Merrily we float along

This week’s post combines water and food – while friends and family were visiting we took a boat cruise on the Canal du Midi from Colombiers.  “Le Bonpas” is a former hire boat, which has been converted into a beautiful open plan barge for short cruises.  We had decided on a dinner cruise, and met Paule and Rene at 6.45pm one evening in the port of Colombiers.  After the requisite handshakes and introductions we raised anchor and set off, all of us seated in the open area at the bow, watching the trees glide by.  Rene was telling us about the canal, and I’m (almost) ashamed to say that I’ve forgotten most of the figures.  Some of the facts stick in my mind, such as that a large contingent of the workforce who built the canal were women.  The men were digging and shovelling, but the women carried the excavated earth away in baskets – no wheelbarrows in the 17th century!  Rene also told us about mosquitoes in the canal – there are none!  The leaves from the plane trees drop into the water, where they sit and decompose over the space of about three years.  During that process they release gases which stop mosquito larvae from hatching, so no mosquito population in the canal, and since I did not get any stings it must be true :-).  As we were sipping our aperitifs and Rene was entertaining us, Paule was busy at the back of the boat getting dinner ready. But before that we went through the Tunnel de Malpas, one of the many engineering feats along the canal.  The tunnel was dug through the Enserune hill without the help of any machines or dynamite!  Today three tunnels pass through the hill: the oldest one, constructed in medieval times, to drain the Etang de Montady; the most recent tunnel runs just below the canal and carries the high-speed train line!Soon enough we were called to table.  Paule had prepared a vegetable mousse for us, which was served in little individual porcelain dishes, accompanied by a salad.  For the children she’d prepared a tomato and mozzarella salad.  For main course we had chosen in advance from:  Gardiane de Taureau (a tender beef casserole),  Supreme de Canette (roast duckling quarter) or Pave de Saumon (salmon fillet).  All the main courses were accompanied by gratinated potatoes, which I adored.  After that we had a selection of cheeses, and finally there was dessert once we had turned around to head back to port.  Baba au Rhum is a typically French dessert – a brioche like cake which is soaked in a sirup laced with rum and topped with some whipped cream.  For the children the alcohol was of course omitted!The sun was setting as we were nearing Colombiers, and the reflections on the water were beautiful.  Floating along on the water at that time of day was just magical, and we were all sad when our little cruise came to an end.

You may have heard that the plane trees along the Canal du Midi will not be there all that much longer.  Unfortunately there is a fungus which attacks the plane tree, and in the space of about five years the tree dies.  The fungus is transmitted by water and air and there is no cure.  In time all the old trees will have to be cut down and replaced by young saplings, which are resistant to the fungus.  So, do come and visit the Canal du Midi soon, while most of its glory is still alive and intact, be it for a walk or bike ride in the shade, or a little boat trip.