16 April 2018

Cruisin' in Catalonia



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

Apparently, much of the area between us and Barcelona - is part of Catalonia.

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

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



Despite last year's impassioned bid for Catalan independence, it's still considered an "autonomous community" in Spain. 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.


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's part of the way they unite the country, which used to be a fractious assembly of diverse regions and languages. -Not all that long ago.)


Winding narrow mountain roads along a beautiful "corniche", with views of high mountains.
We're totally impressed with the Pyrenees! They're SERIOUS mountains.
I've never really spent any time in the Pyrenees.
(Still haven't. It was snowing HARD there this week, so we admired them from below.)

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


Another wow - what a spectacular setting.
Neat old castle and ramparts and harbor on the Mediterranean. Even a windmill.
 I can only imagine how crowded this place must be in summer.
Glad to be here in early spring.


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

RAIN!

Remember all that sunshine we had in New Mexico? 
All the rain we were missing came HERE. To France. 


All over Europe, apparently. 
We heard it was a cold and wet winter. Windy and chilly.

Friends Ron and Fiona sent this of their boat "The Swan" this winter.

It's incredibly wet! 
Rain FILLED a bucket I had on the aft deck - several times over.
-That's way more than we get in a year - or two - in New Mexico.

NM Christmas decorations. Candles in sand-filled paper bags. Wouldn't work if we got rain like this. 

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. I looked for tadpoles.) 

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

So we figured we'd take off to spend a day or two in museums. 
Found a rainy castle between the mountains and the Mediterranean.
Very impressed with the views of spectacular snow-covered Pyrenees - between the clouds.

View from the castle window. There ARE mountains there. Big ones. Somewhere.

The clouds come down from the mountains to touch the towns.
The vineyards are just gnarled and bare. 
Hard to believe they'll be full of leaves 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 don't know enough to know why. I just admire them.




Rain or not, it felt great to get back. 
See some of the friends we've met over here. 
Share a small glass or two and catch up on stories.
Clean off the boat when the rain stops.

"Boat People of Poilhes". We're not as old as we look. And we DO have a GOOD time!


And look! The first few leaves! There's hope after all.






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.

25 October 2017

Autumn in the South of France - and a Trip to Berlin


Autumn - the wine harvesting machinery is quiet. 
The fields are turning red and golden. 


The boats are slower. They take their time.
Most of the tourists have gone home. 
And yet - it's probably the most beautiful time of the year. 
The light is low and shadows are long, while days are growing shorter.


Friends Chris and Tim from New Mexico stop by -

Chris picks up a fresh baguette from our local shop, ordered the day before.
- we enjoy the wine and evenings with friends on the aft deck, and do a little exploring. 

We may look like a bunch of 'greys', but - these are ALL surprisingly cool people.
French kids are all back in school now.
So - we head down to the coast with fellow boaters Fiona and Ron.
The beach is beautiful - and almost empty.


The Mediterranean is a totally different atmosphere from canal life. 
- Even though we're only a few miles from the coast!


In between, a short trip up to Berlin, to visit Mikey and Iris, and see how Noah is growing. 

Great fall weather in Berlin, too!
Stan gives Noah his first ukulele lesson.
(he's 10 months old now, obviously ready to start serious training-)


I visit Mikey's new school at the old "Funkhaus", and we explore one of Berlin's islands.


(Along the way, we run across a small alien spaceship...but that's another story.)


Another exploration now that the crowds have gone - Avignon.
(Very impressed!)

It's a totally walled city - there are quite a few of those still around. Aigues-Mortes is another one we visited.


And then - back to Maggie May. 


With the days getting shorter and cooler, it's time for longer walks. 
From a hill above our village, we can see both the Mediterranean - and - the Pyrenees. 
The vineyards are colorful. The light - the air - just right.

I enjoy seeing the "baguette bags" on people's doorways. 

Some day, I'll draw a series of these.
The bread van delivers fresh baguettes to your house each morning. Of course.
(He'd probably deliver them to the boat if we asked-)

Details of a life - thoroughly enjoyed.




03 October 2017

Canal du Midi Odyssey - Taking Maggie May out for the First Time


September! It's cooler. 
Time to take Maggie May out for a REAL trip on the canals - and see how she does.


However, we were both mildly terrified at the thought.

Suppose we ran into one of THESE as we were trying to negotiate our way through a narrow port? 


Or what if we met one under a bridge?
Clearly, THOSE boats have priority. 


Would we be able to handle a boat of 25 TONS - with water and fuel - through all the twisty bends of the canals, squeeze precisely into locks with other boats, slide easily through crowded towns - with some degree of expertise? After all, Maggie May doesn't exactly turn on a dime.


We stowed the bicycles and the extra fenders. 
Cleaned up the lines and checked everything. Twice.
Heart hammering just a little bit - off we went. 


The first bridge, in Capestang, is one of the tightest on the canal. 
How precise would our aim be going through it? 

(And of course, Capestang being our main town, we know all sorts there. 
Would we totally embarrass ourselves?)

Capestang bridge - a tight squeeze.

We made it, but we DID scrape one corner of the bimini.
(the back canopy, which was already folded down-)

Adjustment #1: Lower it to the level of the back railing.
As LOW as we can get it.

Before we lowered it - even further.
But after the first bridge, all the 49 others went smoothly.
A lot of them are pretty small, and often at an angle.


We practiced accurate mooring. 
Stopping. Reversing straight. 
Making corrections. 
Turning around in a narrow canal. 


And in the evenings, we moored somewhere between vineyards and fields.
(They call it "wild" mooring.) 

Stan's excellent handmade gang plank.
(It WAS kind of wild, when Stan and the gangplank didn't agree at one point.
Good thing his shoes are waterproof.)

Beautiful autumn weather - the whole trip.
After our first day cruising, we noticed water - in the engine room. 
Where was it coming from? Mystery. Not a good one.

After that, we mopped it up every morning.
 (Too hot down there after the engine had been running all day-) 
Hoping it didn't get any worse.


Then, we began going through the locks.

With only 2 of us, out of practice, tossing those lines up the big locks was HARD work! 
At one point, we had to enlist the help of 2 kids passing by on bikes.


After the first one, the locks also went smoothly. 
Slowly in - and slowly out - of them. 


At one lock, the lock keeper said - there was an accident up ahead. 
A rental boat had SUNK - in the lock. 
They needed a crane to get it out.

The boat in the lock wasn't the only one that had sunk-
So we moored overnight. 
Waited for the backlog of boats to clear the following morning.
(Like everything else in France, the locks CLOSE for lunch.)

Sometimes we found a bollard, sometimes we hammered stakes into the ground. 
In all, we handled 14 locks, 50 bridges, 8 days of cruising.


In summary, Maggie May handles well. 
She doesn't make sudden changes. 
She requires CONSTANT vigilance. 
You have to plan your turns WELL in advance.

But: she's eminently manageable, once you get used to her. 


But: Every day, we were sore and tired after hours of full concentration.
Avoiding reckless rental boats.
Securing moorings. Managing locks and lines. 
Learning all sorts of new stuff.

Dinner on the aft deck helped. Usually one of Stan's stellar salads.
Yes, we had our usual wine with meals. 
But - the emergency bottle of Armagnac that we brought along came in very handy. 

Just in case.