a week. She listens to me struggle with French and I try to build her confidence in English.
Her family had us over for dinner on Feb. 10. Her family was living in the suburbs near the hospital that Dr. B. works in but they did not enjoy suburban living so four years ago they sold their house and bought an apartment about six blocks from the marina. The apartment is quite large since they have two other daughters. Now he has to commute but doesn't seem to mind. They had two other couples in for dinner on the tenth. One couple had lived in Nigeria for 12 years so were quite fluent in English. The third guest and the doctor also spoke some English, so when we couldn't understand the French, they were able to translate and the conversation was able to flow along - with various bumps and humps. Mainly Martin kept up our end, although I managed one ot two fractured sentences.
Earlier that same week we were taking an after dinner stroll around Place de la Bastille when we bumped into Chantal with some friends outside one of the movie houses. It was a Monday night which is when movie ticket prices are reduced. Here ticket prices are the same, afternoon or evening. If you want to save money you must go on Monday. Parisians are enthusiastic movie buffs, so all the theaters are jammed on Monday nights. Chantal and her friends had just tried, unsuccessfully, to get into Robin William's Circle of Dead Poets . They were rushing off, probably on their way to another theater to see something else, but we made a date to have a restaurant dinner together the following week,
Chantal had been sharing an apartment with two other girls. It was a slightly slummy neighborhood and building, but the apartment was roomy. Unfortunately it must not have been roomy enough for all three girls. Perhaps there was a tiff, because Chantal gave us a new address on the other side of town. Our appointments with Chantal are frequently fraught with confusion. She is a lovely girl, but either we are late or she is, or she doesn't show at all. We once ate steak three times in a row because she missed the first two dinner appointments with us.
On this occasion we reached the address, used the code she had given us to gain entry to the lobby and then found ourselves in a quandary. Nearly all apartments in Paris have an electronic security device and you need to know the code to open the outside door, but passing this hurdle only puts you into a hall or lobby facing a second locked door. You then consult the resident's list, ring the right bell, use the intercom, and finally get them to open the inner door. Our problem was that Chantal's name was not on this list.
After awhile another resident came along and so we were able to get inside the second door. Chantal had told Martin that she lived on the ground floor. There were two apartments on the ground floor. We knocked on both doors, but received no answer. So we left and went looking for a telephone. Martin stopped a young woman on the street and asked in his best French where the nearest phone booth was. She responded in English and then apologized for the insult saying that she recognized the accent! There were two phones about 2 blocks away and both were occupied, and occupied, and occupied. Finally we made our call. Chantal answered saying, "Oh but I didn't hear you knock. And how could you have any trouble? You could have knocked on my window. It is right on the street."
Chantal's name is not on the resident's list because she is subleasing the apartment from a friend of a friend and is therefore an illegal resident. Actually to call it an apartment is to flatter it since it is only a single room with a mattress on the floor, plus a bathroom. What an imaginative real estate agent would call a studio and charge a fortune for and Chantal pays a fortune for it. Rents in Paris are like NYC rents. But this "apartment" is only temporary. One of her three previous roommates is buying a condo. After she leaves, Chantal plans to return to the old apartment and again share it with the remaining girl.
We also had a marvelous dinner with Beatrice and Alain L. Beatrice is another of my acquaintances who is trying to help me cope with French. In return I have spent a couple of hours with her youngest daughter, whose progress in English puts me to shame. The L's invited us and an artist and his wife. They brought their children, but all the children stayed in a back room all evening. After the initial introductions they weren't seen or heard again until it was time to go home! (This was true at the B's also. I saw one daughter silently walk by in the hall otherwise I wouldn't have known anyone else was at home.) The L's have visited us on the boat. They came by one Sunday afternoon with some friends and three children. (We have found it advisable to keep a neat ship on Sunday afternoons; we frequently have unexpected visitors. The other Americans and Canadians drop in anytime and all the time and have to take us as we are with books, magazines and writing paper scattered all around.) But we haven't had them for dinner yet and are beginning to pile up IOU's. We are expecting Simone M. for Friday night, but she is an easy guest since she speaks English.
Then we have entertained and been entertained by various people here at the marina. There is always a good excuse to get together. For example, "our" white duck has been laying eggs on the swim platforms (wooden boards attached to the stern of a power boat to allow easy access into and out of the water) and dinghies. The A's on the sailboat behind us have been collecting them so Maggie had a quiche and invited us for lunch. Then on the 11th she had a very successful birthday party for husband Scotty (probably about 58 or 59) and managed to fit 8 people into their postage size cabin.
We met a new American couple at this birthday party. They just sailed in from Finland where they had purchased a new 36 foot Swan sailboat and are on their way south. But they may have to have the boat shipped. The keel is 2 meters 10 and everyone tells them it is too big for the canals. They are running all over town, from one French agency to another trying to get better news. We have had so much rain I would think that there might be enough water for them, but when a barge passes they will have to move over and would probably run aground. A few months ago a sailboat left the marina carrying a large sign attached to their stern that read, "180". I was completely mystified, but now I realize that it was to tell the barges that they had a deep keel of 1 meter 80 centimeters and couldn't move over too far without the risk of going aground.
We had a tragedy in the marina in January. A beautiful, classic Dutch sailing vessel arrived, piloted by a professional Dutch captain. The boat stayed empty for awhile and then one day we noticed a light in the cabin and an American flag on the stern. But for 2 weeks or perhaps more, although the light stayed on, we saw no one. Martin kept saying that it was a very queer situation. Finally the police came and broke into the boat. From what we hear, the couple were asphyxiated during their first night aboard due to a faulty heater installation. No wonder no one had met them.
Then in the very next week another boat was destroyed by fire, but with no loss of life and no damage to any other boat. Naturally these two events shook everyone out of any carelessness or complacency. I am sure that everyone reviewed their own safety procedures and checked their heating and ventilation systems, electrical wiring, and extinguishers. We have a fume detector to warn us of any propane leaks and Martin cleans our diesel heater regularly, but in the future we are certainly going to worry less about being warm and cozy and more about an adequate supply of fresh air.
On a happier note, the crocuses bloomed on Jan. 30th and now the daffodils are up. The gardeners planted pansies and finally trimmed back the rose bushes getting ready - just in time- for this year's growth. We have had lots of rain and wind - gale force at times. We had a big storm on Feb. 3rd that lasted all day. Everyone double checked their mooring lines and removed or tied down any loose objects. We had lost a door mat in the last blow so put those away and removed an empty diesel container from the back deck, but didn't have anything else to do. However during the height of the storm, the huge, heavy gangplank that we store on the cabin roof reminded us of its existence by beginning to bang up and down.
Jack, the Canadian, got tired of bouncing around in his little sailboat and came to visit us for a couple of hours until we shooed him out and then he went to visit Maggie and Scotty, but then he just loves to visit people. Hundreds of trees were blown down in the parks especially at Versailles and there was the usual damage caused in any city by blown down signs, old window shutters, and loose construction material. What was shocking was the damage to the facade of the new opera house on the corner. For a brand new building it was already showing numerous cracks and chips in the facade stones and then the storm actually blew a couple off! I don't think this building will last as long as Notre Dame. Besides the shoddy materials, the graffiti artists are hard at work plus the skate boarders and roller skates are working on the pavement stones.
The pavement in front of the Opera is the ugliest one in Paris. Beautiful marble blocks surrounded with a horrid black macadam. When the blacktop was laid spots of black tar got all over the marble and everything still always looks dirty. The Opera building should last until March 24th when we are going to see the full performance of The Trojans. This will be the first opera performed in the new house, up to now there have only been concerts. The opera is so long that is almost never presented in one night. But in honor of the new house they are going to present the whole thing on Saturday nights and then in halves during the week. On Saturdays it will start at 6 PM and end at 12:00, five hours plus intermissions. We plan to bring a picnic supper; eating and theater going are not mutually exclusive activities here.
On February 9th we took a trip to Rouen. The fast non-stop train takes just slightly more than an hour with the tracks frequently skirting the Seine. The scenery is not spectacular. People don't build mansions next to railroad tracks and there is always so much industrial development next to tracks, but these were only scattered eyesores. There were glimpses of old châteaux built before the RR, pleasure boats moored in a small stream, barge traffic on the Seine, fields resting before spring planting and small villages.
Although the day was clear, it was windy and colder in Rouen than in Paris. We had worn coats but expecting a warmer day, had not worn sweaters. As a result we were both cold and grumpy during our walking tour of the town. Martin did not think it worth the money we had spent for the train tickets. After you have seen Notre Dame of Paris and as many other churches as we have seen, it is hard to be that impressed by Notre Dame in Rouen, although it is quite a magnificent work of art. In addition Rouen was damaged by the German bombs at the beginning of WW II and then destroyed by British and American bombing at the end of the war when the bridges were all blown up. The cathedral and churches were repaired and the town was reconstructed retaining some of the old narrow streets with hundreds of half timbered style houses. We weren't too certain what was new and what was old. One large government building, perhaps the City Hall, had just been left with huge chunks of stone knocked out and covered with bullet holes, probably as a reminder to the people. There is one tower left of the fortress/chateau where Joan of Arc was imprisoned and one wall left of the building in which her trial took place. To get warm we visited the art museum whose collection wasn't great (again Paris spoils you) but still had a few worthwhile pieces.
Our lunch was different and interesting. A tray containing a flat, hot stone was placed on the table and then we were given plates of raw beef. You sprinkled salt on the stone and then cooked your own meat. It was quite delicious with a hot mustard sauce and a baked potato. The baked potato was unusual. It is the first time we have had one in a restaurant in France. Usually potatoes are served fried or boiled. The menu said "PDT robe des champs" and it took us a few minutes to realize that was ''pommes de terre" served in their skins.
Also during the past five weeks Martin and I have visited the Louvre twice plus the oriental collection of the Louvre which is housed in the Guimet Museum. This is a splendid collection that seems to be neglected by the general public. Maggie and I went to the Cartier Jewelry exhibit at The Petit Palais - and also visited the regular exhibit which she hadn't seen. The Cartier Jewels were well displayed and included many pieces from the Duchess of Windsor's collection. The Duchess obvious believed that "Diamonds are a girl's best friend.'' This past Sunday I went to the Musée National des Techniques. Part of this is housed in an old church confiscated during the French Revolution. The church now houses old bicycles, cars, trains, airplanes, etc. This museum is another stepchild of the national museum system. Reduce its endless collection of old scientific objects to a third, present them in bright, cheerful displays and you could make a popular museum. Paris did not get bombed during the last war and is now stuck with too much "old stuff."
In between storms we have had some unbelievable beautiful days during which Martin and I have enjoyed numerous walks. One Sunday in January we walked all the way home from the Louvre stopping in the Latin Quarter for lunch, then visiting the Sunday pet bird market on Ile de la Cité near Notre Dame. This walk took us the long way around since we had to cross the Seine twice.
We continue to have our ears glued to the radio news at least once a day as events rush along and each day we walk up to the Harbor Master's Office to look for mail and are always overjoyed when we find something for us in the "R" box.
Love to all,
We had a series of storms. The last one ended last week. Although we had high winds here each time and even white caps in the canal our boat is rather heavy - 38 tons - and barely budged. Throughout we were snug as a bug in a rug. But it was exciting. People in England and on the coasts of France suffered though and there is much damage there. After a cold front of a few days, spring is returning. It' s 73 degrees in the wheelhouse as I'm writing and the sun is pouring in.
Last evening we had dinner out - we like to go out at least once a week. Found another very good inexpensive restaurant. All the appetizers you want - salads, eggs, paté, fish, tongue, salami, ham, etc. Main course: plate with vegetable. All the wine you can drink (vin au tonneau) (wine by the barrel), dessert (cake or custard or mousse, or cheese (a very large piece ) ...all for 71 francs, about $12 at the going rate. A good buy and a very pleasant place. The owner and his wife serve the whole restaurant. They have a chef hidden away somewhere.
While I'm writing Marcia is replacing our dehumidifying containers in the windows. At the beginning of the winter she covered all the windows except one with plastic but before she sealed them up, she put on each window sill one or two containers of a chemical that absorbs moisture. As a result we stay much warmer and the water that would have condensed on the window is trapped by the chemical. Once during the winter she empties the containers which are now filled with water. What a wife! Clever.
When you live in a room with wrap around glass windows as we do in our wheelhouse your awareness of your surroundings, the sky and the weather is greatly increased. We feel pity for our sailboat friends. They are obviously lovers of the outdoors, for why else would they be transAtlantic sailors, yet aboard their boats they live in caves.
The Opera House electricians are experimenting with their flood lighting system again this week in preparation for the March 17th grand opening of the first opera to be presented in the new Opera House. I love watching the lights and then thought of going over and knocking on Maggie A's hatch (door) and telling her to come out and have a look. They are missing half the fun.
The high temperatures have broken records. We have been sitting outside and sunning ourselves. I actually wore a short sleeve shirt one afternoon. Yet a few days later, on one of our excursions, we entered the Metro with the sun shining and emerged into a hail storm 15 minutes later. One day we have 70 degree weather and then the next day the boat is being buffeted with gale force winds or pelted with hail. I thought the daffodils would be blown away by the wind, but they survived very well.
After living here for almost a year and a half, we at long last walked down past our "own" lock and out to the Seine! "Our" lock lies underneath a Metro bridge (just after the Metro crosses the river and just before it ducks underground) and two roadways. Ever since we came the city has been building and enlarging this east/west highway that follows the Seine. The highway has been constructed adjacent to the Seine on land reclaimed from the river, so there has always been a "Keep Out" sign which we had obeyed. However one Sunday we had noticed other strollers going down to the river and decided that we really ought to explore our own back yard. The new roadway is now open to traffic, but the construction site is still there and the decorative wall facing is still being put up - although it will only be seen by passing boats and sea gulls.
The river was running very fast and high; we walked along the edge as far as Notre Dame and Martin tried to time the current by timing the speed of floating debris. The storms have blown lots of things, manmade and natural, into the water. The ugliest things are the styrofoam packing material, plastic bags, and plastic bottles that float indestructibly by. Tree branches and logs are part of nature and don't disturb the eye in the same way. Recently a boat was towed to the marina's crane. Martin reports that when it was lifted they discovered an entire bedspring attached to its bottom and prop.
The American couple, Rhoda and Don, on the deep keel sailboat have left. They were going to motor to Rouen where they had left their mast, pick it up and then ship the boat by truck to the Med. They finally reached the conclusion that their boat couldn't use the canal system and he was unwilling to invest the time needed for the outside water route from Le Havre and then going around Spain. I will miss them. We played bridge twice, our first games since Holland. He and I played together holding marvelous hands, which we played brilliantly of course and severely trounced our opponents who consistently got Jack high hands. When after a dozen such hands they suddenly got a hand with three kings they would overbid. My conscience should bother me, but it doesn't. He was a great player and I never suggested changing partners.
Last week we attended the French agricultural fair. (Visions of my childhood visits to the Mineola Fair and the fairs at the agricultural school in Farmingdale on Long Island, the Timonium Fair in Maryland, and the fair in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web danced through my head). The French version, however, has a heavier emphasis on wine and cheese. Yes, there were huge buildings filled with cows, horses, pigs, goats, rabbits, and fowl of all sorts. There were farm products and machinery. There were computers for record keeping. But then there was the wine and cheese! The newspaper said there were 10,000 different kinds of wines. I regret to say we didn't sample them all, but we made a stab.
It seemed as if every one of the 95 departments of France were represented. Even the overseas departments of Martinque, Guadeloupe, Guyana, and Reunion each had a stand. Each stand had a local product that they wanted you to sample and buy: wine, rum, cognac, cider, fruit drinks, cheese, ham, paté, candy, or cake. Enticing smells were everywhere. Lining the walls were tiny restaurants serving steaks from the cattle growing areas, charcuterie from Alsace-Lorraine, or seafood from the coasts. A bewildering array of choices.
After lunch we watched a cattle judging event - a nice place to rest our feet. One of the cows thought it was a bull and scattered the judges. The bulls were actually quite well behaved. Then we watched hog judging. These animals were the size of ponies. Their trainers carried hooked canes like elephant trainers and large boards to act as blinders to turn the animals away from each other. The cows could be lined up and made to walk in a circle. The hogs weren't that domesticated.
On Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the excess eggs from all those French hens became missiles. The public school kids wear costumes or their oldest clothes to school and carry bags of flour to pelt each other. Girls were racing through the streets screaming in fake horror as the boys chased them. A gang of these ruffians were waiting outside the private boy's school in our neighborhood when a properly dressed young man stepped out and tried to make it home. We crossed the street and tried not to walk in front of the schools, not wanting to get in the line of fire, but the kids are everywhere.
We went shopping for a new tape recorder and discovered another oddity of French life. For the first time we went to the FNAC, a discount chain for electronics and books. We went to the one in Les Halles, the immense underground shopping mall. The bookstore area of FNAC is enormous and filled with people reading the popular hard cover comic books - BD's. No one stops them or bothers them. They sit on the floor and read to their heart's content. The store also has a large selection of foreign language books. We browsed the English section, but with our library membership we don't have any need to buy.
My new tape machine is a joy. The old one was full of static and although we tried to clean and demagnetize it, nothing we did worked. The new machine has a counter and a pause button and for my work with language tapes these are necessities.
The top government executives in the Finance Ministry have also acquired new toys, slightly more expensive than my new tape machine. The Finance Ministry was recently moved out of its wing in the Louvre and is now up the river just past us in its new fortress at Bercy. You would think that his new office would have pleased the Minister, but he complained about the problem of being chauffeured through the Parisian traffic to attend meetings "uptown" and so he bought himself two Guy Couach futuristic boats. (Guy Couach is the name of the manufacturer/designer.) These are around 32 feet long, aerodynamic, bullet shaped, completely enclosed like houseboats but with four lift up winged doors like a space ship, painted a horrid government gray, but fitted out with big easy chairs and probably a well stocked bar. Each has a crew of four and three inboard/outboard engines. They probably take five minutes to go from Bercy to the National Assembly at Concorde. One boat is actually named the Bercy and the other is the Concorde and at the present time they are kept in our marina almost opposite us.
A few weeks ago, just before the arrival of the boats, we were walking past Bercy when the gate over the moat was opened (I kid you not. There actually is a dry moat around the new Finance Ministry.) and the Minister emerged with his motorcycle escort going to (a) lunch, (b) a cabinet meeting, (c) visit his mistress. Martin took a picture, but the police didn't confiscate the film, so it was probably either A or B. I wonder if the Minister has an exit from the building directly on the Seine. Probably. The building has a huge arch that straddles the new highway I was speaking of earlier. There must be a landing dock at the river side door, good for quick exits when the taxpayers revolt.
In February we rode out to the Marché aux Puces, the gigantic weekly flea market at Clingnancourt on the outskirts of the city. Stall after stall of new clothing and old junk, plus men running gambling games on the tops of cardboard boxes. Moving around three cards, "Who can tell me which card is in my left hand? 10 francs will win you 100." Is it legal? Who knows?
Maggie A. and I took two excursions together. One to the clothing museum, Palais Galliera, to see an exhibit of turn of the century clothes and one to the National Porcelain Museum at Sevres and then the four of us went to a free concert held in one of the churches. It was an all Beethoven program: Serenade for flute and piano, the Eleventh Quartet, and a Sonata for piano and violin, Number 47. Excellent musicians and extremely enjoyable.
Martin and I revisited the Picasso Museum and also spent one morning circling the city on a public bus. We enjoy riding the buses and looking out the window. This circle bus is the longest route in Paris. It makes a complete circle on the regular roads just inside the beltway. We started at Vincennes, passed Martin's old college dormitory, Fondation des États Unis (the United States Pavilion), around to the Bois Boulogne, north to La Villette, etc. so many places that we now know in one fashion or another and yet many places and buildings that we had never seen.
We went to see a couple of movies. "The Music Box" was a very powerful film. We found a great new restaurant and went there twice. We took a fair number of walks continuing to supervise the various constructions and reconstruction sites in town. This morning (March 13, 1990) I was on my way to the bakery for croissants and discovered the head of the Trojan Horse lying on the sidewalk in front of the Opera. They better hurry up and finish building it or it won't be ready for Saturday's grand opening. Our tickets are for the 24th. It should be finished by then.
Martin has been writing poetry and getting quite involved with it. He also built a rack for our wine glasses and a table extension so we can now seat six for dinner. We are expecting Paula and Dede on the 18th. They will be here for a week. This time their passports are in order and hopefully they will be allowed onto the plane! We are quite excited about the idea of having company and look forward to sharing Paris with them.
Dear Mother and Michael,
In preparation for Paula's arrival I've been cleaning house. I put away last year's mail, our copies of our letters out and those we received - large bundles from Mrs. Reff, David and Lesley, a small bundle from Paula and only three or four from the great state of Florida. We did enjoy the cartoons you sent earlier in the year.
We have been buying the Economist lately. I think Michael mentioned once that he reads this. It is an excellent magazine and we have been enjoying it.
We had some interesting visitors that I didn't mention in the other letter. One day a man saw our flag and stopped to talk. He was an American Airlines pilot - about 55 years old - just killing time, but he lives in Maryland on the Wye River and has a boat so we had plenty to talk about. He had recently seen a program on Public TV about barging through Europe.
Then Martin gave help and directions to two tourists from New Jersey and a few days later they stopped by and said hello. Very nice couple. He was 82 but managed to get aboard. You have to be fairly limber since you have to step up and over the other boat and then step across the rail to ours.
France is taking a census. They are supposed to count everyone including people like us. So far the marina hasn't received any forms because, of course, there are NO liveaboards here. I wonder how far this fiction will go.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Paula and Dede arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport at the crack of dawn (7:30) on Sunday morning, the 18th; neither they nor we had our normal amount of sleep that night. We had gotten up earlier than usual to catch the Metro and then the RER to the airport. Paula and Dede however had "lost" 6 hours during their flight east. There were hugs and kisses all around and then lots of talk on the way back to the boat. We were so involved we almost got off at the wrong stop!
After dropping the bags at the boat, all of us walked up to the Sunday market which was large and crowded as usual. Martin took care of the serious shopping while the three of us meandered by the stalls. The variety and quantity in the French markets is truly amazing. Certainly the contrast between western abundance and eastern scarcity was a major cause of the political events of the past year. Tour buses even stop at our market to allow their riders a chance to visit a typical French marché.
After shopping we all tried to take a nap. Paula and I were too excited to sleep very long, but Dede conked out for the afternoon. After awhile my sister and I decided to set off by ourselves. We wandered through the Marais and looked at some of the grand houses; we visited the Victor Hugo House in the Place des Vosges. Then we stopped into the Carnavalet Museum and received an unexpected bonus - a free concert of early music (Baroque?) played on antiquated instruments (pianoforte, clavecin (clavicord? harpsicord?), and old style stringed instruments) or in some cases modern instruments played in such a fashion that they sounded like older instruments. This concert was just one of ten being presented that Sunday as an advertisement for a spring concert series "Fête des instruments anciens". We listened for awhile then continued our exploration: art galleries, jewelry shops, antique shops.
We were heading back to the boat but we kept getting distracted. Later, after a short rest we started out again with Martin and Dede and walked to the Latin Quarter. We thought that this would be a fun place to go on Dede's first night in Paris but unfortunately the restaurant that we wanted to eat in, La Petite Hostellerie, was closed on Sundays, so we just had to choose at random. Still it was a nice walk and on the way back we crossed in front of Notre Dame and the Hôtel de Ville which was nicely lit and the fountains were flowing.
On Monday Paula, and I retraced some of our steps in order to show Dede a little of the Marais area. We looked through the windows of the Picasso Museum, rode the exterior escalator up the outside of the George Pompidou Center with its great view of the city, looked at the outside sculpture garden on the 4th or 5th floor, but didn't go in the Modern Art Museum itself. Instead we continued the few blocks to the multilayered underground shopping mall at Les Halles.
Most of the surface area at Les Halles is park and recreation land. We were just approaching an art work of a gigantic stone head and hand when Paula spotted a man fooling with the eye. She thought he was defacing it with red crayon and rushed over to bawl him out. The man turned out to be the artist, Henri de Miller, and he was trying to remove the red coloring that someone else had applied. He was quite upset by the mistreatment and lack of care his work was receiving. He has two major works in this park. The other, in an adjoining plaza, was an enormous sundial/bench area, a lovely place to sit but covered with graffiti. He told us that he had been attempting to keep both art works clean since their installation in 1988, but he was getting quite discouraged and just wasn't going to be bothered anymore. We sympathized with him; there is so much stupid vandalism.
That evening we went out to dinner again and afterwards the four of us took the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe and then walked down the entire length of the Champs Élysées to the Place de la Concorde. It was a lovely evening and the lights on the monuments and buildings were very impressive.
Our leg muscles were protesting, but on Tuesday we walked down to the river, then over to Ile St. Louis, checked out the shops, bought a few fun gifts and then crossed to Notre Dame. Dede has a good camera with a telescopic lens and Paula wanted some shots of the statuary by the spire at the rear of the cathedral. All the statues are facing out except one which is facing the spire. This is a mystery which I shall have to look into.
After visiting the church we walked down the block to the Quasimodo Café (the Hunchback of Notre Dame) for a light lunch. The police motorcycle company is located down the block from this café, so we had front row seats as the VIP escort brigade formed up. This motorcycle group is kept very busy with all the political comings and goings. Pres. Havel of Czechoslovakia was visiting Paris during this period of time so they might have been going off to escort him. The Champs Élysées and the Hôtel de Ville were both decorated with red, white, and blue flags. At first we thought that they were all French flags, but then discovered that half the flags, although using the same colors, were of a different design which was the Czech flag.
Since I couldn't get Dede to climb the tower and visit the gargoyles with me, we went next door to the Hôtel Dieu, a hospital started in the 7th century. The present building has a beautiful courtyard and as a first class tour guide I thought they should see what the other tourists miss.
From there we walked over to the next block to Ste. Chapelle with its spectacular stained glass windows. This time I got the twin tickets so I could finally get to see the Conciergerie. The Conciergerie, whose fame derives now from its use as a prison during the Revolution, is actually what remains (rebuilt many times) of a very, very early French castle. When the King moved to bigger and better lodgings, the prisons, law courts, and Ste. Chapelle, the king's church remained. The law courts are still there and the main police station where we have to go for our ID cards is still next door. Therefore entering Ste. Chapelle entails letting a policeman search your pocketbook and spreading your arms while your body is checked by a hand held metal detector. It was all pretty casual this time since no important trial is taking place and things have been relatively quiet lately. The church is breath taking, a true gem. I was more impressed this time than last. It was Paula's second time also, but Dede's first of course.
After visiting the church we had to go outside and around the block to the tourist entrance for the Conciergerie. I was pleasantly surprised: it was more interesting than I had expected - at least to me. (I've read quite a few French history books since I've been here.) There is one enormous, arched underground room, the kitchens of the old palace, parts of the old prison, Marie Antoinette's last cell, the prison chapel, and a few mementos of the various infamous or unfortunate people who spent their last days in the prison.
We started for home and crossed the river to the Right Bank, but took a detour to the pet shops that line the river facing The Conciergerie. Dede, like me, is an animal lover and was ready to adopt various adorable kittens and puppies and then try to smuggle them aboard the plane. We both should avoid pet shops. Even the puppies tempted me.
That night we ate on the boat. Our dinners out had not been that successful. I cooked ray with caper butter sauce which we consider quite a treat and very French. After dinner Paula and I went on another exploration of the Bastille neighborhood, past the "night clubs" that don't open until midnight and ending at a deserted Gare de Lyon to admire the turn of the century restaurant and art work. As I have said, I believe in showing off-beat places like railroad stations. Any tour guide can take you to Notre Dame.
Well the next day I couldn't move. As my father used to say, "My get up and go has got up and gone." Somehow Paula and Dede managed to see Paris for the next three days without me. Wednesday night they went out by themselves for dinner while Martin fed me chicken soup. On Thursday Martin prepared an excellent dinner and then on Friday, our final night together, Paula treated us to a dinner at a local restaurant. A lovely conclusion to a very nice visit.
On our way home we were able to admire the regular Friday night
motorcycle gathering on the circle. Paula , concerned about my
health, wondered if we shouldn't just let Dede wander around on
her own, but after a very short discussion we agreed that it wasn't
a sensible idea. Various young men had already tried to pick
her up during the week - and that was when she was with us! Dede
is no longer the little girl that I remember but a very attractive
and attracting college sophomore. Half those motorcycle enthusiasts
would have abandoned their Hondas and Harleys to follow her around.
Saturday Martin went with them to the RER station but I stayed home resting for our big night at the Opera. I had been looking forward to this night for such a long time; I wasn't about to let any "bug" make me miss it. I took along a supply of throat lozenges and was determined not to cough and disturb anyone. The performance on the 24th was the second full length (five hour) production. On Opening Night, the 17th, we stood outside with the rest of the hoi polloi and watched the ticket holders climb the main staircase. There were lots of TV cameras and reporters recording the grand event. Most people were well dressed - conservatively for the most part. I had expected a few more flamboyant costumes. It was a bit staid by Hollywood standards. The reviews that we read were all quite positive. Some critics gave them Brownie points just for opening!
We thought that the orchestra sounded very good, the chorus was fine, most of the main singers were okay, but I didn't think any were especially thrilling. The male leads didn't seem to be up to their roles or perhaps the auditorium was just too large for their voices. One male lead was actually booed, George Gray an American. Grace Bumbry and Shirley Verrett, the two American female leads were well received, but their physical bodies didn't match their roles in the play. Dido is supposed to be a beautiful love sick queen, but looked like a Hawaiian Queen in a purple muumuu. Martin objected to the soap opera melodramatic acting, but that must be very hard to avoid in this kind of opera. This is more negative than I want to be since nevertheless I enjoyed it.
There was a large screen above the stage that gave the words in French and English. The stage was very tall which placed the screen extremely high for anyone in an orchestra seat but was fine for our second balcony seats. We could follow as much as possible by listening to the French but were able to check anything we didn't understand. My big disappointment was the lack of a ballet scene. We had taken Milton Cross's book from the library and he had said that there was a ballet scene, but it was cut. The best scenic device was the Trojan Horse, the rest was pedestrian, including the costuming. Black and white in the first part of the opera with the Trojans in black (the good guys in this play) and the Greeks, who only appear for a few minutes, in white. While in the second half of the opera, the people of Carthage wore the same style long, old fashion bible picture robes in sand colors.
The program didn't say how long the intermission was (about one hour) but we asked the usher and the coat checker then went back to the boat for egg salad and returned just in time.
The next day I should have stayed in bed but I thought I was okay and got dressed to go to the Palais of Justice which was having its first ever Open House. We arrived at 11:00 and it was already getting crowded. The next day the paper reported that 100,000 people visited - sounds impossible to me - but it was jammed by the time we left at 1:00.
I had come to see the court chambers and at least one was worth the trip. The Cour de Cassation is a fantastically decorated room. The purpose of this Open House was to explain the justice system, to answer questions, to educate, and to encourage students to study law and related fields and there were many exhibits set up throughout the buildings. But it also allowed the general public to see areas that were usually off limits. We walked up the stone circular stairs (L'escalier de la Reine - The Queen's stairway) that the prisoners took from the basement cells to the Revolutionary Courtroom two hundred years ago.
The Conciergerie and Ste. Chapelle were both open for free! I hadn't known about this and it wasn't why I had wanted to come, but gave Martin a chance to see at least the main hall in the Conciergerie.
Well of course Dr. Reff was right. I shouldn't have gone out. I spent that afternoon and the next couple of days in bed. Eventually I got up and went to the doctor's and finally have recovered. Martin was a great nurse, cook, chief bottle washer and I was completely spoiled. Now if Martin doesn't get sick (he seems to be fine - he takes his vitamins) everything will be great.
Springtime in Paris. The weather has been marvelous. April first was outstanding and the crowds in the marina gardens were huge. We sat on the back deck and soaked in the sun. The policeman was fighting a losing battle to keep the people off the grass while the café tables are taking over the sidewalks on the Place de la Bastille. Our neighbors from St. Croix returned to their boat. We are having dinner with them tonight. Maggie and Scotty Allen are preparing to set sail for Holland and the Baltic. Our NY boater friends are planning on leaving at the end of April. Everyone is washing off the winter grime and starting to paint, wax, oil, and varnish. A typical marina spring.
Love to all,
We decided to go out to dinner with our "neighbors" from St. Croix. However, the restaurant they recommended was four hours away in Luxembourg, the country, not the garden!
In April, Linda and Ed had rented a car for a two or three
week trip to Germany, Berlin and Eastern Europe and then taken
a side trip to the Loire Valley castles. They made a "pit
stop" at the boat on April 29th to drop off their baggage
before returning the car to the rental agency which was located
in Luxembourg. When they fly they use Icelandic Air which stops
in Luxembourg because they can get reasonably priced tickets with
a one year time period for the return ticket. Icelandic also
gives them access to cheap car rental prices so they had taken
the train to Luxembourg in order to rent the car for their trip.
Linda and Ed like Luxembourg and had frequently mentioned what
a lovely country it was so we weren't going to pass up this great
opportunity to see it. We put a change of clothes into a bag
were ready to leave within 15 minutes.
To reach Luxembourg you travel east and slightly north across France. We drove through beautiful agricultural land, skirting Reims and Verdun and seeing signposts for Soissons and Charleville, towns we had visited by boat. Ed took the scenic route into the city, adding an hour to our trip but taking us up and down the hills and past various châteaux and letting us see the countryside. The city of Luxembourg is divided by a deep gorge but the river that cut this gorge is now just a three foot wide stream. We didn't walk down, but walked across one of the bridges and looked down. We were above the tops of the tallest trees and could peer down on a pleasant park and houses with large back yard gardens at the bottom of the cliffs. The city itself is a mixture of old and new buildings with lots of banks.
After checking into a hotel we walked across the street to a restaurant (if Martin and I were alone we would have probably passed right by) where we had a superb feast for a very reasonable cost. Linda had said that the city was expensive, but when we translated the money into French Francs we discovered that the meal was actually quite reasonable.
Luxembourg uses a mixture of Belgium Francs and their own local currency. Since the country is so small and banking is such a big industry, you can probably buy whatever you want with whatever currency you have. We went to a small American Express office to get some Belgium Francs in order to pay for the railroad tickets back to Paris. American Express gave us the bills in Belgium Francs and the change in Luxembourg money. Life will be much easier when there is a common currency for all Europe.
The next morning we took a two hour drive in the country. The
spring hurricanes that hit Europe caused extensive damage to the
forests. We saw thousands of uprooted trees, and logs were piled
up at the side of the road waiting for trucks to haul them away
to the sawmill. The roads must have been impassible
for days after the storm. The countryside that we saw was very wooded, rural and lovely.
Linda and Ed had business to attend to and stayed another day; we caught a 1:00 PM train and arrived back around 5:00. It was a lovely train ride. Many of the agricultural fields alongside both the road and the railroad track were ablaze with a yellow flowering plant called Colza or Rape, which is used to make rape oil for lubrication. Because of the bright yellow color, we thought the fields were planted in mustard (we weren't that far from Dijon) and were disappointed when we finally found out what it was.
A few days after this trip we rented a car ourselves and drove up the Seine and visited two boat yards to see about having the boat hauled and inspected. Martin thinks we will probably need to reenforce the bottom by welding steel plates on over the thin spots. French standards are stricter than Dutch standards. When we bought the boat some areas were reenforced and the boat met the Dutch standards, but Martin would prefer to meet French standards and have that extra measure of safety. The through hull fixtures and openings, where waste water drains out will also be inspected and replaced if necessary and then the bottom will be painted. This maintenance and upkeep work is quite expensive so we wanted to see the facilities and get the prices from at least three places. We only found two going up river; there aren't that many. We were using our boating chart and it has the yards marked on it. There are also a few going in the other direction but we have a friend who is getting us information about the most promising yard outside Paris going downstream.
We had a nice ride, seeing lots of the Seine and small portions of the Loing and Yvonne Rivers/canals. We are looking forward to a leisurely boating excursion to this area. The Loing canal looked especially attractive. We drove through a village called Moret-sur-Loing, passing through one single lane, turreted tower to enter the town and then out another perhaps six streets later. This town is adjacent to the Forest of Fontainebleau so we drove over to the castle and walked around the building (not a small walk). There was an antique auto show in one of the courtyards and we stopped to admire the cars, including a few American models. I don't like seeing things that I knew new in 1955 and 1965 called antiques. What does that make me? Antiques should be things from your grandmother's day. But these were probably "Classic" cars and not Antique cars. It is definitely better to be a Classic than an Antique.
The forest at Fontainebleau is enormous, as is the chateau, but the gardens weren't much. One huge open square with a fountain and some empty flower beds. The spring flowers had probably just been dug up, but whatever summer flowers were going to be planted would have to be able to thrive in direct sun and high heat; the location was extremely exposed. We saved our tour of the inside of the castle for when we came by boat. We should be able to moor on the river and then reach the castle by bicycle.
Most of our winter friends have left. Scotty and Maggie from Mississippi going north; Barbara and Shel from NY going south. The marina prices went up and two of the single men on small sailboats took off also. But we have new neighbors from England in a large powerboat in front of us and Sidney and Janine from California will be back around mid May. On a boat your neighbors can change from day to day; it makes life more interesting. We had a mechanic in to repair a transmission leak and do various other jobs on the steering and fuel systems. Now we plan to start some exterior painting. On May first we made an abrupt change from early spring to high summer. Now it is almost too hot to paint (either that or I am too lazy).
Martin celebrated a birthday on May 5th by going to see a stripper! We went to see the movie, "Blaze" which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Paul Newman was fantastic. What an actor! Afterwards we went to dinner at Bofinger's. Although this well known Parisian brasserie is right in our neighborhood, we had never gone in, thinking it was a little too expensive for us; we like to eat out frequently rather than blow the budget in one night. But we noticed that they had a very good complete dinner including a bottle of wine for 155 francs. They offer three choices for each of the three courses and the choices looked and were very good.
The French have cafés, café restaurants, brasseries, and restaurants. The brasseries seem to be larger and noisier versions of the cafés. Bofingers has a beautiful Tiffany lamp type ceiling, hard floors and no air conditioning. AC is not the rule here, so there are now tables on the sidewalk and the front wall has been removed for the summer. We do not enjoy eating on the sidewalk next to the cars and street noises so we got a table inside and far away from the open wall. The food and wine was great, so we will definitely return.
Dear David and Vonnie,
This afternoon Marcia and I went over to Les Halles to watch and to accompany a Jazz band as it walked along the narrow streets, on its way to Chatelet. It wasn't like the bands in Enkhuizen but the band played well and the crowd of natives and tourists enjoyed themselves (ourselves). And then back to Opperdan and a sit in the sun. I am recuperating from a slight cold that I got from Marcia. We seem to be trading it back and forth.
Early in the day we got a pleasant surprise. Our French neighbor, Charlotte and her Husband, Michel had had a real problem with their dockside electricity some days back. She's very handy; he doesn't do very much, partly by inclination and partly because he's still on the mend from a heart operation. In any event I was asked to assist. Last Sunday I spent about 4 hours, first finding out what was wrong and then making a temporary repair. Then on Thursday Michel and I went to the store and I picked out what was needed in terms of new materials. Then I spent another three hours making a permanent connection. They were delighted, so much so that after the first stint, she brought over a nice bottle of cold champagne. Well, this morning, she came by with a case of wine - good wine. What could we do except accept. Now our forward cabin looks like a real wine cellar. We have three cases of red, one of white, and about 14 more bottles stacked in a "home" case and just lying around. 60 bottles!
Marcia got a surprise this morning, too. She sent me to the market for a few things and instead of the things she wanted - some fish for tonight and some misc. stuff, I bought 2 kilos of lotte (monkfish) which was on sale. I thought we could use it instead of chicken for Charles (an acquaintance) who is coming to dinner on Monday. In addition I bought I large whole salmon about 2 kilos (each kilo is 2.2 lbs.) which I will marinate for three days. We will use it for an appetizer. It's fantastic. Not cooked by the way.
We returned to the market together and picked up 20 plants of marigolds, which now decorate our vessel.
We will be leaving for our trip next month... I would think sometime in the second to third week so use your judgment in terms of letter writing. Naturally, our mail will be held and we will write, but since we will be moving slowly, without any schedule, it will be difficult to write us in care of the post office anywhere. We will be away for part of June and all of July, perhaps some part of August. Our schedule revolves around getting the boat hauled at a yard. We need to do this to have the bottom cleaned and painted, etc. and also to make any necessary repairs. It's more difficult in France to do these things than it is in Holland, and much more expensive. $900 just to haul the boat out of the water! And the poor rate of exchange for the dollar is not helping much. Last year the rate was 6.6 francs to a dollar. 5000 francs would have cost us $757, a saving of almost $150. Oh, well.
We are in the midst of last minute preparations for this year's
canal trip. Martin has been spending his time crawling around
the engine room covered with grease. He is determined to have
everything in the best possible condition; new washers and gaskets,
clean fuel and air filters, everything greased and oiled
and running smoothly. Barring the purchase of a new engine, everything possible has been done. We took the boat for a trial run, just up and down the marina, not a great distance, but it did give us a chance to test out a few of the systems.
During the month we also scraped off rust, treated the spots (two kinds of anti-rust paint and then white primer), and then repainted from the roof to the deck. To be honest I should say that we scraped off hundreds of rust spots and areas, but after awhile exhaustion took over and some spots were just painted over; sometimes sweeping the dust under the rug is a necessary expedient. Pulled and sore muscles, colds, sore throats and other minor ailments, plus two weeks of rainy weather dragged everything out.
The marina has been a busy place. We had a movie crew filming for two nights making a 1920's or 30's film. They had period cars driving up and down the cobble stoned road next to our dock plus of course costumed actors. Since the marina gates are locked at 11 PM they didn't have to contend with passersby and had the road to themselves. They also took advantage of our old fashioned lamp posts in two ways. As lights in the movie shots and as light poles for their spot lights. They added the spot lights to these posts on the opposite side from the camera and then switching them when they filmed from the other direction - a lot of work but obviously necessary. The crew worked straight through the night but weren't very noisy; we slept right through the action.
This was the third group who has filmed a scene here plus we have seen people filming at night in two of the cafés and big advertising productions in front of the new Opera House. In addition there are always fashion photographers and wedding photographers. Did I ever mention the group in pirate costumes who were doing a rock video using the wood sailboat in the children's playground? Then two weeks ago we had a TV crew and seven "painters" decorating a car with what we would consider graffiti plus a trick motorcycle rider and an interview with some assistant cultural minister. Strange! Any Americans who complain about the American National Endowment for the Arts should come over here any see what the French government supports.
But this week brought a truly unusual sight. A large car drives up pulling a boat trailer carrying Humphrey Bogart's African Queen. Its present address, Key Largo, is painted on the truck. These two Americans (Martin' s description - "old codgers") had shipped it across the Atlantic, but according to them, they had crossed the Channel in it. Eventually the marina launched the boat and it steamed (I told them where the could buy barbecue coal for starter fuel.) up and down the marina. Sid Franklin, our next door neighbor from CA (another "old codger" if ever there was one) went out for a ride with them and was rapturously happy. It is a fun boat to see with its huge water tank, steam engine and shiny pistons pumping up and down. I can almost see Bogart, wiping the grease off his face. Oh no! That was only Martin climbing out of our engine room.
We had company on the evening that the African Queen arrived, an acquaintance of Donna, Martin's niece. At a fireworks show three nights earlier we had meet Shari T. a young NY cardiologist, who knew Dona from a course she had taken together - not medical, but a writing course at the New School. Shari's companion, Andrew Y., is on the staff of the New York Times ' Friday Cultural section so is on a busman's holiday in Paris. They are a delightful couple. We enjoyed their company and now they can return home and say that they saw the African Queen in Paris.
So in addition to slaving away on the boat we did manage to keep up our high society social engagements including quite a number of ''going away" parties when our winter friends sailed off into the sunset. Unfortunately no one can actually sail off with their mast up due to the low bridge - very unfair to romantics.
The Finnish woman whose French marriage ceremony we attended is now manager of a three star Parisian hotel, Hôtel Opera-Lafayette, that caters to Scandinavians. The hotel just opened a restaurant and she and her husband invited us to dine with them. The head chief is an Irishman (married to a Finn) who brought along an assistant Irish cook, so we had an outstanding Finnish/French meal prepared by a Mick!
One night we came home from eating out and found a group waiting for us on the pier. Some French friends brought over an American couple from Yorktown, NY. She works for a French firm in Manhattan and he is an English professor in Westchester Community College. They also brought a bottle of champagne and a white chocolate mousse. Scrumptious! The American couple own a 30 foot sailboat which they keep in France. Right now it is someplace in the south of France and after a few days in Paris they were going to be on their way to the Med.
June 18th was the anniversary of General De Gaulle's first radio message to the French people from London, the call to arms to continue the fight after the government's surrender. Since there wasn't any Bicentennial this year the French went all out with the De Gaulle celebration. To avoid the problems and complaints arising from last year's mob scenes, the government printed tickets for this event. We picked up four tickets at the city hall and went with this American couple.
The tickets said "Metro stop Palais Royale, Red Entrance. Gates open at 9 PM. Show at 11 PM." We got off at the Palais Royale stop, walked through the archway to the courtyard of the Louvre, past the Pyramid (the new glass entrance to the Louvre), walked down the other wing of the Louvre to the road that goes to the river. But the road was blocked off and surrounded with a large crowd. Naturally we figured that our way was blocked by a crowd of ticketless people and if we could just get to the gate we would waltz right in. Unfortunately we soon discovered that most of these people had tickets. The police had blocked the entrance and just weren't letting any more people through the gate plus we were at the Orange Entrance and not the Red Entrance.
We retraced our steps, walked all around the Louvre, only to discover that the Red Entrance was near the Louvre Metro stop not the Palais Royale stop and conditions weren't any better there. (We had arrived at the first entrance at 9:45 and the second at 10:00) We waited for about 15 minutes and then decided to leave before the crowd became unruly. We later learned that Shari T. and Andrew Y. had found the same situation at the gate they went to, but they had waited and after awhile the crowd had knocked down the barricades and rushed by the police - probably tramped them underfoot. So they had gotten in and although they didn't have excellent visibility, they did say it was a spectacular show.
Well needless to say I was disappointed. Why print more tickets than could be accommodated in the viewing areas and why not print correct information. It seems to be the French way. We did see part of the evening's fireworks sitting on the boat and we had an enjoyable visit with the American professor and his wife.
Speaking of fireworks we'd been to a great music, light and fireworks show just two nights prior to the 18th. We stood on the quai behind Notre Dame near the book seller stands and had an excellent view. It was at this show that we had met Shari and Andrew. The concert was part of the Marais Festival. First there was a concert, the musicians singing and playing from a barge in the Seine (we couldn't really hear them from where we were) and then the fireworks music which was synthesized and boomed out over the loud speakers. Colored lights played on the trees on the opposite river bank in time with the music. The fireworks also were timed to the music and cascades of fireworks made "waterfalls" from the three bridges visible at this spot.
Earlier in the month we enjoyed a New Orleans style jazz parade. About 40 musicians marched through the streets gathering a crowd as they went. We were among the first arrivals for this event and so had plenty of time to observe the milling crowd. One interesting couple couldn't be missed. A middle aged French woman and her Japanese husband. He looked like a character from an old war movie - short, stern - the perfect villain. Then as soon as the band started to play, he grabbed his wife and they began to jitterbug at the front of the parade. They led the band around the fountain, swinging and dipping, until heart and lungs gave out.
We missed the big anti-racist parade. I assume that this event made the US papers. It started with the desecration of a Jewish cemetery and then snowballed with various copycat incidents. These racial incidents - anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish, anti-Moslem - are making people and politicians nervous. A parade was organized from Place de la Republic to the Bastille. We went up and saw the preparations but were expecting company for dinner and so couldn't stay for the arrival of the marchers. From the pictures and from what I heard, it was an enormous parade. I believe it was the first time a President of France has marched in a street protest. The Prime Minister marched also, along with hundreds of other VIP's.
One of the racial incidents that touched off the protests and got big TV coverage and front page newspaper columns here turned out to be a farce. A young girl claimed that she was attacked by some French toughs and that they shaved her head because she was North African. If you remember, this was a common punishment of girls who went with German soldiers during WW II. Of course, in this case no such thing had happened. The girl had decided to give herself a Grace Jones haircut and then was fearful of her parent's wrath.
On another subject: Martin went to the market and presented me with four squid - four uncleaned squid. Lovely, slippery creatures. Ten arms rather than the eight on an octopus. We had bought a French picture cookbook, "How to prepare and cook seafood," but the pictures don't tell you that when you try to pull out and discard the "guts" they have a nasty tendency to squeeze out suddenly, like ketchup from a bottle, and fly across into your food storage shelf. I tried to get advice from my French neighbor. She told me that they were delicious, but she had never cooked them herself. So I was left to my own devices and once cleaned, the cooking part was easy and the eating part almost made the whole process worthwhile.
June 21st was the French annual Fête de Musique which I am sure I described in a letter last year. It is held on June 21st because that is the longest day of the year. As a fête it rivals and perhaps surpasses July 14th. Unfortunately the 21st was a day of intermittent rain and many of the outdoor afternoon events were probably adversely effected. However there were free concerts in just about every hall, museum, public building and church in town. The newspaper said that the Opera orchestra would give a free concert at 8:30 and the doors would open at 7 PM. I had learned my lesson. I wasn't going to be caught short not after the De Gaulle Fête fiasco. On the 20th I went to the ticket window and asked, "When will tickets be available?" "5:00 PM on the day of the concert." "How many tickets could each person waiting on line get?" "Only one."
June 21st. I went up at 4:30. Martin joined me at 4:50. Five o'clock came and went. 5:30, 6:00. Finally the line began to move. An usher gave me a ticket. An usher gave Martin a ticket. The line enters the lobby of the Opera building. People are going straight into the auditorium! The concert is going to begin 7:00 not 8:30! It seems I didn't think to ask a very important question. No going home for a shower. No changing clothes. Our tickets are numbered and not together. Everyone else is experiencing similar problems. Martin rants and raves and eventually gets someone to give us two seats together. Martin is a big and successful squeaky wheel. and all in French.
We went upstairs and bought 2 tiny sandwiches and 2 glasses of wine. We decided to live it up in our snazzy boat rain slickers and with our best "waiting in a rainy line" clothes. Shari and Andrew walked by and came over and joined us. We had mentioned the concert to them and they had decided to try for tickets also. Their seats were also separate, but they managed to switch with someone after they went in. At 7:OO an announcement said that due to traffic problems, the concert would begin at 7:30. The musicians were having problems getting to the hall.
Outside the Opera building a block long and 4 story high double sound stage had been erected for the evening's popular music concert. There were similar stages in all the squares in Paris. Car and bus traffic was being detoured everywhere. You could walk faster than any taxi could transport you. Of course any Parisian musician knows that this is what happens on June 21st. Personally I think the musicians were as confused as we were about the starting time of this concert.
At 7:30 an announcement said that due to the late starting time the first number on the program would not be played. The orchestra would only play the second suite of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe and Moussorgski's Pictures at an Exposition. There were groans, but what can you do. The concert itself was excellent. Myung Whun Chung the Korean-American musical director of the Opera conducted the full 94 piece orchestra.
The outdoor concert had already started when we left the Opera House. A good size crowd were standing under umbrellas. We went back to the boat to eat dinner. The music was audible enough from there. After dinner when we stepped out you could hear music from all four directions. The rain had stopped and the Bastille was wall to wall people, loud speakers, TV cameras, and food stands. There was an enormous movie screen for those unable to see the actual stage. We listened and watched for awhile and then walked - down the middle of the street to the Place des Vosges where we slowly made a tour of the groups playing under the arches. (The buildings on the four sides of this square are fronted with covered arched walkways.) We must have listened to a dozen different groups, amateurs and semi-professionals. On this night anyone can pick a street corner and play for the passersby. We heard a band of banjos and guitars playing American mountain songs, accordion players, two young teenager clarinet players, a tough looking semi-rock band that sounded quite decent, jazz bands, fiddle players, a young people's chorus singing American spirituals slightly off key and with a strong French accent. Good or not so good, everyone was having fun. And we never even got out of our own neighborhood! We could have gone to any part of town and found music. If you know of anyone planning to come to Paris, tell them that June 21st is not to be missed.
We've decided to haul the boat in September for the bottom cleaning and repair work and have made an appointment with a yard near the town of St. Denis just to the NE of Paris. We visited this yard recently and found that their rates were the most reasonable plus they come highly recommended.
But for now, we will be leaving Paris on Sunday, June 24th. We will travel south -southeast on the Seine to the town of St. Mammes and then take the Canal du Loing to Briare, the Canal Lateral à la Loire to Decize and perhaps Canal du Centre toward Chalon sur Saone. Send mail to our Paris address. We will have it forwarded to a town on our route.
Love to all,
Martin hosed off the boat. The city rain had deposited soot and dirt on our new paint and this might be our last chance to use a water hose. Along the canal we dip buckets of water from the canal in order to wash the boat. He also topped off our fresh water tank. We had a full tank of fuel plus a number of extra 30 liter tanks. We had two full propane tanks in addition to the one in use. The galley was stocked with the important essentials: 18 liters of bottled water, two cases of red table wine, one case of white, three bottles of rosé, plus at least 20 bottles of various better grades of wine. We had also stocked 10 liters of sterilized milk. I've gotten used to it and it is so convenient.
The marina captain opened the lock at 9:15 and we locked out with a Swedish sailboat. The Seine is busy and near Paris the land adjacent to the river is highly developed, but in a surprisingly short time you are in the country.
Around 11:15 am we were stopped by a police boat! They were closing the river because of a water skiing show or demonstration! The Swedish sailboat threw out an anchor so Martin dug out our little anchor and we anchored also. A freight barge came round the bend and even he had to wait. After this break we continued on our way, passing through four large river locks and finally stopping around 4 PM. The river banks have a natural slope with perhaps rocks and debris along the shore so it isn't safe to just pull up as you can alongside a canal bank, but we couldn't find any empty quays. All the good places were occupied by working barges or barges converted to houseboats, so we pulled up next to one of these houseboats and tied on. This is acceptable behavior, although you usually try to ask permission before or after the fact.
At this point we were definitely out in the country. We had threaded our way through two or three groups of small sailboats out for Sunday afternoon races, trying our best not to disturb the race. We had been passed by a couple of jet ski type boats and numerous water skiers had rushed past us without regard for life or limb. And the books say that the Seine is a major commercial waterway! Our mooring turned out to be quite rocky for the first few hours until all these small speed boats decided to call it a day. After that we had a lovely, peaceful spot, just us and the swans.
The morning was beautiful with the swans gliding through the rising mist. We cast off at 9:00 and went through two more of the large locks but when Martin went below to check the engine he became quite concerned. He still had some minor fuel leaks but was more concerned about the high engine heat; part of the engine was being cooled while the other part was boiling hot. The mechanic had done a lot of work, but running an engine tied to the dock is not the same as running an engine for many hours under load. We continued at a lower speed and searched for a spot to stop. Suddenly we came upon a real, brand new marina with a space big enough for our boat. It was truly a miracle.
After we had moored and checked in Martin fussed around in the engine room, tightening screws and placing containers under the various drips to catch and measure the oil. In the evening we walked across the road bridge to an excellent restaurant, recommended by the local café owner, that was on the opposite bank of the Seine. The restaurant was on a small country road running parallel to the river, but the summer garden terrace was directly on the river bank so the waiters had to cross the road with their trays of food. We had an outstanding meal: escargots, rabbit with tarragon sauce, a delicious salad and a local brie cheese that Martin raved about.
A workday. Martin called his young mechanic who drove out
from Paris. Then the two of them spent a blazing hot afternoon
working on the engine. As a result the repairs were made and
Martin got a painful sunburn. This mechanic has been very helpful
and taught Martin a lot about diesel engine maintenance so he
is able to do more and more himself. A few more years of cruising
and my husband will be able to get not only a plumbing and electrical
license, but one in diesel mechanics.
We left after 9 and turned off the Seine into the Loing River at the town of St. Mammès. The Seine is navigable for another 60 or 70 km. to the town of Marcilly. If we had gone just a little further up river, say 10 km., we could have turned off onto the River Yonne and followed that to the Canal de Bourgogne which is also a beautiful and very popular route west and south. Both our chosen route and the Bourgogne route eventually reach the Saone River, then the Rhone and finally the Med.
Because St. Mammès is located at a juncture of the Seine and a major canal system, it is home port to many dozens of barges and a resting place for many others. The Seine river bank is lined with barges, three and four abreast. On the Loing, since it is just a little river, they are single on one side and allowed to double up on the other.
We were lucky and found an empty spot on the Loing, but approached very slowly feeling our way with a boat hook because of the shallow depth. We got the bow in, but kept the stern and prop out in deeper water. The bank was covered with a steep, slanting slab of concrete and I couldn't reach the bollard, but a woman riding by on her bike stopped, caught the line and fastened it for me. Ninety percent of the people in this town are watermen and everyone is very helpful. Martin put on the other lines and hung an anchor off the stern to try to keep it away from the shore. The barges use logs, boards or gangplanks to keep their boats away from the shore, but for a temporary stay our arrangement worked.
The mooring was safe but not convenient. Getting on and off the boat was difficult. We had to walk a narrow ledge for about 50 feet to reach a stone staircase which was all right in dry weather, but dangerous after a shower.
The weather was not great - intermittent rain. But Paris that day was hit with an enormous record breaking rainstorm that flood the city knocking out power in large sections of the city including the Metro system and the traffic lights. We read about it in the paper and later heard about it from people who were there. Fifty tons of dead fish were scooped out of the River, killed by the run off water pollution. We weren't that far away yet basically we were unaffected.
We made one walking tour of St. Mammès on Wednesday; it is a small town and we had easily located the bakery and grocery. Since it is a waterman's town everything was conveniently located right by the river. On Thursday we explored further and Martin found a marine diesel shop and bought a length of heavy duty engine hose for the cooling system. Then we took a longer walk, perhaps a mile, on the tow path beside the Loing to the next village, Moret sur Loing.
Moret is one of the prettiest little towns in France. The canal begins just on the outskirts of the town, so from the canal you don't see the village itself. From the canal you walk a few blocks past the community center, playing fields, swimming pool and a lovely small park facing the town. You cross the Loing River which is basically a stream; you could walk across it and not get your knees wet nowadays. There are small islands in the river with two or three beautiful empty old houses, one with the stream flowing under it, and a mill house with a moving waterwheel. Then you enter one of the two remaining city gates.
Traffic is two way but has to alternate, since the ancient gate is so narrow that only one car can go through at a time. There is no traffic light; people just take turns. The second gate is straight down this main street about four or five blocks away. Parts of the city wall and many of the numerous defensive towers that were built into this wall are still intact. Over the centuries houses and gardens have been built utilizing these walls and towers so unless you stand back and look carefully you don't even notice. The town still has many lovely old buildings, a 12th century church, and part of a castle where D'Artagnan and 250 musketeers guarded Fouquet, King Louis XIV finance minister, who had made the mistake of building a better castle than the King's. (This was before Louis began to enlarge Versailles and then he used Fouquet's architect and garden designer.)
On our way to and from Moret sur Loing we checked out possible mooring spots. There were about four different English boats and a New Zealander tied up below the first lock at the entrance to the canal proper. We learned from them that the canal had been blocked for a week at a spot about 15 km away, up-stream. A canal wall had collapsed and was being repaired. There was therefore a large backup of pleasure and working boats on either side of this blockage, but the canal would reopen on Sunday, July first.
The Swedish boat that had locked out with us in Paris passed and then when it couldn't find a deep mooring spot further on, it turned around and asked if it could tie on to us. They had been turned away from the Canal de Bourgogne because their keel was too deep for that canal.
Since they spoke English we could have warned them if we had known that was their destination. They went shopping and then decided to go up the Loing as far as the blockage. They were on their way to the Med. and were behind schedule. We hitch hiked a ride on their boat to Moret to see if any of the moored boats had moved on. One had, so we walked back to our boat and moved it up. This spot was much more convenient. Later a large converted peniche, owned by an American and kept on the Seine in Paris, pulled up. But he blithely pulled into the ''No Parking" space that was reserved for boats waiting for the lock to open.
We then had four English speaking boats altogether and no French boats. This seems to be very typical. The French canals are used mainly by foreigners. We haven't kept records, but my guess is that 6 out of 10 boats are English and then come the Dutch, the Germans and the Belgians with the French last.
We spent the afternoon pulling everything out of the forward locker (our garage/attic) in order to unbury and remove our bikes. After they were unearthed we went for a ride and Martin called our French friends, Beatrice and Alain L. They are the parents of the girl I stopped on the street and asked about French lessons. Lately Beatrice has been working with me each Friday for an hour while I have been working with her 12 year old, Clair. We promised to give them a call on a Friday when we were on the canals and not too far from Paris. We only reached the answering machine, but Martin left a message, first in French and then in English since the older daughter is fluent, just in case his French was a little garbled. Talking on the phone is awfully hard. He called again the next morning and they said to expect them in the early afternoon.
We cleaned the boat slightly and then rode the bikes to the supermarket. I hadn't made any preparations earlier since I didn't know whether or not we would actually have company - so everything was a little rushed. Martin's directions must have been good since the Lemagnys found us. My captain was relegated to barbecuing the chickens, while the rest of us took a tour of the town. By the time we returned the chickens were gorgeous, well basted with a sauce made from hot ketchup, brown sugar and two tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning. Our guests were well fed, they enjoyed their visit, and most important it didn't rain! Unfortunately they had to leave by 5:30 because they had a dinner party to go to on the other side of Paris!
I hoped that they would have been able to stay for the evening because the townspeople of Moret put on a very special outdoor show on the bank of the river on summer Saturday evenings. We rode the bikes over to the park on the river bank opposite the old town at 9:30 PM. The entire length of the park had been curtained off from the road and non-paying spectators. Tickets were 50 or 70 francs for seats set up on the lawn. ($9.00 to $13.00)
Costumed actors were acting as ushers and program salesmen. One young man was selling stadium blankets, but we had come prepared with sweaters, jackets, and our own blanket! Many actors were visiting on our side of the river and others were wandering around in the park that served as a stage on the other side. The beautiful and elaborate costumes covered all time periods in French history.
The show itself didn't start until dark at 10:30 but there was so much going on - semi organized action - that we were constantly entertained while waiting. Monks and priests rowed boats in the river and ferried children in renaissance dress across the river. Red jacketed fox hunters raced their horses back and forth. Musketeers practiced their swordsmanship, etc.
The official show included sound, music and lights with of course fireworks for the old-time July 14th celebration scene. Hundreds of actors, the ads said 600 people were involved in the production, told the history of the town starting with a religious procession on a feast day during the Middle Ages, visits of Kings and Queens, the Revolution, Napoleon, famous artists (Sissley and various Impressionists), etc.
The action occurred everywhere: in the river, on the little islands, on the bridge (which was closed to traffic), and on the bank below the town. The people living in the houses fronting the water cooperated by using black-out curtains so you wouldn't be distracted by any electric lights during the performance. The staging was excellent. For the artististic scenes there were three rowboats containing straw hatted rowers and woman twirling parasols. The boats performed a "ballet" with colored lights playing on them and the parasols. A group of picnickers with a woman in a flesh colored suit illustrated that famous painting where the man are dressed and the woman are not, "Luncheon on the Grass." Many other very beautiful Impressionists paintings were depicted.
The horseback riders changed costumes a number of times to portray marauding Romans? Gauls? Vikings?, hunting lords and ladies from Fontainebleau - with a full pack of hunting dogs, Napoleonic soldiers, Musketeers, etc. Lots of children had roles playing games and taking part in the various scenes.
In real life just that afternoon, the L's and I had wandered by the town's City Hall just as a large wedding party were about to mount three or four horse drawn carriages for a traditional ride to their wedding feast. One of the scenes in the show was of just such a wedding with a photographer using a large cloth covered camera to take the wedding picture. Martin got a big kick from a scene of a silent movie, with the melodrama being portrayed with live actors. It was a very impressive production and doubly so considering that this was a volunteer effort.
Martin tried his hand at fishing. I washed and hung out some clothes - back to hand laundry - but I am still not reduced to washing clothes in the river like the washerwomen portrayed in the evening's performance. After lunch we rode into town. The park had been put back in order, but we discovered a Portuguese folk dance festival taking place in the field behind the community center. Costumed dancers were wandering around or resting in the park while others performed on stage wearing very colorful costumes. We watched for awhile before continuing on.
We invited an English couple in for a pre-dinner drink. They were on a home built ferro-cement 37 foot sailboat. They were a pleasant couple in their late 60's or 70's. They had sailed extensively in English waters, but this was their first French canal trip. They had just returned from a bike trip to Fontainebleau. She said that before buying the bikes for this canal trip it had been 40 years since she had ridden. I felt that if she had made it, I could also, so we decided to go on Monday.
Ten kilometers may not be a tremendous distance, only about six miles, but our muscles - especially mine- were definitely rebelling. We rode for awhile, walked for awhile and then rode again. On the way back we took longer rest breaks. About one hour each way. We arrived at around 10:30. Visiting hours are from 10 to 12:30 in the morning so we had sufficient time to visit the interior. We had already seen the outside on our recent car trip. One entire section is devoted to Napoleon - clothes, camp beds, swords, pistols, shaving kits, furniture that he and his family used. In the US we have George Washington Slept Here signs. In Moret we saw a Napoleon Slept Here sign.
The other section of the castle open to the public contained elaborately painted rooms, walls, ceilings, every inch covered with art, handsome wood paneled rooms with marvelously carved doors, an immense library, ball/throne rooms, bedrooms for Kings, Queens and mistresses. It was worth the bike ride and no crowds as at Versailles. We lunched in town and then took a brief look around before riding home for a long nap.
We thought we would leave but it rained heavily all morning. Martin had made arrangements to get water at 8:3O AM from the nearest house. The house was actually a fair distance, but we have two enormous lengths of water hose. The house is owned by a retired barge captain and his wife. The bargees retire but don't go far from the water. The "natives" are nearly always friendly and helpful. Martin stops and chats with all the fishermen and since we usually stay in one place for three to five days we get to recognize all the dog walkers, keep track of when the housewives go to market and other such important matters.
Since we couldn't leave Martin decided to tackle the toilet which had malfunctioned. We could pump out, but not in and were keeping a bucket of canal water in the "head" and just pouring it in directly. He took the toilet mechanism apart and discovered a foot long piece of seaweed clogging the pumping valve. A simpler repair than he had feared. I had thought that perhaps a plastic bag had been sucked in and was blocking the pipe. That could have been a very serious problem to solve.
There was sun, at least for part of the day. In general the weather has been cool to cold with light to heavy rain, but when it rains we read and it gives me a chance to work on my letter.
We entered the Canal de Loing which has a 6 km per hour speed limit. We made 10 KPH on the bikes, and that was with breaks. Our actual time may only be three km per hour because of all the locks - waiting for the lock gate to open, going in, tying up, waiting for the water level to change and the gates to open, and then untying and exiting.
This is an old canal, narrow and very peaceful. The locks are one barge in length, 39 meters. The first two were electric. The rest you have to crank open. The lock keeper cranked one gate and Martin did the other. In most I had to climb the ladder to reach the bollards or put the line on the end of the boat hook and reach up and put the line over the bollard. Since we had the steering and gear mechanism repaired the boat handles much better and Martin seems to have much less difficulty. He has become very proficient at entering locks and stopping right by the bollards. We went through seven locks in the first 18 km before stopping for the day at 2:00 PM. Along the way we passed small villages and many fields of corn and sunflowers.
The canal follows the meandering path of the river; this is not like the straight Dutch canals. A British boat passes and they wish us a Happy Independence Day! One lock doesn't open and after waiting for quite awhile Martin puts me ashore to reconnoiter. The lock keeper, a young, heavyset man in blue overalls with shoulder straps was sitting in a big arm chair in his tiny lock house listening to a radio, drinking beer and sticking a large hunting knife in the wooden arm of his chair. I thought I was in Appalachia, but he smiled and told me it was his lunch break time and that he would go back to work at 12:30.
The canal rejoins the river for about a kilometer above the town of Nemours and then immediately separates again, the canal making a sharp right hand turn. Since there is absolutely no visibility of the lock around this corner, there is a canal traffic light affixed to the bridge that spans the river. Two pleasure boats were moored with stakes to the bank and they said they had been waiting for an hour. We hovered for awhile until the light turned to green for them (it was probably the lunch break for that keeper), then stuck our own stake in the ground and waited for our turn. Our wait was quite brief however. Martin asked the keeper where to moor in Nemours so we passed a horrible spot where everyone else stops and found a lovely, scenic mooring just a little bit further on. We have been here for a couple of days now, there is plenty of room, yet no one has joined us. Nemours is also a lovely town, bigger than Moret, but still a small town. The shops are extremely convenient and I found a laundromat. So what do I care if it rains half the day.
Love to all,
We stayed for five nights in Nemours. We had a very pleasant and convenient spot and the town was very attractive. After Nemours our first stop was at the hamlet of Dordives. Dordives is much too small to find on any American map of France, but it has a pleasant mooring area. We were greeted warmly by a 72 year old, beret wearing resident who liked Americans because they were "liberators" and talked about the battles of the Second World War and General Patton. We rode our bikes first into Dordives to mail my last letter and then returned and crossed the canal to ride in the other direction toward the town of Chateau Landon.
Our canal chart book shows the towns and roads on either side of the canal and gives, in French, German, and English, two page guides to the main historical and scenic points of interest. On the map Chateau Landon did not look that far away, but it was at least five km - and turned out to be nearly all uphill. The sight of the town sitting on its hilltop made the ride worthwhile. The original Abbey/fort is now a nursing home. A gentleman on the grounds said that there were catacombs under the buildings housing the bones of the English who had attacked the fort and suggested we get a guide at the tourist office. We never found the tourist office but we did explore the town and the church and then had a coke before the ride back which was extremely nice since it was all downhill.
On the next day, July 10, we left around 8:30 AM but immediately had to pull over to let a Dutch péniche pass. We had just started again when Martin remembered he had removed the stakes we use when there are no bollards to tie on to, but then in the excitement of getting underway he had left them on the grass. So we had to pull over again, tie up to a tree and unload the bike so he could ride back to get them. Luckily we hadn't gone very far. Another péniche passed and we followed it staying far enough behind to avoid having to wait too long at each of the locks. We did ten that day, switching from the Canal du Loing to the Canal de la Briare. The physical reality is that now these and the next ones, Canal Lateral à la Loire and the Canal du Centre, are all connected and just one long canal. They were, however, built at different times and thus have different names and are perhaps under different Waterway Management Boards for at the first lock of the Canal de la Briare we had to show our boat papers again.
Just before this, at about our eighth lock of the day, Martin talked to the lock keeper about the mooring facilities in the town of Montargis. He asked where was the best place to moor and whether drinking water was available, etc. The lock keeper said we could fill our tank at his lock - if we gave him a tip! At this point we were in the lock, but just sitting at the bottom and not rising. I tied down the forward line; Martin tied down the aft line and went and got the water hose. He stuck the hose into the "head" window while I opened the water tank cover, which is perhaps a foot and a half in diameter, and thrust in the hose. I assumed that we would remain in the bottom of the lock while the tank was being filled, but instead the lock keeper opened the flood gates and the boat began to rise. Martin yelled for me to come up and shorten the forward line and in my panic I foolishly abandoned the water hose without wedging it tightly or tying it into the tank. As the boat rose in the lock I had to keep shortening the line at the bow while Martin controlled the stern line. As soon as I could I rushed back to the water tank. The movement of the boat had dislodged the hose but luckily it had fallen into the bathtub. The water was spraying all over and the floor was soaked, but most of the water was just filling the tub. A close call, but no major disaster.
There are two locks in Montargis and the canal twists and turns as it meanders through town. We went through the ninth lock, turned the corner and were immediately faced with the tenth which towered above us. I believe that this is a five meter (16.5 feet) lock, which is certainly big, but not the tallest that we have seen. It was, however, like turning a corner and meeting Frankenstein.
At the mooring area just on the other side of this enormous lock we were able to get one bollard for safety and then had to use stakes. The main problem was the lack of depth at the quay, but Martin fussed and fussed and eventually succeeded in arranging a board and fenders at the stern of the boat to keep us away from the shore. (Passing boats, especially the barges, create heavy surges of water that could shove us aground and damage our propeller.)
We spent eight nights at Montargis and became quite familiar with the town. There is water everywhere - and bridges. A French woman told us how many, but French numbers spoken rapidly aren't my strong point; it was over a hundred. There is the main canal, the Loing River, a lovely lake and a whole series of creeks and tiny canals. The little bridges are decorated with flowers and rowboats filled with flowers are anchored in the middle of the smaller waterways. As in Moret and Nemours they still have the old covered waterside shelters where women used to wash clothes in the streams. Now these make lovely waterside porches for the adjacent houses, or else good places to set up your fishing equipment, or just decorate with flower pots.
In Montargis we met, among many others, an American couple on a 28 foot British built motor sailor called KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). They live in Pennsylvania in the winter, but since 1981 or '82 when he retired at the age of 49, they have been boating in England and France. We had a lot in common. He had been raised in Baltimore and had been a school principal in Montgomery County and she had headed a county program for upgrading teacher' education ( in-house master's program). He was also a ham Radio operator and every night he would talk to people in England and sometimes to American friends if the weather conditions were good.
We were in Montargis for July 14th and saw their fireworks show on the night of the 13th. We walked over to the lake and sat on the shore. The fireworks were set off from an island in the lake and also from "floats" in the lake. We could have sat on the boat, but would have missed the low displays from the floats and also just being part of the crowd. The firework display was very well attended, but because the circumference of the lake was so large there was plenty of room for everyone.
In contrast to the fireworks show, the parade on the 14th attracted very few people. There was a small crowd at the main square where the reviewing stand was located, but only a scattering of people along the parade route. Oddly enough it was a very impressive parade, although obviously humdrum for the residents. There is a military school for "Transmissions" in town, perhaps something like one of the schools the US Army sent my son Michael to. The men and women were in a variety of service uniforms, so it had to be a special school that served more than one branch of the French military. There was a military band, some marching back and forth across the square, some fancy "Present Arms," and the Raising of Company Flags. Someone got a medal and kisses from the Mayor and the military chief. This was followed by a parade of all the base's military trucks, followed by the area's fire and rescue trucks (and boat). Quite a display for a small provincial town, but sad because there were no onlookers to cheer. Everyone was probably out at the lake swimming or having family picnics.
Montargis has an impressive church with beautiful and interesting windows, an art museum, and lots of old castle walls and towers. The biggest town of our trip. It also has a good supermarket and two laundromats. The signs said, "Open seven days a week from 7 AM to 10 PM." So on Sunday morning I sorted, pretreated and packed the laundry up in Michael's old Army bag, tied it onto the shopping cart and wheeled it over to the laundry. It was closed! So I wheeled it to the second laundry. Closed! Seven days a week obviously does not include July 15th. Luckily one laundry did open after lunch. I was worried about the pretreatment liquid. It says wash right away. I was afraid that it might eat away the stains and the material.
We left Montargis on July 17th. When we arrived at the first lock, there were two pleasure boats already inside, but the lock keeper waved us in anyway. There is a water shortage and they are trying to conserve water by using the locks as infrequently as possible. Unfortunately a 12 meter boat, plus a 10 meter boat, plus an 18 meter boat adds up to 40 meters while the lock is only 39 meters long and not wide enough for us to double up. We eventually angled everyone in so the lock gates could close. The back gates, in a lock in which you are rising, are folded inside the lock. You have to go forward far enough into the lock so the gates are able to close behind you. We were in the lock but completely helpless; the other boaters were able to reach the ladders or had already landed an extra crew member to put their lines on the bollards. We were just stuck at the end of the lock with no way to get our lines up since the lock keeper wasn't bothering to help us. Luckily the other boaters took our lines when we stuck them on the end of the boat hook and lifted them up. We did the next seven locks in this fashion. Although everyone was cooperating, it was a most unpleasant morning. Then at one point we met a loaded barge coming toward us and we had to move over. We tried, but the water was so shallow we couldn't get completely over so the barge rubbed against our side while it was passing us. Eventually the other boats pulled up for lunch and we continued alone until we reached the tiny village of Montbouy.
Montbouy had built a very nice pleasure boat quay with metal mooring rings , a fresh water outlet, garbage cans, and a bath house! This canal area is getting heavy traffic from the rental fleets and most boaters that stop probably go into town for groceries or dinner out. We didn't spend any money in the village but certainly did appreciate the facilities.
On the 18th we continued on our way, but stopped after only two locks an hour and a half later in Chatillon-Coligny. We were approaching the mooring area slowly. I was at the bow with the boat hook measuring the depth of the water. It wasn't very good. A man with a bicycle on the opposite bank called to us. I couldn't figure out what he was saying, but he motioned to us to go forward so we assumed he was telling us that there was a better place with deeper water further on. We continued around the next bend and discovered that he was the next lock keeper and was holding the lock and waiting for us. After we went through we saw that he had another boat waiting on the other side but going in our direction. Because of the water shortage he wanted us to pair up and continue together so we could share the next series of locks. He was pretty disgruntled when Martin told him we were stopping for the day. We moored along the bank just beyond his lock. The water was shallow but we got the boat in and left the stern in deeper water. (When I say "we" I really should say Martin. The running of the boat and all these complicated maneuvers of locking and docking are his achievements with my unskilled assistance on the lines.)
We were all right during the day but aground during the night. Six inches of the boat that should be underwater was showing above the water line. After living for so many years in a floating home, it was quite disconcerting to be stationary. The cupboard doors swing open. The floor slants. Everything feels wrong.
During the afternoon we explored the town. Our guide book gave it a paragraph describing the town and especially a château whose exterior and gardens could be seen although not the interior. We found the old church, old walls, an impressive tower gate, the City Hall, etc. but no château and what was most unusual, not even a sign to a château. Eventually a woman in the City Hall said it was now in private hands and no longer could be seen. However the way she told us this made me think something mysterious was afoot. Probably the French version of the CIA or FBI are now using it.
After our night aground we were anxious to leave as quickly as possible. Luckily we weren't hard aground and we were able to back off without any trouble. Surprisingly we weren't forced to wait for another boat to share the locks with us and we had the next five to ourselves. At one of the locks the young wife came out with a wooden tray holding six different pies: five fruit and one pizza. We bought one with apricots and peaches which was very good.
The town of Rogny is a popular stopping place and the beginning of a series of six locks all very close together. But Rogny is famous for its now out of use staircase lock. The Briare Canal is the oldest in France. It was started in 1604 even before the Pilgrims got on the Mayflower! In order to get the boats over the hill at Rogny they built seven locks in a staircase design. These locks were used for 250 years until, in the 19th century, a new canal cut was built with six separate but closely spaced locks. The staircase design was finally abandoned due to its excessive use of water, which is interesting in light of the present low water situation.
At Rogny there is a small pleasure boat mooring area on a branch of a creek flowing into the canal, but we are too long. If we went in we wouldn't have enough room to turn around and get out so we moored about two blocks away at the side of the main canal. Our mooring was excellent: tree shaded, fairly deep water and bollards. There was a two carnivals on the corner but we weren't close enough to be disturbed. The barge loading platform was next to the carnival and there was a steady stream of huge moving van size trucks arriving to dump their loads of wheat into the barge. The capacity of a péniche is amazing. It took about ten trucks to fill it with 250 tons. One would load up and leave and the next day another would come. These barges were going to Holland. We are in the midst of the wheat, hay and straw harvest.
We stayed in Rogny for four days - a little bike riding and much resting. The temperature went over 100, but we were fairly cool under the trees. We had a good meal out and have been using the barbecue frequently so as not to heat up the boat. On Monday, July 23rd Martin rode his bike over to the lock house to say we wanted to leave and discovered there was a small problem. A pleasure boat that had moored at the town's most scenic spot, at the foot of the abandoned locks was aslant in the mud. The water level had dropped drastically. As we heard the story, someone, a farmer perhaps, had opened a sluice and the water had run off into the creek. The fight between the farmers and the canal users seems to be an annual event, but this drought is very serious. People who live near the canal are going to pump water from it with or without permission. If the creek that waters your cattle is dry and the canal has water which you can get by opening the sluice at night, you are going to open the sluice.
The canal gradually filled with water. Two barges were descending in the six lock system, but extremely slowly. The lock keeper told Martin to come back in an hour. Later his wife rode her bike over to us and told us to come along. We had been waiting until the péniche passed us and probably should have continued to wait. The péniche was just emerging from the lock when we turned the corner and we had difficulty passing each other. We went through the first lock alone and then the next seven or eight with the other pleasure boat which was in a floating position again, finally stopping at a tiny town, Ouzouer sur Trezee.
The next morning did not start off well, but ended well. There were two of us waiting: our boat and a Scottish couple we had met twice already. Again Martin went to the lock keeper who told him there was a barge coming toward us but two behind us and they had priority. We would have about an hour's wait. A hotel barge passed and the captain, whom we had met before, said that there was a whole string of barges behind him. They had been held up by the water level problem and were now on the move.
After the next péniche went by and was in the lock, the lock keeper's daughter walked back to us and told us to cast off and come forward. We moved forward and were again waiting when another péniche came around the bend behind us. The lock keeper didn't wave us away so we continued toward the lock. The péniche blew his horn and screamed. He cut off the Scotsman and wouldn't let him follow us into the lock. Then he and his wife came to the bow of the boat and began to scream and shout at the lock keeper. Working boats do have the right of way over pleasure boats, but I suppose the lock keeper had decided we shouldn't have to wait for more than two. We kept one lock ahead of that péniche for the next three locks. Didn't want them to catch up with us and ram us, and arrived safely at Briare.
Briare is a good size town. Population about 7,000 during the winter with at least 500 extra visitors each summer day. The town is on the Loire River and its most famous feature is the Bridge Canal that crosses the river. This is like a railroad bridge except that it is full of water. It was built in 1890 with the collaboration of Gustave Eiffel - he of Eiffel Tower fame. Nothing that I have read said he designed the bridge, actually I think his company did the stone work and not the steel work. This may be Briare's deep dark secret. Nevertheless it is the longest canal bridge in the world and a very popular tourist sight.
The bridge made obsolete the old canal route that went down into the town, paralleled the river and eventually crossed the river further upstream. Two or three years ago Briare reopened the first section of this old canal and built a beautiful pleasure boat harbor in the heart of the scenic section of the town. The rest of the canal forms a beautiful shady park. There are a number of unused locks, many little bridges, and an attractive camping site. Unfortunately - very unfortunately, we need deeper water. The sign by the lock entrance to this area says 1.2 meters and we need 1.3 meters.
As we approached the fork where the "new" canal going to the Canal Bridge and the old canal going to the town center meet, we saw the American couple, Hal and Dorothy and their sailboat KISS. He rushed out and with his boat cushions gave a semaphore signal to us trying to get us to stop, but we said we wanted to see the Bridge and would stop there. I was very surprised to find them still in Briare, since they had left Montargis long before we did, but they were waiting for American friends who would be arriving in a few more days by train from Paris. They had been moored at the grain dock area next to the Bridge for a week and when the heat wave struck they had left and moored out of town under the trees.
The grain dock area was huge. You could easily have eight or nine barges loading at the same time, although there was only one loading when we arrived. It was quite hot and very dusty for the first couple of days. But interesting.
The Scottish couple caught up with us and we visited back and forth. Hal and Dorothy came to visit and eventually brought their boat back. We cooked a great barbecue and had a nice time with them. After their guests arrived, they took off but as soon as they left another American couple from Nyak, NY arrived. They also retired early and are living full time on their sailboat, JOSS. They are on their way to Paris where they will winter with us. A Swedish boat asked if we knew Linda and Ed, the Americans from St. Croix. They had met them on their way north from the Med. It is like the old days of sailing ships. People exchange information about boaters they have met.
So we enjoyed Briare in spite of the dust. We loved the town and the old canal area. We found a very good restaurant. We split a Banana Split at the ice cream parlor. We went to an art exhibit, and we rode our bikes hither and yon.
On Saturday, July 29th, I decided to do some house cleaning. The barges that had been loading wheat had left and the empty ones seemed to be resting for the weekend. I got everything relatively clean inside the boat and then rode off to town for a few things. Martin at this point was taking a nap. As I was riding the four blocks into town the sky darkened, but I passed four other boaters also going shopping. By the time I bought the bread the first drops fell. By the time I rode two blocks back to the boat I was fighting what felt like hurricane winds. It became impossible to stay on the bike and just as impossible to walk with the bike. I took refuge behind a tiny jut in a building, just big enough to give me some protection from the wind and waited. After awhile I tried again and made it back to the boat. The sunshade was torn and flapping wildly in the wind. It was held on only by a single corner hook. Martin was getting the windows and doors closed, but it was a disaster. All my cleaning was undone. Water and wheat chaff was everywhere. France needs water but not like that. Actually the storm was quite local. Boaters that arrived later that afternoon were surprised to hear about the intensity of the storm that we had experienced. We had a better rain, a light rain, all night which hopefully helped the farmers in the region a little, but this was followed by an intense heat wave that is draining the land of all moisture.
We left Briare early Monday morning, July 30th approaching the bridge entrance slowly. We didn't see anyone coming from the other direction so started across. Of course it is no different than riding in any canal, but the psychological feeling is different. Here you are high above the Loire River on a long, narrow 100 year old bridge that is almost half a mile long and is filled with water and the weight of your boat! The view is spectacular but the captain needs to keep his eyes on the "road". You don't want to damage the sides of this canal.
Stay tuned for our next adventure,
Continued from last letter
We left Briare and followed the canal stopping for the afternoon and evening at Beaulieu next to a camping grounds.
The final day in July found us moored beside a hotel and restaurant, the Buissonniere. It had a nice quay and we enjoyed a very good meal there. As a side dish we were served two large puff pastries that were filled with a herbed mashed potato mixture, a regional specialty. My waistline couldn't afford this everyday, but I could easily be led astray once or twice a month. I will have to look in Paris for them.
On the first of August, we arrived at our final destination for this summer's trip, the Sancerre area. Sancerre had been our first major stop on last year's van trip, so it seemed fitting that it should be the final stop of this trip.
Sancerre itself is located on the top of a very, very high hill. The canal runs at the bottom of this hill between two small towns: St. Satur, the larger of the two and St. Thibault which is basically a hamlet between the canal and the Loire River. There is a Port de Plaisance at St. Thibault located just off the main canal using a short branch of an old canal that used to connect the Loire River to the Canal. The river lock is still there, but no longer in use.
There are no docks here as there are in Paris or in an American marina, you just hammer in your stakes. The first two days are free, but after that there is a charge of 10 francs a night (less than $2.00) plus 10 F a night if you want electricity. They also had a 6 F charge for filling your water tank. It was the only town that charged us for water, but I don't think that is unfair at all. For most boaters that will be their only payment to the town for the use of the mooring area.
We spent a week here weathering out an enormous heat wave. After a few days we plugged into the electricity which helped considerable. Our refrigerator runs much cooler on electricity than propane, plus we could use our little electric heaters on the fan setting. They are very small but did help to circulate - I can't say cool - the hot air.
The greatest thing about this mooring was the nearby swimming pools. There were three pools, wading to diving size, just a few blocks away on the bank of the Loire. This was a serious summertime recreational spot with a golf course, tennis courts, camp grounds, a miniature golf course, picnic tables, and a canteen. We spent quite a few delightful hours soaking in the cooling water. Somehow a heat wave doesn't bother me at all in such circumstances. The pools were surrounded by a large grassy football size area, lined with trees overlooking the river. So after swimming (mostly soaking) we could sit under the trees and read until we felt like going in again.
We also tried swimming in the river itself. The village had a large sandy beach with a swimming area marked off by a rope with red floats. Centuries ago the river must have covered this beach, but now the Loire is dwarfed by its banks. The shallow water flows around hundreds of little islands and sand spits. We expected the water to be cold, instead it was warmer than the pool - but with an unbelievable current. It was flowing so fast it was almost impossible to stand up against it. We had to dig our feet into the sand and fight hard against the current to keep from being swept down river. It wasn't dangerous, because if you were swept away you would land in only a foot of water and could walk away. In fact it looked like you could walk across the river - if you could manage to stand up against the current - and not get you shoulders wet. But, if the current is this bad in August after at least two years of drought, what must it be in the spring after a snowy winter? Now we know why the canals had to be built. It was an interesting experience - swimming in the Loire - but when we returned to the boat and removed our suits we and the suits were spotted with green from the algae. It wasn't visible in the water, but the current washed it right into the suits.
One day we set off for Sancerre. We rode our bikes on the road that crosses the canal, through the town of St. Satur and then about a mile beyond until the road began to rise too steeply. We passed a bus stop and the posted schedule seemed to indicate that it was possible to take a bus up although the girl at the tourist office had said that it wasn't.
Martin went into the corner café and asked there. The woman said that one or two buses did run, depending on the school season, but the next one wouldn't be until the afternoon. She said that if we wanted to walk up we could leave our bikes in her back yard and she gave us directions to a hiking path. It would be better than following the road, which would be longer and more exposed to the heat of the sun.
We found the path about a block away and climbed the hill at a steep angle which mainly cut through the woods. Finally we reached a narrow road just as a pickup truck was going by. Martin thinking that we still had a long hike ahead of us stuck out his thumb and the truck stopped for us. I climbed into the back with the tools and Martin got the seat in the cab and we took off on a road that seemed to go straight up. You have to have a powerful engine and super strong brakes if you live in Sancerre. Our ride only lasted a few minutes, but did save a lot of huffing and puffing in the heat.
The view from the top is spectacular, the varied colors of vineyards and fields, farmhouses, small villages, a curved viaduct built like a Roman aqueduct. Mostly, however, you see vineyards. Sancerre being one of the special areas, like the Champagne area, that can bottle and label their own wine. The area is also famous for its goat cheese. Fields not suitable for vines or pasture grow sunflowers, hay, corn and various grains.
Since we had visited Sancerre before we knew our way around and enjoyed refreshing our memories. We weren't about to lug a case of wine down the hill so we just looked in the wine shop windows, visited the craft shops and bought a few post cards before lunch. The walk down was much faster than the hike up. There were a few places where our feet needed good brakes. Then we picked up our bikes and coasted most of the rest of the way back to the boat.
The next day we went by bike to the big supermarket and bought a number of bottles of wine: two good bottles of Sancerre and then some everyday cheaper wines plus, of course, regular groceries. (We don't just sit around drinking all day. We eat a lot of paté with our wine.)
Martin packed his bike's saddle bags and we put some of the things in a box and fastened it with shock cords on the back of my bike. We were just leaving the parking lot when the poorly fastened box tipped over spilling and breaking three of the bottles. I was heartsick thinking that both bottles of the "expensive" Sancerre had broken, but as it turned out, I was only carrying one so we lost that one and two of "vin ordinaire''.
We became friends with an English man who keeps his boat in the "marina". He does not live aboard all year. Instead he visits, during the winter, with his two oldest children - one in Boston and the other on Nantucket and a brother who lives in Costa Rica in Central America. (His brother and son are well known - I think- ornithologists. The son whose last name is Perkins, writes regularly for a magazine.) The father was quite an interesting fellow in his own right. He had been involved with an international school for United Nation dependents in New York and then headed a similar school in Stockbridge, MA. At least I believe that this was the town he mentioned. Anyway he had lived in the USA for over 20 years and even knew Naples, FL. His boat was a big ugly thing on the outside but had an enormous amount of room inside with three cabins, two baths, a huge kitchen downstairs and a big living room upstairs. He also carried a large satellite dish on top of his boat to pick up American and English TV.
He invited us to visit and meet a friend of his, an Irish woman and her 18 year old daughter who had also settled in the area, but we didn't get to do much talking because he kept the TV on. He was watching the American all news channel which was reporting from the UN just after the Iraq invasion. The news was very interesting but intrusive.
The Irish woman and her daughter had bought a small powerboat, very much like our old "Bali Hai," a 30 foot Trojan. She hired a captain to bring them across the Channel and had then come down the canals to Sancerre. In the next little village she had found an abandoned building which she was renovating on a shoe string budget since they still had not sold their boat.
They were now the proud owners of an English Tea Room with one English Bed and Breakfast room in the middle of the French countryside while the daughter had plans to turn one of the back rooms into an English pub for the young people in the neighborhood. We saw all this because the next day Mr. P. drove us over in his car and we had tea and scones with thick cream and jam.
The Tea Room seems to be doing well. The village café/bars are masculine places; you rarely see the local women in them, so a Tea Room can fill a real need providing a place for women to get together and socialize. On the day we visited she had about eight or ten English speaking customers and about an equal number of French women. The location is good - right on the canal - so homesick English boaters can pull right up for a taste of home. If they want, she will even prepare a full American - Scottish style breakfast.
It was a nice little village. Mr. P. said that the vine disease that struck the area, most recently in the fifties had ruined the town. After all these years there were still many empty buildings, but an equal number had been lovingly renovated. We saw old doorways, window frame stones and decorations going back centuries and probably some of the stones of the oldest houses and barns were cut in Roman times.
These villages are a mixture of old farm houses with hay stuffed barns, chickens in the yards and goats in the barns and retirement or second home chic. A sign outside one neat home advertised Sancerre wine for sale. Martin knocked and the housewife came out and led us into her backyard and then into her stone lined "cave," a basement room about the size of a one car garage. It contained a small bottling contraption, three large barrels of aging wine and a large metal container that plays some role in the wine making process, plus lots of bottles of wine. An old barrel acts as a table and you are offered small glasses of wine to taste. We bought six bottles of very nice wine for 34 F @ (about $6.) The Irish girl said she had helped to harvest the grapes for this family last year.
One day we decided to take a bus excursion to Bourges, the main city in this area, to visit the art museum and see the sights. Martin finally was able to get a timetable by going to the City Hall and we studied it carefully trying to decipher all the little notes. We found that there was a bus that left in the morning and would give us four to five hours in town and then return by 8 PM. We got dressed in our best going-to-town clothes, walked up to the town and waited on the right corner. However when the bus arrived the driver asked us if we wanted to come back and when we said yes, he said there was no return bus until Saturday. If school isn't in session, the buses don't run!
We started our return journey to Paris on Aug. 8th stopping that night opposite a nuclear power plant. It was a small bedroom town for the plant workers and it was very prosperous with lovely new homes and a beautiful, landscaped mooring area, but no stores - not that we needed anything. The surrounding land is all agricultural. There were cattle in the fields and the haying was in process. It was incongruous to watch a man forking bales of hay into a wooden cart, albeit tractor drawn, with the towers of the nuclear plant in the background. We also saw large blue herons stalking along the banks, just like in Maryland. The wild flowers are lovely - yellow, white, blue and purple flowers - Lavender, Queen Anne's Lace, purple thistles and lots of things I can't name. Most of the houses have beautiful flower gardens and lush vegetable plots.
Our next stop was Chatillon sur Loire on the south bank of
the Loire. We were trying to stop at towns that we had skipped
on our way down. This town had been the terminus of the original
canal from Briare before the Canal Bridge was built and it still
has its own set of disused old locks from the 19th century.
The oldest part of the town sits on top of a small hill with an ancient church at its pinnacle and the usual stream marked the path of the old city wall moat. Again what was fascinating was to see how many of the old buildings had survived over the centuries. A movie company could use the area around the church as the site of a movie set in the Middle Ages with only the smallest amount of modification.
From here we crossed the Pont Canal (Canal Bridge) to Briare, staying there again for a few days, then to Rogny, Chatillon- Coligny, Montbouy and Montargis again, meeting many interesting people along the way - including some we had met before along the way and in Paris.
At the little hamlet of Montbuoy a man from the City Hall stopped by to ask if everything was all right and if we had everything that we needed which was a very nice gesture. We complimented him and his town for the excellent facilities. An elderly man who has the adjacent garden gave Martin some fresh parsley, basil, and tarragon. Martin loves trying to converse with people in French and the French people seem to enjoy and appreciate his efforts. Then in the evening two men drove up in a car and brought out a huge model helicopter that flies by remote control, but in addition this one had a video camera in its nose. They flew the plane and could watch on a TV monitor the pictures it was taking and also afterwards they could replay the pictures. We had been sitting on the deck watching the helicopter's flight and so had been caught by the camera. Then after I realized that it was taking pictures I walked over to the monitor and glanced over the man's shoulder. Quite a toy !
We celebrated our wedding anniversary on August 23rd in Montargis. We had not eaten out in this city on our first stop, but scouted out a restaurant for our return trip. The Hotel St. Louis occupies part of the rebuilt ruins at the foot of Montargis' hill. The hill is topped with the surviving parts of the old castle now a school. The hotel structure which includes what looks like a gate house from the château, is about half way down the hill. In fact in order to reach the school you have to go through this gate.
The slope of the hill is covered with stone ruins and the whole site is quite impressive. Our dinner was also impressive. It was an attractive setting and a five course dinner for a very reasonable price. Plus I think this might have been the first French restaurant that I've been in to provide bread plates!
The heat is continuing. We went swimming in Montargis in the public pool. It was a nice pool but it has a roof and was therefore quite noisy. We have reached Nemours and expect to be back in Paris in five or six days.
Love to all,
Our summer cruise ended September 3rd after ten very pleasant weeks in the French countryside. Surprisingly we had to wait almost an hour out on the Seine before we could enter the lock at the entrance to the canal St. Martin where our marina is located. Martin radioed ahead to let them know we were home, but the captain said that there was a péniche coming down the canal and to wait until it came out. So we waited, and waited, and waited. Fortunately the Seine is quite wide at this point and the river traffic was very light.
Most of the sightseeing boats cruise further down the river in front of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame and then circle around the two islands so they just miss passing the canal entrance. Finally the lock was ready for us and we arrived back to our regular space. Our canal is getting constant, heavy barge traffic right now because a connecting canal, the St. Denis, is closed for about two months for cleaning and repair. At least a dozen barges pass us each day taking sand and gravel and other heavy things to factories and construction sites further up the canal system. This traffic added to the two or three tour boats that use the canal plus the pleasure boat traffic is keeping our lock keepers quite busy.
I don't think I have ever described the marina office here. It is in a modern two story building. On the lower level, the quayside level, there is a boat broker's office, a small club room, the shower and toilet facilities, and a laundry room with one washer and dryer. Upstairs, on the street level, there is an apartment for the port's captain, a secretary's office, and the main office. This main office is quite "state of the art." The front wall and one side wall are lined with windows - giving the captain a good view of the canal and the marina - and then above the windows are six TV screens showing, from various directions, the Seine, the lock itself and the canal. These monitors are quite necessary because the lock itself is under some highway bridges and, except for the entrance on the canal side, it can't be seen from the office. The captain is also able to speak through an interphone and loud speakers to boaters waiting out on the Seine and also on the quay in front of the office. These loudspeakers have a second function. If the captain sees any kids or outsiders walking on the boat docks, climbing on someone's boat, or playing near the lock, he turns on the loudspeakers and tells them to vamoose. People get quite a shock when they walk past the Keep Out sign and suddenly a voice from the blue yells down at them.
We have one port captain, two assistant captains, a secretary and a maintenance/ garbage man working here. Plus there are two police guards with dogs at night, the regular park police during the day and three full time gardeners. All in all it is quite an operation. The garbage is collected everyday. There are convenient plastic bag lined containers directly on the dock about every 100 feet. Most people have garbage trucks. We have a garbage boat. After the maintenance man collects the bags he leaves them by any empty slip and then collects them from both sides of the marina using a long narrow wooden boat.
The garden is still lovely. The roses and hibiscus are still flowering although the gardeners have cut back some of the roses, especially the climbing ones, because the metal trellises are being repainted.
Since our return we have been painting also. We repainted the interior of the boat and revarnished the wooden floors, the wood ceiling in the kitchen and bath and various other items such as the wheel. We spent over three weeks on these chores. The floors in particular were a slow process because you can only do one half at a time and Martin put three new coats on the floors, but the results were well worth all the effort. Of course Martin always seems to have chores to do: engine maintenance, plumbing, a new electric outlet to install. I had lots of little sewing projects: pillows, curtains, repairs. Time consuming without a machine, but satisfying.
Upon our arrival we found Dick and Rachelle's boat "Joss" in the port. They are the New York couple we met during our canal trip who sailed their boat across the Atlantic. They plan to leave their boat in Paris for the winter but are returning to NY for at least two months to attend to family business and the coming marriage of their daughter.
They had company in September and took off for another two week canal trip - back to Moret sur Loing and that area - but have returned now and have tied up behind us. Behind them in the same position as last year are Christopher and Agnes. He is the one who has Brooklyn painted on his transom as his home port. They took an exciting three month cruise to the Outer Hebrides and around the Atlantic coast of Ireland this summer. They report that the outer edge of Ireland was desolate but beautiful while the weather was cold, wet, and foggy. Not a place for a Sunday sailor. They saw only one or two pleasure boats along the entire North-eastern side of the island.
Our immediate neighbors, the boat we are tied to, Sid and Janine, seemed glad to see us. They had a few weeks while we were gone when they had an uninterrupted view of the water but then had a series of transient boats moored alongside. We went out to dinner together and visited back and forth a few times but now they have closed their boat for the season and have just flown back to California. So now we have the place to ourselves again.
Hal and Dorothy aboard the sailboat KISS hailing from Pennsylvania, another of the couples that we met on our trip this summer, arrived, stayed for a week or so, then left for their winter mooring in central France. On their way back they slept over on our boat before catching their plane to the US. Although they have a lovely looking house in the PA mountains, they won't be spending the entire winter there. They are planning a van trip across the states to the Pacific Northwest.
So many of the people we meet can't relax and stay put in one spot for very long. If you have the itch to see the world, you want to go everywhere and see everything.
There are three or four books available in English about cruising the French canal system, but the best is Hugh McKnight's, Cruising French Rivers and Canals. I think that every English speaking vessel in France has a copy. Well McKnight's boat was here when we arrived back and a week or so later he and his family showed up. They moved the boat from the other side of the marina to this side taking the slip in front of us in order to facilitate unloading their car and loading the boat. (Charlotte and Michel had taken PHOQUE to be hauled and painted.)
Of course everyone wanted to say hello to him; in our world he is a celebrity and he was most British and very gracious. Sid F., who does not cruise the canals, bought the new edition of his book and got it autographed, but I was too timid to ask him to autograph our old and well used copy.
I did compliment him on his book and tell him how useful we had found it and Martin talked to him about the book also. Everyone found some excuse - or none at all- to talk to him while he, like any average boater, was trying to get his boat washed, polished and ready to go. How he managed to get any work done is a miracle, but he seems a sociable type and probably enjoys the attention and boating talk. The McKnights were going to cruise south and leave their boat in the south of France for the winter.
So we have been busy with chores and lots of entertaining and socializing. We went to two movies: "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Good Fellows." The first I enjoyed very much, but the second was just an over rated gangster film. What used to be called a ''B" film is now advertised as an art film. We bought November tickets for the musical "42nd Street" which will be performed in English. We don't know much about it and probably should have called Lesley for advice before buying the tickets, but I got carried away.
We visited the Grand Palais to see the new Picasso exhibit. This is a large collection of his work that the state has just taken, in lieu of taxes, from the daughter of his last wife. After this exhibit the work is to be parceled out among the various French museums. We also enjoyed a variety of other art exhibits and excursions.
Sept. 16th was the 7th annual "Open Door" for Historical Buildings in France and the first I've taken advantage of. On this day, in addition to free entry to many historical sites, the government opens the doors of hundreds of buildings that are normal closed to the public.
So at 9:30 in the morning Martin and I joined the line that snaked around the Palais de l'Elysée, the French White House. The official bulletin had said that the doors would open at 10:00 AM but because of the crowd they actually opened at 9:30 or perhaps even earlier. Nevertheless when we arrived the line was about eight abreast and hundreds of yards long, but it was orderly. Martin kept me company for an hour and a half before he gave up and went home. I persevered, waiting two and a half hours in order to tour the ground floor rooms and look out onto the gardens.
The house was built for a count in 1718. During the Revolution it became a dance hall. Then Napoleon's sister had it, then Josephine, then Napoleon III so naturally it is magnificent. A spectacular ball room and winter garden was added in the late 19th century that would have pleased the Sun King himself. The Presidential Guard in all their uniformed splendor were on duty, directing traffic and answering questions. In addition there were signs telling about the rooms, their present use, their history and their furnishings. The crowd was controlled at the entrance since only one person could go through the metal detector at a time, so once inside you were able to look around in a fairly civilized fashion.
After a hot dog I crossed the street to tour the Hôtel de Marigny, a mansion that used to belong to the Rothschilds and is now used to house visiting heads of state. Simone M., my French friend, who also toured it that day, was very negative about this house. She said, "It wasn't French." a strange statement considering all the glitter of Versailles. Well it impressed me. I wish I could visit both buildings again. One walk through is not sufficient to fix things strongly in my memory.
From here I walked down to Place Vendome and toured the mansion of the Ministry of Justice, formally called the Chancellery; I would call it the Keeper of the Seals. The official seals of present and past were on display and the Minister had some impressive machines used to affix the State Seal to laws and proclamations. It reminded me of my old notary seal. I think a law would still be valid if it was just signed, but sealing wax and red ribbons are more impressive. Place Vendome is a beautiful square and this house was built around 1705.
I continued walking until I reached the Palais Royale opposite the Louvre. The Palais Royale was built by Cardinal Richelieu who willed it to the crown. Many members of the royal family including Louis XIV, before he built Versailles, lived in this palace. Now it houses the Constitutional Council, the Council of State and the Ministry of Culture and Communication. Top government people do not have to work in monk's cells. The rooms are full of tapestries, paintings, and antiques, all except the office of the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, who has banished such item. He has made his office ultramodern and has also scattered "modern" art around some of the other rooms. Yet his section of the "Palace" contained a stunning, just completely restored glittering golden ball room. The restoration is supposed to be historically accurate, based on written reports and paintings that depict this room. However, there are so many of these beautiful ball rooms in France I can't imagine what they can all be used for. This room was extremely elegant and yet will be seen by so few people, a real shame.
Last weekend I and another American woman wandered around the Bastille furniture repair, restoration and construction workshop area. It was open to the public as part of a city celebration of its artisans: glassblowers, silversmiths, leather workers, book binders, clock makers, violin makers, etc. (The violin shops were also open but that was in another area.) The furniture workshops were in the same area as the Bastille art garrets I explored last year. These were also hidden away in the interior of old buildings within the blocks. We even discovered a school that was teaching the old arts. In the various shops we found craftsmen and apprentices making or repairing fine furniture, hand carving decorative elements and explaining their craft. The main street, Faubourg St. Antoine is lined with furniture shops; this area has been making furniture since hundreds of years before the revolution, although now some of the shops sell extremely modern furniture.
A few days later, Martin and I went over to the Sorbonne area to the main exhibit of this Fête. The prize winners in the various artistic categories were on display in an old monastery dining hall that is now on the property of one of the university buildings. This building played a part in the French Revolution, giving its name to the party of revolutionaries who met there. It has been used by the school before but this was the first time that it has housed a public exhibit. I was going mainly to see the building which turned out to be unimpressive, while the exhibit was quite fascinating. Many of the pieces were ultramodern, but interesting examples of the various crafts. Martin liked it so much he thought about returning to take photographs.
It was a glorious warm, sunny day and the Sorbonne area was jammed with students buying books and supplies. We looked at some shops and then walked up the block to the Luxembourg Gardens. This garden, which is behind the French Senate, is equipped with moveable metal chairs which people place in the shade or sun depending on their preferences. Since it was getting late in the day, we chose the sun.
Friday, Oct. 12th, we went to Simone M's apartment in this same area, just around the block from St. Sulpice. Her other guests were two visiting New York men here for business and pleasure. As usual we had a pleasant evening and an excellent meal.
On the 13th, Martin and I went to the National Library, the Bibliotheque Nationale, to see one of the French book exhibits. This was their national weekend honoring reading and book publishing. The newspaper had one entire page listing the various activities in the city and one page of highlights of activities in other towns. The rare book dealers were set up in a beautiful covered passageway. Regular book publishers and sellers were in the library's courtyards (The library is a connected group of 17th century mansions and occupies the whole of a large city block.) The exhibits inside the museum were also open to the public: art, artistic book bindings, the Gutenburg Bible, chess pieces, etc.
During the Jewish High Holidays our marina served a new purpose; it became the receptacle of discarded sins. If the Ganges can be used by the Hindus and any old river or stream can be used for Christian baptisms, I guess our canal can be used by the local Jewish congregations. The sexes were strictly segregated during these prayer services. The men staying in one area, the women in another. (They probably had to keep the sins away from each other, if they combined who knows what would have happened.) Each group reciting prayers together and tossing their sins into OUR water. Although I joke, it actually was quite a moving sight and I am sure the physical ceremony served its purpose of reenforcing their desire to lead good lives in the new year.
We are expecting Paula to visit Paris at the end of this week. She has been in Africa for the past few weeks. Her return flight goes to Frankfurt and if she doesn't get side-tracked in Germany she will visit us in Paris for a few days.
Love to all,
Well it has been a busy, busy period since last I wrote. I mailed out my last long letter on Oct. 15th saying that we were expecting Paula for a visit the following week, but at 6 PM that very evening we answered a knock and discovered an exhausted Paula and two of her friends on our doorstep.
They had a fairly successful and highly adventuresome two weeks in Nigeria, camping out with prowling animals in the bush, almost crashing their Land Rover into a sleeping ostrich, getting lost on the African plain while keeping away from the lion's claws. Sensible tourists go on safe, guided tours. These three wanted to do it "their way" alone and unguided, or at least the ring leader of the group did. My sister has more sense and experience, but she was out voted.
Nigeria is primitive but the tourist industry is well established. There are hotels, camp sites, and transportation, but their next stop was the island of Madagascar where all these things are lacking. Madagascar does not have a government friendly to western nations and has not developed the basics like roads much less the niceties like roadside Howard Johnson motels. Our three intrepid travelers found themselves stranded. After a number of frustrating days they cut short their visit and caught the first available flight out. We found a nearby hotel for her two friends and put Paula up on our couch.
The next two days were quite busy. Except for one group excursion, Paula and I were able to go off by ourselves which was a treat. We took long exploratory walks, we went to the Tuileries Gardens, the Baccarat glass museum, the Orangery art museum near the Louvre to see Monet's waterlilies and the Impressionists and to the Museum of the Petit Palais.
Since I already had a dinner planned we ate on the boat on the first night. The second night we went out to a restaurant and on the third night Martin prepared dinner while Paula and I were out on the town. We had invited her two friends for this dinner but when they arrived, one was so sick that she just lay down on the couch and skipped supper, while the other made it through the meal and then immediately left for the hotel and bed. They had both just taken their anti-malaria medication (which is taken for a certain number of days after leaving a malaria infected country) and whether they were ill from that or because of diseases they had acquired in Africa we don't really know.
By the next day Paula wasn't very well either and spent a good part of the day in bed. Martin and I spent the morning at the Prefecture where we had an appointment to apply for our yearly French residence cards. (A story in itself due to new bureaucratic regulations put into effect this year.) That night the three of us were guests on our neighbor's boat Joss for an excellent dinner. Paula had sailed in many of the same waters and visited many of the ports that Richard and Rachelle M. from NY had sailed and so everyone had lots to talk about.
During our dinner one of her sick friends stopped by to announce that they had been able to switch the airline tickets and all three would be leaving early the next morning. Needless to say I was most disappointed. I was having a great time with my sister.
After Paula's whirlwind visit things settled down slightly. Martin spent days gathering the new papers that the French government wanted for our new ID cards and then they gave us the cards without demanding the papers! No rhyme or reason to it at all.
We also did lots of research on plane fares, whether to buy here in French francs or with dollars in The States. But after all his work Paula got us tickets for the international flight at rock bottom prices and then we, as French residents, took advantage of the special tourists rates for flying within the US and bought the tickets here (in dollars) for the NYC to Baltimore, Baltimore to Dallas, Dallas to Ft. Myers, and then Ft. Myers to NYC flights. We would be leaving on Jan. 8, 1991 and returning on the 30th.
Martin has also been writing poetry and one evening we went with our neighbors from Joss to the amateur poetry readings held at the American Church which acts as a social club for expatriate Americans. Without prejudice I can state that Martin's poetry was better than anything else we heard. Each "poet" had five minutes to declaim. We stayed for about an hour and a half and then went out to dinner. Martin read second and it was all downhill after him.
On the literary scene, we have switched our allegiance from the American Library to the British Library. The British Library is subsidized by its government so their membership rate was about a third of the American rate. In addition their library is quite elegant and much quieter, a big plus. The collection includes mainly British and some Commonwealth authors, and only British magazines and newspapers (a definite negative) but should be interesting for a change.
November was photography month in Paris with exhibits all over town. We went to three of these. One of photos taken by the author Emile Zola which was very interesting; one of old French press photos, and the third a one-man show of more recent "artistic" photos. Two of these exhibits were held in Parisian City Halls. Each of the 20 sections of the city has its own grandiose City Hall and then there is the enormous city wide Hôtel de Ville. All these buildings are like miniature palaces with large elaborately decorated halls now used for weddings and exhibits. Part of the fun of going to these small local exhibits is just seeing the buildings.
For us, the past month has been The Month of the Theater. We went to see the musical "42nd St." at the Chatelet Theater. It was a nice old fashioned tap dancing musical from the 1930's. Star struck girl comes to the Big Apple from Allentown, PA. and almost immediately gets to be the star of the show. The production was fairly good, the dancing impressive, our only complaint: the sound was a little too loud and raucous. Obviously the result of the times we live in where louder is considered better.
Then since we didn't go to London for the season, London came to us. We went to see both King Lear with Brian Cox in the lead and Richard III with Ian McKellen presented by the Royal National Theatre company at the L'Odeon Theater. Both were very enjoyable and impressive productions. The plays were presented six times each on alternate nights. It was especially interesting to see the same actors in their various roles.
Vonnie's herculean labor on November 13th brought forth little Alexander James Reff. We heard rumors to the effect that he is the handsomest baby boy born in the US in the entire month of November and that he is already being scouted for a film contract. The proud grandparents, however, don't believe that he should accept. We feel that he should let his good appearance play a secondary role to his high intelligence and plan on becoming a US Senator from Texas sometime in the fourth decade of the 21st century. Of course if he would rather concentrate on local government, he might prefer the governor's mansion instead. No matter what the future brings, we are overjoyed by his safe arrival and looking forward to seeing both him and his parents in January.
Our labors here in Paris have been restricted to culinary activities. We entertained Richard and Rachelle from Joss and Julie and Richard from the Jules Verne. The latter couple hail from St. Louis but have been living aboard in Paris for the past four or five years. Julie's mother is a French teacher and so must have sparked Julie's love of French. They will be going home for a visit on the same trans-Atlantic flight as we in January. (It is the first day of the reduced mid-winter fares.) My dinner that evening wasn't 100% successful - the roast was on the tough side - but the two couples hadn't met before and since both men are computer buffs they had plenty to talk about. Martin and I have just managed to figure out the difference between ROM and RAM.
Our Thanksgiving Day dinner was an unqualified success. Martin swears that the bone structure of French turkeys is different from that of American turkeys which may be true, but the taste was divine. We entertained our French neighbors, Charlotte and Michel from the Phoque and Christopher and Agnes from Naussica. Christopher is a 50 yr. old American who worked as a teacher and Agnes is French born and works part time as an actress.
With a bit of hunting I was able to buy a can of blueberries and make blueberry bread (I have a loaf pan but no muffin pan), pecans, (not in French stores. I had to go to a little American grocery store called "Thanksgiving".) fresh pumpkin to make the pumpkin-pecan pie, fresh yams, and fresh Ocean Spray cranberries, imported straight from New England. The French buy turkey parts and pumpkin is sold in fresh chunks and cooked as a vegetable, but I don't believe that our French guests had ever eaten stuffing, candied yams (or any other kind), blue berry bread (neither had I) , cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. Agnes had to explain to Michel that Americans thicken the meat juice and then drown their meat in this gravy. Seconds were had by all so they must have liked our American meal.
Chantal stopped by for lunch one day and we had dinner at her apartment with a young couple who were trying to brush up on their English, plus we have a number of other new friends in the port, including two single women. We are playing bridge once a week with Don and Rhoda, an American man and his new Australian bride. He is in his late 60's or perhaps early 70's and she seems about 50. Nine years ago he set sail from the East Coast of the US, went through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and met Rhoda on the island of Fiji where she was the Australian immigration officer. He carried her off to the Indian Ocean, around the Mediterranean and finally through the French canals to Paris. The only problem is he is a serious bridge player and she is just learning the game. Bridge has been known to wreck happy marriages, but with love, patience, and understanding, they probably will be able to muddle through.
Well loads of other things to tell you, but we will be seeing everyone very soon. Anyone wanting a plastic statue of the Eiffel Tower or perhaps a Tee shirt printed with a copy of the Paris Metro map will have to place his order quickly.
A student demonstration began last month at the Bastille. Hundreds and hundreds of students walked down the road that parallels the marina, went across the bridge to the Left Bank, had a winding route toward the Eiffel Tower and then crossed a bridge back to the Right Bank. We had been shopping and went out to lunch arriving back at 2:00 PM to find the streeets wall to wall with young people. The Metro exits at the Bastille were closed and chains were around the marina gates. Riot police trucks were parked nearby. (They always are for every demonstration.) 98% of the kids were fine, but the noise was unbelievable. From 2 to 5 they were marching by and the noise was frightening, but the problems occurre in other sections of the city and not here. There had been a number of smaller demonstrations during the preceeding week and there really was no excuse for letting this get out of hand.
The trouble was caused by the same people the students were protesting about - and physically these people stand out because of their outlandish haircuts, clothes, and behavior. The French are having the same problems as the US with their "lower caste", but still nothing like the problems in the US. It is a shame to see the imiatative behavior however.
I liked the fireman's demonstration that occurred about two
weeks later. The firemen marched from Place de la Republic to
Bastille and then to Nation again between 2:00 and 5:00. They
just kept coming and coming in their nice blue uniforms and red
hats along a few toy fire trucks. Lots of noise but not frightening
although at one point I saw the riot police put on their gear
and stand out on the street with tear gas guns. Perhaps the police
were spooked by the student riots. I think the firemen were voluteer
companies from outside the big cities and I believe they were
asking, among other things, for aid for their members hurt on
We went to see Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter with Peter Falk. Extremely funny. Falk does an Alex Guiness bit dressing up in costumes and playing different roles. And we went to see Jack Benny in To Be or Not To Be and loved it. There are movie theaters here that show all the old films. In the newspaper there was a big article about Ken Russell with a picture of Richard Chamberlain from The Music Lovers.
We wandered around downtown today - a few errands - plus Martin bought me a beautiful fur hat for Christmas. The big snow storms missed Paris , we had flurries only, but it has been cold. Even some of the French are beginning to dress warmly! We ordered a pheasant for Christmas, decided we wanted to try cooking something new.