November 2002

 Port of Roanne

Slipping confidently into our mooring in Roanne, even though it was a tight squeeze, we recognized how much our skills have improved over the last two cruising seasons. We tied off our lines, plugged into our city power supply and reconnected our land telephone line.  Both of these services had been suspended for the summer, and we had called ahead to reactivate them.

Every October, at the end of our cruising season, our boat becomes our house. With 30 amps of power supplied by the city, we no longer have to be careful about which appliances are on at the same time. With our land line, we can use our speaker phone to call family and friends back home or we can search for information on the Internet with our computer. After we pick up our car from its summer garage, we are home.

But we didn't stay long. Friends were on vacation in the south of France, and we hopped in our car and went to see theVillage in the Provinçal Alpsm. They are old SFFD friends who, because they love to travel, we have seen as often over here as we did back home.  This time they were trying out a house exchange in the Provence Alps. 

Their house was in the countryside near the village of Barcelonnette, which, they were told by the owner, was a two hour drive north of Nice. This is probably true for French drivers, but the trip took our American friends almost four hours.  They wound their way over the summit on narrow two lane roads. 

We drove in from the north along similar roads, at one time getting stuck behind a farm tractor. We followed along slowly behind the tractor, thinking that we had no other options on such a narrow road. Suddenly a car came from behind and flew around both of us, disappearing around the bend. We were flabbergasted! Soon other cars came up behind us and without hesitation did the same thing! It didn't matter that they were passing around blind curves, with the mountain on one side and a steep drop to the valley below on the other. This death wish style of driving would explain the discrepancy between the two hour French driving time and the four hour American driving time from NView from our window-the alpsice.

We arrived, only one hour behind schedule, and as planned found our friends waiting for us at an outdoor café in town.  They had been to the morning farmers' market and wanted us to come back to the house for lunch. But first we sat in the warm October sunshine and toasted our meeting with a glass of champagne, a custom we have enjoyed since our first reunion in Paris.  When we went back to their house, we opened our bedroom shutters and found a fabulous mountain view.

View of the Alps from the back deckOur friends have authored cookbooks, and lunch was an inventive and delicious salad that we enjoyed with local wine, bread and cheese from that morning's market. We talked the afternoon away, as we caught up on news from home.  Reveling in the pleasure of a lazy lunch on the back deck, we asked each other, "Where are we?". Later, as we took a walk along the river, we felt more like we were in California's mountain resort area, Lake Tahoe, than in the Provence region of France.  In Tahoe, if we crossed the mountain we would be in Nevada. Here, in the Ubaye valley, if Beautiful scenerywe crossed the mountain we would be in Italy.

Back in town, we found Barcelonnette to be an interesting village, because it has a strong Mexican influence. You can buy all kinds of Mexican clothing and trinkets in the shops. This is amusing in an area where the surrounding mountains made you feel like putting on lederhosen and yodeling.  We were beginning to be confused as to what country we were visiting. 

At the Mexican tourist office, the Maison du Slow on the AlpsMexique, we learned that in the early 1800's, some young people from this valley made a trip to Mexico, stayed and became successful.  Others followed over the years and in 1845 when two men returned with fortunes in gold, and a rush to Mexico began. While many people stayed in Mexico and became citizens, several returned to France and with their new found wealth brought prosperity to this mountain village. They built beautiful mansions and gave the village its Mexican flavor. 

When it was time to say good-bye to this wonderful corner of Provence, we helped our friends clean and close up the house.  They had been using the owner's car during their stay so we had offered to drive them to Lyon, where we could all enjoy a few days vacation before they had to catch their train to Germany.

Toby jumped in the back of our car, as he always does, but was disappointed to find his view out the back window blocked by luggage.  He wiggled into a spot that was napsize and we didn't see him again until we arrived at our hotel in Lyon.

trompe l'oeil in Lyon
Lyon is a city that you could imagine Hollywood had created. Peeking into the restaurants around Vieux Lyon and Presqu'île, they all look just exactly as French restaurants would look if a set designer was in charge of their creation.  Building murals, scattered throughout the city, are reminiscent of the facades created for movie sets.  The farmers' market that runs for blocks along the Quai St. Antoine on the Sâone River is so French in its sights, smells and sounds that walking through you would not be surprised to hear a movie director yell, "Cut and print.". 

Lyon is not far from Roanne, so we come here often during the winter. Returning again, with friends who enjoy good food and are enthusiastic traveling companions, was a real treat.  We took them to some of our favorite restaurants. We like the simple bistros and the traditional bouchons, places where Toby is greeted like an old friend, and we always feel welcome, even in our comfy clothes.

The weather was warm enough for us to enjoy dinner outside on Rue Mercière, a restaurant street crowded with outdoor tables, where the atmosphere was as delicious as the food. We ordered the rum baba dessert so that our friends could see how they bring a bottle of rum to the table in case your baba is not rummy enough.

Chez Lea- yummy dessertsWe went to Chez Léa for lunch. We wanted our friends to taste their mixed green salad with fresh herbs vinaigrette, so that they could try to help us figure out the secret ingredients. It is the world's best salad and we hope that our friends will be able to recreate it in their own kitchen, and then send us the recipe.

We had a light lunch, but then ordered dessert. We were, after all, on vacation. We were just laughing about the rum baba dessert of the night before, when our waiter placed a full bottle of calvados on the table to accompany the apple tart with calvados. 

We tried walking and sightseeing to make up for all of the meals we weOld sun drenched buildingsre enjoying, but we kept stopping at outdoor cafés for refreshments instead.  Sitting in the sun, enjoying the way the light reflected off the old buildings, we decided Lyon would be a good place to visit if we were actors required to gain 20 pounds for upcoming roles.

Since we aren't actors, we went home.






December 2002


Thanksgiving-Roanne style.
(How to host a Thanksgiving dinner party for 26 people when you live on a boat.)



Step 1:  Find two really nice people, like Martine and Otila, who will let you use their café for your party. The people you find must let you come over and rummage around in their kitchen looking for baking dishes or matching salad plates.  They mustn't mind when you stop in for a drink with friends, and start moving all of the tables and chairs around trying to figure out how to seat everyone at one long table.


two chefs
Step 2:  Have good friends who are professional chefs. If they owned the best French restaurant in Cape Town for many years, that's even better. This is probably the most important step in having a great Thanksgiving dinner party.

After they agree to help you with your party, hand them a couple of aprons, and let them run wild in the kitchen where they will create masterpieces.
Step 3:  Walk around the port to invite your friends.  You will need to do this in person because, if some of your friends don't speak English, you may have to use some sign language to help them understand your invitation.  This is an easy job because walking around the port is a pleasure, and your dog will be happy to go along with you.
port of Roanne

After everyone has been invited, find all of your favorite traditional Thanksgiving recipes and start making your shopping list. It will take you a long time to shop for American products in France.  After you look up the word for yams in your dictionary, and ask for them at the produce market, you will be shown something so unfamiliar that you will decide to use sweet potatoes in your recipe instead.  This won't be a problem as most of your guests won't know what sweet potatoes are and after your party they will tell you that the carrots were really delicious.

Margaret Joyce's famous Applesauce Spice Cake


Be sure to go to the bulk spice stand at the Sunday open air market to buy fresh spices, so that you can make your mom's famous applesauce spice cake.
If you want to dance after dinner, your next job will be to listen to all of your CD's to find appropriate songs, songs that will make everyone want to jump up and dance.  You might choose to make a composite CD that starts with couple French songs, Ricans, a song about how the Americans helped the French during W.W.II, and J'habite en France, because you do, and then you can go straight into dance music that your friends will like.  Mostly Motown and Beatles, some Blues Brothers, Beach Boys, Willie Nelson and B.B. King to add to the American ambiance of the evening. You can add Y.M.C.A. so that your friends can show off their French skills by singing "igrec, emme, cé, a" while forming the letters with their arms.  You could finish with Louis Armstrong's Its a Wonderful World  knowing that everyone will dance to that.
 a couple dancing
In the weeks before your party, it will be necessary to search the Internet to find a simple account of the story of Thanksgiving, because most of your guests will not be familiar with the holiday and it's history.  You can then run it through an Internet translator, and print versions in French, Dutch, Swiss German, as well as English.  The translations will be more amusing than accurate, but at least your friends will know that you tried. While you are searching around on web sites, you can find pictures of turkeys, pilgrims and Indians to print out for your table decorations, because you will not be able to find these items in France.
Table place settings
the entrees ready to be served

The week before Thanksgiving, at your chefs' request, you can walk over to the plumbing supply store near the port to buy a length of plastic drain pipe. When you see that your neighbor has set up his table saw out in front of his barge, you can run over with your pipe and ask him to cut it into equal pieces. Then you can take the pieces down to the kitchen of your chefs' boat where they will use them for molds for the Ceviche of Salmon in Watercress Sauce starter.  Thanks to the drain pipe, they can be made and chilled ahead of time, and then gently pushed onto the plate and topped with caviar just before dinner is served.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, look out your kitchen window to see if the Café Santa Monica is open before you run over to borrow something else, like a cup of sugar or another baking dish. They will be happy to see you, as they always are, and you will need to be sure to kiss everyone while saying "ça va?" "ça va". This will be one of many trips between your boat and the café before your guests arrive, but you will only have to kiss the first time.

Be very careful when you are running back and forth decorating, setting the tables and carrying over the apple and sausage stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes basted with a lime and rum sauce, and your mom's famous cake. Because you have a lot to do and it is getting late, it will be tempting to try to dash across the busy street when you see a tiny break in the traffic. Don't do it. With your arms full, you will just be a bigger target.
finger foods

Later in the afternoon, just before your guests arrive, your chefs can drive the turkey from their boat to the café, where he can be delivered to his place of honor on the buffet table.  Together with your chefs, you will have just enough time to finish the canapés, and then dash back to your boat to change into something nice before your guests arrive.
Voila, a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of France.

C'est simple comme bonjour.
 our guests raising their glasses for a toast

January 2003
February 2003

 Some photos from our winter vacation in San Francisco and Los Angeles


The Golden Gate Bridge
Ferry boat crossing San Francisco Bay with the city in the background


Bay and Bridge from Lincoln Park Golf Course
Toby with our little neighbor and his friend
 Golden Gate Bridge  Tiburon



Pacific Ocean from San Francisco
 Pacific Ocean waves hitting the beach near San Francisco
 People wading, surfing and enjoying a day at the beach in Los Angeles in the month of JanuaryAnd then, we went back to Roanne



                             Toby standing in the snow in front of our barge in Roanne, everything is white with snow






March 2003

  The bright orange Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day

Our vacation in California was fun and easy on our brains, because we could speak the language and we understood the culture. If we wanted information, we could simply ask without having to look up words in the dictionary first.

The day after we arrived in San Francisco, we went shopping for a prepaid SIM card for our French cell phone. We asked many questions, and explaining that we were visiting from France, we said that we just wanted to buy a card that would allow us to make calls on our tri-band phone during our visit.

As we were paying for the card, the salesman said, "Where did you learn your English? You speak it very well".

The sun setting on a french village
One language down; one to go. In the hope that someday someone might tell us that we speak French well, a few weeks after we arrived back in France, we repacked our suitcases and drove toward Lyon to a small village in the Beaujolais region. We settled into our room in the farmhouse at Fondvielle Language School and went for a walk around the nearby town of St.Vèrand. That evening we met our fellow classmates, our teachers and some of their neighbors and friends at a cocktail party before dinner. Since only French was spoken that evening, it was like diving into the deep end of the pool on your first day of swimming lessons.

fellow students sitting around the breakfast tableBreakfast was served in the farmhouse kitchen before our morning classes. Because English was spoken at breakfast, that was the meal were we could all get to know one another with questions asked and answered with ease. All of our classmates live in France for at least part of the year, and we found that we were all experiencing different versions of the same adventure.

We exchanged stories about why we chose to live in a country where we had to learn to speak a new language, and we tried to find the words to express exactly what it is that makes France such a lovely place to live. This is a conversation that we have had many times friends in the boating community.

After the breakfast dishes were cleared away, our classroom appeared and our school day began. We were seven, eight if you count Toby, divided into two classes by the level of our ability, with one class in the farmhouse and one in the main house.

We had morning and afternoon classes, and we did our homework in the hours in between. Our plans toour classroom walk in the countryside each afternoon usually gave way to the greater need to finish our homework. Writing an essay is a slow process when you have to look up the meaning of some words, and check the spelling on most. Each night as dinner time approached, we brushed off the eraser dust, and headed to the main house to enjoy a really good dinner of traditional Lyonnaise dishes served with a generous supply of the local Beaujolais wine. French was the language of choice at dinner, and with a teacher at each end of the table and a full day of speaking French already behind us, it was easy to relax and enjoy the evening.

Just like when we were kids, school was hard work and we complained about the amount of homework, but we also laughed often, enjoyed the company of our teachers and classmates, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

When our week was over, we said our thank you's and goodbye's, and drove to Lyon to do some errands. Full of new confidence, we marched up to salespeople and described exactly what we were looking for with more ease than ever before. We were in and out of each store in a flash, proving that paying attention in class and doing your homework really does help you succeed in life. We rewarded ourselves with a nice lunch.


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