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Winter in Paris 2003-2004
(All photographs can be viewed at a larger size by
clicking on the image)
The end of Winter in Paris and the beginning of Spring, we understand now
why so much is said about ‘springtime in Paris’ – the winter
is cold! But, having said that, it is still Paris and the gothic charm that
descends upon the city during these months makes cozy fireplaces, hot chocolate,
and the heat lamps on the sidewalk cafes very wonderful. Those who stayed the
entire time at Port Arsenal formed a merry band; there are quite a few live-a-boards
from all over the world. Several couples from California, a few others from
the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, an entire family of five from Denmark, a New
Zealand pair of gals who have sailed their boat for the past 9 years together
and two English couples, one of which live aboard their pretty bright red narrow
But above all it is the French who live here all year round at Port Arsenal
who provide the welcome and warmth. Most of the boaters in the marina are French,
probably more than half. They live in a great variety of vessels, from luxury-converted
tjalks, to motor yachts and ex-hire fiberglass cruisers. There are even a few
beautifully restored wood sailboats that look lovingly cared for, even in the
midst of the most wintry weather. We all continue to congregate monthly at
the barbeque and then separately on each other’s boats.
It snowed on New Year’s Day in Port Arsenal, creating a magical scene
in the marina. However, snow was rare and it never lasted long. Mostly there
was rain and it lifted the level of the Seine River almost to the top of the
Arsenal lock that keeps the boats safe from the rising river. Many times we
walked over the lock, observing that mere centimeters created the difference
in the level of the canal versus the river. Once that level is even, the lock
ceases to operate and is left open until the water comes back down. It happened
two years ago, the water level of the river rising several feet above that
of the canal.
Arsenal was flooded, the quays submerged and the floating docks inched up
the pilings creating discomfort. The water this year stayed low enough to keep
the lock working, but just. Our walks over the various bridges of the Seine
such as the Pont Neuf and Pont Marie would find us pointing out various parts
of the banks that had disappeared under the rising water: park benches, lamp
posts, even roads were affected. Sometime in February these items reappeared
to stay for the rest of the year. Whew!
Let’s start at the beginning of the holiday season: Thanksgiving. In
France? But of course! There are enough Americans in this French capital to
enable a store called Thanksgiving to cater to their every whim. It is only
a few minutes stroll away from Arsenal and they stock everything from canned
pumpkin to Pepto Bismol. The adjoining restaurant serves on Turkey Day as well
just in case you are not into cooking. We were lucky enough to be invited on
board Nooit Gedacht, a 23-meter (about 70 foot) long tjalk and a lovely home.
Patrick and Lynn, from the San Francisco Bay area, created a luscious meal
with turkey rotisseried by the local butcher and Lynn’s recipe for maple
cream pie – divine.
The Paris Wine Salon took place the end of November and it was absolutely
huge. Hundreds of vintners covered a space the size of a football field – we
quickly admitted defeat faced with bottled armies from Burgundy, Champagne,
Bordeaux, the Rhone valley, etc. - virtually every wine region in the country.
The sheer size of the salon daunted the most dedicated taster from battling
across. Since it was still morning we enjoyed testing a few champagnes, then
retreated to lunch. It was a memorable experience and taught us to stick to
the smaller wine tasting events.
We continue to enjoy wines from the south of France, especially from the region
around the Canal du Midi. Paris has proven to be an excellent place to buy
these wines at very low prices, much to our surprise. Many of our friends enjoy
wine as well and we exchange bottles regularly, it is a great excuse for a
happy hour or dinner. The best deals are found not in the wine shops, which
are often very warm and a poor climate in which to store wine bottles. It’s
the chilly grocery stores that stock excellent buys. However there is no wine
expert around to counsel one on what to buy and the variety is daunting, to
say the least. So Rob wrote up a guideline that he calls “Marlane’s
Rules for Wine”. We’d like to share this with you, let us know
what you think!
Marlane’s Rules for Wine by Rob
- Start with the bottle itself
The bottle should be heavy with a deep dimple in the bottom.
- Now look at the label. A.O.C. = Appellation Origine Contrôlée
The wine was produced and the grapes blended within the regional control.
- Mis en Bouteille au Château or Propriétaire
Means the vintner, not a cooperative or factory, bottled this wine.
- Fut en Chene, is French for Oak barrel which adds a nutty or woody
flavor, a taste we like.
- Numbered bottle.
Some vintners number each bottle they produce, a sign of extra care in
- Vintage, two or more years old.
The year the wine was produced but not necessarily bottled.
- Medailles (Medals)
The wine won high rank at a wine festival and the medal is usually a
sticker not printed within the label. Beware of labels that have
a design that
looks like a medal but, on close inspection, is not. The real medals
silver and bronze and say what city and year the award was given
as well as the name
of the wine fair. They are independent stickers on the bottle.
It would stand to reason that a medaled bottle of wine should be expensive…but
this is not so! This might sound surprising, especially if you're used to buying wines in classy hotels in the mold of the brighton hotel, but it's true! Great bottles of wine can be had for less than three euros (about $3.60 as of this writing), in fact several of our favorites are about two euros thirty ($2.80). It doesn’t take a lot to get great quality; often price is just a factor of popularity and publicity – nothing to do with taste! Surprisingly some of the biggest disappointments in France are in the famous wine regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy where the best bottles
are exported around the globe for small fortunes.
Wine gives one a great warm glow inside but as December rolls around Rob gets
serious about the heating – he installs an Antarctic Dickinson Diesel
stove made in Canada. Made of shiny stainless steel it’s large fireplace
gives off tremendous heat and looks good enough to warm on the coldest day;
it was designed for the fishing boats in the North Pacific. The installation
went well, easier than getting the stove into France through customs. It sat
in customs for weeks as we received various bills for exorbitant duty charges
on every little part. Finally we told the shipper to send it back. On a trip
to Key West, Florida we had the manufacturer ship it to us there – taken
as luggage it sailed through French customs despite the enormity of the packaging.
The stove heats the radiators that are spread around various areas in the boat
and is lovely.
To while away some of the winter evenings in front of the fire it was a delight
to read “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown and explore some of the
many Parisian sites that played a part in the book. Church St. Sulpice is particularly
eerie and The Louvre took on a new significance. It is said that special guided ‘DaVinci
Code’ tours are springing up in Paris as the old becomes renewed.
Marlane’s book “Living the Dream on the Canals of England” was
published the end of 2003 and is available on www.amazon.com as well as www.publishamerica.com.
A few weeks later she had the great fortune to meet Mr. Peter Mayle author
of “A Year in Provence”. His new book, “A Good Year” has
just come out as well. We have admired his work for a decade and first learned
of petanque through his stories.
However the books are closed for serious partying with new friends, the agenda
for December, and everyone enjoys a round robin of dinner parties and happy
hours. Sailboat Sugar with the two Kiwi gals, Chris and Millie, share a great
and simple recipe: dates wrapped in bacon and sautéed – yum! Their
boat is an Amel and they entertained us with stories of staying in Venice,
Italy for several weeks. Their previous boat was a Westsail just as the premier
Oo-La-La was as well. A few days later Joan and Al from ‘Dol-fijn’ took
us along on a road trip to Belgium where we followed some of their past voyages
along the beautiful Meuse River. Belgium may speak French but is very different
from France in architecture, landscape, food and personality. It really felt
like we went farther than a three-hour trip would normally take one. Christmas
Eve was chez Charles in his duplex near the Pompidou – it was a toasty
evening spent with his partner Michael along with Carole and Marie-Alice. Christmas
Day found us aboard Dolfijn with numerous friends from all over the port and
The days get chillier and the holidays see some of the coldest temperatures
yet. By New Year’s Eve it is freezing but Fabian and Ting host a semi-outdoor
party; at least 50 people attend and all are merry until the wee hours. There
is even a Scotsman in full dress with bagpipes; he and his French wife have
a place in Paris and keep their boat ‘Andante’ in nearby Nogent.
The photos say it all.
Even though the website has now converted to seasonal from monthly editions,
we still receive mail from all over the planet and love it. Google can translate
the site for non-English speakers and the reports are that it does a pretty
good job. The guestbook has over a hundred signees; we only post messages expressly
written for the guestbook, never private mail to us through the ‘contact’ button
or otherwise. Some very exciting and wonderful stories have been shared – but
we respect the privacy of your communication to us. We enjoyed hearing from
handicapped readers who dream of exploring Europe’s waterways. Many sailors
with physical challenges successfully cruise on narrowboats, motor yachts and
sailboats; often hireboats are especially designed for easy access to all.
We say go for it.
We also had the great pleasure of meeting several readers of the website who
dropped by to chat in person! One couple, Diane and George, have just converted
their hard copy magazine “France On Your Own” to cyberspace. It
is a great read and guide to the pleasures of France. Marlane was honored to
contribute to the first Internet issue, a truly beautiful creation and it’s
free! Click on www.franceonyourown.com and enjoy. Speaking of Magazines, our
website www.robandmarlane.com was very favorably reviewed by “Living
France” a glossy and prestigious hardcopy magazine dedicated to France
and French property in particular. They give the site a 10 out of 10 and say
the only thing against it is “It may tempt you to weigh anchor and set
off down the Canal du Midi at once!”
Meanwhile Rob valiantly continues to attend daily French classes, he is a
trooper. It is true that most Parisians speak some English now, much more than
they ever did before, but he is determined to ‘parler’ with the
best of them.
Despite the cold the outdoor markets flourish and now feature winter vegetables.
Several new varieties of potatoes appear; one of them is a deep purple color.
France has dozens of potato types, having discovered them as a delicacy in
the new world; there are potato marchands who offer bins with an array of colorful
choices. Zucchinis, squash, nuts, spices and cured meats are plentiful along
with steaming pots of ‘choucroute’; home-made sauerkraut with sausages
and ham that are only available in winter. Fresh oysters and mussels are everywhere
and the merchants hand out free samples. We also discovered another daily outdoor
market in the Place Aligre, only a few blocks away. It is an Arab market and
the prices are even lower than in the French market that is already about half
the price of the supermarket. It tells us a lot about what we pay to shop through
large chain stores: the cost is dear not just to buyers but to the sellers
as well. Everyone wins buying direct from the producer and it makes good sense
to resist the monolithic Carrefour, Monoprix, and Leader Price stores. Maybe
we are becoming French!
Speaking of shopping, the ‘soldes’ or twice yearly big sales roll
around end of January. We speculate the countrywide sale of clothing originated
with the high-end haute-couture retailers. These six week sales occur just
before the new line of high-end fashion rolls out on the cat walks; everyone
wants to empty their stores of the old season to bring in the new. The discounts
are up to 80 percent on some of the most unique designer items in Paris. The
streets are full of shopping bag laden people taking advantage and the cafes
do a brisk business as well.
So February rolls in with some bright sunshine and hopeful thoughts of spring.
The dollar is shrinking against the euro but living in Paris is not as expensive
as New York or London. Lunch at an elegant Parisian restaurant averages about
10 euros for a ‘prix fixe’ and the museums are free on the first
Sunday of every month. So there are ways to make up the difference and not
feel the pinch.
Around mid-February we attended the Democratic Caucus at the American Church
in Paris. The turn out is astounding and there is not enough room to hold the
over 2,500 ex-pat Americans. It is a record crowd and we are moved into the
main part of the church; they spill over the sides of the pews. We leave after
a couple of hours, feeling we did our duty as voters, but happy to be living
outside of the fray.
Talking about politics, the French are still up in arms over many issues that
affect their economy. Most important of all, workers from all professions are
protesting budget cuts and attempts to reduce the amount of holidays (the most
in Europe and perhaps the world). Even the lawyers went on strike for a couple
of days. Manifestations (strikes and demonstrations) are abundant in Paris;
one day the pompiers (firemen) created a huge scene at the Place Bastille,
stopping traffic with numerous trucks and blowing up flares and other fireworks,
enough to create a gigantic cloud of pink and gray smoke that floats over the
Arsenal. The days of the Revolution live on!
March brings delightfully warm and sunny weather for at least two weeks. People
stroll around in T-shirts and shorts. Lovers loll on the still-green grass
and families picnic in the parks. The trees start to bud and the daffodils
are in full bloom. People appear in boats that have lain quiet and lifeless
all winter. Tarps are taken off and hoses are all over the docks, boaters washing
off the winter to get ready to go. Many boats depart, taking advantage of the
warmth to get an early start. We say good-bye to Al and Joan of ‘Dol-fijn’,
the Kiwis on ‘Sugar’, the Danish catamaran family on ‘Tango’ and
Harry of London. New boats come in as well, but are only on a short stopover.
The tide has turned. Winter is officially over and to celebrate there is a
special event at Arsenal: Venetian Carnival!
Marlane is in French class now and invites fellow students to partake in the
colorful celebration at Arsenal. The weather is clear and warm so Parisians
fill the basin. The costumes are spectacular as dozens of masked persons elegantly
float about on the quay, graciously allowing their photo to be taken by hundreds
of onlookers. Some chilled white wine with friends aboard Oo-La-La completes
the beautiful day. These photos are particularly lovely.
In the evening we meet with fellow boaters for a celebratory dinner at Le
Grand Bleu, the restaurant located in the marina. Everyone is tired but happy
with the fun and festivities of the day and we find energy to dance and party
until the wee hours.
A few others poped in for a visit this winter, Rob’s sister Sharon and
friend Doriane and Cuban artist Carlos Tamayo
Now it is the middle of April and Spring is here to stay. During the winter
we kept in touch with friends we made along the way while cruising. One couple,
Gerard and Odile, are very interested in buying Oo-La-La. While we don’t
really want to give up the lifestyle, we realize she is a lot of motor for
the rivers and canals. She is truly built and equipped for the sea and Gerard
is excited about the opportunity to cruise France’s coastline. Rob and
Marlane are still dedicated to inland waterway cruising and would like a boat
with just one (quieter) motor that is purpose built for European canal cruising.
We agree on a price that, along with cash, includes Gerard’s 20-foot
cruiser, Ti Punch. We will either sell her or, if not, cruise remote canals
and lakes since she is delivered on her own trailer. After an initial meeting
onboard in February, they declare their interest to be serious. We make a rendezvous
with the boatyard in Meaux to have her surveyed and inspected. If all goes
well then Oo-La-La will have new owners.
Oddly enough one of Rob’s long time and dear friends from St. Louis,
Ted Reisinger and his friend Mary Kate visited us as well. The real strange
part is that we had lunch with Ted in New York City the day the QE2 took us
to England. Again, the last day we were in London before coming to France.
The day after selling the narrow boat, we had lunch together at the Engineers
Pub. Now the day before we leave Paris on Oo-La-La, we meet again that afternoon
at the famous restaurant Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. We wish
them both very well, Ted proposed to Mary Kate that evening at the Eiffel tower
and she accepted. Cheers!
Later that night ZaZa has a farewell dinner for us on board ‘Aphrodite’ – she
makes a wonderful dish of tuna tartare. In company are Chantal and Christian
of sailboat Danae and Patrick of Nooit Gedacht. It will be sad to say goodbye
to our neighborhood.
It is a beautiful sunny day motoring to Meaux. Once we arrive, Francois, the
owner of the marina, greets us. Gerard and Odile arrive the next morning as
Oo-La-La is hauled out of the water. After a long and thorough inspection,
the boat passes with flying colors. Oo-La-La now belongs to Gerard and Odile
from Sezanne in Champagne.
The next day Gerard brings his boat, Ti-Punch, to Meaux. Francois asks if
it is for sale since he has a buyer looking for a boat like this. We reply
that it is. Mr. Denis is selling his lovely English wide-boat called ‘Sweety’ and
wants a fast little speedboat. Ti-Punch is aptly named since it carries a wallop
in the 90 horsepower outboard motor. It fits his bill perfectly. Oops, we just
sold another boat.
We accompany Gerard and Odile for their first day onboard Oo-La-La. They will
keep the name. It is a cloudless sky that joins us the entire day. For lunch
we all celebrate with champagne, smoked salmon, Odile’s delicious roast
pork and homemade cherry tart. They also bring along an enormous jar of cherries
pickled in ‘eau de vie’, a strong alcoholic beverage. The cherries
have been marinating for four years and literally explode in our mouths with
flavor. Heady stuff. It is a perfect cruising day. In Nogent friends from Sezanne,
who will spend the weekend on board, meet them. We say goodbye to everyone
and to our beloved Oo-La-La at the port where a taxi waits to whisk us back
to Paris to the 16th arrondissement where our new home will be.
So here we are, boatless in Paris. However, we have plans. Stay tuned for
the spring/summer edition of www.robandmarlane.com: the adventure continues!
.....on to Southern France