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February is the coldest month we have had so far on the water in France. Temperatures
are close to freezing many days but the canal glazed over just once and very
lightly. A large peniche, our neighbor Samsara, promptly broke up the ice the
same day it formed. On board we keep toasty with a very effective Eberspacher
We’re working hard at improving our French and meet regularly with interesting
friends who help. Jacky, a talented artist, has taken Rob under his wing to
give him special lessons at the “Nabuchodonosor”
( the name of the
largest wine bottle size) wine bar (15 rue du Coq d'Inde, Toulouse) along with the owner, Roland. They are ensuring
that Rob develops a strong Provencal accent along with a characteristic growl
when it comes to pronouncing his ‘r’. His progress improves with
each glass of Roland’s local wine from Gaillac or Buzet, wine-producing
villages in this region. Roland also smokes meats in the cellar of the café;
occasionally enticing aromas of spices and smoke waft up to the bistrot.
Dinner parties are still great fun for us and one particularly cold and stormy
night we enjoy the company of Jacques, Odile, Maud and Jake. Jacques brings
a delicious home made terrine. Jake, who arrives late, calls to say he is bringing
a soup but there is so much food already we all say “no more!”
February also livens up with the enormous sales that occur all over France.
The first two weeks of this month are dedicated to tremendous markdowns everywhere
from the designer boutiques such as Yves St. Laurent and Givenchy to big department
stores. Huge “Soldes” signs in the windows indicate “Sale” in
French. The shopping crowds are enervated and it boosts the economy for the
cafes and restaurants as well.
Which brings us back to food, always a serious matter in this country. With
admiration we have observed that the local street people, the folks that panhandle
small change on the same corner daily, disappear between noon and 3PM to break
bread together in a plaza away from their working corner. There they have a
proper meal with baguettes, cooked takeaway food and wine. It’s all very
civilized, no McDonald’s for them.
Valentine’s Day brings out amazing confections in the chocolate shops.
Elaborate heart boxes, entirely made out of chocolate, are filled with a variety
of delicious goodies made with fresh cream, nuts or fruit. They come in all
sizes and can get very large. The quality of the chocolate is such that they
do not last long no matter how big they get.
To top the month off there were extremely high winds for several days in a
row. Reaching speeds of 130 kilometers per hour, they create havoc all over
town and on the water as well. Several unattended boats break loose from their
moorings and covers that were lightweight simply get blown off and away. The
canal is whipped up with white caps and small waves. We get pushed around a
bit but have no real problems. Luckily there are no roof tiles on the boat
or nearby; the streets have plenty of terra cotta pieces lying around. One
day Domi comes by driving a small tourist boat; he drives right up to us just
to have a chat. The high winds blow him about perilously and he waves goodbye
as a gust gets him sideways and propels him down the canal.
During one windy night we go off to hear an incredible guitar player in a
band called “Mr. Swing”. They played at Le Griffon Bistrot, a place
close by the marina. While enjoying the music we make friends with one of the
locals, Jose, who lives in an apartment building next to the port. He invites
us over his place for a true French ‘pot-au-feu’ that is really
delicious. He speaks no English at all and makes us work hard at our French,
which is good.
The last day of the month, Jacky has a get together at his ‘atelier’.
Odile brings a delicious selection of saucissons, hams and salamis to go with
rich red wine from Gaillac. There we meet another artist, Eva Kristeva, who
is also an architect. She is visiting Ireland in a month and, since she speaks
no English, is exchanging beginning French lessons for English with Rob. It
is touching to see so many people interested in helping out and also in learning
or improving their English.
The howling wind finally stops and warm air from the south comes after it:
Spring is definitely in the air. Boat owners are appearing to reclaim the water,
suddenly people loaded with boxes of cleaning supplies come to scrub down the
hulls and polish the windows. We are no exception and enjoy the de-winterizing
process as well. It’s also time to introduce Nikita to life on deck.
Every bug fascinates her and she loves playing with ropes and boxes. Sometimes
her desire to be part of the scene is too much and she has to go back inside
so some work can get done.
As the weather warms we are eager to continue the voyage, but patience prevails.
Although Toulouse has palm trees and the parks are still green with flowers
in bloom, it is too chilly to drive the boat comfortably from the outside steering
station. Toulousans promise us, however, that it will be very pleasant and
comfortable by the end of March. In the meantime we are checking all systems
inside and out in preparation to visit some of the smaller villages that were
passed on the way up the Canal du Midi.
.....on to March 2003