Groundhog Day (or, as they call it in French, or at least in Quebecois, Le Jour de la Marmotte) came and went. Winter will last six more weeks, the rodent predicted. (For those of you who have never heard of Groundhog Day nor seen the movie, the theory is that on February 2 when a groundhog, which is a large rodent nobody ever actually sees, emerges from hibernation, if it is sunny and he sees his shadow then winter will last six more weeks, if it is cloudy spring will be early. It has always seemed that this is getting things backwards, that a sunny day should predict an early spring, but who puts much faith in the predictive power of rodents anyway). There is no Groundhog Day in France, possibly because there are no groundhogs in Europe. (Just think how the Bill Murray movie must have puzzled the French, who would have loved the movie nonetheless had the time-looping newscaster only been played by Jerry Lewis.) We can handle six more weeks of winter. Handle it, that is, because in six weeks we begin to return to Hoop Doet Leven, and France.
The barge is at the marina in Auxonne, in Bourgogne, where we spent last winter. It is snugged down and, at least the last time we stared at it on the marina webcam, floating placidly. Our winter permutation of barging has consisted primarily of creating checklists and working our way through them. Things to Take Back to France. Things to Buy in the United States. Barge Equipment Upgrades. Must See Places to Go Next Summer. Things to Do to Prepare the House for Next Summer. Things That Must Be Done As Soon As We Return To The Boat. What We Should Buy On Day One At The Boulangerie.
We’ve had our annual visitation to the French Consulate in Boston to apply for our long stay visas, which we passed with flying colors of red, white and blue, although we were stumped by the consular official’s question of why we want to live on a boat in France when there are so many beautiful places to see by boat in the States. He’s only been here for a few months, he admitted.
Unlike last winter in France, when we had no more than powdered sugar sprinklings of snow on the boat’s decks from time to time, this winter we’ve been inundated with weekly Blizzards of the Century, according to the frenzied local news broadcasts. The good news is that the pay-back period for our newly purchased industrial strength snow blower decreases with each weekly storm. And unlike winter in France, winter here has been blazingly bright, at least between the blizzards. Gray French winters went a long way to explaining why the invention of existentialism was inevitable.
The other good news from the winter is that Sandra perfected baguette baking well before our return to France, where there is absolutely no reason to bake your own baguette. We regularly visit friends here with one, or more often, two gift baguettes in hand.
And, of course, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series (baseball, that is, and please excuse the jingoistic term of “World Series” for a game that almost nobody else in the world actually plays).
Visiting exotic countries is purported to be mind-expanding. Especially when you participate in the odd rituals, customs and festivities celebrated by the locals. We’ve done just that during our winter visit to this exotic locale the natives – the original natives, in fact – call Mass-a-chu-setts (a name the French can come reasonably close to pronouncing, unlike the eclusier who once told Sandra that he would be visiting his uncle in “Ma-ah-teen,” which after much analysis we decided referred to the island on which New York City is located; the New Jersey town where Harvey’s brother used to live – Ho-Ho-Kus, the only doubly-hyphenated town in the U.S. – would be as unpronounceable to the French as is Harvey’s favorite French pastry, mille-feuille, to us, which is pronounced by saying “mill” then biting down on the lower lip and letting your tongue wander aimlessly throughout your mouth for several second while slowly exhaling.)
The exotic local festivity we (meaning Harvey) just attended was the 39th Annual Boston Science Fiction Marathon (www.bostonsci-fi.com). Long ago and far away, Harvey stayed awake through the first Boston Sci-fi marathon at the old Orson Welles Cinema in February 1976 (The Day of the Triffids, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Fantastic Voyage, Five Million Years to Earth, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came from Outer Space, Them!, The Thing from Another World, The Shape of Things to Come, This Island Earth, The War of the Worlds, and Zardoz.) Noon Sunday to noon Monday on what is now called Presidents Day weekend. Missed it last year, as we were in France, and the year before, as the U.S. Supreme Court managed to out-bizarre science fiction, but one day in every other year since 1976 has been spent with this increasingly graying group of aficionados, separated into the Martian Liberation Front (“Mars Shall Be Freeeeee!!!!!”) and the Asteroid Miners. This year grandson Abram attended his first Marathon. How times have changed since his father, Ben, attended his first Marathon. Back in those hippy days we had to carefully separate the brownies into kiddy brownies and high octane adults-only treats. Now Marathon sustenance is organic, locally grown, bioethnically correct, and hopefully, not gas-inducing.
The Science Fiction Marathon, even more than Groundhog Day, marks the official end of our winter and the approach of Spring. For us, Spring now means the return to France and Hoop Doet Leven. The Big French News is that our winter boat home of Auxonne (which nobody seems to have heard of but which we describe with the phrase: “north-of-Chalon-sur-Saone-south-of-Gray-west-of-Dole-east-of-Dijon . . . voila”), a smallish town that boasted three boulangeries within 50 meters of one another, Auxonne has spawned a fourth boulangerie over the winter. What a treat we’ll be facing, and what a decision.
This spring’s boat project will be to cover the wheelhouse roof with solar panels to charge our batteries. Six flexible Uni-solar ePVL-68 nine-foot (2.77 meter) photovoltaic panels are rolled into a box in our basement and will be lugged as excess baggage on Icelandair. This should give us more freedom to dawdle at out-of-town wild moorings without having to run our diesel generator, with its noise, smell and the occasional oily film it deposits on the canal. This summer’s cruise will take us north and east through Nancy to Strasbourg and Alsace. Different wines and cheeses. French with a German accent. Maybe a trip north into Belgium.
Harvey leaves early April. Sandra waits a bit to give Harvey time to complete his boat projects and to give the spring rains a bit more time to rain themselves out. We’ve spent the winter driving into Boston every Saturday for French lessons at the French Library. Harvey’s three weeks alone in France, without Sandra as his translator, will be the initial test of all these classes.
As the time approaches, we continue to struggle with the French concept of “return” and the distinction between “retourner,” which means to go back, and “revenir,” which means to come back. One or the other word implies that you are going home. The other word means more that you are going away to a place you’ve been before. Even if we knew which word meant what, we probably couldn’t select whether we are going away to France again or whether we are returning to the place we belong. In either case, though, France beckons and we reply. It is time for us to migrate eastward.