My story about floating down the Canal du Midi in the south of France appears in No Set Boundaries: Eleven Stories of Life, Travel, Misadventure, the second volume of essays from Townsend 11, a publishing entity created by my long-term writers group. Get it wherever good e-books are sold, or download it to read on your computer or phone. Read my introduction to the book.
Here’s the lead to my story:
A Trickle of Time and Water
The church steeple in the village of Montesquieu-Lauragais in the Haute Garonne of France’s Midi-Pyrénées has stood for hundreds of years. From its perch above the gently recumbent wheat and sunflower fields caressing the Canal du Midi, it has seen scourges, sieges, and the everyday life of countless generations. But tonight it looked as if it was finally coming down.
Smoke wafted out of the belfry. Fire within threw a red glow on the stone tower. Sparks spurted into the air and fell toward the crowd below. A series of explosions erupted in the sky to the oohs and oh la las of the throng. But no, the church wasn’t burning down, these were feu d’artifice—fireworks. The fete was on.
Moments later, the lights came up in the plaza and a band began to play French popular standards from the ’30s and ’40s. The “dance floor” filled with couples in their 80s, 70s, 60s, while the young stood back in the comfort of their peers, and the younger still rode a mini-carousel of cars or “fished” for plastic ducks or lit up at the sight of cotton candy swirls larger than their heads.
“These are the men who fought my war,” said 84-year-old Ethel, one of my four companions, nodding toward the dancers. Her war, of course, was World War II, the war that Europeans hoped would be their last after centuries of conflict and bloodshed.