Yawn. Stretch. Breathe deeply. We’re easing out of winter hibernation and updating our six years’ lists of Things To Do Before Leaving for France. By this time preparations for Season Seven in France on Hoop Doet Leven are automatic. Simple. Been there done that. Almost as instinctive as the northerly migration must be for the geese who visit us every winter.

Nonetheless, we’re so excited to be returning to France.

Just a few things to do before heading for the airport:

  • Prepare the mandatory documents for our interview at the French consulate in Boston for our visas de long séjour, our long stay visas. Americans can visit France for up to 90 days without a visa. Longer than that and you have to apply for the long stay visa. They are only issued at French consulates (and embassies) in your home country. If you arrive in France without the long stay visa, you have to leave within 90 days. Stay beyond that without a visa and you will be fined. We heard of one couple fined 10,000 euros but that sounds like Fake News. More importantly, you will be barred from returning for up to three years. We take getting these visas seriously. And it is a great excuse to drive to Boston, hang out at the consulate and go out to our favorite French restaurant for lunch. Among the documents you must present are a notarized letter swearing you won’t look for work in France. And a health insurance policy that will pay to fly your corpse out of France should you expire before your visa does. I once noted to the consular officer that there seemed to be an exception to this requirement when Americans die in France while saving the country from Germans. He nodded, “Oui, oui, oui, et merci boucoup, monsieur.
  • Suspend our U.S. mobile phone service and “park” our phone numbers at an internet number parking service. Our first few summers in France we lost our mobile numbers each summer and had to get new ones every winter. Even my father has to dial three numbers before he can reach me now.
  • Purchase the items that the Good Ole’ U. S. of A. just absolutely excels at and that France doesn’t even come close to having. So far the only items on that list are heavy weight resealable plastic bags and high quality disposable foam paint brushes. We stuff fifty of each in our bags every year. Everything else in our lives we either left on the barge last summer or can buy in France. We learned this lesson even before migrating to France when we sailed to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas on the first leg of our aborted circumnavigation. I brought everything I could conceivably need, including fifty rolls of toilet paper. An Abaco friend, touring the sailboat, observed cases of toilet paper stashed away and asked whether I thought they wiped their asses with banana leaves there.

Last summer took us from a Dutch shipyard in Maasbracht, through Belgium and then on a series of French rivers to Burgundy. River travel is fast, sometimes too fast, but not quite as relaxing as sedate canal barging. Of course, France being France, the summer was filled with wonders. And cheese.

Meaux, on the Marne River, is the home of brie cheese. The protectors of the honor of brie are members of la Confrérie des Compagnons du Brie de Meaux. Here is the Grand Conseil de l’Ordre. Yes, their headgear consists of wheels of cheese.

Who knew that the moorings just before locks on the Marne were used by commercial barges when the locks shut down for the night. We felt like we were a barge sandwich this night. The captain felt so badly about squeezing us that he presented us with an antique anchor light as a gift.

We left Hoop Doet Leven tied to the side of an abandoned commercial barge on the Yonne River at Migennes, near Auxerre in northern Burgundy, under the watchful eyes of Simon Evans at Evans Marine. Simon assures us the barge is just where we left it and ready to go.

Our plan for the summer is a compromise. Weather in Northern France in May has ranged from sunny and slightly warm to gray and rainy to snow, snow on May 30 one year. Not great barging weather. Our compromise is to fly over May 1 but remain land bound for most of May. We’ve rented an Airbnb apartment in Meursault, dead center in our favorite Burgundy wine region. We visited there a couple of years ago on a bike ride that took us through the high end wine list of a high end restaurant. From Santenay through Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Volnay, Pommard and into Beaune. We should find plenty to keep us occupied in May. We’ll check out the barge and pick up the bikes on the way there.

Barging plans for the summer are precisely inscribed. In Jello. As usual. Migennes is at the northern end of the Canal du Bourgogne, the Burgundy Canal. The plan is to hop onto the canal, take our time with its 189 locks and 3,333 meter tunnel, spend some time in Dijon, then arrive at the Saone River and St. Jean de Losne, 242 kilometers (150 miles) later. After that we’ll head south for a bit then onto the Canal du Centre through southern Burgundy, then onto the Loire canal system. Where we end up at the end of the summer will be wherever we end up at the end of the summer.

Things always work out in France.

And when they don’t there’s a kerfuffle, sometimes an adventure, and then things work out.

Barging in France is such a pleasant counterpoint to winters in New England. This past winter was a fairly easy one, weather-wise. A few arctic weeks early on. Four consecutive Nor’easters (our winter version of a hurricane, with snow and wind and cold and then more snow) arrived in March. As if that were not unpleasant enough, weather folks introduced a new scare term – “bombogenesis” – to raise the anxiety level. The storms were severe enough so that we lost electricity, a problem for our house on a saltmarsh where we need power for our electric well pump. And it turns out our fancy evacuated tube solar panels on the roof are strictly decorative when the thermostats don’t have power to tell them to turn on.

But we survived. And did our usual winter things. I completed my Viking boat, a 15 foot faering that somehow sported a dragon head.

This is the Norwegian fearing that occupied the winter. It was the Vikings’ pickup truck of the year 950.

His name is Puff.

And the grandchildren, including the latest addition, Margot, kept us entertained.

New granddaughter Margot Clement. Despite Sandra’s efforts to Frenchify our daughter’s married name – her husband is from a Quebec family – Nicole sternly warns us that her name rhymes with “cement.”

Unfortunately, this is a popular French children’s book. There is a board game of the same name. We refer to our granddaughter as la petite escargot.

Our son, Sam, on the left, opened what he hopes will be the best craft beer bar in Manhattan, the Rochard, (https://www.therochardnyc.com), on the Upper East Side. Older son Ben and I spent a weekend there, as this late night photo demonstrates.

Our barging book, none-too-creatively-titled On a Barge in France, continues to sell. It turned out to be a hot Christmas present, at least among barge folks.

Sandra painted. And painted. And painted.

I spent the winter taking a writing class and rewriting a novel I wrote in pre-France days, The Reluctant Terrorist. Its about how something similar to the Holocaust could happen in the United States. At the time it struck people as too fantastic to be truly believable. Now, however, maybe not. The plan is to finish the rewrite this summer and reissue the book in the Fall. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we’re working through the lists. And salivating for pain au chocolate.