Today's locks, and A Woman Comes

Tom Fenton and Faith Ressmeyer
Fri 10 Oct 2014 20:20
I mentioned that today I had done 19 manual locks and 3 automatic ones. The manual were a new experience. They sent a man out, for the first eight or so. He was the least smiley of the VNF staff I have met so far. Turned out he was shy. He tried to avoid eye contact. At first I though he looked as bored as a Parisian prostitute, and almost as unattractive. But I worked on him, asked him to explain to me what I should do to help, asked him which lock inside I should go to, and so on, and he warmed up.

Then his shift was suddenly over, and a woman took his place. She had the smallest commercial vehicle I have ever seen, smaller than a Smart Car, and, like her predecessor, raced me from lock to lock, nearly but not quite always getting there in time to fill the lock and open the upstream gates before I arrived. She was a chatterer, to me, to walkers, to people sitting watching, to the tenants of lock keepers houses, to anyone. She asked me, apparently in all seriousness, whether I had sailed around the world. But she seemed impressed enough with Wivenhoe/Biscay/Gibraltar/Baleares/Sardegna/La Corse. Tout seule? She asked. Non, aver ma femme. Où est votre femme maintenant? Where is she now indeed.

Then came the lifting bridge. Like her car, it seemed on a ridiculously small scale. But here it is, two bridges, the first a road bridge which she raised and lowered in about two minutes flat, and I did not have to change my speed by a single rev.

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I am sure I would have fitted under anyway, but she was not to be put off her routine. I had learned how fierce she was with her timings. She would start to close the upper lock gates while I was still going through them. She liked me not to waste her or the company's time, though she never said anything in words.

The canal went over a coupe of rivers today. It is an odd sensation, to be in a boat on a bridge rather than under a bridge.

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You must think I am hung up on trees, but the way the French use trees is wonderful. Ever since we left the Rhone and joined the Marne, I have been impressed by the planting of avenues of trees on one or both sides of the water. In the Saone it was mostly Lombardy Poplars. South of the tunnel it was Hornbeam. Since the tunnel it has been Ash, then Oak, and most recently Fir.

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These plantings do transform a landscape in a way I find completely satisfying, though the effect is not as manicured and even suburban as the photo above might suggest. I suppose they are reminders that most of our landscape is not purely natural, but has been shaped in so many ways by human behaviour, for thousands of years (as the wonderful museum in Langres reminded me only yesterday). But to take water over hills, now that takes some imagination and courage. Well done the French.