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.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down. ∼The Carpenters (Song by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols)

Yes, I used to listen to the Carpenters. And I’ll bet now you’ve got this song stuck in your head, too. Sorry about that, but Monday was challenging, Tuesday not much better, and Wednesday it rained all day long, so this song did rather spring to mind.

Once we had dealt with every issue as far as possible yesterday, David suggested we go for a drive and see a bit more of Vermont while we had the chance. Grafton had been recommended to us, and it’s not far from here, but it was too rainy for photos and too early to eat. There was only one thing we could do–head north to Simon Pearce in Quechee, one of our favorite rainy-day places.

Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont
Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

Warm fires in the basement (okay raging furnaces, but kind of cozy from a distance) . . .

Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont
Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

. . . friendly glassblowers answering unlimited questions . . .

Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont
Simon Pearce, Quechee, Vermont

. . . gorgeous artistic housewares (glass, wood, pottery, textiles) in the shop . . .

Some the more free-form glasswork at Simon Pearce
Some of the more free-form glasswork at Simon Pearce

. . . and last but not least, Vermont cheddar soup and other delights in the restaurant. Yum.


And on the way home . . . a random zebra sighting. I know. What?!?

Vermont Zebra in Field, NOT a Zoo
Zebra in a Vermont field, NOT a zoo

Seriously. How cool is that? I made David turn around and drive back so I could get a photo.

The whole experience was certainly a nice change of pace, but more than that, the peaceful, meandering drive gave me a chance to think about how I deal with frustrations and challenges, especially when it’s only a rainy day. David used to tell the girls when they were growing up, “Choose your attitude.” And I remember how my attitude toward wind changed in France. So although I trust YOUR attitude is beyond reproach, I’m going to close with a favorite Buechner passage about loving rain. Loving rain. Imagine. But honestly, he’s almost got me convinced. (I recommend reading it slowly, like poetry, to feel the resonance. This man knows how to put words together.)

I loved the rain as a child. I loved the sound of it on
the leaves of trees and roofs and window panes and
umbrellas and the feel of it on my face and bare legs. I
loved the hiss of rubber tires on rainy streets and the
flip-flop of windshield wipers. . . . A rainy day was a special day for me in a sense that no other kind of day was—a day when the ordinariness of things was suspended with ragged skies drifting to the color of pearl and dark streets turning to dark rivers of reflected light and even people transformed somehow as the rain drew them closer by giving them something to think about together, to take common shelter from, to complain of and joke about in ways that made them more like friends than it seemed to me they were on ordinary sunny days. 

But more than anything, I think, I loved rain for the power it had to make indoors seem snugger and safer and a place to find refuge in . . . . I loved rain for making home seem home more deeply . . . ∼Frederick Buechner — A Sacred Journey

Anyone have a quote for Mondays?

On the Water

A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable. ~William Wordsworth

The last post was all about noticing the moment we’re in while we’re in it, so here are a few of our recent moments. We’ve been heading back over to Sunapee for the weekends, since it’s not much more than an hour on beautiful winding country roads. So picture us here:

Sommerro on Lake Sunapee

Last weekend, while cruising around Herrick Cove, we saw this guy . . .


. . . who very delicately stepped back behind this boathouse . . .


. . . apparently to avoid the paparazzi (me), and peeked out at us through the back door. Excusez-moi!

You may be noticing that my favorite Sunapee weekends include being on the water. This past Saturday morning, David and I took the boat out before breakfast to catch a shot of Brittany’s favorite picturesque boathouse while the sun was still on it . . .

Old Wood Boathouse Enhanced. . . and discovered that we really need to institute a new Sunapee tradition: breakfast cruises. It was glassy calm, only occasionally rocking us a bit when the early water skiers went by, and even then with a mesmerizing undulation, the surface of the water like molten silver, the sun warm and easy. Paradise. We puttered home as slowly as possible, and only headed back when we did because David was missing his coffee.

I’m not alone. Yesterday was “Love Your Lake Day” on Lake Sunapee, including the Antique Boat Parade, and all the antique boats gathered here in Gardner Bay to . . .um . . . circle the wagons? . . .  get their ducks in a row? . . . I’m not sure, but they went round and round for a while, not quite close enough for a great shot, but close enough that we could see that some people on Lake Sunapee have some beautiful old Chris-Crafts.

Antique Boat Parade, Lake Sunapee
Antique Boat Parade, Lake Sunapee

And a bit later on Sunday, we had the privilege of witnessing the maiden voyage–post-restoration–of Eb’s old wooden boat:

Eb's Boat LaunchBesides “messing about in boats,” what is it about water? It captivates me in a way few other things do, the changing light and colors, the soothing rhythm of waves and ripples, the peace of mist rising at dawn.

Lake Blues Cloud Bank

I have been overcome by the beauty and richness of our life together, those early mornings setting out, those evenings gleaming with rivers and lakes below us, still holding the last light. ∼Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Sunset on Sunapee Cropped

Wherever you are, I wish for you water.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. ∼Psalm 23


The Loop

If you’re willing to brave the deer flies, which are truly, maddeningly persistent, there is a lovely three-ish-mile walk up and down country roads, starting and ending . . . well . . . wherever you choose to start and end, hence the moniker “The Loop.” We start, of course, at the end of the drive, making a sharp left up to a fetching, dim little green path through the woods–the domain of a number of very territorial insects, but oh well. Once past that, it widens into a nice unpaved road which spills out into a quirky little hamlet called Westminster West. It has apparently been here a while:

Yes, it does say, "EST. 1784"
Yes, it does say, “EST. 1784”

If you have time for a slight detour–and of course you do: you’re on a country walk in Vermont–instead of a left at the cemetery, continue straight another thirty yards or so to appreciate this:

Westminster West, Vermont
Westminster West, Vermont

Eagle's Roost Tree CroppedAnd a bit further on . . . well, this:

Yes, someone turned a tree upside down. They’re very artsy here in Vermont. We did not hang around to see the massive eagle (or pterodactyl) that laid these eggs.

It may have escaped your notice that Westminster West is an international crossroads (although Sturgis is not mentioned), but if your GPS fails you, you can consult this:










Once you’ve got your bearings, make a sharp left, back toward the church and the cemetery and you’ll be rewarded with this sight:

Westminster West, Vermont
Westminster West, Vermont

Seriously. It’s like calendar photos everywhere you look. A few more sights from the loop:

Sheep Barn Enhanced and Cropped


Mossy Rock Wall Enhanced

Bird Condo Trimmed and Enhanced


I’ve just started a book by Alice Steinbach called Without Reservations, in which Ms. Steinbach* says of her own year of adventure, she hoped to learn “how to stop rushing from place to place, always looking ahead to the next thing while the moment in front of me slipped away unnoticed.” That’s what we’re trying to do, too, and sometimes I think we’re even succeeding a little bit.

“When I entered my fifties–the Age of Enlightenment, as I came to call it,” she writes, ” . . . I’d knocked around enough to know that, in the end, what adds up to a life is nothing more than the accumulation of small daily moments.” And although I believe there’s also something mysterious and transcendent, and sometimes even holy, that can infuse those moments and make them not really small at all, I agree with her that the moment we’re in is all we really have. Here’s wishing you transcendent and even holy moments, every one of them fully noticed.

*I have a feeling Alice Steinbach will soon be appearing on my quotes page, so keep checking.