CONNECTIONS: A day discovering exciting new plays for youth

After our travels in Cornwall and Devon, we’ve enjoyed coming back to London. Amongst other things, I’ve been making some connections with people who are working in the field of theatre for youth.

Since 1995, The National Theatre has been commissioning plays for youth age 13 – 19. Over the last 16 years, they have collected a canon of plays by professional writers that provide young people from diverse backgrounds with meaningful ways to explore theatre and their world. At The Ottawa School of Speech & Drama, I have produced 5 of these plays with Canadian teens and I wanted to see how the plays are used with British youth.

“Connections” is the annual theatre festival in which U.K. schools and theatre groups present premiere productions of the new plays. As part of the process, directors attend a weekend workshop to meet with the playwrights and facilitating directors. I was thrilled to be invited to attend the 2012 Connections Directors Workshop as an international delegate.

There are ten new plays for 2012 Connections and over 100 directors were attending the workshops. Because I was not focusing on any one play in particular, I got to observe a variety of different writers at work with facilitating directors, all exploring different tasks and approaches to the texts. It was a fabulous day for me. I love creative process.

I arrived at the National Theatre Studio near Waterloo station, but wasn’t really sure where to go. I felt a bit at a loss until I met Edward Bromberg from Riksteatern, the national theatre in Sweden (http://www.riksteatern.se/). Edward was also attending as an international delegate, and he took me under his wing.

We started with “Journey to X”, by Nancy Harris: “A tale about friendship, a journey and the risks that teenagers take when plunged into an adult world.”* The facilitating director Charlotte Gwinner led the group in a discussion of the themes of the play, examining the world and rhythms of the play, while the playwright was able to answer essential questions and open up the dramaturgical process.

From “Journey to X” we went to “Socialism is Great”, by Anders Lustgarten: “The propaganda of the East meets the propaganda of the West in Anders Lustgarten’s play about love, work and power.”* The facilitating director in this workshop, Angus Jackson, worked with the whole group to examine blocking choices and the underlying motivation of the characters, asking the writer for clarification as they went along.

During the lunch break, I met up with my UK contact from the National, Anthony Bank, who was the facilitating director for “Prince of Denmark”,by Michael Lesslie”: “Set a decade before the action of Shakespeare’s play, Michael Lesslie’s imagined prequel follows the teenage Hamlet, Ophelia and Laertes as they rage against the roles handed down by their parents.”* Their morning had been spent in a voice workshop, exploring the use of iambic pentameter. After lunch, fight director Alison De Burgh led us through a basic sword-fighting workshop, always mindful of safety and methods suitable for young people.

Sword Fighting workshop, with Alison De Burgh

In “Generation Next”, by Meera Syal”: “two young British Punjabis are about to get married. Three times. Through three different generations. Exploring notions of identity and culture with a comic eye, Meera Syal addresses a shrinking world and our growing desire to move towards something or somewhere we think is better.”* A play very specifically for a cast of Asian actors, Meera Syal was there with facilitating director Iqbal Khan working with only one director and his cast of young actors. They discussed personal cultural biographies as they developed an understanding of the historical context of the play.

My last stop of the day was “Alice by Heart”, by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik: “How do we leave childhood behind? How do we close the book? A fresh new rock-musical take on Alice in Wonderland, from the creators of Spring Awakening”.* Writer Steven Sater (yes, he wrote Spring Awakening, one of my favourite musicals) and musical director David Shrubsole had obviously spent a busy day guiding, teaching and answering questions.

National Youth Musical Theatre Students, workshopping "Alice by Heart"

The room was filled with directors and about 12 actors from the National Youth Musical Theatre program. It was the end of the day and the facilitating director Timothy Sheader was focusing on transitions and design. Steven Sater answered questions about the writer’s process using a pre-existing text (“Alice in Wonderland”) as a springboard for an exploration of underlying themes.

By the end of the day, I had seen bits and pieces of 5 of the 10 new plays. I had met with teachers and directors who were passionately excited about producing these new works with their students, and who clearly relished the opportunity to ask questions of the writers and facilitating directors. It was a rare opportunity.

As the workshops ended, Edward invited me to go with Maria Lewenhaupt, his producer from Sweden, as well as delegates from theatres in Norway and Denmark, to see “Shalom Baby” a new drama-comedy at the Theatre Royal Stratford. A wonderfully layered piece, it is a play where the same characters are explored in 1930s Germany and in contemporary Brooklyn. American rap poems were juxtaposed with poignant forbidden love in Germany. It’s a moving and accessible exploration of xenophobia and contemporary blocks to happiness.

It was a long day, a great day. A day of more questions than answers. Just what I needed to kick start new thoughts.

*NB: all quotes from the National Theatre web site: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/65630/connections-plays-2012/plays-2012.html

Goodbye to France, Hello to England

On our second to last night in France, Suzanne and Christian invited us over for dinner and I asked if I could make the dessert. I wanted to make a Tarte aux Mourres. Picking blackberries brings out an almost religious feeling in me. The deep purple, sun-warmed berries, bloated with juice, line all of the road verges. Such beauty. I love picking them with the sun at my back, hearing, just on the other side of the verge, the gentle snorting and snuffling of a large Charolaise cow.

However, there is a bit of treachery there. A bit of pain is part of the process. The thorns are sharp, and the roadsides are plagued with stinging nettles. These seem to thrive right beside the best berries. Tim says the experience is an important moral lesson –in order to receive this extraordinary gift, you will have to undergo a bit of pain. But it will be worth it in the end. And it is. We are just at the end of the blackberry season now, but Tim and I were still able to pick over a quart of blackberries.

To make the tarte, I approximated a recipe from memory that leaves most of the fruit uncooked – it is a great pie if you want your fruit to still taste really fresh. The recipe I have included works for any fresh fruit.

The meal at Suzanne & Christian’s was a true French feast – an extraordinary 5-course, 5-bottle meal. We began with some true Champagne, lovely tiny bubbles that whetted our appetites as we nibbled a local pastry and tiny tomatoes from Suzanne’s garden. Next was “Vin des Fossiles” from Saone-et-Loire. It is made from a grape I have never heard of – Auxerrois – and was crisp and light and lovely with our tomato tarte appetizer.  The François Pinte Aloxe-Corton was a gorgeous and rich Pinot to go with our thin Entrecot steaks. We fried these on a griddle at the table, with some shallots. Suzanne made a beautiful dish of aubergines, potatoes, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. The whole mixture brought out the pepper taste of the Pinot. For the cheese course, Bryan chose a special wine from his part of Christian’s wine cellar – a Givry Premiere Cru 2000. The way that this wine went with the cheese course is impossible for me to describe. The cheeses themselves were correctly eaten in an order – the soft Brie, followed by the dry chèvre and completed with the creamy St. Agur blue. My Tarte aux Mourres was about 3” high, solid with the blackberries that we had picked that morning. A great success, it went perfectly with the Cremant de Bourgogne, 2008, Veuve Ambal.

Christian admits that they don’t eat in this true French fashion very often! We felt very spoiled.

The next morning I had one final class with Suzanne. I am deeply grateful for the friendship that Suzanne and Christian have shown me. After the class they offered me an aperitif, a Vin Doux Naturel. It is a Vallée du Rhône Grenache that is 16% proof, a slightly sweet, thick wine, served chilled. Not sweet and viscous like an ice wine, but very smooth and very earthy. They gave me olives and dried pork from the same region as the wine to taste as well. Just a little nibble to share before I left. I don’t think I have advanced much with my French, but there are so many wonderful things I have learned!

Christian and Suzanne and our aperitif

It was a day of lasts. I walked up the hill past the chickens, past Claudette and Robert’s to a last lunch on the patio. Bryan’s special Frissé salad. It is a simple, filling country salad of Frissé lettuce, Lardons (bits of pork), Comte cheese, and topped with a fried egg. Bryan keeps a big jar of home made salad dressing in the cupboard to pour generously over the top of anything and everything. Of course you sop up all of the salad dressing with fresh baguette, and wash it all down with local Sauvignon Blanc.  How can we possibly leave this heaven?

But we do, on an early morning TGV (Tran Grand Vitesse), from Le Cruesot to Lille, Lille to London. Our gorgeous Maddy is at St. Pancras station to meet us, to guide us and help heft suitcases to Surbiton, Bryan and Peta’s wonderful London home. With loving family around, we get down to the business of making the transition to a new phase of the adventure.

Jo, Peta, Tim & Maddy in the garden at Tolworth

Starting, of course, with a large, welcoming, meal.

Family dinner at Tolworth. The eating continues!

Parlez-vous Français?

Suzanne has been very patient with me. Since our return from Switzerland, I have been walking down the hill to her house in the mornings, to try and grapple with passé compose, impératif, et futur.

The Road to Suzanne's. The biggest predator for the chickens is the occasional car

Because I did not have English grammar drilled into me at school, French has always been a nightmare. My great frustration is that I have no subtlety. No kindness. « Would you mind looking over my homework » becomes “Look at my homework”, which is abrasive of course. So we work on:« Est-ce que tu pourrais regarder mon devoirs ? » and I vow to try and remember (je me souviens) the verb pouvoir in its many forms. To find a kinder, gentler approach.

Suzanne has been giving me exercises from books for children. I know that her grandson Baptiste finds this hilarious. Baptiste is 7, with a lovely toothless grin. He tells me that he gets about 2 Euros for each tooth from la Petite Souris (the equivalent of the tooth fairy). On Monday he gave me a recipe for chocolate cookies. Not sure why, but perhaps he wanted me to improve upon the brownies I had made for the family (see « Une opération bilingue »). The recipe was from a children’s magazine, similar to “Highlight Magazine” in the US, with fun drawings of child chefs carrying mounds of chocolate, and smashing it with a hammer.

The gauntlet is thrown, and I decide to make a batch of cookies before heading over. This means I begin my day clattering around in the kitchen at 8:00 a.m. Measurements for recipes in the UK and Europe are all in weights. Unfortunately, there is not a set of kitchen scales here, and, being used to volume measurements, my approximations are pretty wonky. As I start to melt the butter, I can’t believe how good it smells. It is local, of course, and fills the kitchen with an irresistible, sweet, warmth. And the eggs! The yolks are orange.

I chop up the hunks of chocolate (I’ve been told that no one here uses chocolate chips, and I can see why – chocolate chunks are so much better!) The recipe is dead simple and scrumptious. I’ve included an English translation for “Baptiste’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies”, but you’ll have to figure out the weight measurements if that is the way you cook. That’s a translation I can’t do.

The lesson with Suzanne goes well, perhaps because of the cookies which are much appreciated by Baptiste and his sister. We get into a conversation about school lunches and Suzanne tells me that schools in France have cafeterias so that children can have a proper, 3-course lunch. She bemoans the fact that lunch is only an hour long for the children. Not nearly a long enough lunch for a Frenchman! When I try to explain that Canadian children have about 25 minutes, sitting at their desks, to eat whatever they have brought from home, she is justifiably appalled. She tells me that when she was at school, they regularly had 5-course lunches. And that for holiday lunches she was given Crémant! (Champagne). Have I mentioned that this is a civilized country?

On my way back from Suzanne’s Claudette stops me to give me 4 lovely courgettes. Claudette always greets me with a smile that melts my heart. I tell her that the lettuce that she gave me the day before (she calls it “salade”) became a wonderful Nicoise salad, and she and Robert are excited that I am able to rhyme off the ingredients in French. Les olives, les haricots verts, le thon, les pommes de terre, les tomates. That, at least, is easy from years of reading bilingual labels in Canada.

We manage a conversation about gardens, and I try to explain how my garden has very little earth, mostly rock, but that I live in a beautiful wood. She has barbed wire around her garden to protect it from les vaches. I try to explain the problem of deer, for which I have no word, and she teaches me “le cerf” et “la biche”. She speaks beautifully, explains how hard the garden and farm work is, how large the house is with just the two of them in it now. But as we look over the fields beyond, and breathe in the deep quiet of the countryside, we both know that we are standing in a privileged place. She asks if I will be back again and all I can say is j’espère. I hope.

Robert, Claudette and Albertino (from Portugal, he helps on the farm)

Une opération bilingue

King Charles VIII of France died in April 1498 at the lavish Château d’Amboise, after hitting his head on a low beam.  We learn this little bit of history on the day that Tim is to have his stitches removed, from the wound incurred from banging his head on a low beam in France.

Karine arrived at Bel-Air in the late morning, with a bag of supplies in hand. When we were at the hospital last week, Tim was told to make an appointment with a nurse (l’infirmier) to have the stitches removed. But we weren’t told how or where to make this appointment. Fortunately neighbor Suzanne’s daughter Karine is a nurse and she volunteered to come to the house to do the deed.

I make a pot of coffee, and we sit out on the patio, sheltering ourselves from the heat with a large blue umbrella. Karine speaks some English, and the visit is conducted in a mixture of languages. She is barely given a chance to sip her coffee because Bryan is very excited. Camera in hand he wants to record the “operation”, and has spent the previous night thinking through an appropriate script and commentary. Tim is positioned in the chair at the head of the table and we are ready to go.

Karine washes her hands and then lays her tools out on the table — 2 vials of antiseptic, 1 vial of antibiotic (just in case), plastic tweezers, scissors, scalpel, sterile gauze and wads of cotton — all carefully packaged in sterile plastic sleeves. She cleanses the wound (la blessure) and deftly slices through the blue thread de chaque point. Each one is quickly removed, held aloft and applauded. The operation is a success. Tim’s head is in tact.

“Karine, Je fait des “brownies” pour ta famille”. I send her home with a large plate, freshly made and still warm. We ask if we should be paying for the supplies, to which she replies, “Sarkozy va payer”. Thank you, again, French health care!

Working on my French is an uphill battle. There are a surprising number of words in my memory banks, but the verbs are a nightmare. Other than in high school, my French studies have been half-hearted attempts at self improvement: a series of classes with my dear neighbor Pauline, a dreadful evening college class, and forays into ancient French school text books. Suzanne has agreed to take me on for a few conversational classes, and I have met her down at her house several times. Elle est très gentille and accepts payment in Crémant (the local sparkling wine). After an hour I have managed to tell her I love her (instead of that I love my son). And I leave telling her that I am bad feet. It seems my default is always Je suis, which gives me a frustratingly arrogant air.

But Suzanne and her husband Christian are patient. I am given homework to gently steer me toward a past tense.  I pour through the back of the Robert Collins Super Senior français/anglais dictionnaire, scratching around the edges of comprehension.

Dave’s Magical Mystery Tour

Bryan’s friend Dave is a history teacher and avid bird watcher. Dave likes nothing more than to be a tour guide for the area and when he offered to take us on a “Magical Mystery Tour” we readily accepted. We met up with Dave at his tiny holiday house in Crecoux. As far as I could tell there are only 3 houses that belong to Crecow – Dave’s, a farmer’s and a house belonging to the Mayor of Les Guerraux, a small village of approximately 300. Dave and his wife purchased their house at the end of this very secluded rural road in Burgundy 12 years ago. With a broad smile, he refused to tell us our itinerary for the day, insisting that it be a surprise even for Bryan. We piled into his car and were off.

Our first stop was “Signal du Mont”. A wooden observatory, built upon the ruins of a Gallic fort, at 472 metres high it affords an amazing panorama of Burgundy.

View of Burgundy from Signal du Mont

There is no way that my camera is able to do it justice. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I think that this was the first time that I realized just how vast France is. Beautifully kept fields, tiny villages, small towns as far as the eye can see. And in the far distance, the mountains of Massif Centrale.  An auspicious start to the day.

Tim & Dave on Signal du Mont

Dave then takes us on to the town of Bourbon Lancy. Bourbon Lancy is known primarily as a spa town (les Thermes – as in the thermal waters), and there is a thriving tourism dedicated to taking the waters. However, we are there to walk through the Medieval Quarter, which is a stunningly well-preserved part of town.

Houses of Bourbon Lancy

There is a clock in the stone gateway in which a manikin pulls a chain to chime the hour.  Immaculate gardens, cobbled streets and wooden beamed homes within the walled boundaries.

Detail on House in Bourbon Lancy
The Medieval Quarter

A vision of old France. The rest of the town is equally beautiful, with cafés and boulangeries that beg to be explored.

From Bourbon Lancy, Dave takes us to a small wilderness preserve on the Loire called La Fleurie. Here you can see how drastically the Loire has changed its course over the last 100 years. The river’s curves have lessoned and farmers must battle the changing flood plans.

Farm on the cliffs of the Loire

A farm sits atop the last remaining cliff on the Loire, and the cliff edge comes closer every year. The changing flow has created a small island that is preserved as a nature habitat, although Dave admits he has never seen any wildlife other than birds on it.

We are getting hungry and decide to head to Cronat for lunch. Cronat (population approximately 600) is a town that people mostly go through to get to the highway. Pretty, very quiet, Dave says it is a “one horse town”, but I can’t figure out what the horse might be. We lunch sitting outside at a small restaurant, and although the meal is disappointing, the company and the circumstances are not. And everything tastes better after a glass of Kir and a carafe of wine.

From Cronat we go to Port Thareau, near St. Hilaire-Fontaine (population less than 200). This is a very out of the way section of the Loire that Dave tells us used to be the docking point for the Royal Court of the Bourbons. They came down the river (against the current) from Paris, and were met at the dock to proceed by carriage to their country chateau. It is a magical spot, with 4 houses that face the river and a verge that is a perfect picnic spot.

Across the Loire at Port Thareau

It also has a more recent history that I find mesmerizing. The side of the river that we stand on was, during the Second World War, in occupied France. The other side, literally a stone’s throw, was Vichy, so called “free France”. It would have been a fairly easy place to slip across, as many Jews did, hoping to escape the Nazis in occupied France. Although not the best solution, as Vichy also rounded up Jews to send to the camps, being in free France could buy a little time. Today, the river is so shallow, one could easily walk across. A possible gateway to freedom. Tim falls in love with a house that is a complete ruin. Trees shield the house almost completely from view. Vines grow through the windows.

Briar Rose's House?

It is a vision from Briar Rose and I am afraid that Tim will, any moment, try to make his way inside this magical story.

What lies beyond the wall?

Bryan and Dave, both of a far more practical mind set, are confused by Tim’s passion and eloquence on the subject of a dilapidated house. We eventually pry him loose and head on to Decize. With 7000 inhabitants, we are seemingly thrust into a booming metropolis.

Across the Bridge to Decize

Dave navigates us toward the centre of town, which is accessed across a bridge. Where once there was water from the Loire, the bridge now crosses a field of wildflowers. The bridge and the town beyond are filled with a small town bustle of energy. It is becoming blisteringly hot, so we head to the city centre for a cooling drink. Dave suggests I try Perrier Menthe – Perrier with mint syrup. It is the perfect refreshing drink on such a day. We walk though Decize, through the fortress walls, and back along a canal toward the Loire. We come across a fabulous photographic exhibit “Des Forets et des Hommes” (check the link) set up outside amongst the tress of a small wood beside the river. The photographs are amazing and show everything from deforestation in the Amazon, to tree frogs in France. We slow down to take it all in and are moved by the beauty and the horror. One of the most startling pictures was a show down between a hummingbird and a viper. (check the link)

Sunburnt and weary, we head back to Bel-Air. Thankfully Bryan had made his famous Ratatouille the night before so although we settle into one of our fabulous 5 course meals, we do so with little effort. I throw in a few potatoes to roast and make crudités and a light salad. The Ratatouille is incredible (the inclusion of braised endives is an amazing innovation) and is complemented by quickly fried pork chops. Our cheese supply is in good stead and for dessert we have wild blackberries, picked the previous morning.

All in all, the day has been a wonderful window into this corner of the world. I am beginning to see life in a very different way. This is not like rural Canada, where all roads lead to a mid sized city and where everyone shops at chain stores. Although there are cars and conveniences like washing machines, computers and cell phones, people are leading quiet lives. Small villages still have several boulangeries and cafés. Small towns have grace and people who are open and friendly. I have yet to see anyone rushing.

Nursing a Perrier Menthe with the guys in Decize

In Which We Test the French Health Care System

After our day canoeing on the Loire, we are all exhausted and sunburnt. We get back to Bel Air at 6:00, and are supposed to be at Louis’ house at 7:00 for aperitifs, followed by a massive dinner with all of the canoeists and their families. It is a tradition that everyone has this dinner after the canoeing expedition, a dinner that goes on late into the night.

But we need a brief rest before we go anywhere, and everyone lies down. Within seconds I am in a deep sleep, dreaming disjointed dreams, vaguely aware of Tim snoring beside me. I allow myself about 15 minutes, then surface to head out to the pool to refresh myself.

Tim wakes and stumbles toward the stairs to head for the pool. But he is only half awake and smashes his head into the wooden beam at the top of the doorframe out of the bedroom. He swears loudly, and I shush him afraid he will wake Bryan and Peta. He staggers out of the bedroom holding his head, and goes briefly into the pool. But when he touches his head again and pulls his hand away, there is a fair quantity of blood.

I look at the injury. It does not look good. I go to get my first aid kit that my wonderful mother packed for me (It has all of the essentials, including, most importantly, a corkscrew. Most first aid can begin with the opening of a bottle of wine.) I daub at the blood with alcohol and see a large gash right on the crown of his head.  Matt, who is in training to be a doctor, takes a look at it and pronounces it “quite nasty and icky”. I get an ice pack, and make some tea, alerting Bryan and Peta that we may need to go to the hospital for stitches.

Tim sits and waits, ice melting on this head, as I make a call to our Blue Cross insurance in Canada. They open a file and approve our plan to go to the hospital in Paray-le-Monial.

Bryan drives like he is in the grand prix, even though Tim assures him he is in no pain. There is only a brief wait before Tim is admitted. They examine him, make sure that he is not concussed, check his blood for the antigen for Tetanus and determine they will give him a shot. They wash his head vigorously but carefully and decide that he requires two stitches (“deux points”). The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, is painless and thorough. He is given a card to direct him to get a follow up Tetanus shot in a month, and told to make an appointment with a nurse in Digoin to have the stitches out in a week.

We drive home, deciding it is far too late to go to the dinner at Louis’. We create a quick and comforting dinner of pasta with Harlot Sauce.

Canoeing on the Loire

On Saturday, we got up early to put the finishing touches on a picnic (little sausages, a cooked chicken, breads, melons, tomatoes, wine, coffee and left over birthday torte) and went to rendezvous with 15 of Peta and Bryan’s friends  near Marcigny beside the Loire river. A canoe rental business is housed in an old stone house, with immaculate patio, beside a huge old barn. The barn is filled with life jackets, bidot (plastic bins to put our belongings in) and all manner of plastic canoes, kayaks and paddles. We all climb into a small bus, pulling a stack of canoes & kayaks, and are driven 10 kilometers up river where we re-grouped, only to find that we were 1 canoe short.

Somehow, this became a problem of les Anglais et les Canadiens who were clearly being difficult. Everyone else had what they wanted, what they had ordered. The fact that they were just quicker getting to them didn’t seem to be understood. Various options were proposed, most of which would have meant that we were paired with other couples or going individually in kayaks (we had 1 extra kayak). After 20 minutes of wild gesticulations, we persuaded the group to go on without us.

Looking downstream from our starting point

Peta, Bryan, Matt, Tim & I waited for a canoe to be brought to us, while les Françaises headed out into the river.

About 30 minutes later, the bus showed up, with a new load of canoeists. We grabbed a canoe and the 5 of us headed out onto the river.

The Loire is stunningly gorgeous and surprisingly unspoiled and undeveloped.  There are no motor boats, no docks, no yahoos on jet skis. This is picture perfect farming landscape. Cows come right down to the river to drink, and urinate. Egrets parade on the banks. Storks nest high in the trees. Fish almost jump into the canoe while distant church bells toll.

We are paddling downstream, with help from the current that occasionally rouses itself to move briskly. The river is mostly very shallow, and we must watch for shoals that cause us to run aground. But that is about as hard as the paddling gets.  Tim & I put on our best Canadian form. We have a reputation to live up to.  We are representing all of Canada! But somehow using plastic paddles in a plastic moulded canoe doesn’t evoke the same elegance of a cedar strip and we slow our pace and ignore our style, laughing at the wonder of floating down the Loire.

Matt in his Kayak
Tim & Amanda. Note the yellow moulded plastic canoe.

After 1 ½ hours of gentle paddling, we arrive at the picnic place. The rest of the party have only just arrived and are amazed that we caught up so quickly. We beam as we unpack. Suzanne and a couple of the other wives arrive with the lunches. They don’t join us on the river, preferring instead to be responsible for the food preparation and clean up. We spread our blanket under the shade of the trees and begin the feast.

The picnic begins

All food and drink is shared. But the way it is shared is that you put some of what you have brought on your own plate and then carry the rest of it around to each cluster of people, offering them little bits. The same is done with the wine, beginning with the white, moving to the rose, and finishing with the red. Different reds for different parts of the meal. Christian brings us some exquisite chèvre, but is dismayed that we only have Bourgogne to drink with it. He returns with a half bottle of Cote du Rhône, insisting that we keep it for the chèvre.

Bryan and Matt rest after lunch
Tim has a rest after lunch

We are replete.  We doze.  Eventually we gather up our things and head out for the second leg of the journey. It is bright and hot and still, but it is good to be moving again. We are among the last of the group to head out, and we weave in and out of the other canoes until we eventually find ourselves in the lead, skirting the occasional rapid with humour, if not grace.

I was asked at lunch if I found the river wild. “Sauvages”. I almost cause an international incident when I reply “non”. I am told indignantly that the Loire is the last wild river in France. Bryan intervenes and explains that Canada is “très sauvages”, and everyone laughs and nods in agreement. We are asked if we have a lot of caribou where we live. We try to talk about the deer and for some reason I bring up the word moose — wherein follows a long discussion about what a moose is. If there is a French word for moose neither Peta nor Bryan know it, and we leave the French increasingly bewildered. It is hard enough for them to believe that we are from Canada and not from Quebec, but now we are talking about some kind of mythical beast. Clearly, we are lost causes.

Not particularly wild. Could it be more bucolic?