Failing at Sainthood in Saintes

. . . or more accurately, failing at minimal standards of good behavior, but more on that later. Wifi was increasingly terrible on the boat, so although we’re already back in La Rochelle, I’m just now catching up. Here’s a bit more about life on the river.

Down the Charente from Cognac is Saintes, a very pretty, small city with lots of things to see, like a Gallo-Roman amphithéâtre built between 40 and 50 A.D. Seriously impressive . . .

Amphitheatre Left Enhanced

Saintes, France
Saintes, France

. . . and the crypt of Église Saint-Eutrope, a stop on one route of the Chemin de Sainte-Jacques-de-Compostelle:

La crypte de l'église Sainte-Eutrope
La crypte de l’église Sainte-Eutrope

Also the Arc de Germanicus, right next to the river in the middle of town . . .

Arc de Germanicus
Arc de Germanicus

. . . and the Musée Archéologique, next to it and gratuit (free), so you can just wander in if you feel like it and look at stoned carved around the time Jesus was walking around. For an American, where old things are maybe 300 years old, it was almost surreal.

Musée Archéologique, Saintes
Musée Archéologique, Saintes

Saintes also may have the most creative, comfortable public seating of ANY city ANYWHERE. The grass looked so real on these “lawn” chairs, I had to touch it to be sure it was astroturf.

Grass Hammock Enhanced

Grass Lounger Enhanced








With all these things, you’d think I would have loved being in Saintes, but no. Because for me Saintes was all about failure. Remember my rant about the rude boater? Well, I became the rude boater. Yikes. Poor David. The first problem was we had trouble finding a decent mooring, finally settling on an ancient slanted stone wall that had a couple of bollards to tie up to and a stone stairway to access the walk above. Sounds like no problem, but remember we’re rank amateurs.


Mooring the boat turned out to involve approaching through tree branches that divested us of a chair and chair cushion (into the river), and the stairs were just far enough back that David had to jump for them and scramble up to try to catch the bow line from me, to keep us from hitting the boat moored in front of us (while I screeched panicked instructions and argued with him about what to do when). Then my throw missed him, while the current took the boat too far out to reach him at all, so I had to circle around and try to get back to David–my very FIRST mooring attempt ever, since David had done the others. I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details. Long story short, the chair and cushion were recovered. Our good mood was not. And there were a few more crises that I won’t drone on about now.

So today’s theme is failure. Yippee. Embarrassing, irritating, humiliating. These are words I tend to associate with failure. But you know what? We learned the most every time we failed. And you get to fail A LOT when someone hands you the keys to a thirty-four-foot boat after twenty minutes of cursory instruction, especially when locks, currents and other boats are involved. Here’s another way of looking at it:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. ∼Thomas Edison

But the most important thing we learned through these failures is that loving another person, or even being kind to that person, should not depend on performance or how well some possession is protected (even if it’s expensive, or new, or your favorite).

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. ∼George Saunders 

I’ve had plenty of those, and I do regret them. So I wish for you–and for me–more kindness, given and received, more tolerance for falling short of perfection, and more of the grace of God, really, especially when under pressure. I hope it flows in and fills us to overflowing, so everyone we encounter is graced by it.

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves. ∼Amelia Earhart


Sur La Charente En Bateau

Captain David
Captain David

We are now on-board “Clipper 43” sur la Charente, which means on the Charente (river). I’ve slipped a few times and said dans la Charente, because you say dans rue X (in street X, literally, but it’s translated more like “on X street”). But if you say dans la Charente, you’re IN the river, when presumably you should be ON it, certainly if you’re on or in a boat. Love learning French! Here’s David within the first few minutes as captain, reasonably happy. Let’s see if I can navigate well enough for that to last.

We boarded our boat just past the weeping willow you see in the photo below, and received our mini-tutorial.

Le Boat Base
Le Boat Base

We couldn’t collect the boat until 4 p.m. so by the time we were under way the light was beautiful.

La Charente at dusk
La Charente at dusk

The first lock was a bit hair-raising, including an angry German man berating us for VERY lightly bumping his Le Boat rental with our Le Boat rental–like THAT’S never happened before–and then barking instructions at us–incorrect instructions, actually, that we were too flustered to refute. Whatever. It probably could have been avoided if he had pulled his boat up as far as he should have, to allow ample room for another boat, but I apologized and explained it was our first time. He said it was his, too, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his rudeness to nerves, but we definitely decided NOT to share any more locks with them if it could be avoided. Sheesh. Hope he’s nicer to his family than he was to us!

David found us a perfect rural mooring on the left bank a bit before the next lock, and we tied up to some large trees where it was beautiful and quiet. Here’s who came to visit:


And dawn on the river was spectacular:

Sunrise on La Charente
Sunrise on La Charente

After a leisurely breakfast, we were on our way. The next lock already had a boat in it, so we were going to hang back but they motioned us in and turned out to be the friendliest, most helpful group imaginable. A completely different experience. We went through two locks together and chatted in French and English with zero stress. What a difference cheerful people make.

We enjoyed magical sights like this:

Shimmering Swans on La Charente
Shimmering Swans on La Charente

And ended up in the small village of Cognac, where not only cognac tasting is available, but also Pineau des Charentes, our favorite aperitif. We, of course, tasted.

So, a little more than 24 hours into our five-day river adventure, we’re content, sitting here sipping 25-year-old cognac and vowing to be friendly and helpful boaters, even when we’re vastly more experienced . . . four days from now.

Retour en France

Avenue Victor Hugo, in the posh 16th arrondissement
The posh 16th arrondissement, where we are NOT staying, but where we visited the Musée Marmottan Monet. No photos allowed inside the museum.

We made it to France with no major issues, although it was a bit touch and go with passport control in Reyjavik, Iceland, where the agent seemed to think we should have had a long-stay visa. I convinced him that the French consulate had told me I could travel without one for this trip, which is true, but the email about it was a bit ambiguously worded, so I wasn’t exactly positive. Finally, he let us pass.  I was tormented for the next five hours, before, during and immediately after the flight to Paris, thinking someone in Paris would not let us stay in France, only to find when we arrived in Paris, there was absolutely zero interest in us or our passports, with or without long-stay visas. We just got our bags and walked out to the taxi stand.  Woohoo! There went five hours of wasted stress. There must be a lesson in that.

Apartment in Montmartre
Apartment in Montmartre

Before heading off on our Le Boat adventure on the river Charente, we’re staying three nights in a tiny studio apartment in Montmartre. The front door is on the left of the landing just below rue des Trois Freres (at the top). And, yes, it does look a bit better in . . . er. . . low light. We are directly across the street from the cute little epicerie* that was in the movie Amelie:

L'Epicerie d'Amelie
L’Epicerie d’Amelie

Consequently, there are hordes of camera-bearing tourists traipsing past our door at all hours and blocking the top of the stairs, but it is rather picturesque, non? It sells pretty much everything, including my favorite beurre aux cristaux de sel de mer Noirmoutiers, the most amazing butter on the planet–I’m not even exaggerating–with sea salt crystals in it.

Down the hill from the apartment–everything in Montmartre is up or down a hill–there is a boulangerie called Coquelicot that sells a delicious baguette called la picola. Yum. Seriously. YUM.

And just up rue des Trois Frères, there is this:


Where I had this for lunch yesterday:


Fortunately, with all this delicious food, we’re back to walking non-stop.

Espace Dali
Salvador Dali

On one of our walks we happened into a small gallery yesterday that included some works of Salvador Dali, and after talking a while with one of the team at the Galerie Montmartre, she gave us a pass for free admission to the Dali museum, where we saw things like this (left and below):

Espace Dali
Salvador Dali

So here we are, where things are very different from peaceful, quirky, green Vermont and family-filled, lake-side New Hampshire. Yet it’s also familiar, since we’ve been to Paris and Montmartre several times before.

David and I wonder about how being nomads, even temporary nomads, may be changing us. Are we becoming more accepting of all the differences we encounter? Maybe sometimes. So that’s a change for the better, but sometimes I think I’m grumpier when each home base is more “base”–as in, one foot on and ready to run–than “home.” NOT an improvement. But really, how much can we ourselves perceive of how we have changed or are changing?

And of course we wonder which changes will last. The good ones, it is to be profoundly hoped, for all our sakes, but only time will tell.

Since clearly I don’t know that much about change, I’ll leave you with some wise words from those who do:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ∼Maya Angelou

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.∼George Bernard Shaw

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. ∼Lao Tzu

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ∼Reinhold Niebuhr

And They’re Off!

Saratoga Springs, New York, 17 August 2014
Saratoga Springs, New York, 17 August 2014

. . .  and we are, too . . . almost! We’ve left Vermont and are spending a final couple of days at Sunapee to get organized and repacked to return to France on Thursday. I’m feeling a bit frazzled with loose ends to tie up and decisions to be made, so at the moment life feels a lot like this:

Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs, New York

I could tell you about our afternoon at the Saratoga Race Course, where we were by turns confused, abused and amused, but let’s not get me started on that. Major lack of clear, accessible, non-conflicting information for newcomers to the track. Sheesh.

Instead, I think I’ll take a deep breath and reminisce about Vermont. As we begin this next leg of our adventure, I wish for you:

Serenity like Jim grazing in the peace of a Vermont afternoon:

Jim at Four-Legged Farm, Vermont
Jim at Four-Legged Farm, Vermont

Beauty like Skyler, pretty much whatever she’s doing:

Skyler, Four-Legged Farm, Vermont
Skyler, Four-Legged Farm, Vermont

Skyler in Barn Cropped

Joy like Diana the morning hay for the winter was delivered:

Diana being Farm-Girl -- Preparing the barn for hay storage
Diana being Farm-Girl — Preparing the barn for hay storage

Harmony like Diana with her biggest four-legged family members:


Adventure like me, finally back up on a horse, fifteen years after my last lesson:

Photo by Diana
Photo by Diana

Jim and I will both be slimming down a bit in the weeks to come, I sincerely hope, after a summer of indulgence. David and I are off to France, where we walk ALL THE TIME, and Diana has a brand new arena, which means a bit more exercise for Jim.  He makes a grumpy face occasionally about it, and I have been known to whine about how heavy the bags get, but of course it’s all for the best and I’m grateful (I can’t speak for Jim).

And finally I wish for you:

Inspiration, like I’ve received from these wise souls:

Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses. ∼Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden (1845)

If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. ∼Meister Eckhart

It’s a little bittersweet, though, this moving on to the next stage of our journey, especially when some we know and love are currently facing daunting challenges. I don’t think we realized how many goodbyes would be involved in this nomadic year.

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ∼Marcel Proust

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.
∼Maya Angelou 

So thank you, dear friends, and thank you, dear family. You make us very happy. We remember all you have cheerfully given to us and we feel blessed. I’ll end with a couple more quotes from Frederick Buechner, since he’s a Vermonter from way back:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.

Much as we wish, not one of us can bring back yesterday or shape tomorrow. Only today is ours . . . . the chance to speak the truth, to show mercy, to ease another’s burden. The chance to resist evil, to remember all the good times and good people of our past, to be brave, to be strong, to be glad. ∼Frederick Buechner

The next post will be from France, if all goes well. The OED says “good-bye” originated as “God be with you” (or “ye”), but why not say both? Good-bye–for now. God be with you.