08 June 2018

Big Rivers and Manual Locks

Rollin' Down the River ... wait, that's not the Canal du Midi! 

We're on a river in the middle of France.
(There are a LOT of rivers in France - and this one - is actually called - the LOT.)
Rivers are different from canal cruising. They have a current. 
They can be big. Wide. Unruly. 
Okay, so rivers aren't always terribly wild and woolly. 
The Lot River is beautiful, but doesn't have much boat traffic. 
So all the locks are manual. 
There just aren't enough boats to warrant full time lock keepers.


So we do the locks ourselves.


It's a ridiculously picturesque region, dripping with medieval villages, châteaux, caves and castles.
And - as they say - a river runs through it. (A couple of big rivers, actually.)


(Underneath all these cliffs are masses of caves - some with prehistoric drawings from 30,000 years ago. Some with rivers. But that's another story.)

So here's our system while cruising the Lot:
Stan gets to do the locks. 
I drop him off, and he cranks the machinery. 


Close one side of the lock. Then open the sluices. 
It takes about a hundred turns of each crank.
When the water equalizes, open the gates.
One gate at a time.


I drive the boat in slowly. 
Toss the lines up to Stan.
I hold the boat while the water rushes in. Or out.

Inside the lock, with the waterfall / dam beyond.
He finishes the maneuver, and opens the exit gates.
Not always easy - and chunks of logs sometimes get wedged into the gates.

But it works. No electricity, no engines, no batteries.
Just the weight of the water.


Then, he climbs back down onto the boat with help of ladders built into the lock walls.
And - off we go. 

On the Lot River, you can fit 2 boats max in a lock at a time. 
Normally, there aren't any other boats. It's pretty quiet.


Driving the boat isn't hard. 
There's plenty of space, and plenty of time to get it right .
If you don't get it the first time, just - try again.


Nobody's waiting. 
Just miles of scenic beauty. 
And a few herons.

The Lot River is lined with cool villages, châteaux, caves and castles.
However, unlike the Canal du Midi, the strong river current is a factor in mooring. 
Upriver is easier, against the current. 
Bring it in close and slow, so Stan can jump off just right. 
Then secure it quickly - before it drifts downriver.


Pay attention to the signs and buoys.

This small arrow is the only sign that says, "Enter lock here". 
If you miss it, that's a big waterfall to go over. Yikes.


One night, a fellow went overboard in the dark. (splash!) 
He tried to moor not far from us on what he thought was a pontoon. 
It was just trees.  (It was nearly 10 pm!)

(I think there might have been some wine involved.) 
Someone pulled him out of the water, and they cruised off - at night.
Who knows what happened to them after that?


This wasn't our boat we were on. 
We'd rented it for the week. 
Actually, the first boat we rented - (isn't it a cute little thing?) - had engine problems.


And a toilet that didn't work. 
We had to swap boats after the first night.


Why rent a boat when we live on one?  
Well, you can't get from the Canal du Midi to the Lot River. 
There are waterfalls and dams in between. 


But what an incredible region!
Each town a medieval gem. History everywhere. 


And just so ridiculously beautiful.

The villages we passed were very rural. 
They were amazed when I told them we were American.
 "You came HERE? From America? How did you find the Lot?" they asked. 


A couple of fishermen baked us a camembert cheese in the wild one night.
With a fresh baguette. Offered us a wiggling catfish as well.
Talked to a few teens, bored on a Sunday afternoon, dreaming of the big city, Toulouse.

It's another world here.


This is a small corner of a beautiful country.
Okay by me if it isn't too exciting. I like that.


Life - is amazingly good.


16 April 2018

Cruisin' in Catalonia



It's weird - I never knew that the Pyrenees are SO close to the Mediterranean.
In fact, on a clear day, you can see both the Pyrenees AND the Mediterranean - from a small hilltop in our village.

We left the rain to the boat - (much appreciated, but enough is enough) and headed south. There's a tiny corner of the world between France and Spain, between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, called Catalonia.

Stan on the hunt for morning coffee.
Catalunya, in Catalan. 
Some say it means "Land of Castles". I like that.

At one point in history, a long time ago, it was all part of France. 



Despite last year's impassioned bid for Catalan independence, it's still considered an "autonomous community" on the Spanish side. Not independent, at least for now. The issue is contentious.
But Catalonia is not only in Spain.


There's French Catalonia, too. 
It stretches across the Pyrenees. 
And - Catalonia - whoever it belongs to - is beautiful.

Look at that light - no wonder it attracts artistic types. 

They speak Catalan, which is similar to the old language in our area, Occitan. 


Many of the signs (and menus) are in Catalan in Spain. 
(In France, everything must be in French. Period. It helps unite the country, which used to be a fractious assembly of diverse regions and languages. -Not all that long ago.)


I've never really spent any time in the Pyrenees.
They're SERIOUS mountains!
(Still haven't spent time there.
It was SNOWING there this week, so we just admire them. From below.)

Instead, we head to the coast.
To Collioure, just north of the Spanish border.  


Neat old castle and ramparts and harbor on the Mediterranean. Even a windmill.

Dali lived here. (A friend of ours lived next door to him-)
Matisse. Picasso. Braque. Various writers. It's a ridiculously artistic place.

Glad to be here in early spring - summer must be VERY crowded.

The capital of Catalonia - on the Spanish side - is Barcelona.
We find an evening Mozart concert in a HUGE cathedral. 


Just looking up at the incredible interior, with the music - so cool. 

Imagining HOW they built these amazing buildings - in the 1300's. 
No power tools. I know - that's such a cliché, but - still. 


And a sidewalk café. In the welcome morning sunshine. 

11 April 2018

Winter in the South of France - Empty Beaches and Bare Vineyards

Friends Ron and Fiona sent this of their boat "The Swan" this winter.
I LOVE the way the canal looks in winter! 

This is the top of "The Swan" - a beautiful old Dutch tjalk.
Ron and Fiona have a snuggly free-standing stove that keeps everything cozy and warm inside the boat, despite the layers of snow outside. 
(Okay, it only snowed a bit - and didn't stay very long.)


Nothing moving on the water. 
No bicyclists in fancy day-glo clothing. 
No rental boats. 


The nearby beaches - empty. 



Luckily, a few restaurants are still open.

This is from our bedroom cabin window. So cool.
Of course, some days look like this - so it's probably understandable.

To us, from dry New Mexico, rain is pretty wonderful. 
It's a bit - exciting - to hear the rain pounding on the boat while we're safe and dry inside. 

(Rain FILLED a bucket I had on the aft deck - several times over.
-That's way more than we get in a YEAR in New Mexico.)


New Mexico Christmas decorations. Candles in sand-filled paper bags. Wouldn't work if it rained. 

But: people from New Mexico aren't good at knowing how to deal with rain. 
Our shoes were soaked right away. 
Puddles! I forgot about puddles. 
My boat crocs have HOLES in them, and my socks got drenched! Well, of course. 

Our dinky little umbrellas - the wind laughed at them and blew them inside out. Pfft. 
Our backpacks and clothes got soaked. 

Rain is a good excuse to visit museums, so - we headed south, toward the Spanish border.

Found a rainy castle to stay in. 
Between the mountains and the Mediterranean.
The nearby Pyrenees are spectacularly snow-covered - so much snow! 
- When they appeared between the clouds.

View from the castle window. There ARE mountains there. Big ones. Somewhere.
The winding mountain roads, filled with camper vans in summer - are now empty.
It just feels so darn - atmospheric. 


There's something about being in a place - most any place - out of season. 
It reminds me that out of season is the best time to travel. 
Towns are empty, parking is easy. People have time. 

"Boat People of Poilhes". We don't have to reserve a table in advance.
And the winter vineyards-!
They're just gnarled and bare stumps!
Hard to believe they'll be bursting full - very soon.

No, not snow. Rocky soil, apparently good for holding in heat.
(Some vineyards in Languedoc seem to be pure rocks.
Other vineyards are filled with wildflowers between the rows of grapes.
I think it's planned but - I don't really know.)


Soon, it'll be busy. It's a popular place in summer.
And we'll enjoy that, too.

But - there's something special about right now.



And: there's always time for a small glass of rosé.
And one of Stan's famous salads on the aft deck.








03 April 2018

JOURNAL ARTIST - published!




Yikes, I forgot how much WORK it is to finish up a book! 

I loved making this one. 
Hundreds of illustrated journal pages. A few tips. Watercolors, photos. Ideas, quotes. 
It's filled with color and creative experiments. Essentially, it's a personal record of a way of capturing some of the wonderful details of life. I hope it inspires more creativity.

"Journal Artist - Illustrated Sketchbooks and the Art of Slowing Down"

My watercolors all originated in books, too. 

I have over ten thousand illustrated journal pages scanned. So far. 

But - you can read the rest of the story in the book itself. 
It's on amazon.com. JOURNAL ARTIST - Trisha Ray.
There's a link at the right of this blog.



I got the final proof the day before leaving to return to France. 
Yikes! Talk about last minute. (If you like it, please leave a review!)

 (When I have a paintbrush in my hands, anything goes. There are now colorful things all over the garden.)
So - Stan and I spent the winter months in sunny New Mexico.
It wasn't really planned.


But: It was surprisingly dry and warm. Hard to argue with that.

All the migrating birds escaping from the cold of the north spent the winter in our neighborhood. 
-Couldn't really blame them.
Hundreds of sandhill cranes, geese, ducks - all sorts of birds.

And Erik and Kilian - an unexpected pleasure - were also in New Mexico this winter.

Stan was productive - he even recorded several (!) new CDs.

They're ALL available on his website - for free downloading:
www.stanhirsch.com

Stan's CDs and DVDs - the entire collection

Me - I worked on this book. It took a LOT of work. 
And another one about my family history.

I spent pretty much every day happily tucked away in a sunny Studio.


But as usual, it wasn't all work. 


Anywhere in life - there's ALWAYS time for - just a little celebration.


Right?


And now, we're outta New Mexico.
Bound for the boat in France.
But more about that soon.