Roanne, our adopted home town in France, keeps getting better and better. The town is constantly improving itself, restoring old buildings, adding new pedestrian streets, and renovating neighborhoods. Every year when we return home in the fall, we notice that there are more trees and flowers.
Over the next year, the city plans to restrict cars from the Place du Marché to restore the town square to its original beauty, and they are building a new entertainment complex near the train station. It will be our first indoor mall with movie theaters, restaurants, and shops. They are remodeling all of the city offices, and building an exhibition center behind the Hotel de Ville. They have been adding new bicycle lanes as they repave and widen the streets, and just for fun this Christmas they built an ice rink in front of the town hall. It is always interesting to return home after six months of cruising and see what changes have been made since we left in the spring.
This fall as we passed through our last lock of the season and entered our port, the sun was warmer and the sky was bluer than it had been for months. It was the first day of the annual Fête du Port, and we had come back early to see our friends who had just arrived the week before.
Our San Francisco Fire Department friends, Jim and Mary, were standing at our mooring, smiling and waving and waiting to catch our lines. They bought the barge, "Festina Tardé" earlier this year, and they had just brought the boat back to Roanne to spend their first winter as our barge neighbors.
We hurried through our mooring chores so that we could open a bottle of champagne. We celebrated our reunion, and their new life in France, and we are all so happy to be here together that we have been celebrating ever since.
On our first night back in Roanne, we joined hundreds of people from town at the festival dinner and dance at the Maison du Port, where we ate moules frites and danced to what sounded like a French polka band. The evening was warm, twinkling lights were strung up over all the picnic tables and the dance floor. Families and friends were enjoying a simple meal together and they stayed at the tables talking and laughing as the children ran back and forth playing. The music was so lively that you couldn't help tapping your feet and eventually your feet lead you to the crowded dance floor. There were more women and children than men dancing for the fast songs, and there were couples who came to the floor just for the slow dances. Everyone was enjoying themselves and no one looked like they wanted to be anywhere else. We felt like we had landed in the middle of a foreign film as the music, the dancers and the language swirled around us. We danced and laughed and sang French songs even though we didn't know the words. We smiled so much that our faces hurt, and like all good parties, we thought that the evening ended too quickly.
Over the next month, our neighborhood grew just a bit bigger everyday as friends returned to port, and as everyone slipped back into their moorings, we expected to get back into our normal winter routine.
In the winter we usually spend equal amounts of time working on the boat or going out and having fun, but this year we have done very little work and we have had lots of fun, and it is all Jim and Mary's fault.
It is a good thing that we have already fixed everything on the boat that needed fixing, because we have been swept away by their enthusiasm about being in France, and we haven't been home very much. Between the four of us, somebody always comes up with an idea of somewhere that we just have to go or something that we just have to do. If there is an event anywhere in the area, we are there!
After the port festival, Roanne put on a great celebration for the 60th anniversary of their WWII liberation. We walked into town that morning, and tumbled backwards in time as we fell in behind a parade of American WWII jeeps and trucks lead by a French army band. The trucks were driven by people in army uniforms from WWII, and people standing on the streets were waving French and American flags. After the official ceremony and the speeches, there was free champagne and a dance band began playing Glen Miller's music. Men dressed in 1940's American and French army uniforms were dancing with women dressed in blouses and skirts with bobby sox and high heels. The crowd watched the dancers for awhile and then got into the mood of the moment. The dance floor was soon crowded with older people dancing and remembering a great day long ago.
That afternoon we drove out to the airfield where the celebration moved into the sky with a fleet of vintage planes. 1940's music blasted from loud speakers, booths were selling memorabilia, model airplanes and vintage clothing, and there were more soldiers and jeeps. We stared into the clouds watching the planes take off and land, and we held our breath during the air stunts when the old planes looked like they were about to spin right into the ground. Before we left, we bought bread that was baked in a WWII mobile field unit wood burning oven to have with our dinner.
Not only have we be going to every event for miles around, but attending wine tastings, food fairs and exploring small villages has become our new collective hobby. Some days we drive and some days Jim and Mary do, and our cars are beginning to stop automatically at cute restaurants with menu boards out front. We have already taken car trips to Holland and Belgium, and Spain and Italy are on the list for 2005. In researching our trips and buying tickets to events, the people at the train station and the tourist office are beginning to know us by name. We learn about events from local friends or during conversations at the gym or hikes with our walking club. Then, we go off in search of the details.
Last week we went to the tourist office to buy tickets to a concert, and we asked about several other events that we had heard about from our French friends. The woman was looking through all of her files trying to find the times and dates of the events we were asking about, and when we brought up yet another event that she was not aware of, she laughed and said that we were better informed than she was.
Our list of planned adventures keeps getting longer as we hear about trips and must see events, and we have had to increase our walks and our time at the gym to keep up with all of the lunches and wine tastings. It's fun, lots of fun.
We have reached a point in our barging life where all of the hard work is done, and it is time to play. Jim and Mary are still feeling like they are on vacation, so they want to go everywhere and do everything all at once. We all feel like we have found the pot at the end of the rainbow, and we just can't believe how lucky we are.
P. S. We took this picture of the rainbow last Sunday on our way to lunch at the Hotel Central in Renaison.