Change of Watch

As we prepared for our 6th cruising season, our little voice returned and again began whispering to us from the dark recesses of our minds.  In spite of  the grand expectations of cruising to Paris, spending the winter in the south of France and traveling through Spain before returning to Vivante in the spring of 2018, we felt that palpable sense of unease.

During the winter, several of our good friends had made the decision to close the circle on their barging lives, returning to their home countries to begin new adventures.  While they remain a big part of our lives, their orbit had shifted further away from ours.  Rationally we knew that this was inevitable for them as it will one day be for us.   However, emotionally it was a bit unsettling.

There is a sense of community on the canals that is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it.   Like others who choose to do unusual things  considered to be a bit outside of the mainstream, support from others in the “tribe” is important.   When you have one of those days where little, if anything, breaks in your direction, having a cohort who has been to that rodeo before can help you through it with a glass of wine, a smile and perhaps even a wee chuckle or two.

We have had other acquaintances move on but this was the first time that a big chunk of our support structure had departed.   Carol and I simply did not know what to expect.  Now as we sit snugly aboard Vivante on a chilly November evening we can happily report that the little voice has once again fallen silent.

This year, as it has for many years before us and will continue to be long after we are gone, new faces appear through the lock gates and the process of building friendships begins anew.  We simply hope that, just as our friends did for us, we can help welcome these new arrivals into this grand barging family.

 

 

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Paris in the Twilight Zone

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One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is titled “A Matter of Minutes”.  It explores the concept that time, and our world itself, is an infinite series of movie sets  built by a group of  beings who operated just around the corner, out of sight of our vision.   We never see this team of unknown players but they are, in effect, the creators of our reality.

The plot centered on a couple who somehow slipped around that corner and saw the construction of their future world.   The dizzying result of that knowledge on our  characters was both revelation and curse.

OK,  I know what you are thinking.  Tom has officially lost his grip on things or had way too much wine.   Never fear, just as our reluctant explorers found their way back to suburbia, we too will navigate back to normal space and time by the end of this little tale.

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Carol and I have been fortunate to have visited Paris many times over the years, often for just a night or two as we passed through, to and from Europe, sometimes for a week but no more.   During those visits we have been struck by the amazing beauty, culture and history of the place.   There are so many marquee destinations to see it is dizzying to contemplate for the first-time visitor.

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But over the years, we have explored almost all of them to one degree or the other.  As we planned our summer and Paris once again became our destination, we pondered how do we approach this visit so as to dig deeper into what makes the city what it is.

This time we had several advantages; Our planned stay was almost 3 weeks.   That fact opened up possibilities in and of itself.   Instead of a hotel, we had a familiar home base in Vivante located at the Arsenal basin. The Arsenal is in the heart of the city with many resources and people to assist us in our exploration.  Our agenda was much less structured, no rushing about to check the box on the Louvre or the Rodin.

However, our most important decision was to make a conscious effort to see the unseen and understand what drives the city forward.   Unlike our protagonists in the Twilight Zone, we wanted to see  around the corner and behind the curtain to discern what makes Paris tick.

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The opening Stanza

One of the things that all great cities have in common is that they are really just a melange of local neighborhoods mashed against one another in such a way that they amplify each other’s vibe to create something way more than just the sum of their parts.   In Paris the arrondissements are well known examples of this, as are the Bronx and Harlem in New York.   However, we found a micro version of this in the Arsenal port itself.  It had a personality that was unique and a community just as vibrant and connected as St. Germain, Montmartre or Gobelins.   Almost immediately we were swept up by this feeling during a barbecue on the first weekend of our arrival.

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This was not your typical scripted event put on by the management of the port but an organic, free-form shindig triggered by handwritten posters taped to the marina pilings.  It brought together old friends, total strangers and a motley crew of a band in a fantastical brew of emotion and energy.   When we arrived at the scheduled start time, as Americans are wont to do, not a sign of life was to be seen.  But as the sun disappeared behind the Parisian apartments ringing the port, the party gradually built with a pulsing rhythm driven by that amazing band and a large pot of a secret family home-brewed elixir that flowed generously through the crowd.   By the end of the evening, new friends were made, amazing conversations had, and plans for our visit were well underway.

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What a way to start!

 

Walk about

One of our traditions in Paris is to take the time to pull the covers of the city back and learn a bit more about it’s history by taking a walking tour through the city.   Paris Walks is by far the best of the best offering a wide variety of topics and a deep knowledge of all things Paris.  Chris Spence has been our guide for many of these journeys and is now a friend.   When you next come to Paris, do not miss the chance to spend some time with Chris.

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As a footnote, well, maybe a metre-note is a better term, there are several official “metres” scattered around the city of Paris in recognition the fact that in 1791 the French Academy of Science proposed that the length of a meter be one-ten millionth of the distance between the north pole and the equator on the quadrant of longitude that runs through Paris. 

Just thought you would like to know.

 

Making sense of the Seine

This year we focused on the Seine as a part of the history of the city and how it remains  the life blood of the city and the nexis for all things Paris.

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Historically, the river provided both protection and opportunity as a route for trade and commerce.  The island on which now stands the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was simply a pasture to graze cattle in the early days of the city.  Firewood flowed down the river to warm the city and it was quite possible to walk across the river by simply stepping from boat to boat so thick was the traffic moving to and fro.  Today, the river still carries both commerce and cargo but has become so much more to the city.  It is a focal point for the social community after it was decided to close the ill-conceived highways that were built on its banks in the 60’s and return the river to the people of Paris to experience and enjoy.  And boy, do they ever do that, every night!

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We got in on the action too.

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Bateaux Boogie

Staying on the river for a bit longer, we have always enjoyed taking the standard tourist river tour on one of the many bateaux mouches that ply the river.

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This year we got behind the scenes a bit more on a friend’s boat for an evening sunset cruise down the river well past the normal tourist areas.   We saw spectacular bridges, the odd residential barge with an aqua-car firmly planted on the aft deck and a shanty town build on the river under a highway overpass.

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Did you  know that there are 3 Statues of Liberty in Paris.  M. Eiffel was a busy boy.

 

Museum Madness

This year we did not set foot in one of the iconic museums of the city.   Instead we searched out unusual and evocative exhibits that get to the heart of what the people of Paris honor and appreciate.

The three most striking examples of this uniquely Parisian perspective were our trips to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, the Louis Vuitton  and a special exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh.  The Metiers honors and showcases the work of people who design and make things.  The opening film is a mesmerizing 20 minutes of master woodworkers creating exquisite shapes and forms with all of the skill and care of a Michelangelo.   Tools, iconic machines and engineering technology are given a venue on equal footing with the sculptures and paintings of the great artists.  I could have lingered all day.   In honor of Carol’s career as a court reporter, I give you an early stenograph machine on display at the Metiers.

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The Vuitton museum, besides being a work of Frank Gerry abstract art itself,

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was exhibiting an amazing display of African Art.  Here are three images that will give you a sense of how far the Parisian art crowd can hang it out there.

 

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Finally, the Van Gogh exhibit was almost beyond belief.   Instead of walking through musty echoing halls, stopping to stare at the art, we were immersed in all of its beauty in a cavernous exhibit space as huge images of his paintings floated above us on massive screens all set to music.  There was no seating, no formality, just the joy of the experience.  Couples and families joined us on the floor or wandered through the hall seeing Van Gogh in their own way.  These photos simply do not do it justice.

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Shutter Bugging Out

One of our traditions when in Paris is to wander off in the early morning with our cameras to find a few of the unseen bits of the city that we normally just pass by without notice as we sprint to yet another grand venue or event.  Here are a few of this year’s discoveries.

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Tour de Paris

This year I had an opportunity to do something I have always dreamed of;  cycling through the city on my own bike to its most iconic spots.   Paris has become quite a cycling friendly city over the years but on Sunday morning, you can ride up the grand boulevards without another vehicle in site.   I was grinning from ear to ear all morning as I imagined joining the peloton as it circulated around the Champs Elysees on the final day of the tour.

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Paris Dress Up

Paris is, of course, a world center of fashion, and walking through its shopping streets quickly brings that home.   However, what we have found is that the Parisians also see fashion as an art form to be celebrated.   Special exhibits in galleries and museums celebrate both style and the genius of the couturiers from around the world. Here are some of Carol’s images that capture this unique perspective.

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Into the Underworld

As our own personal Twilight Zone episode in Paris drew to a close we reflected on what we had seen.   Taking a different perspective when moving through the city, seeking out it’s quirky, small and personal parts gave us a better understanding of what it must be like to live your life in a place that is so much larger than life.

Two memories stand out in our exploration.

One that was truly out of sight, out of mind occurred during the “sewer tour”,  an odoriferous journey into the invisible underbelly of Paris and those men and women who toil there.   As we returned to the beautiful sunbathed afternoon the realization hit home that so much of what is essential to a place is invisible to the casual visitor but can be seen if you take the time to look “just around the corner”.

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The second and to me most telling was the sight of a Parisian stopping to chat with a street cleaner early one morning and imagining him thanking the guy for doing the work every day to “create” the city he inhabited.

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That’s a Wrap

No place is as good or as bad as you imagine in your mind.  Paris is no exception.  It has it’s lumps and bumps but without those rough spots and the many people who work unnoticed by the millions of visitors who flock there each year it would not be the magical place we have come to know and love.

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Carol and I have enjoyed sharing our time in the City of Lights with you.  All I can say is; Nous reviendrons!

A’ Bientot!

 

 

 

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Paris a go-go

 

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This year’s cruise in Vivante was about one thing; getting to Paris.   This had been the goal of our barging adventure for a couple of years, but last year, the flooding and delays in the shipyard prevented us from making the jaunt north.   This year Vivante was going to Paris come hell or high water.  Although we got a bit of a late start and had to press up the Canal du Lateral pretty hard to meet our scheduled arrival date, we made it with a day or two to spare.

The push of traveling day-on-day for 17 days is not our cup of tea.  It is particularly tough on Carol as the temperature hovered around 40 degrees C for an entire week.  (that would be 100 degrees in American talk.)  While other rational people were laying low under shade trees, we continue to move and sweat.

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Once we got on the Haute Seine things became a bit more interesting.  The tempo of travel on a big river is different than in the canals.  One or two locks a day is the norm, albeit they are the huge river locks and we often were joined by the large commercial barges who were always in a hurry.

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Coming into Paris from the south on the Seine is a fascinating transition from a very rural river with a few small villages populating its banks, to a very affluent waterway with rowing clubs and beautiful holiday homes to finally, an industrial river with huge warehousing and manufacturing facilities all with large commercial barges loading and unloading cargo.

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As we turned toward the west and the final few Kilometers separating us from our destination, the beauty of the city emerged.   Bridges morphed from functional structures to works of art.   Factories became historic monuments or modern sculptures.

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At last we slowed to approach the final lock that lifts you to the Arsenal basin and the city itself.   There was a bit of a traffic jam that formed outside the lock as commercial tour boats moved the hordes of tourists on and off the river and we waited our turn for almost an hour backing and filling Vivante to hold her on station just above the entrance.   Finally, all of the other vessels had made their way through and we swung Vivante into the lock serenaded by a local troubadour as we entered.

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While not quite the same as raising the mountains of the Azores after a successful transatlantic crossing, entering the Arsenal on your on barge is a real grin-maker for folks who ply the rivers and canals of Europe.

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After a bit of maneuvering to settle into our mooring, we finally exhaled and cracked a bottle of good champagne in celebration of our journey and the next couple of weeks in the “City of light”.

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We will be back soon with the next chapter in our 2017 Paris cruise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Irrational Actors

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Some 16 years ago, Carol and I began to noodle over two ideas that would totally reshape our lives.   At the time they did not appear to be completely radical or outside the norm of what other people were doing.   However, in retrospect, perhaps I was mistaken.

In the field of traditional economics there is a convenient little assumption that greatly simplified the development of the elegant mathematical models that have formed the basis of quantitative economic theory for many years.   The gist of it is that we humans act in a completely logical and rational manner.

In this model all of the decisions we make throughout our lives are based upon a perfect knowledge of the infinite array of options, outcomes, costs and benefits available to us. With this information we apply a cold mathematical calculus resulting in choices that maximize our own net present value and well being.  Over the long term each of us acting in this manner creates an overall optimum result for society.

Free market zealots  can now  genuflect toward the University of Chicago.

However, as time has passed, some very smart people began to poke at that shiny little analytical construct, birthing an entirely new field of economics. Based in large part on the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, behavioral economics is reshaping our view of ourselves and how we move through our short stay on this little orb we call home.   If you have not read “Thinking Fast and Slow”  or “The Undoing Project” I would suggest that you head for Amazon immediately and do so.

Kahneman explored and documented the fact that we  don’t really act as logical decision making automatons.  We are creatures with biases and emotions that crave experiences and relationships that are not in any way, shape or form either completely logical or rational.  This now brings me back to the opening paragraph of this little parable starring Carol and yours truly. 

Many you know, through prior installments of this blog, that our barging lives began as guests of good friends  on their Chalk Penelope’s Ark.   We were already a family of sailors but after several years of summer holidays on the canals, the barging seed was planted, germinated and slowly grew into what is our life today .

Around the same time, after many decades of apparent sanity, I once again fell victim to an old condition from my childhood that I thought had long been cured; the need to have a dog.

I had grown up with dogs, both house pets and hunting dogs, but when I went off to university and started my life as an “adult” that need seemed to fade away.  It all made perfect sense, freedom, flexibility, no poop to clean up.   But, in spite of all of those advantages, soon after our son departed for college the thin facade of logic that had covered my little “problem” cracked and fell away.  After a surprisingly short discussion,  Carol and I trundled up to Brooksville FL and gathered up a small ball of fur and energy known to many of you as our Nikki.

So, in the cold hard light of day neither of these decisions passes the “rational actor” sniff test.  The activity of barging  appears to make no sense either economically or emotionally.   There are at least a million ways to see Europe that do not involve the logistics and sweat of a floating apartment that takes a bit of work to maintain.

Pet ownership, while not a niche affliction like barging, surely cannot be justified by pencil whipping a set of numbers.  But, in spite of this, hundreds of millions of us willingly take on the expense and total responsibility for another creature’s life knowing that we all will have to eventually make, as we recently did, the heartbreaking decision to say goodby to a loving and loyal friend.

How do we reconcile these two desperate ideas?   Homo Sapiens as all-knowing, logical, decision-making machines, with that of us as giddy creatures floating together through space and time experiencing the world through the eyes of vagabond travelers with dog in tow.   When we figure that out, we will let you know.

The journey continues!

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The Briare aquaduct, longest in France

 

 

 

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Strike the Flag

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There is a long tradition in the navy’s of the world that when a flag officer leaves a ship the pennant signifying their presence is lowered.   Today we struck the flag of our amazing dog Nikki.   Admiral Nikki had been a part of our lives for over 15 years and a crew member on Vivante from the beginning.  I cannot yet think about how much we will miss her.

Carol and I thought that it would be appropriate to share with you the most popular episode of this blog we have ever had. It was written, of course, by Admiral Nikki.

 

Shush, Don’t tell them!

It has come to my attention that some of you have asked how I am doing.  My people mentioned it earlier in the week and made a halfhearted attempt to fill some of you in.  So, it is time for me to put paw to keyboard and give everyone the straight skinny.

I must admit the flight over was not something that any dog should have to endure.  Even though they tried their best to make it the shortest flight with no layovers, it was a real drag.  I was trapped in the hold with two other yapping dogs that would just not shut up.

However, once established on the big black thing, I immediately began to retrain my people to accommodate my every wish.  While I could easily negotiate the 6 feet of steep stairs to the wheelhouse, I feigned a bit of limp and once took a little tumble in front of Mom so from then on, I am whisked up and down whenever I wish.

At around 5:15, I make my first spin through their nest to let Dad know that I am up and about.   I gave up on Mom as she appears to be in a deep coma each morning and does not respond to my best whimpers and grunts.  Dad, however, is much more attentive and, at least by 6:30, I have been walked and fed and am back on the couch for my morning nap.

On those days that the big black thing moves, my signal to arise is the whirr, whirr,  thump, thump noise from behind the stairs.  Up to the lookout point I go and am strapped in and assume my navigator’s position keeping a sharp eye out for baddies and other threats during our journey.

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We usually go up and down in big elevators of some sort, much bigger than those in the condo.  These are better because when I am riding them, sometimes I get to get off the big black thing and go potty while we wait to start down.

Usually, the whirr, whirr, thump, thump stops just after my healthy snack (table droppings) from Dad.  Once the giant leashes are tied on the shore to keep the big black thing from moving any more, it is off to explore.

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Sometimes we go to a place where Mom and Dad get some glasses of red stuff and I get some water in a big bowl.  We have had some pretty wild times and once I went a little too far and conked out while Mom and Dad kept getting more glasses of red stuff.

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All in all, this is not too bad.  Much more attention from my people and lots of little people who don’t seem to know my name.  They all think my name is Chien.   And sometimes I do something that I never get to do in the tall house, I get to RUN!

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And after another exhausting day of sleeping, eating, pooping, sniffing, napping, eating, more napping, it is time for bed.

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Maybe this big black thing is not so bad.

Nikki

Thank you Nikki, your complete love and affection have affected our lives in ways we will never understand.   Goodbye old girl.

Mom and Dad

 

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Whew!!

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85 degrees of Storage

As we approach our departure, two niggling issues lightly tap us on the back of our heads every so often just to remind us that we do not have as much control of things as we would like to believe.

As our departure this year is a bit later than is usual we are nervously watching the temperatures in the afternoons.   One of the lesser known realms of the “Friendly Skies” involves getting our beloved dog Nikki on the aircraft.

After a rash of animals meeting their demise while waiting in a hot hangar or baggage area to be loaded in the cargo bay of their flight a few years ago, the airlines set 85 degrees as the maximum temperature forecast anywhere along the route for flying an animal.  Over that, no-go and you are simply out of luck.

Our flight departs Miami at 7:30 in the evening and after studying the historical weather data for the airport there, we are right on the cusp of getting out of town.  After some spirited discussion,  our plan, if we lose the weather lottery, is for me to jet away with the majority of the baggage while Carol and Nikki cool their heels in Miami waiting for the weather to improve.   I am sure the Red roof Inn at the airport will be ecstatic to welcome them back for another night.   I, on the other hand, will have to hire some Tibetan Sherpas to assist in moving me through the Paris Airport to the TGV terminal.

We are not thinking about the added cost of such an eventuality but at least we kind of understand the strategy.

My other mental gymnastic effort involves the storage of our personal belongings.   The “cone of uncertainty” has come down significantly as we finalized the renters for our place.  Initially I was covering everything from totally unfurnished to what we ended up with; fully furnished with a lot of the day to day household stuff remaining in place.   So seemingly there should be no problem.

However, looking to save cost where ever possible, I have been executing 3 dimensional jujitsu to try to predict the final mix of boxes, bins, bikes and other odds and ends that must be crammed into a varying array of storage options.  The ever patient staff at the Lock Up has shown me just about every size storage locker in existence as I mull over the best options.

The other day, as I stood ruminating in front of the 5 x 8 unit for about 10 minutes as the manager stood tapping her toe in expectation of some sort of decision, my mind drifted away into the the recollection of George Carlin’s famous riff on “Stuff”

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