16 May 2014

Relaxing in Moissac

On Sunday the 4th of May we had arrived in Moissac and secured at the downstream end of the Bassin du Canal. We were told by the Capitain that the space was reserved from noon on Tuesday, by which time we would need to move. We told him we wanted to stay at least a week, likely two or three and we pointed to the long space across from us with a small boat moored directly in the middle of it, converting the two boat space into a single. We were told the space was reserved for a barge arriving Tuesday afternoon.

We quickly settled in and then enjoyed our first meal in the cockpit in over three weeks. The near incessant rains of the previous three weeks had stopped and it had finally begun warming up a bit.

After lunch we walked the short distance into the centre of the town, past the market square and along to l’église Saint-Pierre, the church of l’Abbaye de Moissac.

The church is most famous for its sculpted south door, which was created between 1115 and 1130. 

The carvings on the tympanum depict Saint John’s vision of the Apocalypse. They were exquisitely rendered and have remained in an excellent state of preservation, likely helped by the protection from the elements offered by the deep recess in which they are located. The work is considered one of the most consummate examples of narrative doorway and one of the great masterpieces of Romanesque architecture.

We passed through the doorway into the dimly lit porch and on into the nave with its graceful ribbed vaulting, which rises to a height of twenty-two metres. Most of the nave was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the apse was completed in the fifteenth to replace the structures at the eastern end of the church dating to the middle of the eleventh century.

The walls, ceilings and arches are painted in repetitive decorative motifs in soft colours to give a sense of unity to the interior. These were restored in 1964.

Toward the altar there are rows of nicely carved seats for the monks and a large pipe organ hangs on the north wall.

Several fifteenth century painted wooden statues are displayed around the interior. This larger than life size one depicting the entombment of Christ is particularly attractive. During its restoration in 1956, original paint was discovered and the colours were replicated. 

There is a large wooden crucifix on which the style of the carving of Christ has led scholars to believe it was carved by the same artist who had carved the doorway between 1115 and 1130. As we made our way back through the centre of town toward Zonder Zorg, we reflected upon the many churches we had recently visited. In most we had felt an emptiness. This one; however, feels like a spiritual place with a wonderful peacefulness and serenity. 

On Monday we walked to the supermarket for fresh supplies, and while we were there we bought some geraniums to plant in a bucket and hang on the fokijser. Our garden is slowly expanding.

Monday evening we took our folding chairs and joined about four dozen other bargees on the canal side. The first Monday of every month the Cod-en-Bleu fish and chip truck stops in Moissac for the evening. It is operated by a couple of expat Brits who offer genuine greasy British pub fare. Most of the crowd were Brits, but there were also Auzies, Kiwis, Canucks and Yanks. I put in our order for cod and chips, and just short of two and a half hours later, they were ready. It seems the chef can do only one order at a time and there were many ahead of ours.

On Tuesday morning we had to move from our mooring in the basin, but le Capitain had stories for the empty spaces. We still had much to see and do in Moissac and we weren’t ready to move on. We had booked a lock time with l’éclusier to go down the double set of locks to the Tarn to do an excursion up and down the river, so we decided to moor down on the river until a space became available in the basin.

After locking through, we headed up river a few kilometres, passing under le Pont-canal de Cacor. We were impressed by its massiveness, recalling that the railway bridge just upstream of it had been destroyed during the 1930 flood and that for two years the aqueduct had carried both rail and barge traffic until a new rail bridge could be built.

We turned around upstream of the new railway bridge and continued our excursion downstream, finally stopping for the day on the wall upstream from Pont Napoleon and Hotel le Moulin de Moissac, the upscale hotel that now occupies the old water mill. The moorings include water and electricity, but le Capitain had told us they were not yet turned on for the season, so there would be no charge for mooring.

After lunch we went back over to the abbey to continue our visit. We had seen the abbey church, now it was time to visit the famous cloisters. There is reference to the abbey having been founded by Clovis I, King of France from 481 to 511, though modern scholars tend to attribute its founding to Dogbert’s son, Clovis II, King of Burgundy and Neustria from 635 to 657. Whichever Clovis it was, the abbey goes back a long time, and the site even further back; Roman ruins have been found under a nearby church.

In these drawings are the buildings that existed prior to the Toulouse-Bordeaux railway being built through Moissac in 1845. Destroyed for the rail line were #5 the refectory, #7 the Abbots residence, #8 the infirmary, #12 the chapel of the abbey, #13 the residence of the Canons, #15 the ovens, #16 the residential floors, stores and warehouses, #17 the underground aqueduct, #20 the wine cellars, #23 the Abbots gardens and #24 rue de l’abbaye. The cloisters very narrowly missed being destroyed. Today they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cloisters and galleries, which were completed in the year 1100, are magnificent. They surround a garth measuring 27 by 31 metres, in one corner of which was once a large fountain fed by a spring in the adjacent hills. The gallery is supported by alternating single and double columns, each set with an intricately carved capital.

There are a total of seventy-six of these capitals, each one different from the others.

At the corners and in the mid points of the sides are eight strengthening pillars. On the gallery side faces of each of these are carved reliefs in marble.

Eleven of them depict saints: Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Bartholomew and so on, and the twelfth is of Durand de Bretons, who from 1048 to 1072 was the first Cluniac Abbot of Moissac. From 1060 he was also the Bishop of Toulouse. He was responsible for reenergizing the abbey after many years of decline.

From the cloisters we climbed to the upper chapel, which is located above the porch in the tower of the church. About six metres above it is a roof supported by twelve radiating square arches, which meet in an annular keystone. Above that is the floor of the bell tower.

From the upper chapel we could look out into the church from a vantage point some fifteen metres above its floor. We were fascinated with the architecture from nine hundred years ago.

We slowly wound our way through the streets of the old town centre and back to Zonder Zorg on the river. In the evening, with our heads still filled with images of the cloister and the church, we enjoyed seared jumbo scallops with a butter sauté of pleurottes, criminis, shallots and garlic accompanied by steamed asparagus with a mustard mayonnaise, sliced Roma tomatoes with shaved salt and shredded basil and basmati rice. This was complemented superbly with a bottle of Alsatian gewurztraminer.

On Wednesday we unloaded our bicycles and pedaled back up the canal, across le Pont-canal de Cacor and continued along the towpath for six kilometres to a large shopping centre with two supermarkets and two building supply stores. The following day, 8 May was a national holiday, when some in France celebrate the 1945 end of the War in Europe. Most people in France; however, celebrate not working. We needed to stock-up for the Thursday holiday, and for all the closures on Friday as many traditionally ‘fait le pont’, ‘make the bridge’ to the weekend.

Besides food, we also needed a two metre piece of flexible hose with an outside diameter of 35 millimetres. Our engine’s raw water intake continues to clog, and we determined that the easiest way to clean it is to remove the strainer basket and blow down the standpipe. I have used a water hose connected to a hose bib ashore, but these are seldom available when needed. In Mr. Brico we found some hose and other things we wanted after which we went across to the Intermarché for groceries. Among other things, we found albacore tuna steaks on special for €10 per kilo. With our bicycle panniers filled, we pedaled back down the canal and down to the river to Zonder Zorg.

One of the things we had bought in the hardware store was a can of semi-gloss black acrylic spray paint. We had a collection of off colour fenders that either came with the boat or we salvaged from the waters along the way. Two of these were particularly annoying to Edi; a large bright orange ball and a large white one, which hang prominently on Zonder Zorg’s bows. Edi’s idea was to paint them black to match the remainder of the fenders. The plan worked and within an hour the off-colour fenders had been cleaned, degreased and painted. An hour later they were dry and much more pleasingly rehung.

On Thursday morning we passed the cenotaph on our way up to the canal basin. Wreaths were prepared for laying, soldiers were gathered and city officials were assembling for the 1100 ceremony. We continued to the basin to see if there were any open mooring spaces for us. There were three, and with moving a hogging boat, there were four large enough for Zonder Zorg. We talked with le Capitain, who told us on Tuesday the city had turned the electricity on down on the river and the moorage there was no longer free. When we asked about mooring in the basin he told us to take the one across from where we had initially been. I asked about the empty spot within wifi signal range of the Capitainerie and was given a nebulous reply that inferred without clear explanation that they had other uses for that empty space.

The VNF éclusier was organized for 1130 and we moved back up to the basin. Spread out all along the right bank of the basin was a cross between a neighbourhood street sale and a flea market. We secured next to what appeared to be a professional vendor who had hauled a van and trailer load from his shop and enjoyed a brisk trade. 

While the street sale progressed beside us, we pinned together a cover for the bicycles on the foredeck. We had some pieces of Sunbrella with zippers that were part of an old winter cockpit cover from our sailboat, Sequitur. We created a zipper-front design that draped over the bikes in their position locked to the mast tabernacle. Edi quickly stitched it up on the sewing machine and with only one additional fitting and minor adjustments, we had a fine waterproof bike cover.

We could not get the wifi signal from our moorage, but by walking back toward the Capitainerie to the large empty mooring space, we found a full bar signal. On Friday the space was still empty and it was again on Saturday. The Capitainerie was closed until 1600, so we took the initiative and moved into the empty space and we finally had a strong wifi signal aboard. Unfortunately, the internet connection was down. Fortunately we had our iPhones with a strong cell connection and I was able to tether my computer to post a new addition to the blog. When the Capitainerie opened, we were told that they needed our space the next day. This was later reinforced by a reserved sign being hung beside us. I said we would move into one of the other empty spots in the morning. The internet connection remained dead.

On Sunday morning we moved back to the place in which we had earlier been. Throughout the day we watched for the arrival of the boat for which the vacated space had been reserved. The space remained empty through the morning and much of the afternoon. It was nearly evening when a boat moved into the slot from its moorage across the basin. As wonderful as the city of Moissac is, after five mooring spots in eight days and a sense of our being less welcome than are the many boats for sale in this public marina, we decided to cut our stay short and move on.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael and Edi, we met in Moissac by your barge - I was on a bicycle heading for Bordeaux. Since reading your book and joining the DB forum I put in an expression of interest for a 16m Dutch replica barge (25% share) however my lack of experience and the lack of certification was a major drawback. Still looking on the DB forum as my wife Rachel is very keen! Funny that, usually if I suggest anything remotely like that it gets shelved! Hope you are both well. Love the photos along the way ....looks like you are using a decent lens?


    Phil Bramley
    Tanja, Australia