Though the cafe down by the canal was packed. We ordered pastis, which arrived in signature Pastis 51 glasses. Graham asked me to ask the bartender if he could buy his. I did, and the man reached beneath the bar and pulled up a box containing six glasses.
"Souvenir de Ventenac," he said, handing me the box.
In the morning, Graham, Dan, Barb and I took a tour of the chateau followed by a tasting. White. Rose. Red. I watched as they swirled and sniffed and swished with great seriousness, and then followed suit, concluding that it was the only way to drink guiltlessly at 10 a.m. We bought three bottles.
While we were gone, Hania and Donnette had hung the wash.
"Now we look like a real Bahamian boat," said Graham.
A short while later, we came to our first lock. Navigating it was easier than understanding its keeper. The second lock was a double, which we shared with two boats, one a sailboat whose horizontal mast threatened to ram our stern as the water surged in.
I found these first locks educational. It was interesting to watch the gates close slowly behind us, and then hold tightly to the lines as a waterfall was switched on. Your world expanded from scum-stuck stone and soft blue sky to include, gradually, a tan house with green shutters, a man, or sometimes woman, standing at the controls, a flower garden, and a dog (frequently a Brittany spaniel) as endlessly fascinated by everything as you were.
But the novelty soon wore off. The fourth lock was a nuisance, breaking the contemplative spell.
We docked for the night in the town of Homps. To get into town we had to walk through a small marina, past a group of young men in lawn chairs, and then over a modern bridge under which small children swam. On our way back from the market, one of the men eyed Hania carrying the eggs.
"Les omelettes pour diner," he said. "Nous sommes six." ("Omelets for dinner. There are six of us.")
We stored the food and recrossed the bridge for dinner at Les Tonneliers. Tables filled a courtyard next to a garden. A sign read: "S'il vous plaît, respecter le jardin."
"It sounds so much nicer," Graham said, "than `Keep off the grass.' "
Another three-hour repast, beginning with rose and moving on to a local red and ending with coffee. There was cassoulet and steak frites and some kind of fish -- the menus were getting as monotonous as the locks -- and snatches of English, German and Dutch from fellow bargers at neighboring tables.
The canal had a life, if the villages didn't. We'd frequently pass beautiful old barges docked on the side, their hulls painted a shiny black, their decks often carpeted in synthetic grass, and set with table and chairs and an umbrella, flower boxes decorating the sides, delicate lace curtains shading the windows. These frequently carried Dutch names.
We shared locks with the same boats for a day or more, and helped their crews tie their lines. I liked the easy camaraderie, the tacit teamwork, the blurring of nationalities in a world where everyone was a boater, or at least someone temporarily in command of a boat. For several days one of the barge-shaped Rive de France boats followed us, making us wait in every lock. It would arrive, three stout harpies on deck, each with a cigarette in hand, and a bearded, expressionless man at the wheel. We speculated wildly about their relationships.
Some days Dan or I would take a bike -- the boat came with six -- and go on ahead. I had to pull over into the grass one morning as a troop of young army recruits pedaled past, most saying "bonjour" or "merci" as they did. In their close formation and Lycra outfits, they looked like a mini Tour de France. I marveled at their steadiness while at the same time wondering in what war the military rides bikes.
In Pecherac we all rode into town after lunch on the boat. Graham and Barb climbed on the seesaw in the park next to the church, making the day of one female resident. "C'est pour les enfants," she sniffed as she walked with her daughter. "Ils vont le casser." ("It's for children. They're going to break it.") Then, indignant and satisfied, she climbed into her car.
Nothing broken, we sailed out of town, and docked for the night just past a lock. A row of RVs, a few with British license plates, lined the south bank. Their owners had set up chairs and folding tables between their vehicles and sat drinking wine or playing cards. Waterless barging.
A pretty restaurant with a yellow-and-blue awning, Le Moulin de Trebes, stretched along the north side of the lock. After the requisite three hours, we asked our waiter to divide the bill three ways (one for each hour). He brought the credit card machine to the table -- this seemed to be the accepted practice -- and then said to Graham: "You owe 59 point four six, six, six, six, six, six ..."