He who walks through the meadows of Champagne
At noon in Fall, when leaves like gold appear,
Sees it draw near
Like some great mountain set upon the plain,
From radiant dawn until the close of day,
Nearer it grows
To him who goes
Across the country. When tall towers lay
Their shadowy pall
Upon his way,
He enters, where
The solid stone is hollowed deep by all
Its centuries of beauty and of prayer.
From The Cathedral of Rheims
by Joyce Kilmer from Emile Verhaeren poem
Bonjour à tous!
First of all, let us join the celebration of the World Environment Day, so close to the Man on the River values, hoping to bring our little contribution to the future.
Now, let’s get back to our story, beginning from Pargny-Filain, where we stay for one more day to enjoy the show of the Compagnie Isis.
Fine will stop here a little longer to make a video about one of them, Magali. You can watch the final result at bottom page, it’s way better than a thousand words.
Bruno and I leave from Pargny early in the morning, heading to Reims. The landscape is beautiful: In Braye we face a new tunnel, entering undisturbed. In the inside it nearly rains, bare rock, a menacing Peniche following us (not a pleasant feeling…).
After two Kilometres, we see a silhouette against the light: It seems like waiting for us. With a nasty look and little words, we’re invited to come alongside the quay. After a long while, we get to know the reason: The tunnel can’t be crossed by rowboats.
The permission from VNF doesn’t arrive and I show to Mr Michel Marteau the e-mail sent to their Lille’s offices. A firm “No” turns at first to a “Maybe” and then, following a phone call full of laughs (it’s not every day that you meet two madmen rowing to Istanbul), to a very warm and participative “Yes”.
Moreover, the meeting with Monsieur Marteau ends up in a very interesting interview where he explains to us both the complexity of this tunnel (unfortunate theatre of the death of 17 people in the 19th century, due to toxic gases) and the lock management system, with the water that is drawn from the river Aisne and from an artificail basin. What an impressing work!
We set sails once again and, lock after lock (we already counted 100 of them!), metre after metre, we reach Berry-Au-Bac a few minutes before closing time of the last lock of the day. We meet the lock-keeper, that gives us a Kilo of tasty strawberries, that we eat very quickly. Today, we have rowed more than 30 km against the wind, so we’re a little tired, deserving a goos sleep in a manoeuvre basin for the Peniches.
The next morning, at 8 o’clock, we get moving toward reims where we’ll get at 5 p.m. Here, too, we meet very gentle kandscapes, clear water and many fishes. We also meet a deer, grey herons, hundreds of ducks and nutria.
Our arrival in Reims is quite funny. The canal flows in the very hearth of the city, between two high-traffic roads: A real mayhem. Everybody stare at us like we’re from another planet, maybe martians (o humans…). Paradox in all of this mess, we cross the first other rowboat in France: two guys in a double scull.
Bruno wears the shoes of the masked man, he needs to shelter his face from sun rays. We’ve got to understand him, he’s Brazilian and we all know that they can’t get many sun… In Reims we rejoin Fine at first and then Paolo, the director of our documentary, resulting in an overbooking both aboard Clodia and Serena, the boat they use for filming: Life in a fast lane.
Reims, capital of the Champagne region, is very nice and clean. Jean de La Fontaine used to say: “I love no city more than Reims, The jewel and prestige of France”.
We discovered that its name comes from “Remus”, funnily the Italian word for “oar”, brother of Romulus founder of Rome!! According to the (obviously roman) legend, Remus founded Reims giving his name to the first people living in the area too. Even today the inhabitants are called Rémois.
Reims has four monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most impressive of them being the Notre-Dame Chatedral, with that of Chartres the most beautiful gothic cathedral in the world, that has seen the coronation of 25 kings of France. Here was also coronated Charles VII, the king promoted by Joan of Arc.
Between history and art, there’s also a wonderful wireless tram, whose power supply is at ground-level. Be careful to the electric schooooooooooooock!!!
The next day we head to Châlons. Pure Champagne now, intended as region, of course! Vinyards, vilalges over the hills… And we haven’t enjoyed a single drop of wine yet. We’re Spartans, not Athenians.
This leg is very hard and made even harder by the opposite wind. Thanksfully we take comfort from a few wild strawberries picked on the banks of the canal from aboard Clodia. Sweat and sweets!!
At half past six in the afternoon the locks close. We stop in a very nice maneuvre basin, surrounded by beautiful boats. Two ladies greet us: We turn back, getting next to reciprocate their gesture.
In Port de Vaudemanges we’ll have one of the best time of our rich journey. In a perfect environment, a small “liveaboard” community has chosen to restore old boats and get free from brick houses. They seem happier. Isabelle, judge, welcomes us and in a blink of an eye we arrange a collective dinner for many friends.
One of them, Maddy Lecyn, has restored a Peniche belonging to Serge and Isabelle, equipping it with a recording studio, a place of arts that he’s now planning to take around Europe to carry aboard artists, music and beauty. His website is www.nadboat.com. Chapeau!! Go Maddy.
On board, James cooks fantastic prawns and Paolo improvises a tipical Italian meal: Spaghetti (that he has brought from home, of course) for 10 people. In a 5.74 mt long boat, I can tell you that cooking is not that easy.
The dinner is rich and sweet, the music suave, and nature takes care of anything else. I declare defeat, retreating rather early to my tent, where I sleep for 11 solid hours.
In the morning we feel like being among old friends and leaving is a little sad. It might sound bizarre, but we get the impression to run too fast. Everything we see, everyone we meet, would deserve much more time to be known and told.
However, I keep in mind the words from my mentor Bernard Moitessier (unrivalled master of navigation and life, a free and wise man): “Never let a friend’s hand get warm in yours“.
It’s time to go, to try, to live the journey. And to let Clodia slide over the waters to Istanbul.
In the morning we cover 26 km with the wind to our back, passing eight locks in eight km. In the afternoon we’re slower because the wind turns, covering 18 km and two locks.
In Châlons-en-Champagne we face the umpteenth closed lock, stopping for the night in a secondary canal close by a nice Dutch boat in restoration. From Châlons, sit under a carved stone rimembering that Joan of Arc was once here, I salute you.
A bientôt! In the meanwhile enjoy Fine’s video about the Compagnie Isis.
After hours from Jasmine Lane
Francesco’s own adventure
Francesco Cappelletti, very first “Man on the River” guest, has sent us his impressions about the experience aboard:
“Being guest of Giacomo on board Clodia has been an honor and great pleasure.
Of course as a sailing and boating enthusiast I much enjoyed the pleasure of spending whole days pulling the boat with my own hands and setting the precious riggings to take advantage of the winds. But what I really appreciated about this experience is the human value on it. Giacomo, Bruno and Josephine are a great crew. They are friendly, involving, well motivated and with great ideas in their minds!
I love this Project. I consider the ideas supporting it so valuable, clever and universal and hope they will finally lead to a great success. Fair winds to the crew!”
Thanks Francesco and see you soon!