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After a rainy start March warms up quickly and it feels like winter is finally
over; spring arrives by the first week with temperatures in the high 60s. It’s
glorious to walk around and sit outdoors in the sidewalk cafes again and very
good news for Carnival in Toulouse.
The second week in March the Place Capitole turns into bedlam as it fills
with thousands of people ready to party hard. Wild, brightly painted, sparkly
costumes and faces parade as they sing and dance the week before Lent. There
are giant costumes worn by people on stilts, parodying the mayor and other
political figures. Bands carrying musical instruments try to march in time
but generally fall into confusion as onlookers swarm into the parade, dancing
enthusiastically with the music. It’s definitely an ‘audience participation’ event
and continues way into the small hours of the morning as the parade winds all
over the old town section of Toulouse.
At the local concert hall, Jane Birkin is appearing as part of her world tour
for the new album called ‘Arabesque’, a collection of music by
Serg Gainsbourg, France’s iconic songwriter. She just appeared on a television
show and was stunningly good so it’s a ‘must see’ since the
venue, Halle Aux Grains, is only a ten-minute walk away from the boat. The
show is beautiful and showcases the most famous songs in this country. Despite
the fact she is English, Jane is one of France’s cultural treasures and
sings delightfully in French.
Oo-La-La is now ‘official’; her name was finally put on the transom
and bow, it looks really good. Soon it will be time to get moving again. The
engines were run and we thought something could be caught on the propeller.
So, who you gonna call? The pompiers! (Firemen)
In France the pompiers are used to help out in any situation and boaters use
them frequently to dive under the boat if there is something on the prop or
if the hull needs examination. Since they are just across the street it is
easy to make a casual visit and see if they can be of assistance. Within a
couple of hours three of them are alongside in a large inflatable dingy; the
station captain and two divers covered from head to toe in wetsuits. Even though
it’s warm outside the water is very chilly. Cheerfully they complete
the job within a half an hour. To thank them for their work we present a bottle
of Ricard Pastis, a popular drink in the south of France. The captain does
not want to accept, but the two shivery divers do so enthusiastically.
People are coming from many different countries back to their boat here in
Port St. Sauveur. The first one to return and actually get out on the canal
again is a family of four from Hamburg, Germany. Their little craft is only
about twenty feet long at best but they obviously get the most out of her;
they had a week of vacation long before any of the bigger boats even saw their
Its great fun to meet our neighbors. We enjoyed a charming soiree on board
Floraposte with Patsy and Andrew Diamond from England. Their boat was built
there and has a narrowboat feeling but is much wider and spacious. It’s
also lovely inside and out. A Dutch couple owns Convivio, a good-looking motor-yacht
with black hull and red topsides, their website is: www.convivo.nl. They have
already been up and down the Rhone on her so we’ll be looking for any
helpful tips they have to offer.
The third week of March the locks are officially open and the canal is back
in business. The look of the marina changes suddenly with the appearance of
several sailboats and an ocean going bright yellow tug. The sailboats vary
tremendously in size and appearance; the smallest being a beautiful wooden
wherry from England to the largest, an impressive steel yacht of Swedish origin.
All of them have their masts unstepped and lying across the deck lengthwise;
the bridges on the Canal du Midi are too low to accommodate any mast at all.
Odile and Jacky invite us to attend an art opening near Gaillac in the village
of Senouillac. The host is David Marshall; he has renovated an impressive estate,
Chateau de Linardie, which has many different unique rooms for displaying paintings
from diverse artists. The opening is a grand success; at least a couple of
hundred attendees fill the gorgeous stone rooms and mill about with glasses
of robust red wine in hand.
It is a good opportunity to visit Gaillac, a town well known for its wine.
This is where the first vines were planted in France, back when the Romans
occupied the area. Since the season is not yet fully ‘on’, we knock
on the door of the family that owns the vineyard, ‘Mas de Doat’.
It is a picturesque place, with an original stone bread oven and a properly
chilly cave with huge vats of ‘vin ordinaire’ and AOC (Appelation
Controllee, meaning a better quality than ordinary). The vat wine is sold by
the liter; the proprietor himself pours it into a mylar bag with something
that resembles a garden hose. It is then boxed, the same way any boxed wine
in the grocery store would be. Except this is really fresh, almost bubbles
on the tongue when first tasted at home. The price is low: about 80 cents a
liter for ‘ordinaire’ and $1.20 for the AOC. They also have bottled
wines to keep in the cellar for a few years.
The south of France is the country’s biggest red wine producer. So there
should be many more visits to these cellars in future travels. Oo-La-La will
soon be continuing down the Canal du Midi toward Buzet, another wine producing
town. The plan is to continue to the end of the canal and then turn around.
The season is open so let the games begin.
.....on to April