We left our story in Vendenheim, with Henri Bronner, the Mayor. His generosity is fantastic: The next day he takes us out for lunch. Here, anyone is very kind and cares about us, as happened everywhere so far in our journey.
Sincerely! Maybe also because they know that we’re just in transit, and being light is really helpful in life. The weight of a long-term commitment on protecting standing properties and little conforts, can make us a bit more selfish and less open-minded.
On the opposite, the uncertainty of travelling forces us to look at the world with new eyes, so other people reflect themselves in what you do and what you feel.
It’s a matter of water… resonances, as stated by Masaru Emoto, a controversial Japanese scholar considered a guru by many and a charlatan by the most part of scientists. I must admit that I appreciate many of the things that he says, by direct experience. In life, metaphysics is much closer to real physic of what we think.
We enjoy a good sleep moored side by side to Rataka, the housboat of Remy and Nadash. At 6 o’clock I neak out to find bread and croissants for Fine, Bruno and me, finding a nice boulangerie in the heart of Vendenheim. At noon, the mayor picks us up for lunch, along with his wife and daughter in law (his son works in Boulogne sur Mer, surveilling the English Channel).
Alsatian cuisine is rich and interesting, too tasty to waste any time in describing it: I have to concentrate on eating like a pig! My dish resembles a bit a Piedmontese recipe, brasato al Barolo, made of savoury meats and French sauces. Fine and Bruno have sauerkrauts and potatoes, with sausages, würstels and well-cooked pork, quite tasty indeed.
I strive to be as vegetarian as I can, but it’s a very difficult task here.
In the evening we get invited for a party organised by the council workers of vendenheim, where we’re waited by another huge feast, lots of meat and worderful home-made cakes. We’re overwhelmed by people warmth. Henri, being the gentleman he is, publicly introduces us to the audience and we get plenty of applauses for our endeavour.
In the meantime we’ve been reached by a much appreciated guest, Karl (Kalle) Fine’s dad, just arrived from Hannover to stay a few days with us.
Kalle, nice and strong, has a wonderful job: He works on landscape art, building fabulous and poetical fences and many other objects by using willow timber and other materials that nature has to offer. In the evening we take a walk to Vendenheim, passing maize fields and big cherry trees.
The next morning we stand for a few photos taken by local journalists, with Henri aboard Clodia. Then, aftere a brief goodbye to Nadash, we leave to Strasbourg. We row once again!
A mediterranean heat surrounds us. It might be that, or the conversation about the “big picture” with Kalle who is aboard with me, or even still the greetings from a couple of fishermen, but below the last bridge before Strasbourg, after having passed about 700 others, I hear Clodia slowing down, then a nasty craaaaackkkkk…
I turn back and I see Kalle bent, eyes wide open, keeping in his hand the main mast, that’s falling over me. Damn… I swear, cursing myself: I can’t believe it. It was just me, praying for attention everytime, that got distracted! I’m thinking already to the damages to be fixed…
Thanksfully the main traveller of Clodia and the mast lock was wisely built by Roland in such a way to break immediately, avoiding further damages to the structure to the hull in cause of collision with a bridge.
Everything worked but unfortunately the base of the mast broke the watertight bulkhead at stem, that’ll be harder to repair. The mast, however, is untouched. “Manco mal”… As they say in Venice (meaning “not as bad as it could have been”, “luckily”).
Archived this accident, we set off again in a very low-spirit. Nature comes to our help, through a centuries-old cherry tree that Bruno climbs like a monkey. I follow him in a much clumsier fashion and take comfort by the sweetest black cherries tasted so far.
We’re on the edge of Strasbourg and the last lock, number 51, marks our farewell to the French Canals. We’ve passed 252 locks (not to mention 20 on the Thames): One by one they’re quite a lot. We’re waited by about one hundred more on the way to Istanbul, maybe a little less.
We enter Strasbourg at 2 a’clock of a sticky hot sunday, over 33°C of temperature. We row in front of the European Parliament and its technological show-off: I have to think about all the money that many members of the parliament earn (an Italian member could receive as much as 35.000 EURO per month) while so many people, often more capable, struggle with very low wages. Efficient politicians do exist, but they’re rare birds. I wonder why.
We stop for a quick lunch in a small kiosk, run by a very kind armanian-russian man. Just the time to learn that I’m Italian, and he loads a compilation of hits of the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, as loud as ever, with Adriano Celentano (a very very popular singer and showman) as undisputed emperor.
It wasn’t for a few details, I could as well be rowing along the Ticino river in Italy. The nice, transparent water, reminds me of that found there on my previous journey, after 400 km of thick yellow waters along the Po river. The wind has risen: It’s time to leave and Kalle is still on my side. Eventually, we find high bridges and the huge ferries makes us understand that we’re very close to the Rhine.
Strasbourg harbour is large, but we’ll cross even larger ones along the way. Bruno and Fine mood Serena on the shadow of big plane trees along the canal, while I get going, looking for a quieter place to dock. In the distance, I spot a woman waving her hands, aboard a Peniche.
When I get close, she shows me a copy of the DNA (Derniere Nouvelles Alsaciennes), a newspaper with an article written about us and a nice picture of Clodia. Her boat is called Labor and is very big, 55 by 6 mt.: Anne, smiling, kindly invites me to jump aboard for a coffee. How nice, I’m happy to accept. To get on board I have to climb about 3 metres: Much different scales compared with those Peniche on the canals.
There, I discover a wonderful house and meet Toni, Anne’s partner, who welcomes me. I enjoy a nice coffee and an even nicer conversation with my hosts. Anne and Toni’s business is about culture and their peniche is a huge atelier.
They’ve plenty of ideas and sponsor lots of initiatives, such as a Boat Festival in 2010 and a Christmas Market on water, attracting visitors from all around the world.
The “liveaboard” community is quite large and quickly welcomes me. The little harbour is pleasant and protected, close to the citadel. As always, we’ll get generously offered free mooring for the two days of stay with Clodia.
Another nice lady, Helene, invites me for dinner after a long chat aboard Serena: In the meanwhile Josephine, Kalle and Bruno get to sleep rather early.
Helene, a theatrical costumes designer, is a charming woman living aboard by six years: unfortunately her beautiful steel boat, dating 1908, has sunk for unknown reasons.
Helene’s life was tough and now the dispute with the insurance make her suffer even more. It’s not all a bed of roses for liveaboards. I take a good shower (much appreciated…) then I get to sleep under the stars, since it doesn’t look like raining.
In the morning, I wake up with two black eyes closely staring at me. A very long neck: A curious swan enjoys the show, then it moves on, looking for something tastier for breakfast.
Our day will be as full as usual: We’re waited by many interviews and fixings on Clodia. Yesterday Bruno took care of the most of it however the bulkead has still to be repaired.
We need resin and other stuff, not to mention food. I travel in an unusual, disturbing heat, and the traffic noise in not here to help. Eventually we sort it all out, then, gasping, we meet in the harbour.
I try to sleep a little in the shadow of a boat, but a woman comes to tell me her interesting story aboard the Glass Boat belonging to Alexandre, master glassmaker. How nice these tales of people that, regardless of age, build a new life. Alexander for instance was a truck driver, but when he turned 50 he decided to change.
Thinking of it, it’s my story too. How hard, and what a beautiful life I found. Someone said that the way to poverty is quite easy, and I’m not talking just about money. To have something more you have to do something more. A lot more. I don’t sleep but I learn, it’s better. I can sleep later on.
At 5.30 p.m. we have an interview with Madame Buchmann (remember?) who is in charge of ecology and we get invited to the Strasbourg city council. We enter with Bruno after a nice walk along the river, being welcomed by an elegant Gentleman who says: “Are you the rowers?”. “Yes, Sir!” and he takes us to Ms Buchmann office. We learn that she mentioned our journey in the last council meeting. What an honour!
Even inside, the heat is terrible and our “political” day gets quite tiring, however still full of energy and passion. The interview is interesting and intense: We discover the environmental strategies of Strasbourg and I get the impression that Ms Buchmann is a truly passionate and dedicated administrator. Please come to Strasbourg to take a look.
Then, back to Anne and Toni‘s boat for a new interview and finally a bit of tourism, visiting the city. Canals, wood and bricks buildings, nature and art live together in the small as in the large scale. The steeple of the chatedral is really awsome, breathtaking flamboiant gothic.
It’s time to jump on the boat for a good sleep. The next morning we’re waited by the Rhine and a new chapter is ready to be written. A real big river, after the Thames and the Moselle.
We’re excited and happy, tomorrow we’ll celebrate our first 1000 km: 1000 km of joy and struggle, meetings and gifts, but overall of waters across Europe. The veins and the arteries of this big continent. We’re within and over them, trying to do as little damage as possible and to learn.
See you soon, my friends.