France 2017 #04 Canal des 2 Mers - Bordeaux to Caracassonne

In part four of our French holiday we leave Bordeaux and follow the path of the canal that joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. I felt like I'd seen a lot of canals already on our trip, but the French have a saying, "when you're tired of canals, you're tired of life."

In Bordeaux there really are Frenchmen who wander down the streets whistling "La Vie en Rose" while smoking pungent French ciggies and wearing blue overalls. But when I caught myself riding along on Saturday arvo and singing that same song, an absurdity warning sounded in my head and I knew it was time to leave.

We visited the cathedral on our way out.

The sunlight through stained glass reminded me of a quote from Cezanne. (I had to look it up of course). "When I'am outlining the skin of a lovely peach with soft touches of paint, or a sad old apple, I catch a glimpse in the reflections they exchange of the same mild shadow of renunciation, the same love of the sun, the same recollection of the dew.. ..Why do we divide up the world? Does this reflect our egoism? The prism is our first step towards God, our seven beatitudes."

Our first day from Bordeaux was spent on a rail trail, with such a very elegant railway tunnel. A small catherdral of its time, perhaps.

We spent the night in a lovely farmhouse.

And this was our lovely host who gave us lots of food and wine, and then, when were completely full, more food.

That day we were back on the canal. For me, the canal had taken on a different meaning from the first canals we saw. It took me longer to come to terms with it.

The form of the canal was no longer enough to describe it. To show the canal was not enough to reveal it.

Different forms, and different shapes were needed.

Not every moment was spent in the tranquil pondering of canals. Sometimes it was just a matter of heads-down riding through the rain and hoping for the best.

We saw quite a few other cyclists that day, and we all had a kind of, "you have to laugh or else you'd cry," look to us.

A canal that crosses over a river is a bit like an M.C. Escher drawing with his strange looped staircase that goes uphill and downhill at the same time. Like an Escher drawing, it is disconcerting, but unlike an Escher drawing, you can ride your bike through it.

I tried to read up on why the canal was made. I find these mammoth, pre Industrial Revolution projects fascinating. It began in 1660 and was the greatest engineering feat of its time. Before the canals could be built, rivers from the Black Mountains needed to be diverted and a huge reservoir made to provide the water that would flow from the high point both ways down towards the seas. But the reasons behind the whole thing seemed to be: 1: So the French could shove it up the Spaniards by avoiding Gibraltar as a trade route. 2: So Louis XIV could be remembered forever. 3: Because the guy - Pierre-Paul Riquet - who was behind it, was a crazy driven dude. There must be a lot more to it, but for the 25 words or less version, I think this holds up.

We spent a night in Toulouse and I got to see my dear old canal duking it out with a modern city.

Coming out of Toulouse and heading towards Carcassonne there were lots of places where people lived on their boats.

The locks all have this curved shape, apparently because one of the earliest ones built with straight walls cracked. This one has four chambers.

So ponder this: the greatest engineering project of an age now exists so that Poms can have nice canal boat holidays in France. Somehow I don't think Louis XIV or Pierre-Paul Riquet quite had this in mind for their dream.

The path down to Carcassonne became narrow and bumpy, but it was still lovely, and a little sad to think this might be our last day on a canal for a while.

So - we arrived in Carcassonne which is not a real place of course. They built it for a movie and then left it here afterwards. We have a very nice small apartment with a spiral staircase. Next we decide whether we'll ride further or maybe catch a train over the Pyrenees to Spain.

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David Hume
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