April has come and gone. London is done . And now it is May. I write from France. The showers have followed us. Yesterday, May first was glorious, but today is May second, and we have returned to skies the color of wet sheep.
We travelled to France by Eurostar. I am never happy travelling beneath the English Channel. It is a long 20 minutes as I envision fault-lines, shifting plates, tremors and earthquakes which would crush our underground passage. It’s a horror movie in the making – a bit like the Titanic but worse because we would be trapped within the train. Rose was able to jump into the North Atlantic; we would not be able to jump. As it was, I dozed off and woke up safe on the far side.
Our destination was Paris and then south by train to Nevers where we would meet our rental barge and slowly wend our way back to Paris.
I sit facing backwards as the train speeds south from Paris. Facing forward, you rush towards; facing backwards, the present is the past before you have a moment to acknowledge it. I’ve “been in the moment,” but the moment passed in a gasp. If the present is the past, and I am in-between, where am I? I can see, reflected in the window on my side, the passengers sitting across the aisle. Their reflections are ghost-like. Are we all ghosts drifting through a Netherland?
The terrain between the Channel and Paris is flat and agricultural. Acres and acres of unfenced land in various shades of freshly tilled brown and sprouting green interspersed with bright buttercup-yellow squares of rapeseed in bloom. After the irregular, crazy-quilt fields of England (a triangle here and a trapezoid there hemmed in by dry-stacked fences and hedgerows) the cultivated land of northern France seems Soviet state-farm expansive. I find myself speculating as to the number of years this land has been under cultivation. Is the soil played out? How much fertilizer does it take to make a crop?
I think of “The Gleaners” by Millet. I try to remember when I first saw a print of this painting – in primary school, I think. It was above the blackboard – just above the alphabet in cursive letters. I have no idea why a small rural school in up-state New York would have a painting of French peasants, but the image and my childhood memory (so much stronger than the education and experience of my later years) still holds sway. Looking out at the industrialized farming, I am disappointed not to see a peasant. (When the painting was first exhibited, it was poorly received by the French upper classes. A painting of field hands was not an appropriate subject for ART.)
My husband and I and l are travelling the month of May aboard a barge captained by Mark and Lynn Prebble who also call Colorado home. “The Waterman,” built in 1925, is a burly, 25-ton boat. It is a lot like driving a tank. Why our good friend Nigel Orr, the boat’s owner, would loan a 25-ton boat to Americans who speak no French and have minimal canal boat experience is beyond me.
Wish us luck. We will need it.