We waken at a very civilized hour, around 9:30-ish, in order to catch some breakfast before it shuts down. This is a "free" day in La Malène, and ostensibly there will be no access to the bus, since it's Tony's day off.
Breakfast at Manoir de Montesquiou consists of:
After breakfast, we separate the hardy fools from the wise folks who choose to relax. We hardy fools have decided to brave the less-than-balmy weather (overcast, low 60's, stiff breeze) and take another canoe ride. This time, the ride is around 11 km long, downstream on the Tarn river from La Malène. The Tarn is a slightly more interesting river than the Vezere that we rode on in Montignac. There are some light rapids on the Tarn, perhaps a 1 or 1.5 on the 5 dot scale. The water temperature is probably in the low 60's.
I choose to wear my plastic sandals, shorts, a short sleeve shirt, and a windbreaker. And my hat. Brigid is in her leather sandals, convertible pants, long sleeve shirt, and windbreaker.
Our backpacks contain additional clothes, in case we need to increase our layering. The backpacks go into the waterproof barrel, along with our lunch of fresh bread, slab of Cantal (sheep) cheese, ham, mustard, water, and our apple from Villandry. We decide to take a chance, leaving our camera out of the barrel, so Brig can take photos while we are canoeing.
By the time we finally get on the river, I'm shivering. As soon as I start paddling, I'm okay. Brig is doing okay, too. All goes well for the first couple of miles. We shoot some gentle rapids, and enjoy the view of the landscape sculpted by the Tarn.
Then, it happens: A rapid is funneling water from right to left, straight at a rock wall. We make the following mistakes:
We fail to stay to the rightmost edge of the "V";
We fail to immediately turn and accelerate to the right upon entering the"V";
When we approach the wall, we fail to fend it off with paddles and hands, allowing the canoe to hit it;
And the worst, dumbest, most elemental mistake is...? One or both of us (I honestly don't know if it was me, Brig, or both of us) leaned away from the wall, reflexively. Uh, you do NOT lean while in a canoe.
Over we go. Brig and I are immediately treading in VERY cold water. The life jackets do their jobs, easily keeping us upright. I grab Brig and bring her over to the overturned canoe, having her hang onto the barrel that's strapped to it.
Eventually, Sarah and our canoeing guide David (who only happens to be travelling with us by accident) arrive on scene, and help us move sideways a bit, so we can now stand up. We make our way to the bank, and David retrieves my hat and our canoe.
Brig and I are just fine. Sopping wet and cold, but fine. We retrieve dry clothes from our "watertight" container (into which, something like 2-3 cups of water has leaked). Everyone pitches in and digs out dry pants and shirts and jackets from their watertight containers for us. After a quick change by the side of the gorge, and an even briefer fashion show, we get back underway.
The camera? Well, it was in the pocket of Brigid's windbreaker, which was underwater for a minute or two (as were our watches, of course!). Not good. There's water all over the thing. I suspect it will be out of commission for the duration of the trip, if not for good. Rats!
As soon as we are back on the river, paddling away, I'm warm again. Brig took the whole thing like a trooper. No blame, no anger, nothing. Just slightly concerned about me, as I was about her. And we're both taking maximum advantage of the humor in the situation. Other than the loss of the camera, this wasn't a bad event, really.
A couple of rapids later, and we pull onto a bank, to have some lunch. I think this was after we passed Detroit (meaning "the narrows", not that city in Michigan). It's just too damned cold to assemble a sandwich or pull out an apple. We munch on the bread that hasn't gotten too soggy, and share some of the Cantal cheese. Everyone is getting colder by the second -- and it's not just me, standing in my wet shorts. We pile back into the canoes, and shove off.
There were a couple more close calls -- although we were the only ones who seemed to be having this problem. Twice, we had nearly identical situations to the one that dumped us. This time, we pushed off with oars and hands, and refrained from LEANING! We got through the rest of the trip without further incident. Pat and Barbara, however, got swept along the bank, and their canoe became ensnared by a tree branch. For several minutes, they tried in vain to free it. The canoe company's employee, David, came to the rescue once again. He climbed out of his canoe, waded over, and managed to release their stuck canoe.
At the end of the trip, we haul out, and pack ourselves into the canoe company's bus, for the trip back to La Malène. There, we learn that David has been working for the company for 17 years, and only 10 times has he had the opportunity to actually canoe down this stretch. He only came down because there were no other canoe reservations, and we were short by one canoer!
On the way back, David points out a small village on the other side of the Tarn, a few miles downstream of La Malène. It's apparently the original La Malène! This very tiny town is not served by a road. Access is limited to boats or a cablecar. It turns out that when she was a child, Jacquelyn Bouvier (Mrs. JFK) used to spend her summers here. Many years ago the 7 families that lived in the original La Malène decided to move to a more convenient location -- the current one. Since then, a Paris businessman has purchased the original La Malène, refurbished it, and now uses it as his personal summer residence.
We arrive back at the canoe launch point, and thank everyone. As I'm leaving the canoe area, I hear Kristen talking to some guys, and pointing out "l'homme avec le chapeau blanc" (that would be me, the guy in the white hat). Apparently, these guys were potential canoe customers, and were on the fence about going. They asked Kristen if the trip and the water were too cold. She told them to ask me! I chatted with them for a few minutes, switching between English and French as necessitated by my awfully limited vocabulary and memory of conjugations. They were surprised to learn that there was no wet suit under my sopping wet shorts. I tried to get them to understand that they shouldn't worry too much about falling in. The only reason I fell in was because I'm a klutz. (How do you say "klutz" in French???) Anyway, by the time I left, they seemed convinced that it was worth a shot.
I sure hope they made it okay! 8-)
I join Brig back at the hotel, and we sprint back to our room. We finally give a teensy bit of truth to the room's nickname, sharing a nice, hot, cozy tub, and reflecting on the day's events so far...
After a brief respite, we head over to the laundromat, such as it is, to clean and dry our clothes, and those lent by our fellow canoers. The laundromat is an unusally inconvenient affair. It's up the hill, but it takes only tokens -- no coins. The tokens are sold in the campsite, on the banks of the river. Right. Back down the hill. €2.30 for one wash. Forget the dryer -- it ain't working. Back up the hill, load up the washer, and start it up. We then go back to the hotel to wait out the wash. The hotel cats find Brigid's lap, and she's found her spot for the next few hours. She spends the time sharing Diona's tea, chatting, and communing with the kitties. Eventually, I retrieve the clothes and the hotel agrees to dry them for us, for another €3.00.
Kristen has promised to teach us boules, which seems to be a French equivalent to shuffleboard. Well, actually, it's more interesting, and requires a lot less equipment. Just a dirt strip, a bunch of heavy metal balls, and a lighter wooden ball. You toss the wooden ball 18 to 30 feet away, and then the idea is to get your metal balls closer to the wooden one than your opponent. I played Bill and then Al. It was actually a lot of fun, and very easy to learn.
After playing Al, we chat a bit. It turns out that he's not only an ex-FedEx pilot, but also a practicing attorney, doing estate planning, probate, etc. He's planning to build an RV-7 (a homebuilt kit airplane), and is in the process of securing a hangar for it. A very interesting fellow.
Sorry, but we can't offer any photos of this night's dinner -- and I'm very sorry about that, because as you could see from last night's meal, this place provides tremendous presentations.
I start with bruschette d' escargots. Yes, it's a pair of skewers with escargot on them. Well, there's more than that, of course! The escargot are alternated with bacon and a small yellow mushroom that looks very similar to the girolles we had in Sarlat. The flavor is completely different, though. These mushrooms are not at all sour. Perhaps they're chanterelles? The total effect is delicious, though I'm not sure that the escargot add much to the dish.
Brigid's starter is a truffle omelette. This appears to be a small bowl filled with a very light colored shirred egg, mixed with minced truffle. Brigid really enjoyed it. I tasted it, but somehow the taste of truffles is just too subtle for me. I only really taste the eggs, which appear to have been augmented with cream.
We order a couple of glasses of the "red wine". I'm sure our waiter finds this terribly gauche, as there are plenty of specific, excellent wines to choose from. The wines he served us, on both nights, were excellent, though. Although they were fairly dry, Brigid found them to be delicious, too.
As soon as we receive our wine, Brigid raises a toast to the group: Bottoms up! Ahem!
My main dish is a "saddle of rabbit" with anise essence. It's delicious, and it's served with a small vegetable side dish whose contents totally escape me! It was better than the rabbit, actually, and contained zucchini, herbs, cheese, and I dunno what else!
Brigid has a piece of veal, wrapped in bacon, and served with a ring of a rich, brown, creamy sauce. The sauce holds a few tiny bits of veal kidney. I have to say that I appreciated the sauce more than the veal!
I can't resist the cheese course. I choose a "cow cheese" (I don't know which -- what a barbarian I am!) and a piece of the goat cheese with herbs. The latter is delicious, but very spicy with garlic.
Our bus driver, Tony, is seated next to me. He has apparently spent his entire day off by washing the bus, inside and out. I ask him, why the heck isn't he enjoying himself in La Malène, by hiking or canoeing, or joining us for boules. He says it is just too damned cold for him. Anyway, when the cheese course is served, Tony (who has had the same full meal as we), orders up 4 different cheeses, and tears into them with gusto! He says that he would be very happy to make a meal of just this plate of cheese, the delicious bread (chestnut, by the way), and of course, du vin!
Brigid's dessert is a millefeuille with strawberries (otherwise known as a "Napolean"). It's perfect, with crispy flakes of pastry, fresh fruit, and a light, refreshing lemon cream.
I'm having the same thing as Tony, "L'Assiete Gourmande". He asks if I understand what "gourmand" means. Unfortunately, I do. I illustrate with a (slightly) exaggerated outline of my belly. A gourmand is someone who enjoys quantity as much as quality!
We're discussing the cities that hold the world's worst drivers, when Brigid tries to relate my favorite humorous email signature to Tony -- and butchers it. Tony is clearly confused, so I try it: "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather -- not screaming in terror, like his passengers!" Tony loves the joke. Sarah says she's going to appropriate it. Molly likes it. Rob remains perfectly stone-faced. (!)
The Assiete is an assortment of desserts, including
All in all, a very pleasant evening, and a very fun day.
Except, that is, for the camera. In desperation, I've disassembled it, as much as possible. I'm hoping that when it dries out, it might possibly start working again. I don't really hold out much hope for this, though. There's water everywhere, including the circuit boards, the zoom lens, the optical viewfinder, the light sensor, and the flash strobe. We shall see...