Traveling by boat down the canal, the beginners’ canal, you travel through towns that aren’t of particular note. When you mention Cuffy, Lere, Fleury-sur-Loire, Apremont, Briare, Chatillon, or La Charite you get blank stares. There is Paris, Lyon, Nice, and maybe Dijon. Everything else is a fogged over dream. It’s flyover France.
We met Jan in Paris. Her daughter in Seattle recognized our Parisian flat on Facebook. Jan was staying in an identical flat just up the stairs from us. She was fulfilling her dream of living in Paris for a year. She shared that a friend always asks why she chose Paris. “Jan, Paris is not France! There is more!”
Paris is an unexpected jolt of caffeine when you didn’t know you needed it. The Eiffel Tower exceeds all expectations. It is massive and magnificent. The Seine night life buzzes and sizzles. That backstreet cafe is truly romantic. The light is magic. The sights of Paris are impossible to see or digest in one visit. Maurice Chevalier’s sly wink of a song is close to perfect. It is easy to love Paris.
The places between Paris and Dijon have their own charms. They burble up like a hidden stream. A slow boat on the Canal de Lateral captures a different essence, just as essential. Paris is Paris like San Francisco is San Francisco. It is a thing unto itself. La Charite and Apremont and all the places without a dot on the map are the components that fit together to make the country. Baguettes and croissants are just as necessary to the flow of small town life. The tiny restaurants that are closed on Mondays, or maybe Tuesdays, or Wednesdays are an important part of France’s complexion.
Jan’s friend is correct. Paris isn’t France. Paris is its own creature. Jan is right too. Paris is where people tend to fall in love with France. Donna and I barely scratched Paris’ surface. I can’t tell if it’s love or infatuation, but Paris continues to call. The canals call too. So does Italy and Spain.
For me the romance of travel is seeing the places between, hearing cuckoo calls echoing in the woods, watching the heron’s low sweeping flight, and being immersed in the ever present songs of birds. Finding the rhythm of the locks, and being there when morning breaks in a shuttered town are the moments I look forward to and back on. Paris has its own delights, but nothing compares to sitting at the helm of a canal boat with a mug of coffee and heading around the next bend.
Traveling down a canal with a dog and grandchildren is a trip I can imagine. The children we saw were perpetually delighted. They rode bikes along the path that followed the canal. They leapt into action hopping off their boats and pulling lines to bring their boat to shore. Not once did we see an electronic device, or hear a temper tantrum. You could hear quiet conversations and laughter into the night. On the canal you discover the spirit of Huckleberry Finn resides in us all. That spirit only needs an open stretch of water to be revealed.