New Year's Eve day we decided that it would be a good idea to go to the Horse for a giraffe.
We had already established our command post at Horse's Tavern, which was right across from our hotel. The Postons met us in Paris to help us celebrate, and the giraffe, the French version of a pitcher of beer, had been calling Dudley's name since the first day he saw one served.
It was late afternoon, and we were just back from the Champs-Élysées, where by 3pm the people were already shoulder to shoulder, and 2001 anticipation was electric. Walking along the boulevard, we heard every imaginable language being spoken. Paris was bursting at the seams with tourists who wanted to bring in the New Year in the city of light.
On the metro ride home, packed in with all of the other tourists, we watched as young couples from all over the world practiced kissing in preparation for midnight.
Back at the Horse, we made a few new friends when we offered glasses of beer from our giraffe to neighboring customers. Conversations with other travelers are always fun, and we asked everyone where they were planning to be at midnight. It seems that Paris just attracts people, and most of them had no pre-planned ideas of where they would be as 2001 rolled around. It was enough just to be in Paris.
On the recommendation of a Parisian, we had made reservations at what she referred to as a traditional French restaurant in our neighborhood. We wondered whether that was a good choice. Would we regret missing the activities at la tour Eiffel, Place de la Concorde or on the Champs-Élysées?
La Petite Cour is an elegant restaurant and we had a wonderful 7-course dinner with spectacular wines. We were happy as the hands of the clock approached midnight, but we still wondered if we should get the check and head out to celebrate with everyone in the streets of Paris. We had walked to dinner in a hailstorm, but maybe the weather had improved. The couple at the table next to us got up and left at about 11:30. Should we leave too? We were so cozy that we decided a quiet, delicious dinner with family was enough for us. Midnight came and we exchanged toasts and kisses.
Suddenly, all of the waiters came out from the kitchen in a long line, and holding trays over their heads, they marched around the room delivering a party sack to each diner.
In an instant this very French, very fancy restaurant was like a high school cafeteria on the last day before summer vacation. The mood went from subdued to playful as the quiet background music changed to disco, and everyone donned silly hats and blew their horns and noisemakers.
The fun began as everyone found the best toy of all in their sacks, the 21st century version of the peashooter, with little Styrofoam balls the size of marbles. These little colored bullets began flying through the air like confetti. Feeling something hit us in the head, we would turn to see a sophisticated, well dressed couple waving and laughing, very proud of their direct hit.
A conga line started weaving its way through the restaurant, the music was good and soon everyone was hopping up to join the line. We felt sorry for the couple who had decided to leave just before midnight, because of the fun that they were missing. We danced, followed along with the woman leading the Macarena, blew our horns, scored hits across the room with our peashooters and enjoyed being silly in such an elegant setting.
Walking home through the streets of Paris in the early hours of the morning, it was cold, but there was no hail, and we giggled our way back to the hotel full of good food, wine and fun.
We think that our New Year's Eve party in Paris has set just the right tone for the year 2001. We hope to have a very happy and playful year, and we hope that you do too.
BONNE ET HEUREUSE ANNÉE
Julia Child said that eating is the national sport of France, and we feel like major league players when we visit our favorite country restaurant, Le Petit Prince.
Many Sunday afternoons have disappeared there, while enjoying a delicious meal with friends.
We learned of this restaurant from a French friend, a cousin of the owner. The restaurant has been in the same family for generations, and the story of the restaurant's long history is written on the front of their menu.
We love bringing friends here, because everyone is always amazed by the food and the superb service. It is so wonderfully French to care so much about the quality of the food, its proper preparation and presentation, even in a restaurant in a village as small as Saint-Alban-les-Eaux.
We have been here so often for lunch that when we ask for a reservation, they just say that they will make a note. They never ask our name, and we suspect that they just write down, "the Americans with the dog".
On the way home from our last leisurely lunch, we stopped by our local gym to inquire about membership.
We were with our neighbors from the port, and we had all been talking about joining the gym for months. Going into town, we would walk by and look, but all alone we were a little intimidated to enter and ask about joining. We didn't know if we would feel out of place or be unwelcome because we are foreigners.
We gathered up our nerve that afternoon since we were all together, and we walked in and signed up. We are glad that we did.
The first morning that we went to work out, everyone immediately made us feel welcome by introducing themselves and asking how in the world a group of Americans happened into their gym. We told them that we are wintering on our boats at the port, and a whole group of people stopped what they were doing to ask us questions about where we were from in the U.S. and what brought us to France. The members are an interesting group of fun loving people, whose desire to stay fit is somewhat challenged by their love of conversation and morning pastries.
We have noticed that there is always more conversation than exercise going on in this gym. There is quite a bit of joking going back and forth during the workouts, and then someone turns the joke into a longer conversation, and it is not unusual for the one and only treadmill in the gym to be tied up while the person who was working out gets into a long and interesting conversation that soon attracts a crowd. No one ever seems to complain or interrupt the group, they just wait until the story is over and everyone has stopped leaning on the treadmill and gone back to their respective exercises.
We have never belonged to a gym before where everyone greets us with kisses as soon as we walk in the door. Christian and Gisele go out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we are becoming friends. They give us restaurant advice, tell us where to find the best produce markets, where they shop for wine, and we do all this while working out. Since food is what everyone else working out around us is talking about, we feel like we fit right in.
If you read Toby's last page, you know that he went to Lyon for knee surgery in January, and that he has been confined to the house since then. This has kept us from wandering too far from the boat. We didn't get to Rome in February as we had planned, but we found other things to keep us occupied.
Friends and neighbors have been dropping by to check on Toby's recovery. Gisele, a friend from our gym, came over and gave Toby a big get well kiss. He likes her so much that he didn't wash the lipstick off of his forehead for days.
Neighbors tap on the door to give him a little pat on the head and a cookie.
He had to go to see his Roanne vet, Dr. Isabelle, because of an ear infection and she was happy to see him walking so well after his surgery. He didn't like what she was doing to his ear but, as always, he was a good little trooper.
The people at our gym are so nice. One of the men, who's son-in-law is a fireman, invited us to the firehouse that is located near our port for a VIP tour. An American, who is the local basketball coach and a regular at our gym, came along with his family.
His son tried on some of the gear, and loved seeing all of the fire equipment close up.
It was interesting to see a European firehouse. In Roanne, there is one large complex that houses all of the areas equipment. They respond not only to emergencies in Roanne, but to calls from 21 surrounding villages. There are 37 specialized pieces of apparatus: pumping engines, ladder trucks, a heavy resc
ue unit, ambulances, haz mat, boats, water tenders, foam equipment and trailers with miscellaneous appliances. The department's brand new four wheel drive pumping engine was on the apron awaiting a call.
A large field behind the firehouse is an additional training area. Training is continuous and extensive. They were doing some haz mat training the other morning when we were there, and every Saturday morning a fire boat passes our barge on a training run.
Since the firehouse is next to the port we often see them going by with their lights and sirens. It makes us feel right at home, and we always wish them a safe return.
Lunch at the Santa Monica, the bar just across the street from our boat, is becoming a regular item on our social schedule. Now that spring is almost here, people are returning to their boats and between spring cleaning and painting we have all gotten in the habit of meeting occasionally in this charming little bar to enjoy the Plat du Jour.
Martine, the owner and her friend, Otilia always give us a cordial welcome and frequently sit down to join us over coffee after lunch.
Everything stops between 12-2 in France. It is a great time to ride your bike around town, because all of the cars are off the road. It is also a good time to grocery shop in the big supermarkets, because all of the customers are at lunch. If you want to drive somewhere on small country roads leave just after noon and miss all of the truck traffic. But really the best thing to do is to join everyone else for lunch in a warm and friendly restaurant.
At lunch the other day, the idea of a weekly Happy Hour at Le Santa Monica was born.We decided on Wednesday evenings from 6-7, and about 30 people from the port showed up for the first night. There were one or two regular customers who must have been wondering what had happened to their quiet little bar, because suddenly at 6pm the bar was full of conversations in Dutch and English, with just a smattering of French.
Martine's dog, Chopinette, was beside herself. She usually acts as the doorbell, running to the door and barking whenever anyone arrives. She got a workout last night, and she must have been exhausted this morning.
Spring in Roanne is acting just like the stock market. It just can't seem to get started. Every bright, sunny morning all of the cafés put out their outdoor tables and chairs. The boaters start their painting projects, and everyone smiles and waves to each other. Optimism is in the air, but so far spring has not yet taken hold. One day of sun is followed by several days of rain. We have had more rain in the last month than we had during our sunny and mild winter.
While waiting for the sun to come out for more than 10 minutes at a time, we have been working on small projects. We are fabricating screen doors for the wheelhouse and window screens for the rooms downstairs. We find that there is a lot of looking in creating something like this. Sometimes that means just looking at the door or window until a friend walks by and looks with you. Ideas are formed, discussed and reformed. More neighbors, more looking. Then you go wandering around the bricolage stores looking at what materials might be available to complete your ideas. With all of that looking, no wonder we can't figure out where our days go.
Since there has been more rain than sun lately and we can't paint, we decided to take a vacation. We rented a car and headed back to Lyon. The countryside between here and Lyon is beautiful. We never fail to comment on how far you can see or the richness of the colors. The winding road offers, with each turn, a new picturesque view of a small village snug in a green valley. The last time we drove this road there was snow at the higher elevations. Now it is green and the trees are beginning to blossom.
When we checked in to our hotel, Toby got a big hug from the owners. We have stayed in this hotel several times before, and they were happy to see Toby looking so well after his operation.
Entering Lyon we saw how high the Saône River had risen, it was approaching the bottom of the bridges. When we walked over to the river to get a better look, the ships chandlery located on the bank of the Saône, where we were going to shop, was under water. People living on barges moored nearby could only come to shore by dinghy.
The sun came out in the afternoon, and we roamed around enjoying the relaxed pace of the city. We happened upon one of the 150 murs peints, painted walls, that are scattered around the city. This one was of the celebrities of Lyon.
Some friends had sent us a newspaper article from the travel section of the San Francisco Sunday paper on Lyon's beloved bouchons. These are family owned bistros that have simple menus and food like grandma used to make (if your grandma was French and lived in Lyon). Armed with the article and our trusty Gault Millau we forced ourselves to try new restaurants this time, rather than returning to old favorites. Saturday night after dinner, watching the world go by from a sidewalk café on the Rue de la Republique, we decided that there are no bad restaurants in Lyon. Now our list of favorite restaurants is even longer than before.
Sunday morning we went to the market where you can buy food, clothes, household items, and even puppies. Planning ahead, we had brought our kitchen knives to have them sharpened by the man on his bicycle. While he sharpened our knives, we shopped and then found a nice sidewalk café table with a good view of the market. While sipping our coffee, it made us happy to see several puppies leaving the puppy market in the arms of new owners.
Outside of Lyon we stopped in Perouge, a fortified hilltop village of medieval stone houses and cobblestone streets. Perouge's heyday was in the 13th century, and in 1909, it was saved from demolition. Since then it has been restored by the government. Now it is a village of craftspeople.
Leaving Perouge, we drove for awhile on the back roads, enjoying the scenery and watching a bicycle race roll by, until the speed of the toll road lured us.
It was getting late and we had plans to meet friends who were returning to France after wintering in the states. We had all booked rooms at Nathalie's gîte in St.Symphorien sur Saône. This was where we lived last year from January to June, while our barge was being remodeled. It was like going home again as we drove up our little country road and pulled into the courtyard.
We got out of the car, and shouted, "Nous revoila", but no one was there.
Our friends had not yet arrived, and Nathalie was not home. We let ourselves in and found a Canadian couple in the TV room. Since the doors were open, they had let themselves in and they were waiting for the owner to see if they could have a room for the night.
Knowing the house so well and feeling right at home, we helped them get settled into the downstairs room. We found towels for the downstairs bathroom and shower, and made sure they had everything that they would need.
Soon everyone arrived and as we all gathered in the kitchen laughing and talking, it felt like we had just stepped back in time. The wine was poured, and appetizers appeared on the counter. We invited the Canadian couple to join us, and they told us that they were here to buy a barge. When they learned that we all were boaters, the questions began. We all had to laugh at the fact that now, instead of being the people looking for barges and asking the questions, we were the people with experience answering questions. What a difference a year makes.
We gave them our best advice. They had not yet found what they were looking for at the two brokers that they knew of in town, so we sent them to see Jean-Luc Broudic, a broker that we were happy to recommend. Through Jean-Luc they found a barge that they were really excited to see in the south of France. We look forward to hearing the rest of the story. E-mail addresses were exchanged, and hopefully another friendship is forming. Our gîte has a magical way of bringing people together.
The dawning of each new day in Roanne now brings the departure of another boat. Since mid-April we have been to the lock many times to wave goodbye to friends made over the winter.
The first of our friends to leave were Bill and Francis, the only other Americans that spent all winter on their barge. They were great gym, country drives, circus, lunch, dinner, happy hour and just plain hanging around talking friends. They taught us how to make wonderful rope bumpers for our barge, and we took French lessons together. Being friendly Texans with personalities as big as their state and a million funny stories, everyone missed them as soon as they left, especially us.
Winter has brought us many new friendships. The port is large and the barges are spread out nicely, so that we have met the other boaters slowly over time. First with just a greeting, then with a conversation and soon an invitation to come over for an afternoon or an evening. We have had wonderful snacks, lunches and dinners on neighboring barges, getting to know each other. It has been fun to experience foreign food cooked by someone who considers it home cooking.
George and Maggie are English, but have lived all over the world, most recently in Cypress (where their dog Korri Mou was born). They have been great neighbors and friends. We went to our first Boxing Day party on their barge Limey.
Korri, sat outside wagging her tail to welcome everyone, as people came and went all day. The food never stopped coming out of the kitchen.
Whoever started the rumor that English food is boring has never been invited to eat on George and Maggie's barge.
Limey got a makeover this winter and looks terrific with her new enlarged wheelhouse.
Peter and Jane owned a French restaurant in Cape Town for many years, where Peter was the chef. They just bought a new barge and they are in the process of remodeling from bow to stern. They will stay in Roanne all summer having the work done, and we look forward to seeing the finished project in the fall.
They cooked a great meal for us in their old kitchen, and we can hardly wait to taste what they will be able to do in their new kitchen with their restaurant quality stove.
Roy and Anneke are our closest neighbors, and we have enjoyed their company all winter. We tap on each others doors to borrow a cup of sugar or whatever we might need at the moment, but forgot at the store. They are Dutch and Roy's family was originally from Indonesia. Anneke cooked us a delicious Indonesian meal one evening, recipes she learned from her mother-in-law. Everything was delicious.
John and Lizanne are English but have lived in Africa and Asia for many years. It was their idea to start a weekly happy hour, which has turned out to be a big success. They invited us for lunch on their barge one Sunday afternoon along with Bill and Francis. It was dark when we came home about 8 hours later. Both John and Lizanne and Bill and Francis have been living on Barges for almost 10 years. There were some great stories and more good English food with a hint of a foreign accent.
Willy and Ilse and their dog Bruno are a Swiss family that have a barge and a camping car. They travel on the canals in the summer and then take car trips in the winter. Ilse works out at our gym and Willy works out on their boat, he is always busy improving something.
One of the nicest events of the winter was a trip to the local theater for a performance of La Belle Helene. John and Monique, a French couple who winter here at the port had joined a local amateur production and they were singing in the chorus.
Dymphna, the unofficial port sergeant organized the evening and we went as a group, about 20 of us. We were all surprised when at the beginning of the performance an actor came out to speak to the audience and thanked our group from the port for attending.
The audience applauded and everyone smiled at us. It was a lovely moment, and we felt the warmth of the people in this town. We realized that we are very happy here and that something like this would have never happened in a theater in Paris.
As the rookies of the port, everyone wintering here has been so helpful to us, that it has been like taking Boating 101. We are now ready to cast off into our first full season of cruising. Look out Paris, here we come!
Sailing Notices: 10 May from the Port de Plaisance, Roanne
Eclaircie Designation: Namur, Belgium