Hello everyone and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on June 24th 2022.
We’ve been having a hot and sticky time of it over the past ten days, with temperatures up to 40 degrees, enduring the earliest heatwave that France has ever recorded. This level of heat is debilitating so we have been doing short hops in the morning before it gets too unbearable and then crawling under the shade of the nearest tree for the rest of the day. I know we live a life of slow travel but there comes a point when it gets ridiculous. Neither of us are good at sitting around doing nothing. Occasionally the canal meanders back out to the river and we’ve sat on the swim platform, dabbling our legs in the clearer water. The first time we did this, when the temperature was a mere 35 degrees, Michael was on the point of going in for a swim until he saw a snake swimming past the boat and thought better of it. The second day the temperature jumped to 38 degrees and he jumped in, past caring about snakes or anything else that might have been lurking in the weeds. By the third day, when it reached 40 degrees and was too hot for cruising at all, even I tentatively inched into the blessedly cool water.
However, eventually the heatwave broke and on Wednesday 21st June we arrived in Auxerre, having reached the end of the Nivernais canal. Our arrival coincided with the summer solstice, always a big day in France as it marks the Fête de la Musique, a day of music in the streets and a time to party.
‘Something is going on up there,’ I said. We were sitting on the top deck, just finishing our dinner. ‘I can hear music and there’s a crowd of people.’
In fact everywhere I looked there were people, a steady stream of them coming into the town from every direction. We left the washing-up to its own devices and joined the crowds.
The first band we came across were singing the blues on a restaurant boat, a group of ageing hippies with long grey hair pulled back into pony tails, dressed in black t-shirts and faded jeans. We crossed over the road, took a side street leading away from the river towards the town and found a brass band, wearing bright blue matching t-shirts with gleaming instruments, valiantly pumping out the sort of music that only brass bands seem to play, but unfortunately being completely overwhelmed by a group of drummers a few hundred further on. The drum music, although I’m not sure if music is quite the right word, was mesmerising, and had attracted a crowd of people jerking and twitching like puppets in time to the thrumming beat.
After that the assault on the eardrums came from every corner: a country and western group, complete with Stetsons, singing old American classics with French accents, a folk group with fiddles and squeeze boxes, a lone man on a guitar, sad and soulful with a beautiful voice. The restaurants and bars were doing a roaring trade whilst a couple of big-busted ladies with floral aprons and disapproving faces were cooking some distinctly dodgy-looking crèpes at a small table.
And all around us was a sea of people, dressed up for the occasion in flowing dresses and crisp white shirts, families pushing buggies or trying to hang on to youngsters determined to get lost in the crowds, gangs of giggling girls and couples of all ages wandering hand-in-hand.
Eventually we reached the open square at the very top of the town where the local dance club, dressed sombrely in black, were showcasing their skills, dancing a slow and suggestive tango for the appreciative audience. The clouds had been getting ever more threatening as the evening progressed, the thunder beginning as a distant rumble but, now that we were at our furthest distance from the boat, the heavens opened. The crowds disappeared under umbrellas or into doorways and the thunder rolled ever louder until it drowned out the music, but still the dancers danced on. It was only when the lightening arrived, splitting the black skies with jagged forks of light that they finally conceded defeat.
We had no umbrella and so we made our way slowly back to the boat, sheltering under trees and doorways when the rain became heavier. You find the strangest things in shop windows as you can see from the pictures below.
Auxerre is a beautiful town, but the rain on this particular night added a new dimension, the cobbled stones wet and glistening, street lights throwing soft reflections, the muted chatter from the pavement cafés where the last of the diners sat under canopies, calmly drinking their wine and seemingly oblivious or uncaring of what the weather was doing.
We arrived back at the boat considerably wetter than when we left it, but this was a summer rain on a warm night and it didn’t take us long to dry out. We made ourselves a cup of tea, watched the lightening flickering around us and the people walking past the boat, listening with half an ear to a rock band in the restaurant opposite. They were still playing as we went to bed. I don’t know what time they finished as sleep had taken me by then.
Music day can be a bit of a lottery depending on where you are, the standard of the music and how easy it is to escape it if the bands in question really need to stick to the day job. However, if you are lucky and find yourself in an atmospheric town with a good selection of musicians, it is a magical experience, overflowing with the irrepressible joie de vivre that is part of the heart and soul of this wonderful country. Long may it continue.
See you next week.