April is here, and the sun just came out. Of course, it went away before I could finish writing this sentence, as the weather has been nothing but bad news lately.
The good news is that our kitchen, which Eddy, our port neighbors son-in-law, started remodeling for us in October, is finally finished.
The delay wasn't Eddy's fault. He put in a new hardwood floor and installed new cabinets and countertops just as he promised, and we have been enjoying our new kitchen for months. But it was still an unfinished project because, after Eddy finished his work, we decided that we needed a hood over the stove. Having an extractor installed sounded simple, but this is one of the things that make living on a boat so "interesting." Most extractor fans made for houses wouldn't work with our low ceilings, and we needed to find a solution.
Shopping for something unusual like an over-the-cooktop extractor fan in Paris means that you discover new neighborhoods and learn new French words. We spent several days wandering in and out of shops, asking questions, and looking at options. We were losing hope, when one day, while we were out doing another errand, we stopped in at Cap Bastille, a kitchen store on rue Lacuée, just across from the port. There we met François, who immediately took an interest in our project. Whereas everyone else that we questioned in other kitchen stores was polite, no one jumped right on the problem like François did; he was bound and determined to find a solution for us.
He walked back to the boat with us to take measurements in the kitchen, and he climbed up on the front deck to look at the kitchen roof to see how he should place the exhaust pipe to protect our air draft. He took lots of notes and then shook our hands with a promise to call us as soon as he had found something for us.
He called a week or so later to say that he had found just the right product, and he came by with the man who would be doing the installation. They had a plan that would guard our air draft and make the extractor flush with the ceiling—just one small problem. The extractor only cost a bit over 200 euros, but the estimate came to over 3000 euros with the installation. After we recovered from the shock and explained how many dollars 3000 euros would be for us right now, François said that he could sell us the extractor and that we would need to find someone else who could figure out how to do the job in a way that would be less expensive. We needed someone who understood boats. We looked at each other with knowing smiles and reading each other's minds; we knew that the solution to our problem was to call on Super Henk.
Henk Hÿdra is Dutch, has built 35 barges himself, and even though he may look mild-mannered in this photo, he is an action hero. When barge owners have a problem that they can't solve, they call on Henk.
Henk has been trying to retire for the last five years, but boaters keep finding jobs that only he can do. He sold his shipyard, and he and his wife Jacqueline, an artist, live on the last barge that he built, a 22-meter masterpiece that other boaters have labeled a "one-meter" barge. (That means that Henk's barge is so perfect that even when you are standing just one meter away, you don't see any flaws.)
Our New Kitchen
Henk's reputation precedes him wherever he travels, and in the floating village of barge owners, that means that he is often called on to solve an unsolvable problem. Because Henk and Jacqueline are as kind as they are talented, they made a detour to come to the Paris-Arsenal on their trip from Roanne to Amsterdam to help us.
When Henk works for you, he shows up for work at 9 sharp dressed in his special blue jumpsuit, takes a half-hour for lunch, and finishes at 4 pm. Like other superheroes, he attacks the job to be done forcefully. He moves at the speed of light, bends steel, and with his amazing skills, he creates something out of nothing. People who watch Henk in action can only stand there bouche bée.
Now that Henk has come to our rescue, we no longer have to open the doors and windows every time we want to grill something on the stove. Thank you Super Henk.
Yacht Club Paris Bastille
The yacht club had elections recently, and our port neighbors voted one of us onto the board of directors to be in charge of international relations, with the knowledge that both of us would be doing the jobs assigned to us. We are feeling rather proud to be the first foreign members on the board.
The board's first meeting was before the barbecue on April 3rd, and all went well. No problems understanding rapid-fire French and the newly elected board is full of enthusiasm and plans to improve the port.
Spring is Here
The following is what happens in the barging community when Spring arrives and boats start moving again:
Monday - We had an apéritif dînatoire for 14 people on our boat. This happened a bit by accident. Roger and Kathleen on "Water Lily" were getting ready to leave, and they had not yet met Jerry and Suzanne on "La Lavande." We wanted to get them together, but they both had company. No problem, bring them along. Henk and Jacqueline were here to install our kitchen extractor. Bob, our neighbor from Cornwall, is too much fun not to invite, and the English couple who were staying on Mike and Jane's barge while they were back in Australia stopped by the day before to ask a question, so we invited them, and the party just kept growing.
Tuesday - We invited nearby neighbors to finish all of the food we had leftover from the night before. We always err on the side of having too much food for any given party.
Wednesday - Dinner with Henk and Jacqueline at one of our favorite local places, Chez Janou, and even though it rained most of the day, it was a beautiful evening. After dinner, we walked through the neighborhood, stopped at an outdoor café for a nightcap, and headed home through Place des Vosges, where we could admire the art galleries. It was a perfect evening with delicious food, fun conversation, and good friends.
Thursday - First Yacht Club Paris Bastille barbecue after the new board of directors was elected. There was a huge turnout, and it was a great evening that almost ended at about 11 pm when people started going home, that was until Henk invited everyone onto his boat.
Alain, the yacht club president, presented Henk with an Arsenal burgee, wine corks popped, and then the music started. There's a piano on "Elizabeth," and soon guitars and harmonicas appeared, and the music began.
Friday - We took a day off before our busy weekend with the carnival and the marathon.
After taking part in a mini Venetian Carnival on the Île Saint-Louis yesterday, we went along with all of the other participants to a party hosted by the neighborhood merchants.
Marcel, the waiter from La Cavetière, our neighborhood bistro, started singing between dinner and dessert. He loves to sing and does do so often.
That was the invitation for others to begin singing "their" song. In Europe, people sing more than they do in the States, and everyone seems to have a song that they sing reasonably well. When someone starts singing, everyone else joins in and sings along to the end. They all know the words, and for the most part, everyone carries the tune. The songs danced in the air, and we felt as though we were in the middle of a French film. Conversations and laughter filled the room until a new round of songs started. We knew that we were lucky to be the only foreigners, and we had smiles on our faces thinking that life doesn't get any better than this when the owners of Bertillon arrived with their world-famous sorbet for dessert. A cheer rang out from the crowd, and everyone got up to form the French version of a line (something free form, like a glob of mercury) while the couple scooped up double cones for the crowd. The Carnaval Vénetian had been a big success. People loved taking photos of the beautiful costumes against the backdrop of the Île Saint-Louis and Notre Dame. As everyone sat back down at their tables enjoying their Bertillon sorbet, we thought that this day was so fantastic that we might be dreaming.
Suddenly, someone started singing La Marseillaise. Everyone stood up, raising their cones in the air, and sang their national anthem with passion, only stopping occasionally to lick their cones to keep them from dripping. It was spontaneous and pure, and it was the highlight of the party.
When the evening was over, we opened the door to find a warm spring night, and crossing over the Seine, we smiled our way home.
The Paris Marathon came by the Bastille twice today and finished up on Avenue Foch.
We were at the Bastille with our French teacher, Valerie, and her children to cheer on her husband, Olivier. After Oliver ran past us on rue Henry IV, we came back to the boat to relax and have a cup of coffee, and then we took the métro over to the finish line, all the while Olivier was running.
Valerie's daughters had fun cheering on the crowd and handing out bananas to the runners as they passed the food stand.
The weather in Paris is unpredictable. After a very mild winter of cold sunshine, the weather has become unsettled. You can wake up in the morning to blue skies, eat breakfast during a rainstorm and leave the house dressed for the cold and rain, only to find the sun has returned and you are overdressed. Pas de souci, you only have to wait 30 minutes before it rains again.
A few weeks ago, we were riding our bikes and almost got blown over by a violent storm that came and went before we knew what hit us. It snowed the other night just as we were heading off to bed, and a couple of days ago, there was a hailstorm in the middle of an otherwise mild day. It isn't easy to know how to dress.
The only sign of Spring is that boats are moving again. "Elisabeth," Henk and Jacqueline's beautiful barge cruised out of port recently. They had a week here without too much rain, so they were able to leave as planned. But that morning, their barge only descended half the expected level in the lock, and once they hit the river, they disappeared twice as fast as a boat going down the river would under normal conditions. Wherever they were planning to go that day, they probably arrived much earlier than expected.
From the moment that "Elisabeth" left until yesterday, it has done nothing but pour down rain, the sky has been gray or black, and it has been cold. This year, April in Paris would not inspire any songs.
Mike and Jane, our charming Australian neighbors on "Drumsara," picked up their newly built barge last fall and cruised for six days directly into Paris. They are now ready to start their first cruising season, and we said goodbye to them over dinner a few nights ago and over a glass of champagne last night, but so far, they have only made it down to the end of the port.
While moored in front of the Captain's office in preparation for an early start this morning, they learned that the Seine is near flood level, so they have to wait to see what tomorrow brings. Maybe it's time for another farewell party.
Bistrot en Seine
With boats moving again, we have been amusing ourselves by listening to the VHF chatter between les plaisanciers and la capitainerie. Passenger boats or private, everyone communicates by VHF to enter or leave the port by a lock at one end and a controlled tunnel at the other. When our VHF is on, we know all of the comings and goings of the port. It is a bit like being a nosy neighbor, but we tell ourselves that it helps our boating French.
Canauxrama is a passenger boat company that works out of our port. Their boats moor across from us, and they cruise by our barge a few times a day. Recently we noticed that they had started evening cruises, and one night when our radio was on, we heard the Captain's office ask them, as they always do, "How many passengers and crew?" The answer made the guys in the office chuckle, as they had a crew of four with only two passengers. Jokes made back and forth about the new luxury cruise caught our attention.
A few nights later, we heard that they had eight passengers, then eleven another night, so we decided to take this new Seine cruise before it became popular. We jumped on board for the 9 pm cruise on Friday night, stopped at the bar to order a half bottle of wine, got into a pleasant conversation with the crew when we told them that we were neighbors, and had no trouble finding good seats.
Sitting at a table with a glass of wine in front of us, we waved to neighbors as we cruised by their boats and entered the lock without a care in the world.
For the next two hours, we glided through Paris. Passing under Le Pont des Arts, we waved to everyone out enjoying the first warm spring night. People were walking or picnicking along the quays of the Seine, the monuments lit against the evening sky were beautiful, and we had front row seats for the best show in town.
Our winter next boat neighbor Bob cruised away the other day. It took a long time to leave port because he had to wave goodbye to all of the friends he made during the winter.
Keep a lookout for "Lady Lorne;" maybe you will be lucky enough to meet Bob along the canals.
Canal Saint-Martin Barge Picnic
Our port is on the canal Saint-Martin with a lock on the Seine and a tunnel leading up to the 10th arrondissement at the Bastille end of the port. La Villette is at the other end of the canal in the 19th arrondissement. The trip along the canal to La Villette is only about 5 kilometers long, but because you have to pass through 4 double locks and two swing bridges, the trip takes at least two hours each way.
When our friends Jerry and Suzanne, whose barge "La Lavande" is just across the port, invited us to cruise along with them and their friends for a picnic at La Villette, we didn't hesitate before saying, "We'd love to!". We have made this same trip on our barge, but we would be the guests instead of captain and crew this time.
Camera in hand, we had time to make a little movie of our fabulous day cruising through the streets of Paris.
A Trip to Ireland
We flew our granddaughter Lauren to Paris to stay with us for her high school graduation present. During her stay, we all flew over to Ireland, where we visited Counties Clare and Galway.
Fireworks on the Seine
On July 14th, we went with friends for a short cruise over to the Eiffel Tower. The water police stopped to have a chat, but whatever our captain told them, they were happy and let us continue on our way. We tied up with other boats just past the tower to enjoy the fireworks.
Having drinks while waiting for the show to begin, we asked our French friends how they use the phrase oh lá lá in everyday life.
They showed us how to express different ideas with just gestures and those oh-so-French words.
You have to love a city that closes one of its major roads during the summer just for fun. Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, created Paris Plage back in 2002, and it gets better every year. There are many things to do at this beach besides just relaxing in the sun. You can swim in the pool, stay cool under misters, skate or ride your bike through the long traffic tunnel, have a meal at one of the boardwalk cafés, or pick up a snack to munch on as you stroll along the beach. Games, exercise equipment, music everywhere, and dancing make for a fun day at the beach.
Every year more and more beaches are popping up all over Paris, and the idea has spread to other cities, even our old home port of Roanne.
Cruising out of Paris, we find ourselves back in the slow lane. We have been floating along on the Marne, visiting Champagne villages and getting together with old friends, a real vacation.
In the small Champagne village of Reuil, we took a leisurely ride in an original "deux chevaux."