Wednesday, November 02, 2016
Anyone who has suffered the curse of the road trip, pulling on cold and still damp undies before setting off will appreciate just what a blessing it is to be travelling in cooler temperatures and staying in places where bathrooms are heated. In these conditions the “smalls” washed in the evening are crispy dry and warm in the morning and dare I say it, something of a pleasure to don.
Thus with nicely warmed nethers we set off in direction vaguely south, asking the nice lady in the GPS to take us as far from anything that looked like a motorway as she could. For those unfamiliar with the road network in France, this has the effect of forcing one to slow one’s journey, smell the flowers, take in the surroundings, at the same time taking an interminable amount of time to travel not very far. It also means that if one were not a tractor or farm vehicle enthusiast before, one soon gathers an enormous knowledge of the intricacies of all variety of machinery, while following them up the road at a pace which would make a canal boat proud.
I am sure there is a word for having an irrational fear of roadhouse food, and if there were we would happily apply it to ourselves, and even more happily report that we were able to dodge that particular bullet this day, finding a bakery open at exactly the time we realised that despite several hours of passing through the countryside, we were barely out of site of last night’s bedroom window and perhaps after eating, if we were serious about getting anywhere anytime soon we should hit the tollway. Those tollways have their place. We made it before sunset, a heated flat, out of the chilling wind bringing the promise of tiny temperatures overnight, comforted by the thought that our undies would be warm tomorrow too.
at 9:49 am
We have a car with a couple of spare seats in it, and last night we were dining with Ron and Robin discussing our itinerary which until then comprised three lines: “18th leave - Lagarde”,”visit Jan and Toby”, “ 31st - arrive Paris”. Perhaps we had time to take a bit of a respite from the rigours of travel, stay another night and do a spot of sightseeing.
We are staying at the very edge of the renowned Cote d’Or wine region, roughly translated “Hills of Gold” although whether this moniker is an allusion to the value of the vines which produce some of the world’s most valuable wines in summer or to the colour of the slopes in autumn is not clear. What was clear was that the day was entirely suited for wandering in a heated car, perhaps finding a heated brasserie, eating a heated lunch, and not spending much time at all wandering through the vineyards which weren’t at all heated.
They weren’t all that golden yet either, more like a pinky green for which the French is “vert rosé”, which is pronounced quite similarly to “verre rosé” which means “glass of rosé”, which according to all who weren’t driving was rather good with the Beef Bourguignon.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or ferme perhaps), Gerard our eager to please host, oblivious to the size of the lunch we had consumed, was in the throes of preparing an evening feast that must have taken three cartloads from the supermarket just to assemble the ingredients. He was so proud of his efforts that we could not risk offence by not eating all he put before us. We struggled valiantly through his aperitifs, his terrine and bread, struggled through the duck confit, just got through the salad, then more salad with warm goat’s cheese and toast, and were starting to relax with a sense of minor triumph when we heard the words;”….. and for desert…”.
at 9:45 am
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Having finally left Lagarde by about ten minutes past lunchtime, by the time the sun was going down we found ourselves back at the “scene of the crime”. On board “Tiara” with Ron and Robin themselves in an advanced state of packed for winter, the second glass of fizzy water slowly dissipating the whirlwind of the past few days and the last few hours of motorway, reflections on a season gone began to emerge.
By strange coincidence it was precisely seven years and two days ago, while sitting on Graham and Iris’s boat at this very spot, against the quay at St-Jean-de-Losne, while watching the sun going down over this very same bridge, we responded to an advertisement for a boat. We were aware that this could very well bring with it a world of angst and financial pain. It was a boat after all, there was no escaping it.
Fortuitously the broker was a bloke called Jacques, the sort of fellow who calls a spade a bêche, and who was not (and still isn’t) going to let these people from the other side of the world fall into the hands of someone less than scrupulous. How could we have anticipated the very special experiences that single purchase (and its myriad repairs), would bring, the enormity of the network of people and the depths of friendship that would result?
How do we explain that to those who ask why we keep coming back? Well we like the sunsets.
at 4:58 pm
Friday, October 21, 2016
Packing up day is not one we look forward to. The air is inevitably thick with grumpy thoughts that people living in small spaces get when tripping over one another, racing against time and each other while somewhat reluctantly packing away the happiness of summer. The grumpiness is not improved when one of them has procrastinated for a week, waiting for the rain to begin before attempting to cover the boat.
It reaches a sort of crescendo late in the day, when with fewer than twenty-four hours before accomodation is required elsewhere, the booking website suddenly requires something called “verification” and at the same time refuses to believe that the telephone number that has been in constant use for four years actually exists. Eventually after calling it a very rude word, the computer (which was not actually at fault) seemed to get the message that the next step was to hurl it out into the briny depths, which is to say a very long way, since we are at least five hundred kilometres from the sea, and things started to settle.
Things settled more on the drive back from Lunéville in the hire car. How could they not, through what in the space of a single week had turned to autumn? By the time our last, long farewell meal with Jacques and Maggie was complete, even the ignominy of having the hire car folk cheerily upgrade us to a Hyundai, had faded to a mellow memory.
at 5:41 pm
Monday, October 17, 2016
A week ago, it was far too chilly and unpleasant to have coffee under Maggie’s wisteria. Today, we could have been forgiven for thinking we’d already been away for winter and had returned in early summer. What a glorious time we had, sitting all afternoon in the sun, doing what we do best so far from the problems of the world that we didn’t even need to try to solve them, the company injecting an extra shot of light into an already impossibly bright blue sky.
We weren’t all that far from the problem of the boat though. Yes we could have wasted this strangely perfect day, cleaning and covering, and been entirely packed before tomorrow’s rain arrives, but where’s the lunch in that? We did to be fair on ourselves get a bit one after breakfast, and a little more just before darkness descended, and the boat is almost packed, which is to say that it is completely chaotic and upside-down within and in that sort of state where we keep having to remind ourselves that it always works out in the end.
I wonder if the happiness of today will be enough to carry us through the grumpiness that will no doubt descend while tying off the boat covers in the rain tomorrow? Yes, I’m sure it will.
at 5:37 pm
Today would have been a great day to at least start covering the boat and had the forecast been up to its usual standard it might have been quite a pleasant activity to boot, but when the first of our eyes began to open it was as clear as the sky was unclear, that not much would happen outdoors for the morning at least. The fog left visibility at almost zero, the breeze that should have blown it away was biting, and it was quite clear as the fog began to thin it was turning into an icy rain.
Tomorrow’s forecast is for perfect weather, and we’ve still got a couple of days up our sleeves we thought, so using the best of logic, a retreat to that warm little cubby hole in the back of the boat, and starting on a new book seemed entirely sensible.
At about lunch time, the weather began to clear exactly as the forecast said it would and the washing equipment was in the process of being dragged out when Jacques turned up, and offered that there were three boats that had to be delivered to Xures and only two pilots, asking if perhaps one of us could think of a solution to his dilemma. And that is how it came to be that while the other began her relentless effort within, washing packing and sorting, the other, in company with Bill and Jacques, the three of them filled with the joy of the prospect of simply being on the water for a time, cruised happily off into the Autumn for the afternoon.
at 5:16 pm