Seine Riverboat Voyage
Seine Riverboat Voyage
The Howards' education by travel continues. Friday evening, September 16th, we sailed east on a Lufthansa jet and arrived, after a detour to Munich, the following midday in Paris. The Williams College Alumni Travel program was sponsoring a riverboat trip on the upper Seine, collaborating on the event with Smith College. The women from Northampton outnumbered the men from Williamstown. The merger was felicitous. On the second-to-last day of our voyage we docked at Conflans-Ste-Honorine, an apt metaphor (Conflans, that is) for the Smith-Williams connection, the confluence of two major Northeastern educational streams... all on one ship, a converted oil barge, now a luxury ship, with haute cuisine and a top deck made for viewing the Eiffel Tower and the Cathedral of Notre Dame among many worthy sights, many of which are pictured below.
Leading us throughout the week was AHI representative Fred Burke, former American schoolteacher, now resident in Normandy with his wife and daughter who celebrated her third birthday during our week on the Seine.
Yes, of course, we visited our share of churches and castles, although the latter, castles, were really great houses of the rich and famous of other centuries.
To assist our minds in grasping the significance of the sights we saw, the program provided three lecturers and one guide: Janie Vanpee, French professor at Smith; Fred Greene, retired Political Science professor from Williams; Uta (?), history and art, a lecturer provided by Canal & Company; and Carol, also provided by Canal & Company, the Anacoluthe expert in all things French, history, art, and negotiating our way through and around the state bureaucracy. Herewith, in the order in which I have just named them, left to right, are cameos of our mentors... with Fred in a candid, pensive shot.
I learned, once the effects of jet lag had subsided, that royalty may have lost the Revolution and their heads, but the influence of King Louis XIV continued to shape the French fondness for style and erudition in its leaders. I also had occasion to reflect upon the frequently cited incident at Fouquet's Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, where the king proved that the seventh commandment wasn't the only one monarchs broke, but the tenth as well... where it reads in Exodus 20, more or less, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's chateau."
Luxury isn't easy, except for those enjoying it. Many hands on deck facilitated our ease.
Scott, the manager of the ship, will be marrying Becky, a server and cabin cleaner, in January in Las Vegas. Surely his account of that celebration will be his characteristic "Super!" or "Fantastic!"
Also engaged to be married, Francesca (who played the piano for us during the cocktails at the final reception) and James, the artist.
Then ( who can forget?) there was our inveterate tease of a bartender, Richard; and the twenty-two year veteran of riverboating, Captain Gerard.
The special joy of the riverboat cruise is to see the sights while sailing down (or up?) the river. The weather couldn't have been better for the whole week, clear, cloudless, blue, windless, bright, moderate temps, just the way September ought to be in our corner of the States.
We dined more sumptuously than King Louis XIV. Twice each day, at lunch and dinner, there were two different wines, one white, one red, never duplicated for the seven days of the trip. Each evening two different cheeses were provided for the third of the four course meals. The food was prepared with finesse and presented in beautiful arrangement. The chef, John Christoph, has achieved "grande" certification and is working toward "master chef" status. The sou chef is Sarah.
The Anacoluthe was our hotel. River travel was our delight. But it was a bus which transported us hither and yon to see the sights to which the boat had no access. Denis was our driver.
The trip was not touted as such, but it was also an art history tour, to museums, of course. Some of us spent the better part of a better afternoon at the Musee D'Orsay.
But we also visited the environs of and the inspirations for artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, like Englishman Alfred Sisley and the celebrator of the pastoral life, Jean-Francois Millet.
It was, however, at Giverny that I saw with my own eyes the light and shadows that captivated Impressionist Claude Monet in the gardens he personally created and arranged.
The same afternoon we made a pilgrimage to Auvers-sur-Oise to the scenes of Vincent Van Gogh's last moments on earth, climbing a steep hill to the cemetery where the Dutch artist is buried alongside his brother.
If you have stayed with me this far, then you must be a patient and indulgent sort and will not be averse to considering some of the trivial sights which caught my fancy.
But the best part of any of these several trips we have taken with the Alumni Travel program is meeting people, hearing what they have done and are doing with their lives, laughing, arguing, consoling... you know, all of those things to which our talkative humanity is prone. Here in various configurations are most of our traveling companions.
It was reported by someone, how reliably I cannot judge, that our riverboat would be taken out of service for good at the end of October. But the memories of a superb week will remain with us long after the old rust bucket is, well, rust. Thank you, Anacoluthe!