Big birthdays

Dear family and friends, 

Day before yesterday I celebrated my seventieth birthday. It was the same day Liz was leaving so we celebrated together the night before. She had brought gifts north with her and made me an adlib cheesecake, surprisingly delicious ( considering ingredients we had aboard)

This 70th birthday included no adventures, just quiet times at the dock in Wrangell. Or maybe living in Alaska IS an adventure in itself. I am enjoying making new friends here, mostly on other boats, but also in town. With a population of about 2000 people, doesn’t take long to get to know a good percentage of them. Even for an introvert like me. There’s no shortage of interesting characters around.

The oughts are big birthdays. I don’t remember the last one very well (60th), but I sure do remember the previous, 50th one. 

We planned a one week canal trip on the Canal du Midi, with our dear  friends Peter and Glenda, followed by a short land trip together.

We met in Toulouse at the hotel, near where we were to pick up our boat. A taxi took us to the pickup spot where a French guy gave the tour and instructions to the guys. I can remember understanding a few words like non, oui, and emergency, but most of the rest was lost on my one semester of high school French ear. Then he left.

 Turned out that Peter understood about the same. Once he left, we figured out how to run the boat and enough of the systems to get going and off we drove downstream. Now, driving down the canal is not that difficult, in fact the hardest part is to be able to idle in the middle while waiting for the downstream lock gates to open. Besides, we were seasoned mariners each with many years of boating experience.

After we tied up to the quay in the first small town, we guys with the strong male bodies took off to get supplies. Turned out that between the four of us, we could almost make a three year old’s French language skills. We each understood several different words and phrases and with being together, felt “fluent”.

Okay, maybe a two year old’s skills!

So off we explorers went to find the supermarche for supplies. After asking along our way and getting very different advice which had us rounding, backtracking and confused, we found the grocery. We stocked up plastic bags of groceries and water bottles. As we headed back in the direction we thought we came from, we found we were kind of lost. 

Now, understand that these little towns along the canal were there to use and serve the canal, so it was their major, or maybe only, geographical feature.

As we stumbled looking for the darn canal, the heavy bags were cutting into our hands and our frustration was growing. Now we finally resorted to asking for directions (yes, men asking for directions). “ Ou est Le Canal du MIDI?” We asked in unison. Making sure that we weren’t putting them on, our helpers then directed our poor selves in the right direction. I’m sure they went home to their spouses and said something like “ you wouldn’t believe how incompetent people can be. Grown men even”

The cool thing about driving down the canal is that if something on shore looks interesting you simply drive the boat towards the shoreside mud, someone jumps off with a length of rebar and a hammer and Pounds the rebar into the grass to tie a line to it, then repeated at the stern. Safely moored.

One late afternoon we spotted the “ Winery” sign in the distance so did our shore mooring and headed to wine taste. It took a few hours to be sure of our tasting skills ( are you supposed to spit out the samples?) and as darkness was falling we gigglingly ( new word) swayed back towards the Canal. We could see from a distance a canal boat that appeared to be drifting towards the middle of the canal, and we laughed about such inexperienced mariners leaving a bot to get loose. As we closed the distance the boat looked surprisingly similar to our boat and got more similar as we picked up our pace. Turned out that one line was completely loose and the other barely still attached to the rebar, allowing the boat to drift to the center. We only had to grab the remaining line and pull the boat back, but our experienced seaman swagger  took quite a hit.

Without further incidents and with a lot of fun, after our week we turned the boat in to the charter company and Nancy and I rented a car to drive south to Cassis, a very French resort on the Mediterranean coast. It was my fiftieth, so I had some kind of sporty car. 

We arrived in Cassis too early to check in so we thought we would drive down to the waterfront first to check it out. What a beautiful waterfront, with a long row of cafes open to the sea and the colorful fishing boats tied up in front. A series of winding roads led us to the waterfront and we were enjoying the scene until I realized that there was a car coming towards me and I was going the wrong way on a one way street. Right in front of town and the sidewalk cafes. No problem, I’ll just back out. 

Yes, problem. I couldn’t figure out how to get the car in reverse. I tried pushing and pulling the mid console gearshift with no luck. Now there were several cars approaching me and they could see I made no visible effort to reverse. Tempers were flaring from the opposing drivers as I sat and sweated my lack of mechanical ability.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, a waiter in apron boldly walked out of the cafe to our car, reached right across me through the drivers window and pushed a lever that was reverse. I could feel the violation of personal space and even the garlic of his breath. I could also sense relief coming. 

I swear I could hear his “ harrumph” loudly, even though it was probably just his  demeanor.

Was easy after that and I quietly made way back to our hotel to hide and celebrate quietly with friends.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just stay home? I can then keep my worldly functioning skills ( or lack therof?), to myself.

Sending love,


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