We’d left Paris in a fine rain – a mist enhancing the ‘Awful Tower’. Standing veiled, it was as if she wished to hide her emotions or the direction of her gaze. Vinegar dressed my mood knowing this would be the last time we would travel these waters in this boat.
How long could it be prolonged, this going home? I remembered the beginning of labour with my first beautiful baby when my instinct was, ‘I’ll stay pregnant – I’m not ready – I’m afraid’. The analogy is hardly appropriate, but a similar feeling – a quirk in my nature – a difficulty in letting go.
After we moored on the Île des Impressionnistes in the Seine at Chatou, the husband and I had ‘words’, (husband, aka fellow traveler – begrudgingly-named captain, the chalk to my cheese, or vice-versa).
‘We’ve no time’, he said about our long-planned swan-song of a voyage: the Seine Aval towards LeHavre. ‘I’ve had enough’, he added. And I, who had been enjoying (unusually when on the move) the vin rouge midday and continued with small top-ups all afternoon, let out my disappointment and defiance uncontrolled, until I saw the place where my words fell. Then I was silent, and escaped into a book – a very good book, it turns out.* But there was a long night of tangled duvets and too-hot pillows and some imagined discomforting noises.
Following the next tedium of a day, (in which I drowned in said book) we arrived at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a place we knew well, a commune in the Île-de-France region. Exhausted by the concentration and bad visibility, the husband/captain took himself to bed as soon as the boat was tied, and at 3pm, with no more reading left in my eyes, I joined him in the sanctuary of the shared sleep-space. But he rose to cast out fishing rods.
Less than an hour later, when I emerged blearily on deck, he suggested we find a better mooring, one less rocked by the passing barges, adding that his fishing hooks had constantly snagged the worst and unmentionable kind of human detritus. These people – living permanently, mile after mile on moored great barges, converted, or just retired, inhabited as they had been when working, their holds void and eerily reminiscent of old cargoes – why were they polluting their own waters so?
We untied and motored a little way downriver, but every place that looked like a possible mooring had a fault – a locked gate to the land, or too much weed, or too much flotsam/jetsam-litter, or evidence of a rough sleeper in an abandoned dayboat.
I don’t know who said it, but one of us uttered, ‘Let’s just go home’ – yes, ‘let’s just go home and put the kettle on’. And a relief buoyed me then and I began to think about all the paintings I would make and all the colour of our six months and every other six months onboard Foxy Lady in France that I would transfer to canvas and make sing and hopefully fill the hearts of all who might come to see, and connect to them the love I have for this water, this gypsy wandering – the lives I glimpse of the boaters, water-skiers, swimmers, divers, fishermen, vagrants, fashionistas, bank-side cyclists, roller-skaters, the dog-walkers, the markets, the reflections on water, for every wild flower, tree, reed, waterlily, or beetle, butterfly, bat, heron and kingfisher. There’s been the architecture, inhabited and abandoned, war-scars and re-birth. New fears and old traditions. There have been fellow-travellers of many nations, and many a full and empty wineglass, surprising cheese or cured meat, many a kind word and helpful hand. There have been mooring places where only an owl hoots, or mooring places where people sang and danced all night.
But with the thought of that kettle at home, dusty, as it must be, I knew it was alright – I was bringing it all back with me. And that’s when I dropped my shoulders, and relaxed my jaw, and submitted to the knowledge that there are endings, but endings are not necessarily sad, tragic or so final – and here come the clichés about every attempt to speak about endings that are not endings… (cut)
We are coming/going home.