Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Cole Porter, may love Paris in the springtime “when it drizzles,” but they’ve never been to Burgundy in the springtime, when after forty days and forty nights of rain those of us living on boats consider rounding up two of each animal and making like Noah. On the other hand, all this rain fills the reservoirs for the canals that we’ll float on all summer, that is what rain doesn’t run off down the Saone, into the Rhone and then the Mediterranean, or, a tad north of where we are, down the Meuse, which becomes the Meuze in Belgium and finally the Maas in the Netherlands before flowing into the North Sea. But if there is a silver lining to all these clouds, and a light at the end of the tunnel and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then, once the last cliché gives up the ghost, the sun is bound to shine and we’ll be ready to take off on our summer cruise.
Take off date is tentatively set for April 29. By then we hope to have had enough nice weather to finish our painting, which is well under way, and to finish all our farewells to Auxonne friends, French and floating. We’re making progress on our things-that-must-be-done-before-leaving list. Today was a big one. The fuel tanker truck pumped 923 liters (about 244 gallons) of diesel into our tanks, enough to get us through the entire summer. Fuel and food are our major expenses. That 923 liters, at 1.37 euros a liter, cost us 1,265 euros, about $1,650. Thats about $6.76 a gallon for diesel, a price that would incite a revolution in the U.S..
As with most everything else in France, or at least concerning a boat in France, one major event a day is sufficient. Fueling up was today’s event. Arranging for the fuel delivery began a week ago. The truck would come on Tuesday, we were assured, or, if not Tuesday, then Wednesday. Wednesday arrived sans truck. No, no, no, not Wednesday. Now it will be Friday, Friday for certain. Today, Friday, after a night of howling wind and torrents of rain so that we were concerned the river would rise high enough by morning to overflow the embankment where the fuel truck would have to drive, we woke to sunshine, despite a forecast of more rain. We and the other barge buying fuel were moved to the embankment by manipulating a spider’s web of ropes across the channels and around bollards on neighboring boats, using the wind and muscle power to maneuver us next to the embankment. All was in readiness.
But where was the truck? The phone rang. “Where are you?,” asked the truck driver. “I am here but you are not.” Strange. “We are here but you are not,” he was told. It turned out he was in Seurre, a town about 35 kilometers downriver from Auxonne, where we, and the barge, were. Ah, but not to worry. He would be at the boat in an hour, and he had plenty of fuel.
The truck did arrive eventually. The two boats were filled up. All hands were shaken and checks were written. The spider web was rewoven and Hoop Doet Leven is returned to the pontoon. But with one minor, yet oh so significant, change. We arrived at the marina with our bow facing inward. We returned to our pontoon with the bow pointing out, onto the river Saone.
Our summer cruise will take us down the river farther into Bourgogne, deep into the wine regions of Meursault, Medoc, Pommard, Puligny-Montrachet, Santennay. Sandra is planning our vineyard visits by bike, train and bus, when we’ll drop in at small vineyards, sample their wines and stock up the barge. We’ll head down the Canal du Centre, through the bottom of Burgundy to the Loire River, then down the Loire, through a series of canals, to the River Seine. The Loire has France’s thickest infestation of chateaux, which we hope to visit. And we’ll spend a good deal of time in Sancerre, home of another favorite wine. The Seine will take us within spitting distance of Paris. Maybe we’ll take the boat into the city again, maybe not. After Paris we head up the River Marne into Champagne. We have to restock since last summer’s cases of bubbly have somehow disappeared. Finally, from Champagne we’ll work our way south through the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne and back to Auxonne for the winter. This will take us 1,250 kilometers (774 miles) and through 342 locks.
Hoop Doet Leven will spend the winter in Auxonne without us. We’ve already bought our tickets to fly back to Massachusetts on October 3. It will be wonderful to see our family, our friends, our house. But we do have some concerns. Where we will buy our bread, not to mention the pain au chocolate, since Ipswich lacks even a single bakery, unlike the three shoulder-to-shoulder boulangeries in little Auxonne. And wine may cost as much as $10 a bottle. But when we return to our house with solar heating panels on the roof and radiant heating under the floor there will be some things about this winter we won’t greatly miss.
One thing we will miss will be the friends we’ve made this winter. Inhabitants of this whole barging community refer to themselves as living in a “linear village.” The key characteristic of this linear village is that you meet people, make friends, and then go your separate ways, maybe to meet again along the canals, maybe not. What it offers in spontaneity it lacks in permanence. This will be made even more so since we won’t be overwintering next year.
But for the following Spring, April 2014, we have plans for an interesting return to France: a repositioning cruise, when cruise ships move from their winter Caribbean routes to their summer Mediterranean cruising. Prices on these discount transatlantic crossings, we’ve seen, are less than $50 a day. What a fine way of easing back to France that will be.
But for now, the rain has to end some time. The painting has to be completed soon. And the bow is pointed to the rest of France.