CALMING THE SOUL

Yesterday some new rules for our current Lockdown came into being, and for the first time in a month or so we are allowed to go further afield using the car for exercise. In need of some spiritual awareness and a desperate urge to see something different, I headed for one of my favourite waterside villages, where the sight of its river, and all that it conveys, never fails to lift my spirits. One of the girls came with me, and we obeyed all the rules as we walked to the water’s edge to revitalise our souls, masks carefully in place and staying very clear of anyone we met. 

In a country with many scenes of bucolic solitude, Port D’Envaux is just another ripple on the consciousness, a cluster of old stone buildings where the Charente flows peacefully on its way downstream, as it has done since mankind first set foot on its banks. It’s always a calming influence, perhaps because there’s a sense of continued history, where the passage of time is mirrored by the Charente’s stately progress. It is certainly easy to stand looking out over the water and feel the ghostly wakes of barges and cargo boats under stately sail passing by. Nowadays in summer the traffic on the river is slightly different, but perhaps no less valuable to the residents of the village.

Many waterside villages in the region grew rich and prospered on the dividends the currents provided, and Port D’Envaux was no exception. It sits on the south bank of the watercourse, and there is a cobbled main street high above the shoals of perch and the odd solitary heron, gaunt wraiths that hunt the shallows under the oaks. From the road grand houses sprawl down to the river, safe from any winter flooding that washes away over the northern bank instead, sending pike and roach inland to distant poplar roots when the rainfall is heavy. The street is called Rue des Armateurs, the road of the Shipbuilders, and it gives those who know its provenance an understanding of the importance of the river and its cargoes.

Here’s a view from the street down to the water, a September scene of calm and warmth. It’s a view suitable for the brushes of Monet.

Looking back the other way gives the viewer another aspect, and an appreciation of the riches that once made this village so important.  

Today, at the start of winter, the visitors are long gone, but the great houses and the trappings they bestowed upon the village stand watch, waiting for summer to return. 

There is little on the northern bank except for overgrown paths that lead to forgotten boat houses. On slow bends there are moorings for boats that belong to people further inland. 

But on the village side there is far more life and a lively boating season in summer, where a pontoon provides a safe mooring for both the small tiny boats used by local anglers, and the large cabin cruisers that come down from the city of Saintes, five miles upstream. The river is the main artery of the life in the village, and everything seems to centre about the water, in summer and in winter. Perhaps it is its easy familiarity to anyone who has spent a holiday in a seaside village that makes Port D’EnVaux so appealing. There may be no seagulls, but there is always the sound, scent and movement of water…

Today was no exception. There was a COVID queue outside the bakery, and down on the river a man eased his way across the current to do some raking of weed-beds, a winter task when little would be disturbed on the river bottom. I could tell from his nonchalant rope-handling and easy stance on the small deck that he was totally at ease with his environment, the tools on the boat a testament to the work the vessel undertakes each day. 

Heading home after half an hour of bright sunshine and riverside air, I felt completely rejuvenated. It might have been a sense of peace brought about by the good weather and the water, softly calming my soul, but then I realised it was also because of the reassurance the quiet solidity of buildings gives the spirit, always a demonstration of the resourcefulness and endurance of humans.

It was a quiet reminder that all will be well, sooner than we think. Stay safe, all of you.

21 thoughts on “CALMING THE SOUL

  • After many years of wonderful camping holidays in France I suddenly realised that I was never happier than when I was near a river. It was one of those light bulb moments, and all the more unexpected as I’d grown up in a big conurbation where all rivers had been hidden in culverts by the city planners. We are now lucky enough to live in a beautiful water mill in France. The ever present sound of running water and timeless cycles of nature have transformed our lives. There is nothing better for the soul.

  • Thank you so much for the lovely pictures. The water does help give a new perspective doesn’t it? We all need a boost as it has been a long hard year. My children and grandchildren help so much too. I enjoy your writing and pictures so much & hope the coming week is a good one for you!!! Take care!!!

    On Sun, Nov 29, 2020 at 3:50 PM Our French Oasis wrote:

    > ourfrenchoasis posted: ” Yesterday some new rules for our current our > Lockdown came into being, and for the first time in a month or so we are > allowed to go further afield using the car for exercise. In need of some > spiritual awareness and a desperate urge to see something diffe” >

    • Hello Shirley, thank you for your kind words. I hope things change soon but i am not sure there will much change for another six months or so, I’m afraid. We shall have to grin and bear it – much like what our parents and grand-parents had to do. We will endure, eventually….

  • Glad you could get out and enjoy the beauty near you. I love the water too. It has such a calming effect. Loved all your sweet pics. Happy New Week. xoxo Kris

  • Your photographs are a form of rejuvenation too! This pandemic ebbs and flows: we are in a ‘hot spot’ now which is threatening a family gathering after Christmas. This year has taught me that while it is good and right to dream and to make plans, the reality is to take each day as it comes and to be very grateful for every blessing.

    • I totally agree with you – this past year has taught us all a great deal about family love, family ties, and how enduring the soul can become…. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas…..XX

  • I especially like that third shot (the boat in the middle) and the last B&W one. I’m happy to read your restrictions have eased. Not so where my s-i-l and b-i-l live. Do you have to take out a form that shows when you left home? They do and the short time allowed out makes it difficult for her to run and exercise the dogs. I hope theirs gets better soon. Of course we have a variety of restrictions in the US, varying wildly from state to state and within states as well. I managed to squeeze in a short pre-Thanksgiving trip to southern California to visit our older daughter and her husband. I felt quite daring and free (except for traffic.) I still can’t believe it’s almost in December and a year where we could do so little has gone by so quickly!

    Stay safe and well,

    janet

    • We do need forms – but thankfully we also have a application we can download to our phone that takes all the guesswork and paperwork out of the question! Our restrictions ebb and flow though – we even had a curfew for a while (apparently there will be one in force again for Christmas Eve, when the French typically go and visit families. That will be interesting to see!

      • No one here has to have paperwork or forms, but restrictions vary wildly. Some obey them, some, including many in government, ignore them, either mostly or selectively. I can’t recall if I told you this, but we called off Christmas at our house in the sense of having our daughters and one son-in-law come. We’ll spend some careful time with my brother and his family and on Christmas Day with my parents, but it will be the first Christmas the girls won’t be home. Still, a first-world problem if that’s as bad as we have it.

  • Thanks Susan – a gentle and uplifting piece. I haven’t heard of that place – I must have a look on Google Maps! Hope you are all well.

  • You write so beautifully, Susan. I’m so glad that you were able to meander over to Port D’Envaux on the Charente River. Until the last two years, I’ve always been part of a family that owned a motorized or sailing craft and always spent a great deal of time on the two big rivers running nearby, the Columbia and the Willamette, as well as a number of lakes and rivers further away. (Now, we have two hard-sided river kayaks and a small raft.) Your photographs make me want to move to a smaller city or town with a bucolic but flowing river on which water-ski and -board boats, and jet-skis, do not rule the recreational use. Does the Charente River have a muddy, pebbly or sandy bottom and south shoreline? Is it clean enough to be safe for swimming? Thank you for so wonderfully calming my soul on this Sunday evening.😘

    • Hi Leslie – I am not sure about the riverbed but I suspect by the geography of the region that is has a flat bottom, mainly, perhaps with some shingle or pebble shallows. It is safe for swimming there (they have a special section roped and buoyed off with a man-made beach and a diving raft) and it is popular in summer enough that there is also a boat-hire section and a cafe. It is not, however, too busy or touristy – it’s mainly people from the local area, and it is very calm and soothing. It’s a wonderful place to paddle-board and kayak in summer.

  • You live in a beautiful part of France. It was so good to get out again on the bike after another month on the home trainer. Stay safe and sound.

  • We have passed a short moment (too short!) on our ways to and/or from Saintes at Port D’Envaux and we felt too that it was a ‘quiet’ joy to behold. But you awake its beauty, charm, the gratitude of the folks living there and you are able to share it in equally beautiful words and photos. You well and truly are an artist (apart from all your other qualities you have!). Let me know when and IF your book will be available in print. It would make itself feel like a holiday chez vous and shorten the time until (and again, IF) we’ll meet again.
    We’re settled nicely in Switzerland and are just so very thankful to have escaped the strict rules of Ile de France. Life is a bit slower here too than it was in the Paris region and for that we are immensely thankful.
    Take care, all of you, in all places, countries, we think of you often and wish you well.

    • Hi Kiki! Good to hear you are safely back in the land of snow and rock and keeping safe. I am certain you are finding it a haven compared to Paris! Next time you are back this way we shall enjoy a bit of PDE together. I’ll take you for a glass of wine under the oaks on the riverbank and we can watch people fall off paddle boards! Stay safe and have a great Christmas. A hug to the Hero husband, too XXX

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