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I think it’s safe to say that adventures of the more daring kind are often hatched during enthusiastic exchanges fuelled by the romantic powers of the wine bottle. This little sojourn was no different.

A drunken sailor is part of folklore and on this particular night, I was a born-again landlubber turned pirate encouraged by the delights of the fermented grape. 

Why did I say yes? You may well ask. But say Yes I did, and it began a journey that I will recount over the coming weeks. A journey that began in a conversation with a few friends.

Although the Wanderlust II crossed the Atlantic in 1984, this account essentially deals with its passage through the canals in France en route to the Mediterranean. However, a brief history is needed to familiarise the reader with how the yacht came to be in Paris.

When John, the owner of Wanderlust II, a 40 foot Morgan Out-Islander, planned to sail his yacht from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, across the Atlantic to England, I was chosen as a crew member because of my experience in matters mechanical, ocean sailing, cooking and general bon vivant.

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Much hype had been "leaked" to the media of this ‘daring' adventure, which, to the uninformed journalists, were necessarily paralleled to the perils of a Kon-Tiki expedition. However, matters of radar, satellite navigation, refrigeration, air-conditioning, movies and other on-board luxuries installed on the Wanderlust II were omitted before the media hustlers.

On the 2nd of June, a crew of five, three of whom I had met on one occasion only in a Montreal bar two weeks before, preceded the owner to Florida to prepare the yacht.

Gabby, a restaurateur and a seasoned sailor, was to make the Bermuda leg. Steve and Janice, a brother and sister team with navigation and racing experience were to do the entire voyage. Pierre, a university student with no sailing experience who quit in Bermuda unable to tolerate the brother and sister team. Myself, who left the yacht in the Portuguese Azores after six weeks and John who, of course, captained the entire journey.

John had assured us, rather volubly, that goodly sums of money had put his yacht in a fine state of sea-worthiness and there would be little else to do but provision and refuel her.

Given that knowledge, I was mightily surprised when I first saw Wanderlust II in a Fort Lauderdale canal. She lay with all the grief of a pirate's wreck, keeled over and sitting on the bottom in about five feet of water for she had sunk. 

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All batteries were dead; the forward cabin was jammed to the deck with surfboards, sailboards, diving equipment, a vacuum cleaner and, it seemed, a lifetime collection of everything else. The galley was a mess of rotting fruit with an attendant swarm of winged beasts.

John's last minute change of plan to arrive a few days later than us became understandable, to my mind, at least.

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Twelve months after Wanderlust ll’s arrival in England, both masts were removed, secured along the deck and the hard work commenced. None of which required my Bon Vivant, so I returned to Montreal.

Finally, the yacht motored across the English Channel to France. Canal travel requires the masts to be down as the many road bridges leave scant clearance between boat and bridge.

Wanderlust II's berth for the next year was beside the Bastille in Paris where it became the floating residence of John's friend Adrian and other friends who visited Paris.

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I arrived in Paris in early May and found the yacht among the many berths in the Canal St. Martin. This was in preparation for the canal journey as there was a reported " minor"  problem with the yacht's engine.

It was there I learned from John that during the previous summer, somebody had accidentally (it always is) filled the diesel fuel tank with about 600 litres of water. This was discovered when the motor conked out in the middle of the river Seine while entertaining visiting Canadians on a balmy Sunday afternoon.

As it happened, the water had contaminated the entire fuel system including all the buffer filters and separators and made its way into the fuel pump, fuel distributor and finally the injectors where it sat for the better part of a year working its very expensive corrosion.

The damage was extensive and the pump had to be rebuilt. After checking Paris prices it proved cheaper and faster to undertake this in Montreal.

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I returned to France a week later, cleaned the tanks, fitted the pump and made ready for our journey to the South of France via the network of inland waterways.

The Atlantic crossing that followed was a story unto itself and certainly not without event. However, that's another story for another time.

We were to be a crew of three, John, Adriane and myself. Adriane, however, using her keen feminine wisdom suggested we post an ad on the bulletin board in the American Church seeking a shipmate. An American student who was living in Paris for the summer made quick response.

Mary was a smart and pretty girl of twenty-one from an upper, middle class, Washington family. She was to return at summer's end to an executive training position with General Electric. Mary, obviously bright, had competed for that chance among several hundred applicants. We advised her to consider the proposition overnight. The following morning Mary arrived with her bag packed and ready to go.

Provisioning the yacht with food and drink is always a pleasant task but doing it in Paris added to the excitement. Sidewalk stalls in the Paris marketplaces seem to present all forms of food in a much more appealing setting. Poultry, all of it fresh and not packaged. 

 

Sausages of most European varieties, salamis aplenty and marvellous pâtés of countless types. Vegetables, voluptuous, crisp and ever so green. The largest, reddest, sweetest and juiciest strawberries I've ever seen or tasted. And then there are the crusty breads, unsalted, sweet butters and plenty of crème fraîche. Other delicacies we elected to purchase in the regions of their origin as we came upon them en-route.

 

 JUNE 20. 

It was to be a morning departure, but anything to do with boats will wreck the best planned timetable. At 3 PM. we finally cleared the St. Martin lock, into the River Seine and so bid farewell to the historic Bastille and the exciting fervour of Paris.

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To an English speaking person the French appear to do most things backwards. This feeling is no doubt fuelled by the convoluted arrangement of their very language. Consequently, I saw a certain irony in the fact that the most French of all rivers, the Seine, wends its way through the countryside in a Northerly flow ignoring the fact that North is up and South is down—to those of us from the antipodes anyway. This bloody-mindedness of mother-nature, just to appease the French, no doubt, meant pushing against a two to three knot current in our pursuit of the (downhill) South.

Seine River, Paris, France.  By Paul Chartrand (USA).  Camera: Lumix DMC-SZ10

Given that we had pumped out all of the contaminated fuel we had but a few litres remaining and began an immediate search for the nearest fuel dock. It was soon obvious that a strange enterprise exists upon the Seine.

Small, greasy-looking barges squatting low in the water were made fast just off the main channel. A tiny fuel pennant standing stiffly in the breeze and a couple of battered fuel pumps signify bootleg diesel fuel at nearly half the regular price. Apparently, it's a subsidised fuel meant for agricultural use only and to make it identifiable as such the authorities add a rather violent red dye. The locals don't risk using it and the various authorities turn a blind eye to foreigners who use it on their passage through the canals of France. Needless to say, we took on a full load quite free of any ethical dilemma.

As we motored along the busy Seine the magnificent Parisian architecture quickly diminished giving way to a rash of drab factories that clutter the landscape. Jutting noticeably from industrial and urban jumble stands the mundane sterility of several High-Rises; they seem sordid and totally unfitting as they mingle among the great historic and architectural majesty of Paris.

 P1000892

The Wunderlust II in a lock 

We managed to negotiate three locks before they closed at 7.30 pm. The business of jumping on and off the yacht so many times, climbing up and down slippery steel ladders and racing to and fro with long ropes made me ponder, with no small trepidation, the more than 100 locks which lay ahead in the coming days.

The air was noticeably cleaner away from Paris, something all of us immediately registered and readily embraced, except the Captain, a dedicated smoker who didn’t notice at all.

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As evening gathered anchor was set at river's edge beside a lush, wooded area where the occasional fitness jock would trundle past in fashionable jogging mode. Conversation with one of them determined the lovely area to have been a staging area for one or more of the armies during the Great Crusades waged in the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.

There, amidst the spectres of antiquity, we prepared for a sumptuous repast. As the mere mention of France conjures up visions of culinary triumphs I was determined to apply mine. Mary and Adriane were willing sous-chefs and the camaraderie that existed between us, particularly with cooking, cleaning and general boat chores could not have been better and such was the situation for as long as we were together.

As a pleasant dusk descended, with it drifted a welcome coolness preceding heady aromas emanating from the galley below which piqued  the interest of all.  A memorable moules marinière paved the way to a fragrant rabbit, sautéd to a crusty brown, flambéed with Cognac and the whole napped with a mushroom, cream and tarragon sauce.

 

The wine was of course French and the attending vegetables were tiny new potatoes, white asparagus and a fresh, green salad. Coffee was enjoyed with squares of sinfully rich chocolate and luscious strawberries. A perfect ending, we all agreed, to our first day upon the great River Seine. 

The arrival of a beautiful morning caused a slow start as we lounged around the sunny cockpit sipping coffee, gorging plump strawberries, nibbling on various cheeses and crunching on rough chunks torn from a three-foot baguette.
By noon we had passed a few locks and soon thereafter came upon Saint-Mammès where we left the Seine and entered the Loing, the first canal on our route South.
"Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ‘Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company." Kenneth Graham - Wind in the Willows 

The Loing is rather narrow and the locks are even narrower, no more than 1.5m wider than the Wanderlust ll. The peniche captains skilfully manoeuvre their long steel barges in and out of the locks with only centimetres to spare. Often, they are crewed by elderly couples who have been plying the waterways of Europe for most of their lives as did their families before them. The women usually stand at the bow operating a front rudder,  obeying the silent hand signals of the captain who works the rear rudder and engine.

These peniches are floating homes to their owners and are mostly gaily painted as such.   The cluttered afterdeck is equipped accordingly: flower pots on the window ledges, clothes drying on a line, a bicycle or two, a motorcycle or even a small Renault neatly perched on the rear deck. Their cargoes seem mostly sand and gravel which, I trust,  generates enough income for their frugal lifestyle. However, that practice is diminishing and like so many fundamental things these days will soon disappear.
At late afternoon we tied up to a couple of trees beside the bank in the middle of nowhere, or so we thought. The day had been particularly hot and sweaty with the  mercury topping 95 degrees. We had been travelling across farmland where trees and undergrowth act as a break stopping any breeze that might happen by.
Barges at Saint-Mammes - Pierre Eugene Montezin Paintings
I needed to cool down desperately and set forth onto the bank with the portable shower tank. No sooner had I soaped all over, shampoo in hair and eyes when I heard the sounds of a motocyclette sputtering toward me. As the rider jammed on the brakes he was no doubt dismayed to find a soap lathered, naked body, perched in the middle of his familiar track. I got quite a surprise also. 

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 Cooking this night became a drawn out affair as we were somewhat pooped after a long and very hot day. Nevertheless, our labours did result in boneless rib steaks with a green peppercorn sauce, herbed potato cubes, sauteed zucchini and a green salad under a confit of raspberry and onion dressing.

During dinner, a huge, old tree beneath which we had parked chose to demonstrate its rite of seed proliferation. I don't know what type of tree it was but in the quiet of night, just before midnight, it gave a muffled “pop” which showered the decks with countless butterfly-shaped seedlings. The evening being so tranquil dragged us to 1.AM. before we opted for the  bunks. Eight locks were passed this long day. It took hours the next day to scrape those seeds from the dew-soaked decks.
JUNE 22. 


A passing shower that misty, Sunday morning kept us below decks listening to John read Hugh McKnight's book, "Cruising French Canals & Rivers". His book dealt interestingly with the Auberge au Fil de L'eau at Chaintreauville, a tiny town which we would encounter later that day. McKnight's account detailed the Inn as being somewhat unorthodox as it was home to a menagerie of feathered friends including a cockatoo, or two, a myna bird and a “flock of acrobatic white doves which swooped through the open dining room windows.” All this, no doubt suitably enthralled the local gentry.

However, the book was a couple of years old and time must have changed things because all we saw was a couple of scrawny doves and lots of pigeons lethargically pecking at something in the grass.
The dining room could indeed be described as, well, homely. A baby was having its diaper changed on one of the eating tables and the floor was strewn with a clutter of baby stuff. The play-pen which seemed well ensconced in the centre of the room gave rise to the thought that the dining room may have lost its popularity amongst the paying public. And, as for the jungle birds plain and exotic and the reported acrobatic doves, we  saw nothing but an abundant spread of bird shit over everything including the picnic tables and chairs.

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Not to be thwarted by such matters and being rather hungry we each enjoyed a spartan pork sandwich in the fresh air of the garden well away from the smelly diapers. Perhaps the place was under new management, in which case, I fear for their prosperity.
I suppose a leisurely cruise through the canals and waterways of France epitomises the best of European living. Sipping fine wines, sampling gastronomic treasures and enjoying the country-side ambiance sounds so wonderful. But, in reality, there are long periods of monotony that may dampen the hurried adventurer who expects the freedom of wide open spaces. Many of canals are man made, some of them many centuries old. They are narrow with thick lush foliage and trees growing along the banks, therefore, views of the surrounding lands are not always to be enjoyed.

By far the most interesting scenery begins at the River Soane which is several hundred metres wide in places and passes through the great wine areas and towns of historical note.
But for now, it was time to leave the Loing Canal and dream of those lazy days when life was just the joy of sitting idly by as the Wunderlust II chugged quietly on the Loing and I felt the simple joy of messing about in a boat and being with good friends, good wine and good food.
What more can we ask for?  

We begin today's post with a diary entry.
" Late yesterday we entered two locks off the main canal and traveled the two km into the city of Nevers.  John's friend Adriane took the morning train returning to Paris and the beginning of her new job.  As it so commonly happens when a crew member departs, the remainder experience a sense of loss. This was perhaps more acutely felt as she was a sort of boat mother. It was Adriane who injected a calm sense of family order."
We ambled around the pedestrian malls seeking to raise our spirits.  I stared longingly at the artful food preparations displayed in the many charcuteries. This and the passing morning motivated the re-provisioning of the yacht just before the stores closed at 12.30 pm.  The matter of stores closing at lunchtime proved a frequent irritation to us. Bloody stupid, if you ask me.
Before we could get underway John had to don face-mask and snorkel and take a knife to unfoul the propeller which had wrapped itself in a large plastic bag. 
Although extremely hot, the weather was perfect and the locks came and went with a growing ease.  Some locks are separated by only 600 meters. A combination of identical locks and repetitive scenery fused the passing days into one.
I began to feel like a monkey might under the circumstances. As the Wanderlust entered each lock I would spring from the deck with two ropes clutched in one hand and clamber up a slippery steel ladder to make them fast. Then, as the incoming water rose I had to scamper from bow point to stern to seize up the slack in the lengthening lines.

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 Being a lock-master and sitting all day without company can make a man rather miserable and decidedly lonely. One overwrought gentleman gripped by the sight of our fair ladies frolicking on deck had began to act most oddly indeed while standing at the window of his tiny lock-master's cabin. I was the only one to see him and elected not to blow the whistle, as it were. When I mentioned the event further along the canal, no one seemed to believe me.  I wondered if the dirty bugger did that sort of thing to all passing boats.

 Some of the more disgruntled lock-masters, of which there are many, take cruel pleasure in flooding the lock quickly.  By opening all the gates fully,  great torrents of water rush in like a raging river in full flood. The Wanderlust weighs about 15 tons and as the yacht rises in the lock the lines become shorter which allows the boat to swing and crash into the walls as it is caught in the powerful surge. The exercise is akin to holding down a wild horse with a Lasoo.

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On one of those  mixed up days day we cleared 38 locks. No mean feat.
On weekends,  the canal banks are a popular spot for local anglers who use a fixed line on a long black pole hoping to catch I don't know what because I never did see a fisherman catch anything. I suspect it may be a popular path to tranquility, rather than a serious quest for food.
The only change of  water these canals receive is from the opening and closing of the locks and that does not constitute the addition of fresh water. Given the content of junk and pollution I certainly wouldn't swim in it and I would certainly shun any fish that did. 
Approaching the River Soane at Chalon-sur-Saone we peaked at an altitude of 1,000 feet. The landscape was now becoming both interesting and beautiful and there, high above the Soane we commenced the downhill run to the river below which took us through seven locks, all of them within sight of each other. The final lock was a huge one with a 10.7 metre drop that delivered us free of the claustrophobic canals and into the mighty Soane at last.

The Soane is a well marked river, about two hundred metres wide in places and very much cleaner than the canals. We encountered surprisingly little commercial traffic and  thus enjoyed a two knot advantage from the river's Southerly flow. 
By late afternoon we had docked at the pleasant little  town of Tournus, much of which dates back to the 11th. and 12th. centuries.  

There, high on the west bank of the Soane stands the Abbaye St. Philibert de Tournus. It looms as an ancient sentinel reverently commanding of the town below. Built in the 11th. century, the Abbaye is one of the purest of Romanesque Churches using double arches to support the lofty vault of the nave. 

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painting by Chaucer

We had dallied a while in Tournus. Originally called Matisco, Tournus was a Celtic oppidan  ( loosely translated place of residence ) which the Romans later used as an important North-South link. But we had forged on at idle pace to Macon where we had spent pleasant hours embracing the local flavours of life, living and lazily languishing. 
Wunderlust II had brought us to Macon, which is connected to the east via the St. Laurent bridge,  a picturesque 12 arch,  stone structure dating back to the 11th. century. With a population of 50,000, Macon is quite vibrant. The many Bistros and cafes along the Esplanade Lamartine, which edges the Soane, are crowded with people of all types as they sit among the parasoled sidewalk tables sipping wines, coffee and puffing away on those smelly Galoise cigarettes.  
Carnot Street in the city's old sector has been converted to a pedestrian mall boasting a large variety of stores including butcher shops that display meats so appealingly as to stupefy the dedicated gastronome. It seems the further South one ventures, the better the food becomes and for the oenophile, Macon's wine stores are veritable havens of vinicultural Nirvana. 

 

St. Laurent bridge

The finest restaurant in Macon is reputedly the St.Laurent. It is serenely set on the banks of the Soane beside the old bridge and one can dine elegantly on the patio, or more formally inside. The reigning chef practices nouvelle cuisine, which, in honest terms means larger than normal serving plates with scant offerings strewn upon it. 

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My pork dish was artistically blessed by three minuscule medallions of the precious viand made even more lonely by three tiny turnips and two baby carrots. Even the sauce was mean and unremarkable and given the help of a curt, snotty and most disagreeable waiter our total experience was less than ideal.
We departed still hungry, tempered of spirit and much thinner of wallet. 

 

Arrangements were made at the tourist office and next morning our taxi whisked us into the hills. The vineyards are plentiful with a "Caveau de Degustation" ( a cave to taste wine ) conveniently located in each. Many of the names fronting vineyards were familiar and thus put meaning to certain labels affixed to wine bottles that one has been savouring for years.
Surprisingly, there are no organised bus tours to the vineyards, so we were informed. Therefore, a tour of several wine producers had to be arranged at the tourist office who then notifies a private mini-bus or taxi, as they did for us.
Wine tasting at 9.30 am. certainly starts the day off with a bang. The scenery is magnificent and seems to improve greatly with every cave visited or sampled. Our route took us through the tiny village of Soultre, the blessed town where they create that ambrosial nectar, Pouilly-Fuisse.

  

Francoise, our driver spoke no English. John and I spent the whole day trying to speak and understand her dialect French. That and the many "tastings" gave new meaning to mental exhaustion. Francoise, was a substitute driver for that day, she was normally an ambulance driver. 
Even though, she had no idea of where the various caves were to be  found and her sedate driving around the beautiful countryside got us properly lost more than once. I'm sure there were times that we didn't know about also. However, when approaching city limits her ambulance driving experience came rushing to the fore with frightful effect. Speeds of 100kmph through narrow streets that were filled with people and other traffic were rather stressful indeed.  
1vrewhi
  
Pass the wine bottle please!

Chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy and this moderate growing region of France is where you find some of it's greatest expressions. Names like Montrachet, Chablis and Pouilly-Fuissé. 
JULY 3rd. 
The morning brought threats from angry rain clouds. We ignored them and set out along the canal anyway. A few nasty squalls stung us with a biting rain on and off for the next 60 km. It cleared just as Lyon loomed in the distance.
Lyon was once the ancient capital of the Gauls and is today's self proclaimed throne of gastronomy.  Lyon has a rich history that dates back to Roman times. It was an important city during the Roman Empire and later became a centre of trade and commerce in the Middle Ages. Lyon also played a significant role in the silk industry during the 19th century -  this history is still evident in the Silk Museum (Musée des Tissus) and the Silk Workers' House (Maison des Canuts).
Entry is via the Soane and is rather spectacular as both river and road are  fringed with 12th. century architecture. Gracious period style mansions are set like jewels upon manicured, emerald grounds. Low sweeping bridges hewn of stone with ornate festoons are frequent and catch the eye. 

On the surrounding hill-tops, the panorama of cluttered history again explodes with the ungainly forms of high-rise dwellings —an ungainly juxtaposition symbolising the ungainly progress of man. 

Much like with our taxi driver, Francoise, life is often chaotic, often frightening but we always seem to get there in the end. I just wish that we didn't drive so erratically without considering the bumps and dents we create along the way. 

 Lyon

On the Soane's steep western bank towers "Le Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere", its noble, time-stained parapets dart through the summer greenery like white fingers tenaciously anchoring the pious edifice to terra-firma.  From its lofty perch the confluence of the rivers Soane and Rhone can be seen to the south.

"Montee du Gourguillon" is the steep roadway leading up to the Fourvier. Its  name is derived from a deformation of  “gargoyle" because of the way torrents of water rush down the street during a deluge.  When Pope Clement V celebrated his coronation in Lyon in 1305, he fell from his mule while climbing this street and a precious stone broke from his crown and vanished in the crowd. It  has not been found to this day. I suppose either he or his religion was not embraced by everybody in the crowd.


The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a minor basilica in Lyon, France. It was built with private funds between 1872 and 1896 in a dominant position overlooking the city. The site it occupies was once the Roman forum of Trajan, the forum vetus (old forum), thus its name (as an inverted corruption of the French Vieux-Forum). 

Lyon's old sector at the foot of the Fourviere springs from its not so humble beginnings in the 12th. century. Its ancient buildings have been witness to frequent scenes of festivity, rioting, pomp and suffering through the ages. As one ventures into the web of narrow cobblestoned  streets, passing through ancient portals and Roman ruins, the visitor is decidedly humbled under such profound antiquity. We who live in the great west are not accustomed to coming so close to the very roots of our civilisation.

With a population of 1.5 million, (only Paris and Marseilles are greater) Lyon supports a Metro system, a beautiful opera house, theatres and a plethora of fine eating houses  including the famous restaurant, "Paul Bocuse" nearby.

Floating about the waterways of Europe is all very well and good, but the irksome business of working to survive had to be addressed. My partner in  Montreal who was maintaining our business had not seen or heard from me in about five weeks. As Lyon was still only about half way to the Mediterranean I decided to quit the voyage and return to Paris where I could make arrangements for Montreal.

I took the 11.am.  T.G.V.  (tres grande vitesse) from  Lyon's "Gare de Perrache”. Departures are frequent and the train certainly earns its name as it covers the 400 Kms to Paris in two hours. I was surprised at the small number of people in my carriage, it could have been that it was Sunday morning and that I was in a no-smoking car. Once clear of the city limits the train literally swoops across the provincial landscape; one experiences the feeling of low flying, like a lark soaring over the meadows.

I had to wait a couple of days for a flight out. A reasonably priced room was found on the Left Bank only a block from the Seine. I spent the days pleasurably visiting museums, other Paris landmarks and watching the artists ply their trade around Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The night before my departure was June 14th., Bastille Day. Gangs of stupid people roam the streets looking for trouble. Dropping burning fireworks from the bridges into the crowded boats passing beneath is prime entertainment. The drunken squeals and howls  and breaking bottles continued through the night ceasing only at dawn. It was nice to see Montreal again, count my blessings and ponder future adventures.

I hope you have enjoyed the escape during these testing times of turmoil.

This quick ink sketch was done opposite Notre-Dame.

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How do I end this story? 

Much like my previous series about Eddie, it must end with a nostalgic sigh and a wink and a nod to past memories of better times. 

I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

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