November 2001

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our barging adventure has been the absence of daily news. We listen to French radio stations, but they talk so fast that we can only catch a sentence here or there.  Life is much more relaxing, and you sleep better at night without the constant input of new things to worry about. How blissfully our summer passed. There was nothing to worry about except difficult locks, strong river currents or where to buy bread when all of the village bakers were on vacation in August.

We always knew that if there were a major world event, we would hear about it right away. After all bad news travels fast.  On September 11th we had just arrived in Briare, and we were still in the middle of mooring along theOur new station wagon with Toby looking out the back window quay, when someone ran out of the boat next to ours and said that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.  Like so many other people in the world, our blissful summer ended for us on that day, and we began heading back to Roanne.

Friends from the port were waiting to catch our lines, as we moored in our old spot across from the Café Santa Monica.  We plugged back into our city electric box, reconnected our land line telephone, renewed our membership at the gym, and began to snuggle down for our second winter here.

The sudden loss of so many lives on September 11th, and the continuing threat of terrorist attacks reminded us that life is short, and that each day should be lived to its fullest.  We decided that we could do that best in a new car. We biked out to the local Peugeot dealer, and found just the car we wanted right there on Toby looking out the rear window of our station wagonthe lot. We haggled in our best French, enlisted the help of a French friend for the tricky bits, and drove home in a brand new car.

We bought a station wagon so that everyone in the family could have a comfortable seat with a good view.

 Hilltop village off in the distance






Now the beautiful countryside surrounding Roanne is ours. Within a ten minute drive from our boat, we can be out on country roads exploring hillside villages and admiring the scenery as the colors of summer change into the colors of fall.

Visits to Lyon and long lunches with friends at small country restaurants top our list of things to do this winter.  Also on the list, visiting all of the farmers' markets that Valley vieware held on different days of the week in the surrounding towns, and enjoying local events like the Christmas fair in Saint-Haon-le-Vieux.

Last weekend we invited friends along for a Sunday drive. We were McGooing around the back roads, admiring the scenery, when we stumbled upon a Beaujolais wine fair. We peeked in to see what it was all about, and ended up staying for hours chatting with people, tasting and buying great local wines, cheeses and sausages.

Our quality of life has already improved, and we haven't even left the area yet. If we want, this winter, we can take a trip to Southern France, Italy or Spain. Or we can just drive around the local back roads, as we did the other day, looking at horses and cows.

A close up of a white cow who is giving us the eye

Like the other day, some of them will look back at us and some of them won't.  Either way it will be great fun.

A white hores who will not look at us, he turned his head away

December 2001
Our Thanksgiving dinner made the local news.A photo of all of our Thankgiving dinner guests that was published in the Roanne newpaper

Thanksgiving is our favorite American holiday, and back home we always cooked for a crowd.  We had planned to invite our American friends here in the port over for dinner, but when we learned that they would be away, we knew that we needed to come up with another idea. After all of the tragic events in America, we did not want to be alone this year.

This winter, Wednesday night happy hour at the Café Santa Monica Our French friend, Otila, dressed up like an American Indianacross the street has become a very popular port event. We decided to invite all of the people from the port who are regulars at happy hour for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Since that would mean dinner for about 25 people, we asked Martine and Otila, the café's owners, if we could use their place for our party.  They agreed and said that we could take over their kitchen as soon as they finished serving lunch that day.  We told them that we would do all of the cooking and cleanup, and that they would be our guests.

They were very enthusiastic about our party. They wanted us to decorate with American flags, and they said that we definitely needed music for dancing. Martine said she wanted to learn cowboy line dancing, Otila decided she would come dressed as an Indian.

Our friends and barge neighbors, Peter and Jane, owned the best French restaurant in Cape Town for My mom's famous applesauce spice cakemany years. Peter is an excellent chef and as Jane makes fabulous desserts, so we asked them to be our head chefs. They also thought our party was a great idea. The four of us began planning the menu and trying to solve the problems presented by cooking this traditional American meal in France.  This year we were also determined to find all of the ingredients to make mom's famous applesauce spice cake, a family tradition at Thanksgiving.

canapesOur invitations were extended and eagerly accepted.  It would be an international gathering with our Dutch, Swiss, English and French barge neighbors as guests. We were happy when Jacky, our port captain and his wife, who live about an hour away, accepted. We only asked that each couple bring an hors-d'oeuvre for the cocktail hour before dinner, and we would provide the rest of the meal including the wine. For the week before the party there was an air of excitement around the port.  None of our guests had ever been to a Thanksgiving dinner before, and they all felt that this year it would be an especially important event.The bar before our party with all of the tables set and ready to go

We had several very enjoyable recipe testing lunches with our chefs. After we set the menu, we gave them carte blanche to do the shopping and cooking, since that is their expertise. Even though they were doing most of the work, we still had a long list of rather complicated chores.

close up of the table decorationsTrying to buy decorations for the café was more difficult than just a trip to the local Hallmark store to pick up turkey and pilgrim decorations. We used our American flag, flowers, paper table cloths, leaves that we collected on our walks around the port along with fruits and nuts that we bought at the market.

Everyone is at the tables eating their Thanksgiving dinnerThe seating arrangements were a real challenge.  Even though we are all friends, many of our guests speak only their native language, Dutch, German, French or English with just a few words in the other languages. It was important to put the bilingual people in the right locations to help the conversation flow. We put a group of English at one end of the table, next to them we sat some Dutch who also speak English and then a Dutch couple who also speak German. They were seated next to the Swiss couple who speak German and French and a bit of English. Next to the Swiss we sat another English couple who both also speak French and then a French couple who speak some English and then the French only speakers.  We, all of the cooks, sat at the French only end of the table near the kitchen so that we could hop up when needed.  With this seating arrangement, if someone at either end of the table said something important, it could be transmitted back through all of the languages to the other end of the table.

The day of our party we prepared some of the dishes in our own kitchens. The turkey went into Peter and Jane's oven in the morning and Jane put the finishing touches on the desserts that she had made the day before. We made the stuffing and mom's famous cake, because we were the only ones who knew how they should taste. Then we peeled the potatoes and yams, and prepared the vegetables for our chef to cook and season to perfection. After lunch we went to the café and set the tables, decorated and began cooking in their kitchen. Our guests soon arrived and just before we were ready to serve dinner a Reporter interviewing the chef reporter showed up to interview us. Our chefs explained the menu, and we all had trouble trying to explain the cranberry sauce. The word for cranberry in our French/English dictionary did not mean anything to the French and they did not recognize it by sight or flavor. That explains why we could not find any fresh cranberries here, and had to ask English friends to bring us cranberry sauce from England.

A beautiful roasted turkey on a serving trayBecause of the many skills of our chefs, our dinner was absolutely delicious. The buffet table abounded with good food and the turkey was wonderfully moist and flavorful, a real American dream.  The conversation and wine flowed easily around the table and almost everyone came back for seconds. Since this was the first Thanksgiving for all of our guests, there were many questions about all of the dishes, especially the stuffing and the cranberry sauce.A table full of side dishes

After dinner we set out the desserts.  We had a pumpkin pie, a mince pie, a fudge cake, a chocolate mousse cake and our applesauce spice cake.  Even though, in true Thanksgiving tradition we had all eaten too much, the desserts looked so tempting that everyone wanted to sample a bit of each.  Mom's cake was a big hit, and people are still talking about all of Jane's wonderful treats.

A table full of dessertsAfter dinner, as we turned up the music for dancing, our guests surprised us with a gift. A beautiful travel book that is full of good ideas for interesting trips to all corners of France. They all signed the book and wrote, "For the 1st Roanne Thanksgiving, thanks for a great day.".

Our guests are right, it was a great Thanksgiving Day. This must be how traditions begin, everything starts with a 1st.
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