We stopped to fill our water tank at a charming cafe called Le Chat Qui Peche (its shingle a painting of a cat with a fishing pole). A short while later, we sailed across a stone aqueduct over a river. We docked for the night in the little town of Ventenac-en-Minervois, under plane trees just down from the chateau.
"It's strange to be on a boat and see trees overhead," said Dan.
"It usually means you did something wrong," said Graham.
We climbed the hill to the town hall. The streets all had two names -- French and Langue d'Oc (reminding us that we were in Languedoc) -- and no pedestrians. This seemed to be the place for those who say that France would be a wonderful country if it weren't for the French. For along with all the other things that had dropped out of our world were people.
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.