Monday, June 27, 2011

goose on the loose

No, not caraffe do do. Caraffe “do” (d’eau). As in “of water.” I think for Ed, the greatest challenge in venturing out on his own, especially in the more rural parts of France, is in making himself understood. With all his recent travels here, he’s picked up a smattering of the essentials: thank you. Bread. Cheese. But he gets things confused. Mille fleurs (a thousand flowers) instead of mille feuilles (a thousand leaves – his favorite pastry here). Bon jour when it’s night, bon soir when it’s day. Si instead of oui. Write down the word for toilet, he tells me now. Just say toilet, close enough, I tell him. Much here can be improvised.

We spend Sunday morning in town together. Picking up bread for him. (What a surprise, we found here a new form of baguette that he now loves more than any other; this one -- le croustilot. Only one left after we're done buying.)


...and cheese and tomatoes. Filling up on water.

Walking through the town... Oh! Goose on the loose! Watch out, goose!


And finally, we go down to the river and put together the canoe.

When Ed purchased it on Craig’s List, the seller told him it never fails to draw interest when you’re building it at the water's edge. Here, too, a local man, walking his dog, comes over to watch. You put some air in too, yes? I see, at the sides. How heavy is it? 13 kilo (slightly more than 20 pounds) for the boat itself? Let me lift it... Yes, yes...

I ask our onlooker if he knows about the rule in France that you have to stop boating by 6 or 6:30 pm and cannot begin again before 9 (or 9:30; opinions vary). This is another little thing that Ed thinks is possibly on paper only. But I’ve read and heard it said: the time before and after is reserved for the fishing men and women.

Ed says: if it were important, there would be a notice right here. He points to the bulletin board at the boat launching ramp. Our local guy doesn’t know. This satisfies Ed. I sigh. It's good that I'm not continuing down beyond this day. I would be there telling him to stop, even as he loves paddling at dusk.

And finally, the dry sacks are secured, the boat is ready, as are we.

DSC07813 - Version 2

The river is as beautiful and as calm as I had expected. A few minor rapids around bends, but nothing troubling, for the boat or for me (or really my camera; since I have nothing else with me, getting wet hardly matters). And there are periods of such calm that it’s almost as if we were drifting on an undisturbed lake


With fields, forests and cliffs and caves at the side.


There are few people out and about. Only close to the bridges. Here, you have a family gathering for the day. Food and all.


But otherwise, quiet. This is the part of the Dordogne River (of all the segments for the planned journey) that is the most naturally pristine and beautiful. The villages will come later.

And indeed, it gives us a chance to admire such things as dragonflies. There are large clumps of tiny lilies blooming now. Beautiful for us, functionally perfect for the numerous dragonflies here.


And the birds! Lovely for us to listen to. And watch.



It is a hot day and I am glad I packed two separate sun screens. One will travel with Ed, one I keep for myself. We're plenty lathered with it now. The sun is strong. The river has a slight breeze, but it truly is an unusually warm summer in this part of France. Occasionally we hear the sound of a motor pumping water from the Dordogne and spraying it on the fields. It is a year of great worry for farmers here.

And so we paddle, but not for long. After close to two hours, I have to get out. I need to hike back to Souillac, with paddle, boat seat and life jacket in hand. And it’ll take me nearly twice as much time to get back along the tiny road that runs close to the river. And did I mention that today’s high in the late afternoon reached 99F?

Off you go, Ed! Enjoy your adventure!


I walk back. And it is an awfully pretty rural walk. Forests, yes, those, but then the road passes between fields and orchards and an occasional farmhouse will crop up and I think – so different from the farmhouse back home!


This is the region of not only beautiful sunflowers...


...but also the famous Perigord walnut. The trees are everywhere, now bearing the green fruits that will be ready for harvest in September (so a local tells me; honestly – I had no idea these were nut trees).


The road does not offer much shade and halfway through it, I roll up and push away bothersome cuffs and straps. The road is empty, the sun is warm on my back. I’m glad Ed relinquished a small bottle of water.

I pass by a home where a somewhat older couple appears to be living. She comes to the fence as I pass by. She’s laughing at my oddly disheveled attire. Take it all off, she tells me. There’s no one here! No, I do not follow her advice. Besides, it’s only an opening so that I would pause to talk. I tell her it’s even hotter where I come from. She asks how long I’m here for and I tell her about how lovely it is, how good the foods are... She nods appreciatively. Only don’t get fat on our foods – she says. I’m trying, madame, I’m trying!


I approach the outskirts of Souillac. A chateau...


...a bridge, I’m almost there. My water is long gone and I am good and hot. The boat gear, stuffed into my Ghana bag is feeling cumbersome.

I watch a handful of French roll up their pants and take to the river. One woman throws a heavy rock near her spouse, resulting in big splash. She laughs. That one, she is aggressive! - he shouts, then splashes her back.


It’s a great way to cool off. Here, the river is clear. The lilies are everywhere and wading through the more shallow stretches feels sublime. I should know: a few steps earlier, I took to the water as well. Wading among lily pads. The shock of the cool river was a tonic that I’ll long remember.


At Souillac, I return for a late dinner at the restaurant just by our hotel. I missed lunch somewhere along the way. Time to eat heartily. Time to savor a duck foie gras terrine.


And please, don’t tell me about the poor force-fed animals. The amount of animal cruelty that precedes the burgers we eat by home is a thousand times that inflicted on ducks or geese here. I’m with Burdain on this (you can watch the clip here): the happier the geese and ducks, the better the foie gras. These are not stressed animals. Predictably, the terrine is superb.

My day ends quietly. I wonder if Ed’s found his perfect camping spot. He usually succeeds. I know this about him.