Our final week aboard The Waterman- our 1925 Dutch barge… so much better (note my nose in the air) than those newer, plastic boats- has been somewhat a shock. After three weeks of pastoral bliss, we have left rural France where excitement was counted in the total of locks navigated and number of cygnets herded by parental swans.
The cygnets, their down so feather light, looked like floating dust bunnies. Two adult swans led the way, and six cygnets followed in their wake. A second cluster of five cygnets followed the first. Two more adults brought up the rear. We wondered if the four adults were related. Might the two females be sisters or cousins? Perhaps one male married his best friend’s sister? All we knew for sure was that if we had drawn too close to the babies, these serene swans would not have hesitated to peck our eyes out.
We loved Montargis (the last of the picturesque canal towns) with its Venice-like network of small canals. Montargis is large enough to find anything you would want; small enough to have a distinct identity. Walking the canals we saw a delivery van proclaiming the advantages of horse meat. Yes, horse meat is lean, but I would rather not eat it. Horse meat is just not part of my culture.
Along this same train of cultural thought… the windows of Eglise Ste-Madeline are beautiful beyond compare. But one window in particular caught my attention. The window celebrates the introduction of Christianity to the Far East.
As I reflected on this particular window. I dropped to my knees on a Prie Dieu. Looking down on the armrest, I saw that someone had carved ‘Vive l’islam’ on the surface.
East and West – will the twain never meet? Our tribalism and cultural biases are primal. I don’t hold out much hope.
We left the canal and joined the busier more turbulent River Seine at Nemours, and as the landscape became more commercial and suburban, my dissatisfaction mounted.
I am such a Romantic! You might think that I would prefer to leave the 21st century and become a 17th century goose girl. Gone are the century-old, stone houses and self-contained villages within a golden landscape. Gone are the narrow two-lane country roads with grass growing in the cracked asphalt.
The pace has picked up. Cars crowd and billboards blighten the highways. Paris is a magnet and like iron filings, we are drawn to the city at ever faster speed. The houses fronting the river are more contemporary: a high-rise here, a bungalow there, and every so often a white, window-walled, California cube. The houses fronting the Seine are an international mix and without nationality. They leave me feeling bereft.