Copyright © 2004 by Martin S. Reff and Marcia Reff
All Rights Reserved
There is a young American couple living here at the marina who are experienced computer users. It was Richard Carter who suggested that we look at the Macintosh Classic machine if we were going to purchase a computer. Richard & Julie went back to the States at the same time we did (in fact they flew back on the same plane) and they bought a Macintosh also, but an even more powerful one - and in color. He works all day long on computers but he is such an aficionado that he has to have one on his boat also. Julie used to work in the same office as Dick, but now she works on the boat - on a computer- translating French books into English or proofreading the translations of others . She works for a well known publishing house and has a steady stream of books to correct. The publishing house supplied her with a computer, so they didn't buy their new toy for her! Well anyway as soon as Martin and I got back from the States, Richard loaded his brand new (and expensive) machine into his dinghy and rowed down the canal to show it to us. Incredible! He had already loaded a slew of programs into the Hard Disk memory (looks like a small metal record for a record player) of his machine and he proceeded to transfer some of these to ours. Of course he did not have to bring the machine physically to us in order to do this. He could have just transferred the "programs" to "floppy disks" (like miniature records) and then stuck them into our machine, but he wanted to show off his machine. So we are very lucky to have the C----s as friends since they can provide us with all kinds of computer programs. The main one we needed was the program that turns the computer into a word processor. You type, erase, correct, arrange and rearrange looking at the computer screen and then you can have the machine check the spelling. Of course if you type "ten" instead of "tent" the machine will not tell you that you made an error, but if you type "machine" with an "s" it will highlight the word and even suggest the correction. Richard gave us four different dictionaries: French, Italian, Spanish, & English. Then you have a special dictionary that you slowly fill yourself with proper names. For example, when the machine gets to the word "Vonnie" or "Esther", it will highlight that word and think it is misspelled since "Vonnie" hasn't made it into the dictionary yet. Actually you can tell the machine to ignore all words that start with capital letters, but that would include the first words of sentences so we haven't used that option.
Just typing on the machine is very easy, but because the machine is capable of so much, there is a lot to learn. Martin has been working on the machine everyday and has learned how to do all sorts of things, but he was very frustrated by our initial lack of a printer. In actual fact, we were very lucky to have delayed the printer's purchase since we have now gotten the very latest machine. It is small, very advanced, and reasonably priced. When we went shopping in February for a printer, two salesmen told us to wait for it to come on the market. It reminds me of when personal calculators first came on the market. When I was at McDonogh, a teacher bought a small calculator to do the grade averages for the report cards. It was such a marvelous device,but horribly expensive, yet within a few years calculators were ubiquitous and stores were practically giving them away. It is the same with computers and printers. The changes that Martin has seen since he worked on his first computer have been revolutionary. The tiny "Hard Disk" in this machine which has perhaps a five inch diameter can store more information than the machine he worked on that took up a whole room!
Spring is fighting its way to Paris two steps forward and one step back. The flowers in the marina garden have been very beautiful and the trees are growing a new set of leaves. The booths for the annual antique fair have been erected and line two and a half sides of the marina. The show must start next weekend.
I have been taking things easy for the past week while my body has been fighting a cold - quite annoying. I have better things to do. A friend (actually a friend of Bert's, Jane K.) has a photography exhibit in town and we were invited to the opening party, but I wasn't up to going. Martin had to go by himself. He enjoyed it and we will go together before it closes. He said that the photos were hung in a wine store which doubles as an art gallery. I am very curious to see both the exhibit and the place.
On Thursday, assuming I have finally conquered this cold, I am going with Simone M, a French friend that I have mentioned before, to tour a famous bakery. This should be an unusual excursion. We will have dinner with her afterwards. Friday we go to Jane K's exhibit for the second opening party and Saturday we are having dinner with Richard and Julie. I owe a number of people dinner invitations so have to start making plans for a couple of get-togethers here during the latter part of April.
During the past two months we have seen quite a number of movies. Every year the city of Paris underwrites the Parisian movie houses by a 18 heure/18 Franc Program. During this week if you go to the movies between 5 PM and 7 PM, it only costs 18 francs (the normal cost being 35 to 45 francs). Last year we did not take advantage of these cost savings, but this year we did. However the week did not begin auspiciously. We went to a movie house over in the student quarter and although we arrived about 20 minutes early, a line had already formed. We got on the end and would have not had any trouble getting good seats if the line had stayed stable, but half the people on the line seemed to be holding places for others. Where five people were standing suddenly five friends would arrive and swell the line. Others just walked forward and the line became fatter and fatter. It also grew an offshoot spilling into the street. Then instead of one line there were two! It was a little difficult to tell exactly what was happening since all these movie theaters now are cut up into 4 to 6 rooms showing different films and the customers are supposed to wait on separate lines. In addition the movie houses sell books of reduced tickets, which entitle the purchasers to walk right in, bypassing any lines. Things got more and more hectic until we decided it wasn't worth the aggravation and left. We did not give up however. Eventually we saw three different films during that week, but we stayed away from the student areas and arrived early enough to be very close to the beginning of the lines.
The British Cultural Center showed a series of old British comedies, for free, at one of the college halls. The films were showed without French subtitles to French students studying English or film. Martin and I went to see four of the films enjoying Alec Guiness in "The Ladykillers" best. Both of us had fond memories of a film called "Tight Little Island", but we were both disappointed when we saw it again. When you see a film your enjoyment is affected by the reaction of the rest of the audience. The English in these films was not standard British, but Scottish, Welsh, or Cockney. Some of the language was unintelligible to us and most have been impossible for the poor students.
APRIL 15, 1991
I will blame it all on Martin! He hogs the computer all day and I couldn't finish my letter!
The past few days have been very busy. Thursday I met Simone M. and thirty women from a club that she belongs to, American Wives of European Men. She joined this group 15 years ago even though she is a French woman who was married to an American citizen. At the time she just wanted to keep up contacts with English speaking Americans, partly for her children's sake.
I arrived at the meeting place, the exit of a Métro station, before Simone and was surprised to discover that it was an English speaking group. I had assumed that everyone would be French. A woman asked me, in English, if I was waiting for the club's excursion.
From the Métro we drove to the bakery factory in some of the members' cars. Most bread in France is baked in the small neighborhood bakeries. M. Poilâne who owns this factory is the son of a baker and his family's original shop is still open just around the corner from Simone's house. He became famous for his sour-dough bread and began selling it to so many restaurants and specialty shops that he needed to build a bigger bakery.
He said that his wife designed the factory which is in the shape of a circle and contains 24 wood burning bread ovens. Each pair of ovens form a separate work area, just like in a small local bakery. Between the two ovens is a wood shoot which is filled once a day and holds enough wood for the day's baking. The central circular area of the factory holds the main wood pile. In the center of this immense room, attached to the center pole is a revolving scoop which is used to pick up the wood and then dump it into the 12 wood shoots. The wood pile was very low because the bakery buys the wood during the summer when it is cheapest. They buy unpainted scraps from lumber yards and factories. I saw some hammer handles in the pile. By the time the wood reaches the ovens it is nice and dry and burns very hot.
Mr. Poilâne said that the heat in the shoot between each pair of ovens completes the drying out process. I was worried about spontaneous combustion, but it must not be hot enough for that.
Some of the bakers were heating their ovens while we were there.
Although the firebox is below the oven the flames from the fire
were shooting into the oven proper. Of course the dough wouldn't
be put into the oven until the flames had died down.
In each bakery area there is an immense mixer to stir the dough and then the baker puts the dough into a wood cart and covers it with a linen cloth while it rises. After it has risen he cuts off 2 kilo chunks weighs them, very quickly, on an old fashioned balance scale and dumps the dough into straw linen lined baskets. These baskets are stacked in a balanced pile, covered with the linen cloth and left to rise again. This bakery makes mainly round loaves of bread, not baguettes.
In the circular hallway outside each oven area were large plaques giving a name to the baker's work space and honoring a saint or famous person associated with bread. One said "Squanto" who taught the American Pilgrims how to plant maize for their bread. (I don't remember the exact French words, but that was the general idea.)
After our tour we were served champagne, cookies, and great apple tarts. The tarts, however, had not been made on the premises, but in the bakery near Simone's apartment. I went home with Simone, since we were having dinner at her house, and on the way we stopped at the bakery to buy bread. She mentioned to the salesgirl that we had just toured the big bakery and the girl invited us to visit their oven in the cellar. We had to wait at the top of the stairs while another girl carried up two large pies, then we walked down old stones stairs into a miniature (just one oven) of the factory we had just left.
We had a lovely dinner that night. Clement was home from the boy's school he attends in England and Simone's other guest was a French/American boy from Boston. Olivia, Simone's daughter goes to college in Boston and works weekends in the French restaurant owned by this young man's family. René is taking a graduate course in Paris and lives in the same dorm that Martin lived in when he was a student here. René was one of triplets; one set of identical twins, while he developed from a separate egg! I didn't know that ever happened.
Lots of other things to write about, but I am running out of room. The new printer is wonderful, but you have to use very heavy paper with it because it is an "ink jet" printer. The thin airmail paper must absorb the ink and give a blurred look. We are going to try to print on both sides of the paper and see how that works out. Our letters are going to cost more to mail but should be much easier to read - and to write.
We have had a wet and cool spring in Paris, which has delayed some of our spring chores, such as our annual attack on Opperdan's rust, but Martin always has various projects underway: a few electrical repairs, a few improvements here and there. One major repair was not foreseen. We were sitting quietly in the wheelhouse when suddenly we heard a loud crash and saw the wooden frame that holds our sun awning, clothes line and radio antenna come tumbling down. A British sailboat with a long mast fastened horizontally above its deck (sailboats can't have their masts upright because they can't get under the bridges) that had earlier moored behind us swung and pulled away from the dock as a loaded péniche went by.
The sailboat's mast, extending beyond the boat's transom, caught under our "trellis" and as the boats moved, demolished it. New wood and fasteners of various kinds had to be purchased; the wood had to be cut to shape, sanded and painted. We also had to take off the green canvas "windbreaker" that sheltered this area and will have to repaint the metal bars before putting everything back together. The sailboat's owner paid for the new wood, but ... A few days after that boat left another sailboat tried to get into the same space and Martin told him, in no uncertain terms, that his boat and mast were too big! Now we have a nice French couple with a beautiful 3 year old redhaired son in that spot, but their sailboat is mastless.
Sunday Martin was working on the aft deck, picking up the pieces and fussing around, when he knocked his eyeglasses off and they spiraled slowly into the canal and out of sight! Luckily on Wednesday the fire department divers arrived to practice their skills. They were overjoyed to have a real challenge, and it was. Lots of boats had passed in the few intervening days and as each boat passed, its propeller stirred the water and Martin's light plastic framed glasses floated from place to place. Eventually the divers found the glasses and although they were very reluctant to accept it, Martin insisted on their taking a small tip. They had saved us a hefty sum of money by finding those glasses and we were most grateful. Those divers must be very well protected with medical shots to be willing to swim in the polluted waters of our canal. I know neither of us would be willing to go into it.
One of the biggest and most handsome boats of the marina, the "Berthe Pauline", is moored opposite us. On the previous Sunday the owners took company out for a ride on the Seine. They left in glory, but came home with their tail between their legs. They had run into a bridge and crumpled their beautiful high bow! How embarrassing! We have heard two versions of what happened: one that their steering was defective, and the second, that the owner was showing off his automatic steering and wasn't paying attention. This last seems a little far fetched. What sane person would use automatic steering on the Seine? But then after two beers people will do strange things. His repair bill will be a humdinger.
We now have a 3 man Macintosh Computer User Club in the marina. It seems to be a male only society; the three wives have been excluded - I am sure mainly on our own request. The men are meeting tonight (May 16) which is why I don't have to fight Martin to use the machine. Martin took our printer with him tonight since we own the only personal printer in this group. Richard uses the printer where he works and Rollin who lives aboard another boat on the other side still hasn't decided which printer to buy.
I've been doing a few things on my own also. The small display
boards in the marina park announce various flower shows or art
exhibits held in the city parks. One sign said that the city's
horticultural center would be open to the public on two Sundays
in the month of April. This center is located on farmland outside
the city limits. I had to take the suburban railroad, the RER,
to just beyond the airport and then a city van picked up the group
gathered at the station. The center is quite large - about 20
large greenhouses with all the most modern equipment and a large
tree nursery. It grows all the plants for the city's numerous
also trees and shrubs to line the highways and streets. This trip wasn't particularly world shaking, but it did make for a pleasant change of pace.
Last Saturday Simone M., Mary S.(a retired American who lives part of the year here and the rest in California) and I went to one of the big floral gardens in Paris. We had a lovely outing. The rhododendrons and azaleas were in bloom, some of the tulips were still in good shape and the irises were just starting to open. This park also has many display buildings for plants like bonsai and houses special flower shows such the orchid exhibit. The park had made beautiful use of thousands of those plants that I had seen growing in the city's greenhouses.
Previously, Mary and I had taken the métro and then a bus out of Paris to Malmasion, Josephine Bonaparte's country house which she shared with Napoleon until their divorce and where she died while he was at Elba. Later Napoleon returned to Malmaison in the period after Waterloo and before he was shipped off to St. Helena. (Napoleon may have divorced Josephine, but he didn't treat her too shabbily. She also got a château and the Elysée Palace.) Mary and I enjoyed our tour of the house; the rooms are well furnished with authentic pieces and many portraits. Our tickets also gave us entry to another nearby mansion filled with even more Napoleonic souvenirs. Malmaison is reputed to have a beautiful rose garden, but we were too early for that. We did walk around and enjoyed the grounds, even without flowers.
There is a new American couple, Nancy and Les, in port for a month with their sailboat. They are from Lafayette, LA. and spend half the year cruising in Europe, but this is their first visit to Paris. Last Sunday this couple, Martin and I, and Mary S. went to Les Halles to see the New Orleans jazz parade. It was very crowded but the music sounded good. Afterwards we walked all around seeing the sights. I showed them the giant head and hand sculpture and the sundial sculpture that Paula liked so much and that -horrid-at least to my eyes- modern fountain next to the Pompidou Center.(Paula will know what I am talking about.) Then we walked through The Marais area and discovered an outdoors art exhibit at Place Vosges. A man was playing a harp at one corner of the square and there was a 8 to 10 person string group playing classic music in another corner. The jazz band that usually plays on Sunday was not there since they were marching in the big jazz parade that we had just seen.
This evening Lester and Nancy stopped by for a moment to tease me by saying that among the places they had gone today was one place that I hadn't been. They went to see the Pierre and Marie Curie Museum and they were raving about it. They said they could understand why we liked Paris so much - there is just so much to do and see all the time.
On Thursday we are getting together with everyone for an American pot luck supper. Since Mary has the biggest boat, an old Amsterdam ferry, the party will be held on her boat. And on Friday friends we made on the canal last year, Hal and Dorothy from Pennsylvania, are returning to Paris and are stopping by, in between trains, to say hello. Then they go to pick up their boat where it was left for the winter, but they will be back and we will see them again later in the season.
Martin and I enjoyed a big art exhibit held in the Grand Palais but sponsored by the Louvre. It was called "From Corot to the Impressionists, the donations of Moreau-Nélaton". This one collector gave 140 paintings, 200 drawings, 100 engravings, and 50 autographs to the Louvre. He collected Monet, Sisley, Morisot, Jongkind,Delacroix, Manet, Corot,etc. He also painted himself and the exhibit included some of his own work, which we enjoyed very much.
May first is a very pleasant day in France. It is the custom to give lily-of-the-valley to your friends and people sell tiny bouquets everywhere. I was given three. The woman on the next boat brought me some. Simone dropped by with some and the next night at a cocktail party at her house one of the guests brought some for all the female guests.
May 24, 1991
We have been busy working on the boat - scraping, sanding, and painting. I look like a monster with a rag wrapped around my head trying to keep my hair clean, a surgical mask over my nose and mouth, and plastic goggles over my eyes, but these are all necessary precautions; the sand and dust are wicked.
As of now we are planning to accompany Les and Nancy on their forty foot sailboat down the canals. We will probably go half way to the Med helping them with the hundreds of locks and probably taking turns at the wheel. They seem to be a very nice couple and we think we will enjoy each others company. He is a retired medical doctor and she is a nurse and they are in our age bracket. Hopefully we will all enjoy the same basic things. If all goes as planned we will leave June 4th and be gone about a month. Any mail that you send will be held at the marina office in Paris until our return and, we will of course be sending out post cards along the way. Unfortunately we will have to leave the Mac in Paris, but I'll keep a log and fill you in on our adventures when we return.
We returned to Paris on June 28th after a very pleasant but busy trip. We left June 4th, traveled 613 km (318 miles) and passed through 187 locks. We were traveling almost everyday; out of the 24 days, we were on the move for 17 days and stationary (at least the boat was) for only seven. When we arrived back we needed a vacation to recover from our vacation! I've been working on this letter since we came back. I know that it is long, but I didn't write it in one day and you don't have to read it in one day either.
Nancy and Les G. were pleasant traveling companions. They had sailed their boat across the Atlantic in 1988, spent two summers in the British Islands, and then, on the boat belonging to the builder of their boat (a Wellington), accompanied the Wellingtons on a fast visit to Denmark and the Baltic area. They never lived aboard for the entire year like we do, since they inherited a large farm in Louisiana and have 8 children (his and hers) with two still in college. (It is interesting to note how few single marriage couples we meet; out of all the boating couples that we have met I can only remember one couple who were still with their original spouses.)
This year the Gs are planning to reach the Med, marina hop down the coast of Spain, and then cross the Atlantic and return to Louisiana. Les would really prefer to stay in Europe for a few more years, but Nancy wants to build a swimming pool, finish remodeling her house, etc. Les is 64 years old, 17 years older than his wife. He is a retired heart surgeon and perhaps as a result of having seen so much illness and death, he seems preoccupied with the idea of his personal mortality. We think he is afraid that if they sail home this year he will never sail back, but his wife accompanied him to Europe and now he will go along with her desires.
Their boat was called the "Little Duke" since it was only a 44 foot Wellington and the Wellington company specializes in even larger sailboats. It is an "unsinkable" boat having so much foam insulation that even if you open all the sea cocks and allow water to flood the cabin, the boat will not sink. Nancy picked the boat after seeing the advertising videos showing the boat loaded with people, fresh water and fuel, yet still floating after the sea cocks were opened. The only problem with putting in so much foam is that you lose valuable storage space.
Nevertheless the boat had a good size master stateroom with head and stall shower, a saloon with a convertible dinette to sleep two, a side couch /single berth, a galley , a forward V-berth cabin, and small forward head. The keel had a centerboard hidden inside it; when sailing in deep water you put the centerboard down for stability, but with the board up we were able to motor in the shallow canals. (Their keel with the board up measured about 4 and a half feet, similar to our boat's depth.
The Gs were accompanied by their French poodle Coco, a very affectionate animal. While in the United States earlier in the spring he had become entangled in the car seat belt or shoulder harness and had hurt his shoulder jumping from the car. They took him to the vet, but as soon as he got to the doctor's office, all symptoms disappeared. They took him again while they were in Paris and the doctor sent them to a "specialist" who turned out to be an acupuncturist and before they could protest he had stuck needles into their dog. Les thought his fellow doctors would drum him out of the profession if they ever found out. The dog could only put his weight on the other three legs, so he didn't run and jump around on the boat and had to be lifted in and out of the cabin. By the end of our trip when it became clear that the dog wasn't getting any better, they called their vet in the States and on his suggestion bought some cortisone and other medications, but we left at that point so don't know if there was any improvement.
Based on my log and memory, the following is a description of our journey.
Tuesday, June 4, '91 Paris to Melun 58 km (36 miles); 1 small canal lock plus 5 large river locks.
We got up early in order to finish packing. The Gs brought their boat to ours between 8:30 and 8:45 so we could transfer our belongings onto their boat. In addition to our personal items, warm and cool weather clothes , we emptied the refrigerator and brought a couple of bags of dry food. We had all gone shopping together on Monday in order to stock the boat and continued to share food costs and cooking chores during the trip. Although we were ready to go through the lock to the Seine by 9 o'clock, there were a number of other boats waiting and after many delays we finally left the port around 10:15. About an hour and a half later, the marine police held us up for about 30 minutes just like the year before when we went on a trip. Last year it was for boat races; this year it was because of dredging on the Seine. Nevertheless because we were on the river we could make better speed than the walking pace of canal travel so even with all the delays we still covered 36 miles.
Martin and I never stopped in Melun during last year's trip. We only had time for an hour's after-dinner walk, but still it gave us an idea of at least part of the town. Melun is a medium size city. The original city was built, for protection, on an island, just like Paris began on its Isle de la Cité, and later spread to the main land. Half of Melun's beautiful island is now home to a penitentiary giving the prisoners a million dollar view, but hardly a reasonable use of prime land. A large grain mill occupies another section of the island, so when the prison was built the island probably wasn't considered a beauty spot. We tied up on the river side of the island next to the mill's loading dock since there were bollards and we knew the water would be deep enough for the boat's keel. During our after dinner walk we discovered that some boats were moored on the other side of the island beside a lovely little park. Actually when you are inside the cabin of a sailboat you can't see out because of the height of the windows, thus it hardly matters where you moor at night.
June 5, 1991 Melun to Moret-sur-Loing 31 km (19 miles); 2 large river locks plus one canal lock.
We rose at 6:30 and left early but again repeated last year's pattern when Martin and I had to stop for engine repairs. This year a rubber hose carrying water to cool the engine burst causing the engine to overheat. Les quickly got the boat over to the shore and we tied up to a dock in front of a riverside home. The people offered help and were most kind, but Les found the culprit and was able to replace it. He added more water, but didn't accept Martin's advice about the action of the thermostat, so the engine overheated again as soon as we pulled out into the river. This time we tied on to a moored péniche (within sight of our first stopping place) and he listened to Martin and added enough water. Even with these unexpected delays we entered the canal and tied up at Moret by 2:30. giving us plenty of time to revisit one of our favorite towns and show Les & Nancy some of its highlights.
June 6, 1991 No boat travel, just people travel.
The Gs wanted to go to Fontainebleau so we walked to the tourist bureau for information, walked further out of town to the railroad station, took a ten minute ride on the train and then a 15 minute bus ride and arrived in time for lunch in a café. Adding in the time we had to wait for the train it wasn't a short trip but it was easier on my leg muscles than when Martin and I biked there in 1990. Martin had no desire to see the castle again so he stayed in Moret, but I never pass up a castle excursion. In fact I enjoyed it more this time than last and I remember more of it. I think that anything as big as Fontainebleau or Versailles deserves two visits.
June 7, '91 Moret to Nemours 19 km (11.8 miles) and 6 canal locks
We left at 8 AM . Part of this trip is on the canal, then it connects to the Loing River itself, and then when the river gets too shallow at Nemours there is another canal. This canal joins the river with a blind right angle turn. We had trouble at this spot both last year and this year. First we had to wait while the lock keeper had his lunch and then we waited while he let a bunch of péniches go through. Because of the blind turn he probably didn't even know we were waiting. We tied up in Nemours at 2:30 which gave us time to wander around. Unfortunately Nancy was not feeling well. Martin and I wanted them to go out to dinner with us, since we knew one of the best restaurants in town, but she wasn't up to it and we went alone. A delightful meal.
June 8, '91 Nemours to Montargis 33.5 km ( 20.8 miles) but with 15 locks
You can't cover many miles quickly when there are so many locks. We left shortly after 8 AM and arrived between 4 and 4:30. Nancy and I took turns helping the lock keeper open and close the locks. These were not electric locks; there are four gates, two on each end, and each gate has to be shut or open by cranking a handle. The lock keeper will do them all if you only have two people aboard to control the boat and shorten or lengthen the lines holding you to the lock sides, but with four people, the lock keepers expects help. (It also speeds things up.)
Sunday, June 9, '91 Remained in Montargis
The weather had not been the greatest. It rained most of June and it rarely warmed up. I brought two long pants, three long sleeve shirts, two pairs of shorts, 3 short sleeve shirts, and 2 going out skirts. Martin brought a similar mixture of summer and fall clothes. It was not until near the end of the month that we could get out of long pants and heavy sweaters. Since the sun rarely shone we couldn't hand wash and line dry clothes so the first thing I wanted to do in Montargis was wash clothes. After this was accomplished we visited an art exhibit, a small museum and showed the Gs around town - between rain drops.
June 10, 1991 Montargis to Rogny 33.8 km (21 miles) and 12 locks
Although Rogny is just a hamlet we stopped to visit the ancient seven lock staircase.
June 11, 1991 Rogny to Briare 20 km (12.5 miles) and 14 locks. More locks than miles as we climbed higher and higher into the hills.
We reached Briare by noon and tied up at the same grain docks where Martin and I were moored last year. This town has a beautiful Port de Plaisance in the center of town, but again our keel was too deep to allow us to reach it. We spent the afternoon showing the Gs the town, walking over the Bridge Canal built by Eiffel, walking along the Loire River and beside the banks of the old canal, and visiting the unusual mosaic decorated church. It did not rain all day, which was a minor miracle; in fact the sun was actually shining.
June 12, 1991 Briare to Sancerre 38 km (23.6 miles) and 5 locks
We left by 8 AM and had no problem crossing the Loire River. In fact I took the boat across for part of the way because everyone else was taking pictures. Les takes videos of everything; he is forever telling Nancy to stop what she is doing and photograph the scenery. In this case it is well worth photographing.
We arrived in Sancerre around 2 PM. At first we tried to moor alongside the canal, but couldn't find a safe and secure spot. We were avoiding the little marina because of the shallow water, but eventually went in and after much fussing and fuming found a spot big enough and deep enough for us. The supermarket wasn't too far away so we restocked the boat and then after dinner walked along the Loire River's bank. Martin had been looking forward to the outdoor swimming pool, but it was much too cool for that. All the rain has been great for the fields and flowers. Last year we left Paris at the end of June so we missed the spring flowers: lovely wild yellow irises lined the canal's bank and the fields were blazing with red poppies. People's gardens were masses of colors; very few Frenchmen neglect their yards. If the rain keeps up, however, the hay will rot in the fields and the wheat harvest will be ruined.
June 13, 1991 Visit to Sancerre
Everyone slept late before our excursion up the "mountain". Nancy is not an early riser, but since Les likes to leave by 8 AM each cruising day she has been getting up at 7 each morning. In order to get her up, Les gets up first, perks the coffee for ten minutes and then serves her coffee in bed. Strangely enough Les does not really like getting up before 9 himself. He was overjoyed to discover that Martin was a natural early riser and would get up at 6 or 6:30 and perk the coffee for them both, although Les still had to serve Nancy her coffee in bed. When they worked in the hospital they had to get up at 4 AM to prepare for the day's operations, but they say that by their first operation at 8 they were both fully awake.
We called a taxi to take us up to Sancerre. Last year Martin and I rode our bikes half way up and then climbed the "goat path" the rest of the way. This was our third visit to Sancerre. The first was in 1989 when we had the van and were visiting the Loire Valley chateaux and the second was in 1990 when we came by boat. This third visit was just as much fun as the first two. The view of the fields and vineyards from the hilltop is fantastic and the town is jammed with a mixture of renovated and unrenovated centuries-old buildings.
In addition to admiring the scenery we also toured one of the many wine cellars. We saw a pretty flower decorated courtyard and naturally looked into it. We thought it was just a private home, which it was, but it was also the entrance to a wine cellar and a bottling plant and they wanted tourists to visit. A woman welcomed us and invited us to tour the cave. We descended a flight of stairs into the bottling plant. A large machine was washing empty wine bottles and then filling and corking them. We descended further and further stairs past wine aging in barrels, bottles and vats. All the wine we saw aging and being bottled was from previous years, since this year's crop is just starting to grow. After our tour we were offered glasses of wine and naturally bought 6 bottles. This cave was quite a large operation, but not as gigantic as the one we saw in 1989 when we drove the van down into a cave under an enormous vineyard. That had really been an unforgettable experience.
We had lunch in the same little restaurant where Martin and I ate the year before and then after further touring, and since the wine was getting heavier and heavier, Martin called a cab and took the wine back to the boat, but Nancy and Les wanted to clamber down the path. I didn't think they would be able to find it on their own so volunteered to go with them; in fact I wasn't too certain I would be able to find it again, but I did. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to try to carry wine down that path. Luckily no one fell and they got a charge out of waking down. I was just glad to get down on the correct side of the "mountain". I had visions of taking a wrong turn on the path and ending up on the far side of the hill.
Friday, June 14. '91 Sancerre to La Charité for a short visit and then on to Marseilles-les-Aubigny 35 km(22 miles) and 7 locks
We left at our normal time of 8 o'clock. It was miserable weather: light mist and cold. I wore my winter knit cap, but couldn't find my silk long johns. I thought I had packed them, but I had obviously told myself that they wouldn't be necessary in June - foolish me! Martin had a sweater and jacket and the Gs had enough rainwear -pants and trousers- for all. We stopped around noon to visit the town of La Charité even though it was a 3 km walk from the canal. Last year Martin and I had only gotten as far as Sancerre before we headed back to Paris so this was all unexplored territory to us.
La Charité-sur-Loire had been an important harbor town in the days when the Loire River was navigable. At one time it had the second largest church in France and 5 thousand people could worship in it. This was in the days when people stood to hear services. The church is still standing and the guide book states that it is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Burgundy. Actually I saw so many churches on this trip that I can't remember that much about this one. I remember that the outside was being repaired and the area around the church was filled with 15th and 16th century buildings. Nearby there were terraced ruins of the old city walls and/or the walls of an old castle. We climbed up (there had been a slight improvement in the weather, witness, I took off my knit hat. We met three school boys playing in one of the old towers on their lunch break. We told them that we were Americans and jokingly asked if they were French. The two red haired boys said that they were French, but the dark haired boy was North African, that is Algerian, Moroccan, or Tunisian. His family may have been in the country for years, but still, just as in our country, even the children make distinctions between "us and them".
Had we been alone, Martin and I would have stayed longer in this town as well as in the towns we visited, and we would have stopped in many more places along the way. These brief stops were better than nothing, but we never got enough time to really see the sights and get to know the town.
After walking back to the boat we took off again, but no sooner had we started than we were stopped by a problem at the next lock. We didn't know what was happening, but could see a péniche in the lock. Finally it emerged and we entered the lock chamber. Some farmers with a large tractor were coiling a heavy metal line. It seems that the péniche had been stuck in the lock and had had to be pulled out. A section of the lock wall was badly damaged and had fallen into the lock. We were told that this was not that rare an occurrence, but we had never seen it before. We continued until after 6 when we arrived at Marseilles-les-Aubigny. This is a nothing type of town but it is the base of a well known rental fleet and it has a fuel dock. We pulled up to the dock but it was too late to buy fuel. An employee said we could stay until 8:30 the next morning, but would have to vacate the dock as quickly as possible after that. We all took long showers and then filled the water tank.
Even though getting water is not that difficult, Les and Nancy were always worrying about running out. When they had crossed the Atlantic they had carefully calculated how much water each person could use for drinking, sponge bathing, washing dishes, etc. They crossed with two men, one of whom they knew and the other, a college professor, whom a friend had recommended. Even though everyone knew, or should have known, that water was their most precious commodity, they discovered that the professor was washing out his clothes in fresh water. Les walked into the bathroom one day and discovered that he had washed out his sweatsuit! I imagine that relations were quite strained for awhile after that. They ran out of water from their main tank and had to use their emergency jerry can supply, but managed to reach land before going completely dry.
June 15, '91 Marseilles-les-Aubigny to Nevers 30 km (18.7 miles) 8 locks plus a bridge canal
In the morning Les discovered an engine problem. He had a spare part, but it took time to repair. In the meantime we bought diesel fuel and slowly prepared to leave much to the concern of the rental boat manager who wanted us off. We finally pulled out around 9:30.
It was a fairly boring passage until just before Nevers when we reached a double lock with a combined lift of 9.2 meters (30 feet). The first of these locks was very deep and with an inclining edge, a configuration we had never seen before. We entered at the bottom since we were ascending. I climbed a very high ladder and Martin and Nancy threw me the lines to put on the bollards. This set of locks must be a popular tourist attraction; we had a large audience watching our performance. The bottom gates closed and the water entered but only to the level of the low part of the inclining sides. The front gates opened and we were still in a deep lock chamber, but now it was twice as long. Two of the onlookers were a couple of English tourists who were planning on spending their vacation week riding a tandem bicycle to Paris! I asked them for help and the man and I moved the boat into the second lock chamber; he took one line and I took the other one. Since the edges of the first lock were inclined, we had to walk up to reach the second lock, pulling the boat as we went (this wasn't particularly onerous, since Les put the engine into gear for a few moments). We then put the lines on the second lock's bollards. The back gates closed and the second lock chamber filled. This brought us to the level of the bridge canal and when the lock gates opened we immediately entered the canal bridge and crossed the river. This wasn't the Loire, but a tributary flowing into the Loire within a kilometer of where we were. Although this wasn't the most spectacular lock or lock combination that we have even seen, it certainly rates high on my list.
About five miles further on we turned off the main canal onto a 3 km spur toward the city of Nevers on the Loire river. This spur took us to within a half mile walk of the town. We all walked into town and visited the center section of the town with a brief visit to one of the city's more famous churches. Les is fascinated by gargoyles and this church had a plentiful supply, repaired in the 19th century so the facial details were excellent. We tried to visit the church, but a wedding was in progress and the priest frowned at us and motioned us away. Martin and I were able to tour it the next day. According to the guide book it "has the peculiarity of being a mixture of every style dating from the 10th century to the 16th century." Next to the church is the City Hall and since it was Saturday there were a number of wedding parties wandering around. Even if a couple is married in a church or synagogue, they still have to go to the City Hall for a civil ceremony. Next to the City Hall was an impressive Ducal Palace. Part of it now houses the city's art museum. What was particularly interesting was a glass pyramid entrance at the side of the Palace, similar to the Louvre's, except much smaller. Pyramids must be "in" this year.
Sunday, June 16 Father's Day Remained at Nevers
Les was suffering from a toothache, so they stayed aboard the boat for most of the day. Martin and I walked back to town around 10:30 AM to do some more exploring. There were many interesting buildings, ruins, old city gates, walls, etc. The city rose up from the river with winding narrow streets, little alleys, and portions of old defensive walls. During our walk - in a light rain naturally - we came across a lovely restaurant hidden away on a side street. There weren't many people in the restaurant, but still they turned us away. It was Father's Day and all their tables were reserved! We retraced our steps and found another restaurant and got the last available table. They were jammed, service was slow, but the food was very good so we didn't care. It was a long lunch time - 1:15 to 3:15. Around 4:30 on our way back to the boat, we met Nancy and Les who were on their way to see the town.
June 17, 1991 Nevers to Decize 29 km (18 miles) and 9 locks
We had a little trouble leaving our mooring spot. The keel was stuck in the mud. Les used the engine to rock the boat back and forth. Martin stood on the bank and shoved and after about 10 minutes work they worked the boat free. We returned the 3 km and 2 locks to the main canal and then continued to the town of Decize. Decize is also off the main canal and thus was out of our way, but again we were going there just for the fun of seeing the town.
The one kilometer canal going to Decize has two locks and then you enter the Loire River itself. This was a new, and not completely pleasant experience for us. The chart shows that as you leave the second lock, the boat channel hugs the left bank of the river, then it crosses the river to the right bank, goes under the road bridge and "voila", you are in Decize. In addition to the map in our chart book, there was a large diagram on a sign by the exit of the lock. And then, just outside the lock, there was a buoy. Unfortunately Les went a little too close to the buoy rather than keeping the boat to the bank of the river and we went hard aground. Twice in one day really isn't fair. This time, no matter what he did with the engine, we couldn't get free. Martin, Nancy and I stood at the very bow of the boat, then we tried standing all on one side, but our combined weight didn't make a particle of difference. Finally we blew the horn and the lock keeper came. He refilled the lock and then opened the sluices, but the water just flowed into the river and spread out. Then he called for reinforcements, not a truck or a tractor, just a big strong man. We threw them a rope, wrapped it around a winch, and then we winched and they pulled and finally we got the boat loose! After that experience Les crossed the river at a snail's pace. Our rescuer met us at the dock on the other side and Nancy gave him a generous tip.
The town itself was charming, but we only had time to give it a brief look. Martin and I had suggested stopping in Decize because friends had recommended a restaurant in the town. Naturally this particular restaurant was closed on Mondays so we had to take second best; it turned out to be fairly good and after all our adventures, it was better than cooking aboard.
June 18, 1991 Decize to Digoin 64 km (39.8 miles) and 17 locks
We left by 7:45 and very carefully crossed the Loire River. Les was most relieved to reach the lock and get back into our safe man-made canal. We traveled all day until 7 PM. The weather was decent: cool, with only one brief shower. The countryside continued to be green and lush with alternating fields of grain and pastures filled with white beef cattle or sheep. We saw very few other boats, perhaps a half dozen rental boats and 2 or 3 privately owned boats. We rarely saw commercial péniches, perhaps because it is too early in the season. Last year during the grain harvest we saw many more.
June 19, 1991 Digoin to Paray-le-Monial 13 km (8 miles) and 3 locks
Martin and I walked into Digoin; he went to get money from a branch of our French bank and I was looking for a laundromat. Martin was able to get money but since the town did not have a laundry, we decided to leave. The further we traveled, the more primitive the locks became. Now rather than large handles you cranked in order to open the lock gates, there were huge wheels connected by chains, pulleys and bars to the gate doors. As you turned the wheel the bar pushed or pulled the gate open or close. The canal itself was less cared for; large sections of the banks were overgrown with weeds, small trees, and shrubs.
Paray-le-Monial was a town that cared about tourists. There were plenty of attractive mooring places available although there was a busy and noisy road by the side of the canal. In addition to the boaters, the town received many Catholic visitors since it was in this town that the Sacred Heart Society had developed. Again there was a beautiful old church, a handsome City Hall, lovely pedestrian shopping streets, and a winding stream boarded by graceful weeping willows meandering through the center of the town It had everything except a laundromat!
June 20 Paray-le-Monial to Montceau-les-Mines 36 km (22.5 miles) , 14 locks
Although it appeared that we were traveling on one canal, administratively we were using 5 or 6 different water ways under separate authorities and this one was on a very tight budget. Someone eventually showed up at our first lock of the day, but although the second lock was open and we entered and closed both gates ourselves, no one came to open the sluices. We waited a reasonable amount of time and then having seen so many lock keepers open so many sluices, Nancy did it herself. After the lock filled up with water she opened the forward gates and we left. But looking back we saw that another boat had arrived at the lock and were facing closed gates with no way to know that there wasn't any lock keeper to empty the lock and open the gates for them. Les nosed the boat over to the bank and Nancy ran back to tell them. They turned out to be very experienced, English liveaboards. The woman, wearing a skirt, heels, and stockings, calmly jumped off her boat onto the grassy bank and started the locking through process. Not being needed at all we proceeded on our way. We continued to operate many of the locks that day all by ourselves. There were lock keepers, but each man or woman had to service 6 or 8 locks and they just couldn't be everywhere at the same time.
We arrived at Montceau by 4 and not knowing the town, moored on the outskirts in an industrial area. We decided that this town just had to have a laundry, so we filled our bags with dirty clothes and set off on our holy quest. Eventually, after taking a taxi, we did reach a laundry. This did not leave us anytime to explore the town, so I can't tell you anything about it.
Friday, June 21, 1991 Montceau-les-Mines to Chagny 45 km (28 miles) and 32 locks!!!
This was our trip's record and broke our personal record of 28 locks in one day while descending the Ardennes in 1988.
Montceau was a large town bisected by the canal. Two low car bridges crossed the canal in the center of the town. A few moments after we set off for the day we came to a railroad bridge high enough for us to pass under, but hanging from this bridge was a rope. We pulled the rope to notify the draw bridge keeper, who was around a curve further up the canal, that we wanted to pass through. Then as we approached the draw bridges he stopped the car traffic and opened, in sequence, the two draw bridges. It was quite reminiscent of The Netherlands.
We had been ascending in the locks for a number of days, but then having reached the high point for this area, we started our rapid descent in a series of closely spaced locks, more locks than miles. These, however, were automated locks with seeing eyes at the entrances and exits and blue ropes to yank after we were in the lock in order to start the process. Surprisingly, although these locks were very simple to use, frequently we were followed, from lock to lock, by a lock keeper either on a bike or in a car, each man being responsible for perhaps six or more locks. In fact some of the locks didn't work and he would have to go into the lock house and fool with the controls. Some of the locks were very deep and had floating bollards which were marvelous when you had the lock to yourself, but difficult when you had to share one with another boat. (A floating bollard is just what its name says it is. It is in a cut in the wall but floats up and down within the cut. You put your line around it and then if you are ascending it ascends with you, or if descending, it descends also.) Les liked to tell the story of how, on a previous trip, Nancy had stepped off the boat onto the top of a floating bollard, never having seen one before, and had descended rapidly into the water.
We finally arrived in Chagny at 6:30. This was June 21st, France's Festival of Music day. In Paris and the other big towns it is a major unofficial holiday with street bands and concerts. Last year we hadn't even left Paris until after the 21st. Martin and I went off to explore the village and to see if anything was happening. We let Nancy and Les know that if we found a decent restaurant we would eat out. Traveling with another couple is fun, but it is also advisable to give each other some time alone.
As we were walking into town a miniature parade passed us. The town's adult band was riding in two paper flower covered farm wagons pulled by a flower covered farm tractor. This was followed by a open bed pick-up truck carrying a large paper flower guitar. Then came three groups of young twirlers, girls from 3 to 13, strutting along and doing their routines, trailed by proud fathers and mothers. After watching them pass, we continued our walk and discovered a "Three Star" gourmet restaurant. By Paris standards the menu was not too expensive, but the people having drinks on the terrace were very well dressed - jackets and ties, dressy dresses. I didn't think I would feel comfortable in my boat clothes, so we passed it by. We asked the local florist for her recommendation and she sent us to the "Grenier à Sel" (The Salt Granary). It was a lovely looking, church like place, with stone walls and arches. During the times of the kings, salt was a regulated and taxed item and salt warehouses were scattered throughout the country. Perhaps this building had originally been a Grenier à Sel. Romantically I hope it was.
After dinner we made a phone call to our neighbors in Paris to see if there were any messages and if everything was all right. As we left the booth we found Les and Nancy waiting to explore the village with us. We were walking toward a little park when a man motioned for us to follow him. We did and came out in front of the city hall where the parade floats were parked and the band was playing. Nancy said it was just like being home in Louisiana.
June 22 Chagny to the end of the canal at Chalon-sur-Saône 26 km (16 miles) and 12 locks.
We were headed for the end of the Canals of the Center ( the Loing Canal, the Briare Canal, the Loire Canal, and the Center Canal). Ahead would be the Saône River. You could either go south toward the Med or north and connect to other canals.
We slept late and missed our normal 8 AM departure time, but were off by 9 and went through the last 11 locks with, of course, our normal adventures. One set of lock gates kept swinging open and closed and Nancy almost stepped on a snake which scared the snake as much as it scared Nancy. It was the final drop to the level of the river which was spectacular. This lock had a drop of 10.76 meters which is over 35 feet! We shared the forward floating bollard with a small pleasure boat, so Les kept the engine on and in reverse so we wouldn't bump into him. The sluices opened and the water slowly escaped into the river, we descended in the lock with the sides towering higher and higher above us. Then the enormous forward wall was pulled straight upwards on huge chains until it hung above us like a guillotine blade, dripping not blood but water.
The Saône was wide and a brisk wind came up as we traveled toward Chalon, we even had little waves in the river. Chalon would either be called a big town or a small city. Located on a main north-south river and at the juncture with the canal it developed into an important port. Now there are many large industrial plants on the outskirts of the city. The original city was on an island and the marina was opposite this island. This marina, although smaller than our Paris marina, was the largest we stayed in and it was very new, modern and clean. Luckily we arrived early in the afternoon for we got one of the last available transient slips.
Sunday, June 23 Visited Chalon-sur-Saône
We crossed a bridge to the little island where a second hand/antique fair was in process, but since they wanted a 10 francs admission charge, we passed this by and crossed another bridge to the main part of town on the other side of the river. In the square in front of the church and in the surrounding streets we found a large and lively Sunday morning street market in progress.
Services were being held inside the church, but outside there was a carnival atmosphere with crowds of people shopping, drinking in the cafés or at tables in front of the cafés, or just sight seeing like us. It was a charming area filled with 15th to 19th century houses including many in the half timbered style. But in the middle of the square, hidden for the moment by all the stands, was a large modernistic marble ball. A few steps were cut into the ball and water was cascading down its sides. I had never even noticed it until I returned in the afternoon after the market was over. In the afternoon the area was transformed into a quiet, peaceful oasis and I was able to visit the church and its lovely cloister, the only one I saw on this trip.
Martin and I started off our sight-seeing with Les and Nancy, but their pace is slower than ours since Les stops frequently to take pictures. Eventually Nancy suggested that we not wait for them and instead just meet back at the boat for dinner. So Martin and I went off exploring alone. Chalon is supposed to have a fine art museum but we passed that up for a photography museum. Nicéphore Niepce, the inventor of photography ( whom I had never heard of), was born in Chalon (1765) and the museum was very impressive, both for the way the exhibits were presented and for the material. In addition there were some excellent modern photo displays.
June 24 Chalon to St. Jean de Losne 73 km (45.4 miles) and 2 locks
I would have enjoyed a few more days in Chalon; we only scratched the surface, but it was onwards and upwards with no rest for the deck hands. Actually we got quite a bit of rest. We traveled all day going north on the river. Nancy and Les were eventually going to have to retrace this route in order to go to the Med, but since they had a few extra days and everyone wanted to see Dijon, we headed north rather than south. We were able to pick up our speed on the river so we covered the greatest distance of the trip this day. There were only two locks, but they were big, deep, river size ones, without floating bollards, so one of us had to climb the ladder and the others had to try to throw the ropes up. Throwing heavy ropes straight up in the air is not one of my hidden skills, so I climbed the ladder and let the others throw to me. We arrived at St. Jean early in the afternoon and so had time to explore this small town. Its main claim to fame is it is on the river and is also the end point (or the beginning point) of the Canal de Bourgogne.
June 25 St. Jean de Losne to Dijon 29 km (18 miles) and 22 locks
We thought we had seen everything and then we saw the locks on the Canal de Bourgogne. They were straight out of the 18th century, probably put in before the invention of the wheel. Attached to each lock gate was a metal bar which was in turn attached to a long metal lever. By shoving with all your strength on the lever you push the gate open or close. A path was worn around the lever by the feet of the slaves who had to work the lock. It was a little embarrassing to see elderly lady lock keepers operating the other gate with relative ease while you shoved and strained to budge your side.
The canal was boarded by large fields of wheat and sugar beets. We passed a sugar beet factory, lumber yards and an air force base where teams of mirage jet fighters were practicing take offs and landings passing directly over the canal. There were no herds of cattle in this area for the obvious reason that they would all die of fright. There were, however, a number of new little residential towns, probably home to the air force workers who must be able to bear the horrendous noise better the cattle and sheep.
Dijon has constructed an attractive little Port de Plaisance in a basin just off the main canal. The port is home for a canal rental fleet and even has space for 3 or 4 hotel barges. Martin and I took an exploratory walk into town after we had gotten the boat settled, and met an extended family of Americans (perhaps a dozen people altogether) from Maryland and Florida who had rented a barge for the week and were going to board it the next morning.
June 26 and 27 Two day visit to Dijon
Dijon is a great city for sightseers. Martin and I spent the first day and part of the second by ourselves, wandering the streets, going to the museums, and visiting the churches. Les and Nancy had various chores to attend to. Nancy and Coco, the poodle, both had their hair done. Nancy thought her hair had been cut too short, but Coco was very pleased with himself. That dog was almost human in his reactions.
Les was trying to buy methyl alcohol (wood alcohol) which his generator used as a coolant. This sounded like a very simple task, but turned out to be impossible. The government would only let him have it if he paid the alcohol importation tax, a ridiculous sum, hundreds of francs more than the cost of the alcohol itself. He and Nancy spent their first day in Dijon going from office to office and returned quite upset.
In the old days Dijon was the capital of the Court of the Dukes of Burgundy and their kingdom rivaled and fought with the early kings of France. The town had been Roman at the time of Caesar and had grown rich over the centuries. There were innumerable churches of all styles. I went underneath one into an excavated 9th century crypt that had originally been under an earlier church. It had a beautiful rotunda and mosaic floors. Martin and I toured the archaeological museum which is located in a former Benedictine Abbey. The crypt area was huge and filled with Roman and early Christian funereal statuary, very impressive. The ground floor room which was probably the main meeting or dining room of the monks, had two lines of ten columns supporting the arched roof.
The art museum is housed in the old Ducal Palace. We visited it twice, but because of lunch time closing never got to see everything. We were especially disappointed in not completing our visit to the more contemporary collection. However, in the main area we both were very impressed with two enormous Ducal tombs. Around the tombs were dozens of carved ivory monks walking beneath the arches of their monastery, mourning the death of the duke or saying prayers for his soul. The statues of the Dukes, guarded by angels, rested above the tombs. These tombs were housed in an impressive castle room with a huge carved fireplace at one end and a small wooded balcony at the other.
The four of us went out to eat at a very fine restaurant on our last night together and then on the 28th, Martin and I caught the TGV (the high speed train) back to Paris. The Gs were expecting friends from the states to join them for a week beginning on the first of July and we wanted to give them time to rest up before getting new company. We enjoyed our time with them and they had sincerely appreciated our help. It wouldn't have been impossible for them to have managed all those locks alone, but it would not have been any fun.
The TGV train ride was great; we took an hour and a half to return to Paris.
Marcia's letter above covers the waterfront very well but there are a few odds and ends I'd like to add.
The more I see of France the more I am impressed with the country, its people, and the quality of life. Beyond the old cathedrals, narrow streets and cobblestones, a beauty and equanimity are pervasive. Landmarks are maintained in the smallest hamlet and flowers flood the streets as if a river of blossoms were in crue. The cobblestones are clean and the parks are manicured and people stroll as if in some hallowed place. (We felt that way here in Paris the other evening when we walked through Place Vosges.) Families are together and lovers tangle; and children play in toy sand pits. The buildings we see are old - sometimes very old, but are usually in good condition.
More than ever I understand the differences between the "new" and the "old" world. Yes, there are similarities, but differences prevail. And when you think, which you must do, that there's so much more of the "old" on this globe of ours - old worlds like the vastness of the USSR and China and the large continents of Africa and even South America with old cultures and customs - so much more of the old than there will ever be of the "new", one can't help but wonder. Even in France, a first world power, we were reminded over and over again of the overwhelming proportion of old to new. Most Americans have yet to grasp how much in a minority we are.
More importantly, there is so much good in the old that we have forgotten and so much bad in the new that we've yet to discover both in America and in Europe; and my writing this does not reflect merely a generation gap. As we move into the 21st century I wonder if Americans can afford to overlook that goodness. More Americans should get abroad. If they did, there would be more understanding and appreciation of lasting values. There might even evolve a way to put what's new in perspective.
I took seven rolls of film on the trip. Perhaps I captured some of that "old" world value. Not having the primary responsibility for running the boat, I could spend more time at leisure. We will send you some photos next time.
We expect to be in Paris for another two weeks then it is off to another trip, this time by train to Simone's place in Southern France where we will be for a while. Simone has asked us for three weeks but we will probably stay fewer. Perhaps we will take our bicycles but we will certainly tour the area.
We are back in Paris after a marvelous trip to visit Simone M. and the Dordogne River Valley. I've mentioned Simone's name in my letters many times. We first met in the offices of The Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings Commission on a day when these offices were open to the general public. I was admiring the tapestries when I noticed sparks coming from a nearby lamp. While trying to make my concerns known to a guard in the next room, I enlisted the help of this woman who spoke English. Simone, who had gone to college in the United States and had been married to an American, has become such a good friend that this year she invited us to visit her at her summer home.
If you draw a line south from Chartres and east from Bordeaux, her home is about where those two lines meet. This is a beautiful and scientifically interesting area of the country due to the presence of hundreds of caves and caverns including the famous Lascaux Cave with its prehistoric paintings.
At first we were going to take the train to Simone's and even looked into the cost of bringing our bicycles, but since Budget Car Rental was offering two weeks for the price of one, we decided to rent a car instead. This was a good decision because it gave us a chance to sight-see on the way down and back and gave us more freedom of movement while at Simone's.
Simone's family had purchased this home 15 years ago. Simone and her parents continued to live in their Paris apartments, but her mother's sister, who was a school teacher, retired and moved in on a year round basis while Simone, her two children and her parents only used the house for vacations. Now her parents are both dead so there is only her aunt, her children, their friends and various lucky guests like us.
The history of the house is quite interesting. This is farming land: tobacco, wheat and other grains such as corn for animal feed, and walnut trees. Around the turn of the century a wealthy walnut farmer decided to build himself an imposing new house. Unfortunately the next 75 years were not kind to his descendents and they gradually sold off more and more of the farm land until finally they even sold the big house. (The seller remodeled the barn into a house and still lives directly behind Simone's house.) Simone says that the house was in very poor condition when her family bought it, but it had a beautiful location and was structurally sound. It is located in a very small hamlet; there are perhaps ten other houses in the immediate neighborhood, but villages with stores are not that far away.
The house stands on a high point of land so you can see the roof from the main road and the view of the fields from the bedroom windows is very lovely. There are five large bedrooms upstairs with two baths while Mlle. L., Simone's aunt, has her "apartment" on the first floor. The original dairy was turned into a gigantic kitchen plus laundry room, while the original kitchen became a second dining room (there is another formal dining room which is quite superfluous). Then there is a living room and an entrance hall large enough to count as a room in its own right in any normal size house. There were seven people in the house while we were there (Simone, her daughter Olivia, her son Clement who had a friend named Mathias visiting him, Mlle. "Tantine" L. and us) so we were using all the bedrooms yet we hardly filled the house.
Olivia has just finished her sophomore year of college in Boston and is now off to Germany for a year in a German college in order to perfect her third language. Clement has just finished his high school in England and is waiting for his test results so still doesn't know where he will be going in the fall. These matters are decided only at the last minute here, not a year in advance as in The States. Clement had just gotten his driving license so he, Mathias, Olivia and various friends were always on the go: to the pool, dancing, canoeing, or to the tennis courts and when the two boys were home they played table tennis.
Martin and I were quite busy also. I had bought a Michelin guide to the Dordogne/Perigord region and it seems that 90% of the towns in this area rate a mention in the guide. There are ruined castles perched on top of cliffs, there are towns filled with 15th, 16th, and 17th buildings, and each town's church is special in some way.
Sarlat, one of these towns, has hosted a group of music professors from the Conservatory of Moscow, USSR, each summer for the past ten years; they give master classes to French musicians. We were fortunate to arrive in time to attend the professor's concert given at the end of their summer stay. There were eleven different artists playing the piano, cello, and violin. The concert hall was a modern building probably paid for, indirectly at least, by the hordes of tourists who visit Sarlat each summer. Sarlat's old buildings have been beautifully rebuilt and saved and it is now one of the major tourist towns in the area. We visited other small towns where the old, medieval sections are just now being rescued and we found these visits also very interesting because you could see the work in progress.
Simone has become involved with one such town and the people leading the fight to save the old buildings. The village is called Curemont. It has two old castles right next to each other, a church, where the reconstruction work is almost finished, and perhaps two streets. The castles and the village are on top of a hill and overlook the farmland in the valley. Mr. L., the leader of the save-the-buildings-campaign, was born in the town and after spending his working years in Paris has retired to Curemont. He and his wife bought (or inherited) an old house ( 16th, 17th century ?) that has a marvelous view over the valley. Their bedroom is up a curved stone staircase in the turret of the house. Simone tells us that only nobles were allowed to build turrets on their houses, so this house must have belonged to one of the petty nobles who served the government or the Lord who lived in the castle. The "Friends of Curemont Society" raises money and gets government funds to rebuild and save the public buildings in the town, such as the church and market, but they can only encourage their neighbors to rebuild rather than knocking down the old buildings. One of the castles was bought and is being lived in, but the other is still just a romantic ruin open to the sky. Some of the other houses have also been bought by "outsiders" and restored but most of the others are still in the "farmhouse" stage.
Simone had tried to telephone Mr. and Mrs. L. before we drove over. When we reached the town we discovered that they were attending a wedding reception being held in the town's roofed, but open-sided market building. The bride, whose father had recently bought a house in the town, was marrying an English man so there were many English guests at the reception. The father's second wife, a Japanese woman, and their son were there - and the first wife who had just purchased an old house in the same little village (!) was there also. Mr. L. wanted to show us something that we could only see by walking through this woman's property. He saw her in one of the second floor rooms and called up to her in order to ask her permission, but she was so busy having an argument with her daughter or some other member of the family that she closed the window shutter. I don't believe that her presence in Curemont is going to add to the general happiness. (Strangely enough there is another man in this same town who also has a Japanese wife.)
I skimmed a book that Mr. L. has written about Curemont and learned that Colette, the French writer, had lived in the village during the Second World War and the town had also hidden and saved a Jewish family. This family gave presents to all the children each Christmas and this practice is being continued by a bequest in their will. Some members of Simone's family were also active in the resistance movement. She was expecting her uncle and aunt for a visit after our departure. This uncle was fourteen when he and his parents were arrested by the Germans. His parents were head of a resistance network and the boy delivered messages to the members. All three were "questioned". The parents both died, but the boy survived that and then two years in the concentration camps.
We visited Meyssac, Simone's market village twice. Once to shop and once to see the Friday morning calf sale. Every other Friday the farmers who want to sell their calves (usually for veal) bring them to town. The calves arrive in a variety of old trucks and vans, are physically off-loaded and tied nose to nose in two lines in a little square. The professional buyers stand on the other side of the street until 8:30 when a bell is rung and then they rush across the street, examine the animals and strike a bargain with the farmer. The buyer and the seller then walk, drag, or wrestle the animal down the street, past the market stalls, to a public scale to determine its weight. We didn't see any calf escape, but I assume it must happen sometime. Those animals may be considered babies, but they are tremendously big, strong babies.
Olivia and Mathias came with us on our trip to Lascaux. Just in case you don't know, the Lascaux cave was discovered in 1940 when some boys found a new hole in the forest floor. The walls and ceilings of the cave had been decorated with thousands of paintings and engravings by men 17,000 years before. The paintings had not been disturbed or destroyed since a previous natural cave-in had sealed the mouth of the cave. The cave was opened to the public from 1948 to 1963 but a million visitors with their carbon dioxide plus light and humidity were destroying the paintings. Green mold was eating away the paint and stalactites were starting to grow. In 1983 an exact replica of the cave, only 200 yards away from the original, was opened to the public and it was this that we saw. What we saw may be only a copy, but it was still very impressive. The crowds wishing to visit Lascaux "Two" are so immense in the summer time that you have to reach the tourist office in the town before ten in order to get tickets. Two thousand people in groups of forty are allowed to tour the cave each day . We arrived at 8:30, waited on the line for about half an hour and were offered tickets for a tour in English at 11:10 so we didn't have long to wait. We walked around the town, had coffee and croissants and then drove to the cave site in the woods. If you never saw any pictures of them, books are available in the library showing the cave paintings I know that David read about Lascaux because we had a framed picture on our bedroom wall that he had made with colored pencils of one of the bulls.
The other major cavern that Martin and I went to was Padirac Chasm. Again we set off early in the morning to beat the summer hordes, since this spot probably gets more tourists even than Lascaux. First you take two elevators and walk down a long staircase through an enormous hole in the ground. Then more stairs take you a total of 338 ft. below ground level to an under ground river. From here part of your trip is by foot and part is in large, eleven person row boat. At one point we were in, and climbed up and down inside, a huge, 295 ft. high domed chamber. We had two tour guides: one for the two boat trips, and one for the walking and climbing part. This second guide takes you up twenty or thirty steps and then stops to talk and point out the sights before continuing the climb; a very sensible method considering the number of senior citizens taking the tour.
I can't leave this section of the trip without mentioning food. Martin and I took the entire group out to a excellent dinner one night and took Simone out to dinner on the night of the concert plus we had one or two light lunches out during our various excursions, but our other lunches and five dinners were eaten chez Simone. Dining at Simone's is a not to be forgotten experience. Gigantic feasts are the rule; everyday is Thanksgiving. I would suggest that we have a light lunch to use up all the fabulous left-overs and she would make a huge salad or a new dish in order to fill out the meal! In the July 15. 1991 issue of the International edition of Time Magazine which was devoted to France, one of the authors quotes a German expression for the good life: "To live like God in France." In the same article he says, "Gastronomy is a religion in a nation that has few agnostics."
I tried to lend a hand in all this food preparation. One night Simone gave me a bowl of crème fraîche to whip. Although she has a very modern and well equipped kitchen, she does not own an electric mixer. She gave me a French whip and while gossiping in the kitchen, I proceeded to beat the cream so long that it turned into butter. Since butter does not add much to fresh strawberries, she threw it out. She did, however, teach me how to make mayonnaise, although when I tried it on my own on the boat, I had to throw out my first attempts on two separate occasions.
The Perigord and Dorgogne area is especially famous for their geese and foie gras , then after eating or selling the livers, a method of preserving the rest of the goose was developed - the confit . Freezers have eliminated the necessity of preparing confits, but they are so popular that they are still prepared in the traditional manner. The cut pieces of geese are cooked in their own fat for three hours and then preserved in earthenware pots. You can also get duck or chicken confits. We fell in love with the local salad where gizzards, that have been prepared in this manner, are served either alone or with thin slices of smoked breast of duck or with small chunks of bacon (lardons), usually sprinkled with walnuts and a dressing made with walnut oil. If you have never had a dressing made with walnut oil we recommend it highly. In Perigord cooking, goose fat takes the place of butter and many regional dishes will be served with potatoes cooked in goose fat (pommes de terre sarladaises).
After leaving Simone's we spent 6 days driving back to Paris. We mainly followed the Dordogne River but we turned north before we reached Bordeaux and went to La Rochelle and then aimed toward Chartres. (On our way to Simone's we had stopped and stayed overnight in Bourges, which also has a famous cathedral, although to be honest we remember the beautiful garden where we picnicked more than we remember the church.)
The Dordogne is not navigable for boats like ours, but since this valley is a very popular vacation area, there are dozens of canoe rental companies. People rent a canoe, drift or paddle downstream (I believe that there are rapids in some areas) and then when they are ready to go home, they beach the canoe in various designated spots, walk to the road and wait for the rental company's van to pick them up. The road that we were on, the only east-west road, is only a narrow two lane country road boarded by woods, farm lands and frequently on the north by high cliffs. It twists and turns almost as frequently as the river. Traveling on this road were hundreds of cars pulling camping trailers, vans pulling trailers loaded with canoes, regular cars, and bicyclists! High on the list of tourist activities in the Dordogne Valley is bicycling. Even Americans come over to France to explore this area by bicycle. (Two years ago, my sister's friend - and our friend, Don Perkins came on just such a trip.) It may be very lovely and peaceful in the early spring or late fall, but you couldn't get me to ride a bike on that road in July or August. Poor Martin did not get a chance to admire the scenery, he was much too busy trying to stay on the road and not run anyone over.
We stopped to visit one of the other main tourist sites in the area, Rocamadour, a spectacular series of churches and houses built on the face of a rocky mountain. But then we stopped for lunch in a similar, but much smaller village called La Roque-Gageac and we both preferred it to Rocamadour. The road we were traveling on was the only road in town and it wasn't any wider here, but there was a large parking lot between the road and the river. We stopped so Martin could finally get a chance to see the scenery. The river was filled with canoes, mainly people renting by the hour and there were two or three small sightseeing boats. Houses, restaurants and stores lined the road and then other houses, and the ruins of houses, climbed up the rocky wall. The cliff itself was pocked marked with cave openings that had sheltered people over the centuries. We had a very pleasant lunch sitting on a terrace one level up from the road and two levels up from the river. I had a beautiful view of the canoes on the river while Martin's view was of the cliff and the cliff houses and caves.
As we approached Bordeaux and the sea, the land became flat and the scenery lost its beauty, so we turned and headed north through the vineyards for St. Emilion. Martin had chosen this stop because he is very fond of the wine. It is grown in the Bordeaux region, but it is different enough or special enough to be given legal permission to use its own name. We stopped at a large modern wine co-operative and, with a Mexican family touring Europe in a motor home, were given a tour in English. Nearly all the farmers in the St. Emilion region have only small land holdings, so they have banded together to produce their wines in this cooperative. Most of their grapes are blended together and aged in modern metal tanks, but three members of the cooperative produce such superior grapes that their produce is treated separately and aged in wooden barrels either at the cooperative or, in one case, in the grower's own caves. In addition to the members of this large cooperative there seemed to be hundreds of other growers who produce and bottle their own wines. The area is completely covered with vineyards and every farmhouse has a sign out front inviting you to come in and sample their product.
The town was an unexpected delight. It was set in a little round valley and had been a major medieval religious center. Although we didn't visit it, there is a 11th century underground church, the largest in Europe, that was carved out of enlargements of the natural caves. The church was defaced during the Revolution and used to manufacture gunpowder during the Napoleonic Wars, so I don't believe too much of its beauty has survived. Above ground the town is filled with old religious houses, churches and ruins, 90% of which now serve the wine trade. Even the swimming pool of the hotel we stayed in was edged with church arches. The local café where we ate breakfast had huge thick stone walls and a stained glass window. In the evening a youth jazz band gave a free concert in an old cloister. It was a beautiful setting for a concert, but not really a good spot for this type of music since it reverberated noisily off the stone walls.
We stayed over night in order to spend more time wandering the streets and to visit some of the hundreds of wine caves under the town, but it rained during the night and was still raining in the morning. At first we didn't let it stop us. We took our umbrella and went out and found what was left of a beautiful old convent and then we followed the old battlements half way around the town, but it was just too wet for staying longer.
On our way north we looked at a number of towns but didn't find any place that appealed to us until we reached Vendôme. Vendôme is overlooked by the ruins of an old castle perched on a hill above the town. The castle grounds are now a lovely park with some magnificent trees and flowers. The town fathers have made the old town a garden spot and have won the French flower award four times. A branch of the local river, the old town moat, circles the town and is crossed by flower bedecked bridges and there are at least two lovely parks within the old town area. The newer area of the town is quite large and the town is encouraging new growth both industrial and human. The TGV (high speed railroad) stops at Vendôme and large billboards encourage Parisians to come and live in Vendôme - "only 42 minutes from Paris by TGV". Summer visitors are also encouraged; there is a large camp site, tennis courts and a swimming pool.
On Friday and Saturday evenings a sound and light show is performed in the courtyard of the church. We spent the last two nights of our trip in Vendôme and went to the next to the last performance. (After Aug. 3rd the locals who act in the show must go on their own vacation.) The history of France is not a happy history and Vendôme seemed to have more than its share of trials by fire. It was sacked by Vikings, the English, other French, the Protestants, the Catholics and the Germans. The happiest moment in their history appeared to be when the Free French Forces and the Americans rescued the town from the Germans. An old car drove into the courtyard with some FFF and then an old American Army Jeep came in carrying people dressed in US Army uniforms and everyone started dancing in the street. The show ended with a display of the twelve flags of the ECC, hymns to peace and, of course, a few fireworks to give everyone a rousing send-off.
At Chartres we took the English language tour given by Malcolm Miller. We hadn't taken his tour on our earlier visit and had subsequently heard people sing his praises. He has been giving tours in the cathedral for 35 years and during the winter months gives lectures in the United States and England. We thoroughly enjoyed his talk and afterwards bought his book in the cathedral bookstore. The book is very pedantic but I will try to read it before our next visit.
We didn't stay in Chartres too long because it was Saturday, the third of August, and the news reports were all predicting horrid traffic jams in the Paris area because it was the start of the August vacation month. As it was we didn't experience any problems, although the road going north was filled with Dutch and Belgium families on their way home. Like us, they wanted to be home in August and far away from the tourist crowds of southern France.
Paris is also filled with tourists: Americans, Asian, Europeans, and even French. However half the Parisians have left the city so the city is relatively empty. We have had a few hot days, but in general is has been quite pleasant. We joined the Friends of the Louvre society and now can go whenever we want, stay for an hour and leave when it starts to get crowded. We have also enjoyed some very pleasant evening walks stopping to listen to various street musicians. One night we sat in the square in front of the lighted facade of Notre Dame and listened to a man playing Bach and Ave Maria on a small electric organ and then stopped on the bridge behind the church to listen to a string quartet. Another night we were in the Latin Quarter listening to an American group led by a 60 year old black man playing a wash tub.
The marina has been as interesting as ever. In July a sailboat came in from Annapolis, Maryland with a couple who live near my sister. There is a couple here now on an Alberg 30 from Canada. (My sister owns an Alberg 30 so that item is for her.) Two other American boats are in the harbor now so we have been visiting back and forth and exchanging information. (One of these men used to own an Alberg also - hull number 19! - which he kept in Annapolis on Back Creek, but he sold it in 1971.)
The other night we took the metro over to Trocadaro, a magnificent group of buildings (museums) that overlook the Seine and face the Eiffel Tower. We don't get over there often at night. It was quite a sight - the good and the bad. The tower was a fantastic display of golden light and monumental form, very impressive. People on the Champ de Mars were just lying all over on the grass for blocks - whole families (French) and tourists just looking up at the tower of light. It was hypnotic. On the Trocadaro side, the vendors - blacks with their wares (bright belts, trinkets, leather good, jewelry) spread out on the marble walks and open spaces; whites with ice chests full of soft drinks; whites and black - all races with the sketch pads, doing charcoal portraits; others, near walls, selling pictures of Paris; established eateries with trucks with drinks and hot dogs; Gypsy Greeks with fires grilling merguez (spicy hot dogs) or long poles of lamb from which they carve round slices; lookouts for the plainclothesmen who try to stop the ad hoc enterprise; roller skaters doing death defying acrobatics; and through, in, and around all this tens of thousands of tourists with cameras, maps, children, and dogs wandering around. We walked across the river and later took the metro home. Tomorrow night we are having some Americans over for dinner, but the next night might find us at Montparnasse for our evening tour.
We moved our boat a few days ago. The Franklins (Americans) who are our neighbors came back from their little trip and wanted us to vacate their place next to the dock. Their little trip was 12 days and was occasioned by the need "just to move" because French customs was getting restless. The Franklins have been here for about 5 years and have avoided paying duty on their boat by only living on it during the summer. At the end of the summer they give their papers to customs which hold them until the spring. This procedure was originally designed for the transient boater who was passing through France on his way to the Med. Well, this year the customs people indicated the time had come for the Franklins to pay their tax. There was much talk as you can imagine and apparently with the aid of the Captain of the Port here, someone is being persuaded that they are not just sitting but really cruising. We shall see. (Our taxes have been paid)
Right now it's raining in Paris. We've had glorious sunny weather for about two weeks so the rain is due and welcome. We joined the yacht club this year; it is only right because we participate in many of the affairs and know everyone. It will be good for us because it will give us more opportunity to speak French among patient friends.
Last night we went out to dinner at one of our neighborhood restaurants. Our favorite one was still closed for the August holiday. But this one was fine. It is frequented by tourists, mostly English, because it is written up in a favorite tourist guide, and last night was no different. At the table next to ours was a older man, quite distinguished, and then soon after we arrived, another couple came in and sat down two tables away. The older man struck up a conversation and we discovered that he owns a condo in Bradenton, Florida where he spends half the year and the other half he lives in the UK (United Kingdom - England, Scotland, and Wales). He was in Paris for the weekend. By then in our conversation, the new couple seemed to be having some trouble so we volunteered to help, which we did. Menus are often difficult because of the variety of foods and special dishes. The couple was grateful. A few minutes later, they asked the people that separated us if they could move - which they did - then we ended with British people on both sides. It was a lively meal, quite long but interesting. It is always difficult for us to understand the English accent immediately. The couple were on their way back to London. Their interest here in France was simple. They want to retire in southern France and are looking for some property. We invited all three over to our boat for a cognac and the evening turned out well.
The single older man was rather quiet but the younger man was fascinating. He had been reared in a poor section of London and left school at l4. He worked steadily and now owns a large and prosperous restaurant and one of the largest taxi fleets in London. His wife runs the restaurant and he, the taxi fleet. They are well traveled and have been to the States often and have seen much.
Let me tell you a story about egg whites. When we were visiting a wine "cave" where they make wine, we were told that egg whites are used to "clean" the wine, that is make it clear. Well, a week or two or ago, I decided to make some cold consomme for lunch the following day. We bought some beef, etc. and I followed the recipe, part of which directed the use of egg whites (to clean the soup of scum, I figured). Well, it did that but when we strained the soup the egg whites were all over the meat which we wanted to use, part in spaghetti, and the other part as boiled beef with horseradish. It was a mess but Marcia cleaned up the meat and everything turned out fine. The egg whites were to be added after the soup was strained but the recipe never indicated that at all; one has to know that. Did you know that? That egg whites clarify soup, etc. By the way, how did you cook brisket - with tomato sauce? If you could remember, we'd try it.
We're eating tremendous amounts of fish for your information. I always liked fish and now Marcia is eating more. We get sole which is skinned and then sauteed; salmon, trout, monkfish (which tastes like lobster), ray, shark, pike, bass, sea trout which is like salmon, baby bass and sole, small fish called Barbet, cod, and fish called merlan and colin. In addition we eat squid and octopus and in the winter, oysters. We eat lots of mussels and I eat sardines, herring, mackerel, sprats, and eel. We generally eat fish or sea food, about four times a week.
We also use fresh herbs. Basil, for example, is great with salad and as a basis for lots of sauces. The basil leaf grows on a plant which we buy at the market and then keep growing at home. Fresh tarragon and dill are also available, in addition to garlic, mint, two or three kinds of parsley. We also use dried marjoram, our own dried fresh thyme (and live fresh thyme), and oregano.
Today, Monday, I varnished the doors to our wheel house and modified our electrical outlets to accommodate a new broiler which we will be buying later in the week. When we first ordered our stove for the boat in the Netherlands in l988, we specified a broiler but the company had discontinued installing that unit in the stove so all we got was the oven, which is very nice. But we like broiled food sometimes and so a new broiler.
The world news is unbelievably good. The end of communism in the Soviet Union! Indeed, maybe the end of the Soviet Union. Do you remember when the Russian revolution took place? Lenin? Trotsky? When you think back and consider what your life is spanning, it's incredible. Airplanes, computers, spaceship to the Moon, two world wars, radio and television. Even as I mentioned them now, I'm impressed.
The other evening we had champagne and snacks from about 6 PM on at the new restaurant that is opening here at the marina. The old one, if you remember, was managed by a man who was eventually arrested for gun smuggling and arms sales. Needless to say he was convicted and sent to prison; the restaurant has been closed since them. About a month ago some new folks moved in and started renovation which is about complete. During this time I made friends with the new owner so we were included in the opening party. It was nice and went on all night. We stayed until about 8 and then came home for dinner. Both Marcia and I think that it will be difficult for the restaurant to be a success because of the competition. The price for a meal is rather high, too. We shall see. Meanwhile, we will have to have dinner there next week.
After dinner last night, Julie and Dick rowed over and we chatted about movies, computers, broilers, and gossip. We've mentioned this couple before. They're from the same town (St Louis, I believe), and they met in Paris in the early l980's. Later they came here together in l987, bought a boat and have lived here ever since. Julie is an artist but works as an editor with a publishing company that prints books for the American market. She translates English English to American English. Dick, who is really into computers, works for an international organization. I'd say they are in their 30's. Even though there's an age difference we seem to get along very well. Exchange dinners, etc. After they left we took our regular evening walk and tried to reach Chantal but was unsuccessful, We will try her at the school and then, we can always call her home in Normandy.
Tuesday, September 24th. If all goes as planned we will have our telephone hooked up this afternoon. We bought the telephone on Saturday - a very nice one, which will redial automatically and also will enable another person to overhear the conversation. This is a feature that is useful for us. For example, when I'm speaking to you, Marcia will be able to overhear our conversation so that when she gets on the phone nothing will have to be repeated. We bought the phone last Saturday when we received notice from the telephone company. The system here at the marina is complicated. We order the phone through the yacht club, which we first had to join. The yacht club hires a private company who have laid the wire. The telephone company arranges for the activation of an account the assignment of a number and the activation of the number to the marina. The private company then makes the final connection. We expect that to happen today. Meanwhile I installed our telephone and strung our telephone wire to the box on the dock. Should you want to reach us, the following information will be useful:
Last evening a couple from another boat came over for a drink before dinner. They're Belgian and have been here for quite some time but for some reason or other we never had them over. It was very nice. They either in an apartment in Ghent or in another one on the coast, but then spend their summer on their boat here in Paris. It's a much smaller boat than ours.
Our friend Mary S. stopped by. She just flew in from the States. We asked her to join us to go another cocktail party aboard a new boat here at the marina. ( It seems like we do a lot of drinking but in actually, there is little drinking and much talking.) Later, we shared a large delicious "NY" style pizza.
October 23, l991
And last Friday evening we had another French friend over for dinner. His name is Charles and he is the one for whom I consulted a couple of years ago. He wanted to bring large boats to the States and sell them. This time he came by with his girlfriend, who speaks some English. She makes video films for physicians. It was a very interesting evening. And tonight there's a cocktail party for a new boat at the marina. Last night we had dinner out after a cinema show at the English Council. And later today we will go up to an area called La Villette. Meanwhile we're reading and I'm working on the computer to produce a new "pleasure" (as opposed to "business') card.
This is the time of year for the French labor unions to go on strike or to demonstrate. The farmers are all upset about importing meat from the United Kingdom and other countries of the CEE; the railroad workers want more money; and so do the nurses and doctors. Today Air Inter, a French airline, is on strike and tomorrow there will be work stoppages in all forms of transportation.
It seems like so much has happened since I ended the upper section. A few minutes ago (It's now 8:45 PM.) a very nice American couple who had come by for a cocktail at about 6 PM left. Earlier this year they had bought a boat like ours in the Netherlands and are now in Paris, hoping to get permission from the Captain of the Port to stay for the winter. They used to live in Texas but spent much time in the Middle East, in Dubai and the United Arab Emirate, where the man, Bill, was in the construction business. He and his wife, Frances, are interesting and we had a lot to talk about, particularly about our experiences in the Netherlands. We hope they get a chance to stay.
Earlier this afternoon I spoke with a woman whose name is Reff. I noticed it in the telephone book and decided to write her, but before I did, I thought it would be a good idea to see where she lived. Yesterday we visited the area and were satisfied and so last night I called. I spoke with her but she was very suspicious and couldn't speak English. Well, today, I called information to confirm the telephone number and then called again. This time I spoke with her for a little while. It seems that her descendants come from the Alsace region of France which is near Germany. Furthermore she is a third generation relation of a famous French general called - you guessed it - General Reff. She mentioned also that some time ago a man from Germany called her about her name. This man's name was Martin! When I get a chance I will try to discover who General Reff was.
Yesterday morning we visited the Louvre and attended the opening of a new exhibit from one of the Rothschild collections. Some of it - mostly 15th century German art - was very good.
In between everything today, I repaired the water pump, fitted out an extension to our new wheelhouse table, and struggled with our computer to create a "pleasure card" with a picture of our boat on it, while Marcia went out shopping twice, returned plants we were minding, and studied French. (I just asked her how everything was going at the stove and all she said was that she'll probably use every pot on the boat.)
(I just went outside to get some hard cheese. As you know we have a cheese box, homemade about two years ago, in which we keep cheeses. Marcia wanted some cheese to grate.)
Saturday, Oct. 26.....I don't know if I will ever finish this letter. A few minutes ago we welcomed another American couple into the port. We didn't really have a chance to talk to them very much but they do know most of the people we know.
In a little while we are going over to the boat of the Japanese couple. They have invited us and a French neighbor for a Japanese dinner. I know part of it will consist of fish so will probably like it.
Hiro and Kako are moored behind us to Phillip's boat. They both spoke English. but did not know any French. They bought their boat in New England, Maine I think. and sailed it to Europe, spending last year in the Baltic and then Holland and through the canals to Paris. Now they are on their way to the Med where they will spend the winter and then visit Spain,etc. Then they will return to the Caribbean, go through the Panama Canal and finally cross the Pacific to return to Japan.
Hiro spent 21 years as a navigator on the oil tankers mainly sailing from Japan to the Persian Gulf and had no desire to revisit that area. Martin was very helpful to Hiro, helping him communicate with French mechanics, making telephone calls for him (he is having his mast shipped from Holland to the Med and he was very worried) and then they both are fish lovers so Hiro taught Martin how to prepare fish dishes in the Japanese manner.
Our Japanese dinner was marvelous. Phillip, whose boat he's moored to, was there as well. Phillip speaks French but no English. The conversation. though, was mainly in English with Martin trying to keep up a rough running French translation for Phillip while I threw in a few words and phrases here and there. But after awhile Martin would get confused and he would begin to speak French to the Japanese and English to Phillip; it became quite funny. Phillip's son speaks English and has lived in the USA and Phillip knows a few words of English so we all muddled through and had a very enjoyable dinner.
Mary S., the woman who just came back from the States, brought with her a program which I asked her to buy, so as soon as I'm finished with the business card I will begin learning a new computer language. With it I will be able to personalize our financial records. I also want to write a program that will translate the quantities of food and liquid in French metric terms to the American English system, and at the same time be able to adjust it for the number of persons you're cooking for.
We just got back from a delicious Japanese dinner. Started off with three different kinds of nuts - peanut, ginkgo, and hazel. The ginkgo nuts came from the Place de Concorde where this couple found the ginkgo tree (near the American Embassy) and collected the fruit, from which they removed the nut, from which they removed the green/white soft nut which they cooked a bit. Very good with some German rose wine. Dinner began with herring. This herring was purchased fresh, then cleaned, scaled (head removed), split, then washed. It was put in salted water for about an hour to an hour and a half. Then in a drying rack, hung from the side of their boat it lay in the sun and breeze for about 5 hours. It was cooked in a little oil and soy sauce.
The menu continued with deep fried sardines, a rice dish, a dish of egg plant, and a salad. Later we had a sweet (aspic) which turned out to be a mousse of red bean with sugar. We had cookies and ceremonial green tea. It was an interesting meal and evening. Besides Marcia and I, there was a Frenchman there who spoke very little English. Since the Japanese couple didn't speak any French, I had to maintain the conversation as well as translating for the Frenchman. Marcia helped occasionally by providing a word here and there.
Sunday: Market day. Marcia and I went to the large Sunday market, bought a chicken for today and a fish for tomorrow plus potatoes, celery, grapefruit (from Florida), oranges (from Argentina), mushrooms, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, bread (whole wheat and a plain baguette), broccoli spears. Dick came over in the early afternoon but before that, our Japanese friend (Hiro) invited me over to watch him prepare Sashimi, made with the belly of a tuna fish. He removed the membrane and skin and sliced it in thin wedges. His wife prepared a sauce with soy sauce and Japanese horseradish, and he offered a small cup of Dutch Jenevre, which is a strong l00 proof Dutch gin which, he says, cleans the palate. Needless to say, the raw tuna was a treat for me and I enjoyed every mouthful. When Dick stopped by he partook also. Later, Dick and I worked on the computer and Marcia visited with friends in the marina. And tonight, she prepared a fantastic roast chicken dinner with stuffing, broccoli, potatoes, gravy, salad, cookies and coffee.
I'm going to end here and mail this off; otherwise I will go on and on.
Winter is here in earnest, but this year Martin is running the diesel heater 24 hours a day. We have found that it is better to just leave it on all night. We have installed our plastic storm windows and are fairly cozy.
The marina is packed. There are very few spaces left and none for large vessels. Again this year we have a large contingent of English speaking people. We are planning a community Thanksgiving Dinner and have 19 participants: 18 Americans and one French fiancée. We would have liked to include some Canadians, but we just didn't have enough room. The dinner will take place on Mary S's boat. Mary is a recently retired Californian. A few years ago she bought an old ferry boat that used to work in Amsterdam. It is wider and longer than our boat, but the living/dining room space will still be tight. She is cooking one small turkey and I am doing another. Turkeys are smaller here and our boat ovens are also smaller, but at least we have larger ovens than most of the sailboats. Other people are bringing pies and vegetables and then we will even out the costs.
Besides Mary and us there will be Julie and Richard C. who are permanent residents here. They were here when we arrived. They are in the 35 to 45 age category. She works but stays on the boat, translating or editing French to English translations for a large French publishing company. He works for one of the multinational organizations. Richard is a computer enthusiast and they also own a Macintosh so he and Martin get together frequently to work out computing problems. A few weeks ago I gave a dinner party for Simone M. on her birthday and invited Julie and Richard and our French speaking neighbor, Phillip. Phillip's wife died last year and he is about Simone's age so I thought I would at least introduce them. I've been wanting to have Phillip over so this was a good occasion with so many French speaking people.
We had the Japanese couple for dinner with an American couple who are here for the winter. Bill and Frances E. bought their first boat just this year in Holland. They bought a beautiful traditional Dutch sailing vessel - without the mast. Bill worked for ten years in the Gulf oil fields. He was in charge of a repair vessel that serviced the drilling platforms. At first Frances stayed in Texas, but eventually she and two of their children joined Bill; Frances worked in town while their son worked on the repair ship with his father. Since both the Eatons and Hiro were familiar with the Middle East and the oil industry and we all had lived in Holland and cruised down to Paris, everyone had a lot in common and we had a very pleasant dinner party. Martin and I were sorry that Hiro and Kako were not going to stay for the entire winter, but they had given themselves a six year cruising vacation, and had to move on in order to stick to their schedule.
The other Americans are:
Keith and Nancy from Chicago who are in their 40's. He had a company who invented (?) and sold computerized parts for farm machinery. He sold his product in both the US and Europe. After he sold his company, he sailed his 26' sailboat across single-handedly since Nancy preferred to fly.
Laura and Bill, a retired couple from Michigan who are on a large sailboat.
Frank and Janet, who must be in the 70's and have been cruising around for many years. Both of these couples know many of the same people that we know. Frank and Janet had been told to look us up when they reached Paris.
Then there are two single men. Rollin who was here when we came and another man whom I haven't ever met. Then besides Mary, there is a 45 year old woman called Bobby who lives on a postage-size sailboat.
So we have lots of people with whom to socialize, almost I would say too many. Nine of us went out to dinner together and we have invited just about everyone over for drinks or dessert or dinner. Last night I cooked a rabbit in white wine and had Keith and Nancy in. It was the first time she had eaten rabbit; we think it is delicious but I don't know how she really felt. It is hard to get over food prejudices.
A woman who met Paula in Annapolis left a message for us and we got together last Sunday. She has been working temporarily at the American Embassy. Her husband has now joined her for her final two weeks in Paris and they are coming over for dinner tomorrow night. On the weekend after Thanksgiving we are planning on a 30 minute railroad trip together to visit a chateau that I've been wanting to see and it happened to be the one that her husband wanted to visit also.
In addition to all these socializing activities we have been going to many museums and exhibits. In August we joined the "Friends of the Louvre Society" and now have a yearly pass to go into that museum when ever we wish, plus there are special 'free days" at the other museums and reduced rates at any city or state museum. We also get impressive looking invitations to the grand openings of the special Louvre Exhibits (4 so far this year).
We have been going over to the British Cultural Center for their film program. Two weeks ago we took one of the other couples and saw a 2 hour production of "Much Ado About Nothing". It was outstanding. Lesley says that it was shown on Public Television in the States. I read the play before we went so did not have any trouble with the archaic language, although the acting was so excellent. I might not have missed too much even if I hadn't looked it over.
We have tickets for "The Magic Flute" at the Opera House in December so I will have to borrow a copy of that from the library. I don't know anything about it beyond what I saw in the movie "Amadeus".
The year has gone, somewhat slower than the year before. I'm told that happens because I'm getting younger, but the fact is that I'm not. I attribute it to our membership in the British Council Library where we were exposed to contemporary British fiction. It was painful and sad, particularly with the Shakespeare collection on the next aisle and poetry beyond that. We will be rejoining the American library within a week or two and look forward American fiction.
The political landscape through which we are all passing is beautiful, like a thunderstorm seen from high on a hill or a Force 10 felt on a beach from a leeward shore. So much independence and near anarchy in the east! And so many dreams in the west. Sitting where we are in the heart of France I doubt if the EC will ever see the dawn during the 20th century. I'm reminded of my propane container, purchased in the Netherlands, but by French law, not acceptable here for exchange. There will be no real European Community until there is reciprocity for propane tanks.
When we bought our Mac Classic - (We are indebted to our boating friends here and to some of you for your encouragement and guidance.) - I used it for letters and for the poetry that I sometimes write. Those were the months in which I still read books, albeit English books and led a normal life. Then I bought a software program called Quick-Basic. I've not been the same since. Marcia has almost become a widow and this lover of mine must be a woman, ever though her name is Mac(She just offered that apple.). Perhaps it's the basic that matters. I'm doing it all the time.
The water in our canal remains as wide as the channel. Each year I'm struck at how effectively it separates the Bourdonians and the Bastillenicks. You will remember how clearly it established fraternization. You learn and still wonder at the simplicity and effectiveness of a small body of water. Actually I can think of no other explanation of the British persona . (Am I being too anti-English.)
The dollar is down - as you all know and so is Mitterand, although the alternatives are not much higher. It's a pity France has to go begging for its security. We are in a strange world indeed when France has to urge Germany to be its friend, and as the United States commemorates the "day of infamy" it pleads for the right to export rice to Japan.
I am indebted to our friends the G's for the expression, "I
wonder what the poor folks are doing." We are very lucky,
Marcia and I, as all of you - our special new friends - aboard
rigs of every size and shape that sail freely on the waters of
the world. Health and freedom and some security are magnificent
gifts. This new year we hope that such presents are plentiful
for you and yours, and for all the "poor folks" too.