Living on a Converted Barge in the Center of Paris

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Living on a Converted Barge in the Center of Paris
The nine suitcases tumbled off the Air France carousel. Add my carry-on and Luke’s dog crate and my bichon and I were ready to begin our adventure. David patiently loaded our gear into his Ford RS2000, silently calculating how he would transfer them onto the Berreti and where we might possibly find places to store all my stuff. Thrilled that his girlfriend and her puppy were moving to Paris to live with him, he wasn’t sure he had cleared enough room for them on his 25-meter (75 foot) péniche, moored on the Right Bank in front of Place de la Concorde. I was nervous too. I had first discovered his boat nearly two years before, the weekend when I met David. Since then, our midlife love affair had included not only his 14 trips to the United States, but also my 10 return visits to Paris, all over a period of 22 months. I stayed with him on the Berreti during visits as short as three nights and as long as the luxurious two weeks in July the previous summer. That was the trip when we had intended to travel the waterways, only to discover that frozen pipes the previous winter had damaged the diesel engine. David had unhooked water, electricity and phone lines and, after he cast off the ropes and had us heading upstream, he invited me to drive. As I steered the boat eastward under Pont Neuf, alongside Notre Dame, past Ile St. Louis, David monitored the needle on the heat gauge as it rose into the red zone. “It’s moving a bit too rapidly. Either the gauge is broken or the engine is overheating.  Maybe the winter freeze did some damage to the motor. I need to take the wheel.” He steered us to the bank of the river and tied up alongside the Jardin des Plantes. He knew that getting help on the long Bastille Day weekend would be difficult to impossible. After our picnic lunch on the quay, he made a U-turn and guided us back to our parking spot, moored alongside the yacht Christina, as the Orangerie cast a gentle shadow on that late afternoon. I never did get to explore France from its waterways, navigating through locks and discovering riverside villages, as David had done with his sons every summer over the previous 16 years. David lovingly took care of the basic needs of his barge. He polished the brass fittings and buffed the pine paneling that had been salvaged from a 200-year-old Dutch church when the boat, built in Utrecht in 1928, was converted from a working barge in 1967. He ran the motor at regular intervals to recharge the batteries for the 24-volt internal circuit, the only source of electricity when the boat was disconnected from the electricity supplied on the quay, and kept an eye on the propane gas tanks that needed periodic replacement as well as the fuel oil tank for heating, deliveries made from the river. He faced the constant challenge of finding artisans who could repair a leak in the roof, a broken toilet pump, the pipes and radiators that had burst  the previous Christmas when he had spent two weeks in the USA with me and Paris had suffered an unusually lengthy cold spell. He watched the level of the Seine so that he could rearrange the ropes that moored the boat to the quay as needed and, when the river threatened to overflow its banks, he moved his car to higher ground and rigged a rope system to ferry the rowboat to the quay, so that when the Seine overflowed he could make his way to the office by an alternate route – down from the barge to the rowboat to the quay, up the ladder to Place de la Concorde, then on to Boulevard Malesherbes.  After we agreed that I would move to Paris, David carted bags of clothing and cartons of books from the Berreti to the American Church in Paris for their annual rummage sale. He moved personal and professional papers to his office for confidentiality. He carefully measured the space on a shelf along the lengthy corridor from the living room to the captain’s sleeping cabin, and went to BHV where he purchased four unfinished three-drawer wood pieces. In an act of love, commitment, and insanity, he carried the four small but very heavy chests, two tied together and hanging from each arm, all the way home, from BHV to his boat, the length of the Seine from the Hotel de Ville to Concorde. (He admitted his arms were sore the next day.) By the time I arrived a week later, the four little drawer units formed a bank of orderly personal protectors awaiting my most private belongings. They looked like built-ins. In the weeks that followed, I located Styrofoam insulation at Castorama, the Home Depot of Paris, installed it behind them, and attached a border of colorful fabric to the edge of the shelves where they sat. I had always found decorating irresistible. When I moved to Paris to live with David, bringing Luke along for his first encounter with the culture that was in his bichon DNA, I had left…
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Lead photo credit : Houseboats moored on the Seine. Photo: Roni Beth Tower

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Roni Beth Tower, author of the award-winning memoir "Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance", is a retired clinical, research and academic psychologist and a dedicated Francophile.

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  • Roni Beth Tower
    2018-01-16 11:17:25
    Roni Beth Tower
    Richard, thank you for writing! Yes, I do know it passes so quickly. At least when each moment is lived fully, there is little room for regret....

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