France: Life Along the Canals, Summer of 1973

Looking for a shot of Notre Dame from L’Adour, the barge on which I spent the summer of 1973, I went through contact prints from 13 rolls of film. Many photos I’d never printed. Even the boring shots capture life along the canals, from Toulouse to Paris.

One of the few photos I printed.

Our barge—péniche—was a working boat, its cargo, grain. Pierre, the captain, and his family lived on the barge all year long. Bunk beds took the place of cargo, along with a makeshift bathroom and kitchen.

While the barge moved slowly towards our day’s destination, our group of American and French students cycled through the countryside and towns along the canals on one-speed bicycles.

Sometimes, we  helped lockkeepers open and shut hand-powered locks.
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In Carcassonne on Bastille Day, we had front row seats to the greased pole event.

Some days, we spent on board.

In the middle of the trip, we detoured to the Alps for a hike, catching up with the barge a few days later.

Somehow we got to Versailles!

After about five weeks, we arrived in Paris where we docked along the Left Bank of the Seine facing Notre Dame. As Bateaux Mouches passed by, tour guides pointed out the “French students,” meaning us.

As soon as I heard about the fire at Notre Dame, I started looking for a photo of the cathedral. Before adjusting the color, scans of black-and-white negatives have a sepia-toned look. This seemed perfect for my photo of Notre Dame taken 46 years ago.

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