1. The people - the parts of France we can visit from the waterways is very different from the usual tourist haunts. This is the real France and its people that we get to see, not the world weary waiters of a Paris restaurant or the jaded receptionist at a big city hotel. During our first 6 month cruise there were many times when we were welcomed into people's homes or offered help during very difficult periods: running very low on diesel, a local bartender phoned the domestic supply company who sent a tanker to the mooring pontoon to fill us up; no water point where one should have been, a couple invited us indoors in the pouring rain and gave us cake and wine, despite the fact that we dripped on their carpets, while their garden hose filled our water tank; waiting for repairs to our very badly damaged stern gear in a huge boatyard, we were taken aboard the next barge which was being converted into a hotel/restaurant and fed by its owner, a Frenchman from the Pyrenees (once the Head Chef at White's Hotel, London). These and many many more incidents have enamoured the French to us (though this does not extend to a lot of the lock-keepers who, in the main, are totally lacking in imagination about what happens to a narrowboat if they open all the sluicegates at once).
2. The countryside, its flaura and fauna - as with anywhere else, you get to see a lot more of this when you're limited to a speed of 4mph. Fields full of poppies or sunflowers, or both, vinyards in the Champagne region, chateaux, churches, and medeival towns clinging to the hillsides, Charolay cattle grazing the water meadows.
3. The lifestyle - living aboard a boat always makes you re-evaluate priorities; food, water, shelter, and fuel are the daily concerns. In France (certainly in the rural towns and villages) the balance between working for these basics and enjoying them is well maintained. Work has its place, but so too do family, community and life itself; they work to live, not live to work.
4. The Food and wine Although the modern practice of women working outside the home is beginning to be felt even in the most rural parts, there is still a tradition of learning to cook the region's specialities from mother and grandmother that is evident in the small famnily run restaurants where the local workmen congregate at lunchime for a 4 course meal, with a carafe of wine for 12 Euros or so.
5. Sanctuary from the constant bombardment of the media. With no TV or regular access to national newspapers, the focus is on the local and the immediate.
This last feature is a boon, particularly at times of national disaster such as the one unfolding in America. I am at a loss for words at the slow response to the plight of New Orleans, particularly in the light of the fact that it is number 2 on the government's 'risk list' and that warnings about the aftermath of a force 5 hurricane and the likelihood of a breach in the levees has been known for some years."
I have a lot for which to be grateful.
On other news calove the packet went today - no 'registered post' according to the girl in the post orrifice, just something called 'insurance'. It boils down to the same thing, you have to sign for its receipt, we get the value back if it goes astray.
willowfae Carnivale is on its way to you.