“We’ll meet on tuesday morning at the Pontoise docks around 11 in the morning” Jean told me.
You’d better believe that, that day, I was on time. The reason is simple: to make the trip with Jean on the barge that he bought in Holland and drive it to Issy les Moulineaux, in France was a dream.
A beautiful 128 feet barge. A little broken down and stinking of oil, but Jean was a fixer-upper of genius and to live on a barge on the outskirts of Paris was a dream that many of us had at the time.
Endless space, very romantic and always able to throw a fishing line into the water. What more could a man want?
I attached my fishing rod to my Mobylette (mechanical bicycle) that morning and when I arrived at the Oise and saw the barge anchored there, I only wanted one thing: to jump aboard… which I did.
Jean was glowing like a teenager who just lost his virginity as he showed me his barge. In the pilot’s cabin the steering wheel had been polished by the hands of many ancient owner’s, there was a tiny bedroom and a baggage hold immense and dark… with the cement blocks that Jean had put there as ballast. All of that was a little gross, but at the same time it was beautiful like “l’Atalante” the marvelous film of Jean Vigo with the sublime Michel Simon who sang: “Travadja la moukere, travadja, bono!” while gyrating his tattooed torso. A sheer marvel.
Once the Mobylette was well attached we raised anchor and the diesel motor hummed on the first turn of the key.
Ah! the sound of that motor! It was John Cage with, like a gift, the odor to top it off!
“We’re heading for Paris” Jean said turning the wheel and pushing the motor to the max.
It was a marvelous spring day, that day on the water. We passed little villages and the locals waved at us with big gestures and we joyfully responded: “Beautiful day, no?” and we lifted our thumbs up to show that we were happy to be alive.
A few kilometers outside of Paris, the river split in two; Jean took the tributary on the left. It was a decision that was, politically, irrevocable. It was a decision that was, geographically, a grave error.
Rapidly the river grew narrower, the current disappeared and you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that we should have taken the fork on the right.
“Well Fleche, not to worry, we’ll simply make a u-turn!”
Unfortunately, for a neophyte, a maneuver like that with a barge 128 feet long is not exactly like a motorcycle, 128 feet takes up a lot of room!
We were about to finish the u-turn without too much difficulty but, alas, Jean could not avoid the big submerged tree on the opposite bank… it’s central branches grazed the side of the barge like an enormous bulldozer.
We just had the time to protect ourselves when the cabin exploded with an enormous racket.
When we finally took inventory of the damage, we had tear in our eyes. What’s more, my Mobylette and my rod fell into the water; the barge seemed to have emerged from a horror film. The decks were splintered in little pieces and shattered glass was everywhere on the deck, that was all the remained of the pilots cabin.
It was in silence, almost in mourning that what remained of the barge drew alongside the place that Jean had reserved at Issy les Moulinaux.
Terminated the great voyage, terminated fly-fishing.
My friend Jean had a heart heavy like a watermelon when I left him.
I didn’t cry for a long time over the bad luck of my friend, for a few months later I found out, by chance, that the bastard had been sleeping with my girlfriend.
I confess that I really wanted to sink his shitty barge with a lance of my bazooka, (in reserve in the garage, I still have a bazooka from the time of Indochina, one never knows!) but I didn’t do it.
Instead, to console myself, I pissed abundantly in the side-car of his BMW motorcycle and I also punctured his tires with my Opinel (brand of french folding knife).
Shortly after that I found myself another, more faithful, girlfriend.