June 2003

 Toby sitting beside the table in a nice restaurant giving his please feed me look.

Toby was our constant companion, and our good will ambassador. Taking immediately to his new life in France, he learned the language, nobody could say more with their eyes than he could, and he quickly acquired the savoir-faire of a native. He helped us meet people wherever we went, and he became known as a bon vivant along the French canals. He adored fine dining, and because of his impeccable restaurant manners, he was always warmly welcomed.

Dr. Isabelle, who had been taking care of Toby during his illness, said about him, "C'était un chien tellement attachant et Toby restera toujours pour moi la gentillesse incarnée du golden retriever.". We agree, he was the most endearing dog, and his gentle presence added so much to our lives. Now, we miss him, and our boat feels so quiet and empty.

 two young french girls


 So, what do you do when you're sad and lonely? We decided to take two teenage French girls on board for a short cruise, hoping that they would distract us, make a little noise, and fill up all of that empty space where Toby used to be.




Nina had been our French teacher when we first arrived in France. We were next door neighbors when we were living in her mom's gîte in St. Symphorien. We had originally booked our room for two months, whileNina at 10 years old we made some changes to our newly purchased barge, but since remodeling projects always take longer than expected, we ended up staying there for seven months. We hired Nina to come over a couple of evenings a week to help us learn French. At the time, she didn't speak English, but she would come over with a blackboard, chalk, children's books and sometimes a shopping bag full of items from her kitchen that she would show us and ask, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?". She was always very well prepared for our lessons, and she tried her best not to laugh at our mistakes. She was ten then, and now she is thirteen and studying English in school. She needs to practice speaking English, so we thought it was only fair to pay her back for all of those evening lessons three years ago.

After several discussions over dinner with Nina's mom, Nathalie, we worked out the details for a short test trip with Nina and her friend Emilie, to see how it would go. Since having them on board to learn English would also be good for our French, we thought that maybe they could cruise for a week with us later in the summer, if all went well this time.

We had been enjoying the social scene in St. Jean de Losne for a couple of weeks, and when it was time to leave, we simply cruised up the river for one hour, went through one lock and moored at Bourgogne Marine for the night. Nathalie and Nina live within walking distance of this marina, so it was convenient for the girls to hop on board there.

Nathalie brought the girls over, and after they got settled in, they went for a swim in the river before dinner. They came back refreshed and giggling, and we showed them our CD collection so that they could choose some music that they liked. Speaking slowly in English, we set the table on the back deck together, naming each item that we laid out. We barbecued cheeseburgers, and showed the girls how to prepare their burgers American style. We made potato salad and stocked up on sodas, and we had also bought some ice cream for dessert. We didn't know what they would want to eat, but we decided on typically American meals. Fortunately, we had also stocked up on lots of fruit, yogurt, milk and cereal. It was interesting to see what they chose to eat during their visit. They preferred water to sodas, and they ate more of the fruit and yogurt, than the American style snacks that we had bought just for them. They did eagerly raise their hands, however, when we asked who wanted ice cream for dessert.

Nina and Emilie sitting on the bow as we cruise

Early the next morning we cast off for Dole. The girls took their positions up on the bow, and we were treated to the pleasant sound of their conversation and their laughter.

We were impressed when they brought out their schoolbooks, and we worked on their English pronunciation as we traveled along on the canal. Then they told us that they really wanted to learn to talk like Southern California surfers, so we put on a Beach Boys CD, because that was the best that we could do to help.

Once in dole, we settled into the mooring where we would stay for a couple of days, while the girls went to shop in town. Later, we joined them at a café, where we spoke English together and they had to find the words to explain what was making them giggle as they watched people walk by. Sometimes it was someone's flowery purse or an unusual pair of shoes. They had to really stretch their English vocabularies to explain some of the things that they found funny.the girls standing on the side deck with Dole in the background





People seemed to find us amusing too. We noticed at lunch one day that people at neighboring tables were turning around to take a peek at us.

We had decided that the girls would speak English, and that we would speak French, and this clearly puzzled everyone around us. Because of our accents, you could tell that they were wondering how we came to be together, and why we were speaking different languages to each other.






the girls at lunch



Nina and Emilie were clever, amusing, very well behaved, and a pleasure to be with, just like Toby always. With their smiles and the sound of their laughter, they helped us begin to heal.