I HAVE a two-seater collapsible canoe, but no friend who has both time enough and money enough (little as is needed) to cruise with me. Consequently I pick up a companion where I find him — sometimes by letter, oftener at the starting point of a trip.
My rivers are rarely the difficult ones; such exist, in abundance, for those who want that side of canoeing. For me, canoeing is more a perfect means of locomotion than a sport in itself — this to answer in advance criticism of the rivers described here. Again, I prefer to eat at riverside inns rather than to camp and cook, especially in Central Europe, where the food is excitingly unknown and where most of these inns have contracted themselves to the Canoe Club Union as ‘Canoe Stations,’ guaranteeing me cheap food, nearly always camp beds or a hayloft for ten cents or so (as well as real beds, of course), always free garage for my boat, and often free camping grounds. This, also, to answer in advance protests by those who know what ‘ real ’ canoeing is — killing and cooking your own food and carrying stores for weeks.
For readers who do not know these collapsible canoes it should be added that they are unbelievably tough envelopes of rubber plus canvas over a demountable framework, in shape like the ‘Rob Roy,’ lower in the water than a canadian, decked except for a cockpit, and propelled by double paddles. When packed they can be taken on most European railways as hand baggage, free of charge; as a result, one uses the rail freely to get from river to river, to return home at the end of a trip, and even to ‘skip’ dull sections.
Here are some specimen trips from the eight thousand miles or so which I have done up to now.
Leonard was an apprentice to a famous master potter. He was also a model to a sculptor friend of mine. The potter’s craft, at any rate when nearly all is done by hand and great masses of clay have to be slammed about like dough, is a wonderful exercise, and his sixteen-year-old body was a sight for the Greeks.
I borrowed him for a fortnight and we went down the Loire, from Orleans to Nantes. It would need a special phonetic fount to indicate his accent; not only did he mix up French and English in the same sentence, pronouncing his French as English and his English as French, but he had overlaid his original cockney with a correct intonation, in words learned from his artist friends.
The Loire is a pleasant stream, fast clear water between willow banks, not outstanding in beauty except for the châteaux; but since these all stand right on the river, or on one of its tributaries, it makes an ideal cruise from the sightseeing point of view. We landed at the front entrances of most of the châteaux, just as visitors in their state barges used to land, and we actually canoed through Chenonceaux, which straddles the little Cher. Another advantage is that the navigation is easy despite the fast current — ‘she does feel,’ as Leonard remarked (traced, after some bewilderment, to filer); the only difficulty is that one continually mistakes a subsidiary no for the main channel, and ‘faut get out agyne and flotter her over the shallows.’ Not that this worried us much, as they were nearly always sand, and it gave the excuse for yet another bathe.
We camped practically always, and cooked our evening meal, — there are, unfortunately, no Canoe Stations in France, — one of us walking to the nearest village to purchase provender or tobacco. Lunch at noon we generally ate on a sand bank. Coffee in the morning we had at the first village we reached, and marvelous those huge bowls of creamy coffee were, with crisp crescents and fresh butter.
One curious characteristic of the Loire is the little wandering whirlpools, quite harmless and not even strong enough to turn the boat from her course, but somewhat disconcerting, especially when they play their usual trick of suddenly appearing close beside the canoe. Leonard’s somewhat crude description of ‘a baleine that belches’ fits them exactly. But real difficulties there are none. Those accustomed to ‘real’ canoeing should be warned that the joys of long portages through bushes and over rocks arc unknown here. When a portage occurs, as often as not it means some twenty yards, from floating landing stage to concrete runway or the like, and not infrequently with a boat car on rails connecting these.
The châteaux made me regret my scanty knowledge of history. Leonard fixed everything by reference to Joan of Arc and Napoleon, whom he had seen in films. Thus, at the seldom-visited church at Cunault, Romanesque at its best, and, a rarity in France, not disfigured by gaudy statues and paper flowers, Saint Martin was fixed as ‘before Joan’ (only by a thousand years or so), whereas François I, whose salamander writhes all over Chaumont, and the Guise, who was certainly not assassinated where the guide at Blois insists, and Catherine de Médicis, and the many others who come alive again when one sees where they loved and hated, were all ’between Joan and Napoleon.’ (And after all, why not?) Only at Chinon could I put him on really firm ground, where Joan picked the Dauphin out from among his courtiers; and even this worried him, ‘because in the film, tu sais, the château was n’t ruiné a bit.’ I fear he suspected that the real castle was somewhere else, or how could they have filmed it?
A jolly kid of fourteen, met in Brandenburg the previous season, ought to have come to meet me, but his father was sick. There is no Youth Hostel in Lübbenau, so I decided to make for the nearest one and seek a companion there. As I waited for the train, sitting outside an inn across the road from the station, a whistled folk song, frequently in tune, heralded the arrival of a dusty youngster, who looked at my beer and grinned at me. When he had gulped half a litre or so — I find the combination of red hair, freckles, and a grin quite irresistible — I asked him his plans.
‘ Na, I don’t know exactly. I should like to get home about September, because they said they would probably have work again then. I worked for them for two years already, since I was fifteen. What? Oh, making glass bulbs for electric lights. They dropped about half of us in February, so I went “on the Waltz” — on tramp, I mean.‘
‘How far did you get?’ I asked.
‘Oh, all over: as far as München, and up to Stettin, and now I was three days in Berlin. I liked Berlin, especially the big stores with those “rollstairs,” and I meant to go and see my aunt in Neukölln, but I never got that far’ — it is a good seven miles — ’because I always saw something else on the way.’
So of course I invited him to spend the next ten days or so with me, if we got on together, promising to drop him near Berlin, and on the Neukölln side at that. We walked back to the boathouse and built my canoe, which took about twenty minutes, as he was a complete novice.
The Spreewald is, from the point of view of the canoeist, unique. It is a labyrinth of narrow channels, practically without current, walled densely by oaks and alders and beeches, with rare farm clearings. All the traffic is by water; we met the postman in his boat, and families going to church, the women in the old Wendish costumes, with lace headdresses reminiscent of Brittany — and the church services have sermons and hymns in Wendish as well as German; and there was even a boat with a blind organ grinder whose son tows him daily to his pitch, and who started to play when he heard our paddles.
We spent three days here, losing our way and refinding it and getting lost again, returning eventually to our boathouse quarters every evening. My map was no good, but even with a perfect one it would mean constant attention, and it is more fun to get lost, anyway. Sometimes the channel petered out and we had to float the boat over the shallowest parts, wading on the sandy bottom. Twice we got to locks and had in one case to pay three cents dues and in the other case to work the lock ourselves. One could easily spend a month in this ‘upper’ forest without twice doing the same trip.
After that, we made for the ’lower’ forest, less extensive but even finer, with sections that are believed to be untouched since all this area was covered with forests. We bathed almost hourly here, naked, so lonely was it. Beyond came the almost as deserted lakes of the Dubrow, with perfect yellow sand beaches below deep green-blue pine slopes, and water nearly as clear as the Swiss lakes.
Sometimes we camped, sometimes we slept at Canoe Stations on camp beds or in haylofts, and once at a clubhouse, after a long evening chatting with the members — and what a joy it is to be accepted as a fellow sportsman and not treated as a mere tourist! Erich enjoyed himself vastly, and after the first two days got quite into the easy technique of the double paddle. He found this way of traveling ‘lordly’ (nobel, he called it), despite the fact that my daily expenses for the two of us ran only into four marks or so.
As we got to know each other better he became confidential. Like so many young Germans to-day, he was Irish in his outlook on the Nazi Government — strongly class-conscious, hating it in theory, and yet ready to defend it as having saved Germany from disintegration.
‘And now,’ he predicted (the wish no doubt being father and mother and midwife to the thought), ‘what will happen is that we, the rank and file of the Nazis, we shall go more and more Communist, and if the leaders don’t follow, we shall put our own leaders in.’
‘Ach was! Red’ kein Blech!‘ I told him.
‘I’m not talking rot! Why, kucke mal, I worked for a couple of months at an Arbeitsdienst camp — you know, voluntary work — and wo sang the Nazi songs In camp or on our way to the moors, but when we got there we put our own words to them, or we sang Communist songs, and the group leaders joined in — or we would have dropped them into the drainage ditches we were cutting. Na also! That’s the way it will go all over!’
My promised ten days brought us leisurely to near Berlin, where I duly sent him off to visit his aunt. He came to have supper with me once, at an Aschinger — about the equivalent of a New York Childs’, but the first restaurant he had ever been in, and the peak of luxury. He insisted on giving me his one treasure ‘als Andenken,’ the buttonhole badge of his football club.
Siegfried was sent along to me by a friend who knew that I was looking for a companion. His entry was like the switching on of an extra hundred-watt light: a mop of brilliantly blond hair, eyes like the sun seen through a wave, and the whitest of teeth in a shy smile. Physically he was, I suppose, about perfect; it came almost as a shock to learn that he worked as a tailor, with his father.
We built the boat at Kreuzburg, at an inn just by the old bridge, and started off down the Werra. Siegfried was an ideal companion for a canoe cruise. He often sat silent and paddled steadily for a solid hour, till the rhythm seemed to take us along more than the actual paddle strokes. I have waked at night after a long canoe day to find the bed rocking below me like the choir at Solesmes toward the end of Lauds, and had to make a definite effort of will to put my hand out and down to the moonlit floor to prove it not to be water. When he spoke, it was generally to murmur something like ’Herrlich!‘ — the r’s sounding like the purr of a happy lion; but now and then he electrified me with a perfect phrase, such as, of poplars wind-flickering on a hill crest, ‘black candle flames, siehst du?’
It was ‘herrlich,’ the scenery changing at every moment, with sheer limestone cliffs mirrored in the water, or steep wooded slopes suddenly opening out to distant views of bold hills as the pleasant current swung us round a corner. We slept at Canoe Stations as a rule. That at Werleshausen I remember with particular pleasure, on a great wooded horseshoe bend of the river. Before supper we walked up a steep forest path to visit a Youth Hostel in a restored castle. Siegfried was charming on the way up, continually stopping to admire the view, or to remove a nonexistent pebble from his shoe whenever he saw me breathless. We sang folk songs in the courtyard with the boys overnighting there, and as a result arrived back late for supper, greatly annoying our hostess. Our appreciation of her fruit pie appeased her, and next morning she charged me four marks for our suppers, hayloft, breakfasts, and provender for midday, and came down to the landing stage after us to apologize and return thirty-five pfennigs overcharged in error.
Four days brought us to Münden, where the Werra and Fulda unite to form the Weser, and we continued on this river; it was equally beautiful, at any rate as far as Minden, but the weather broke. Rain mattered little as far as comfort was concerned, since we were not forced to camp and had no portages; that is to say, we could stay in the boat, and, with sleeved waterproof capes worn outside the auxiliary deck, not a drop enters. (It should be explained that this extra deck covers in the normally open cockpit, fitting closely round our waists. It is also used for rapids.) Nor were we chilly, since the exercise keeps the trunk warm, and the legs are surprisingly cozy under cover — only our hands got numbed till we could hardly feel the paddle shafts.
Still, a driving misty rain kills the view, and it was not till two seasons later that I really came to appreciate the Weser. On this trip all that I remember with pleasure are the evenings in the Canoe Stations or exploring the little towns — Bodenwerder, with Münchhausen’s birthplace and a superb archaic crucifix in the church; Hamelin of the Rat-Catcher, with some of the finest half-timbering in Germany; Höxter, with curious old corners straight out of Hans Grimm.
One night we spent at a Workers’ Canoe Club, on straw mattresses on the floor of their boathouse. This was in 1931, and they were loud in prophecies of what they would do if the Nazis ‘gave trouble.’ Siegfried was contemptuous; his father had been a Social Democrat under the Empire, when this entailed opprobrium and worse: ‘ Aber die! die quatschen nur, and the Nazis and Communists work!’
Siegfried came with me again last season, on the Oertze and Aller. We met at Celle, at the Canoe Club there, and sat all the evening chatting with the members and singing folk songs to the guitar of a student.
My neighbor, whom I learned to be a professor, asked me, apropos of nothing, had I ever thought what a pity it was that no ‘King Victor’ had succeeded William IV.
‘Aber, bitte, bedenken Sie doch! If Queen Victoria had been a boy, you would be in your own country here in Hannover, and Prussia would never have been able to dominate the German Confederation over the head of Hannover with Great Britain behind it. And so there would have been no 1870, and no 1914.’ The idea has fascinated me ever since.
We had amusing moments on the forest-lined Oertze, thanks to fallen trees, under which we usually persuaded the boat to pass while we squatted like monkeys on the trunk. This brought us to the less interesting Aller, and this in turn to the lower Weser, and so to Bremen, where we parted, he to return home and I to take the rail with my packed boat to the Lake of Geneva. Later on I gave him my first canoe, after some 7500 miles’ service, and he expects to use her on easy waters for some two or three years more.
On our last evening before Bremen we were chatting happily in the Canoe Station with the local habitués (since, let it be remembered, these Canoe Stations are first and foremost inns, and cater to canoeists only as a side line) when the local policeman arrived and demanded our papers. This is such a rare occurrence in Germany that I think he was merely inquisitive, like most villagers. My passport aroused no comment, but a small book that Siegfried produced made him stiffen up, and he returned it with an attempt at a Roman salute and with the ‘ Heitler!‘ that the Nazi greeting has boiled down to. Siegfried looked sheepish. When we were alone he shamefacedly passed it over to me — the identification book of an ‘ S. A. Mann’
‘Doch, was willst du? My father was losing all his business, and now we’ve got it all back, and we make the uniforms for the other S. A. men: and besides, weisst du, there’s a lot in it. . . . Och, reden wir wat anders!‘
I had come down the Danube from Ulm with a Bavarian schoolmaster. On arrival at Passau we found the frontier closed to German exit, on account of the financial crisis, so that I found myself stranded with no companion and little chance of getting one. I was strongly disinclined to take a two-seater solo down an unknown river — though in reality the difficulties of this part of the Danube are exaggerated in the guidebook, written, as it is, for beginners.
It is worth while adding here that for practically all German, Austrian, French, Swiss, and Czech rivers these canoeing guides exist, a vital point for the novice, since he is far safer on a really tricky river with a guidebook than on a far easier one without information. I emphasize this also so that prospective canoeists may not make idiotic mistakes through not planning a trip, like someone I know who thought he could paddle up the Loire, and who ended by doing weeks and weeks on French canals, which is like visiting ‘London’ by walking through all the dullest suburban streets.
At the exact moment when I had despaired of the trip and begun to unbuild the boat, a two-seater arrived with one occupant. He turned out to be a Hungarian, and therefore unaffected by the frontier closure. Finally, to pile on coincidences as I should never dare to do in fiction, he was solo because a friend of mine in Paris had at the last moment been unable to come.
We joined forces, leaving my boat in Passau, and I found myself, for the first time since my very first trip in a collapsible, sitting in the forward seat — Ferenc, as owner and therefore skipper, taking the aft one.
He was a viola player, and a consummate musician. Why is it that violinists are often quite superficial musically, but viola players never? I owe to him what is perhaps the best description of the Danube from Passau to Vienna: ‘a symphony in three movements, allegro appassionato, adagio minore, andante semplice.‘ First of all, piles of rock chords, towering up one above the other, with a quiver of violin forests clothing them and with an occasional castle perched high up like a trumpet call: uninterruptedly crescendo (save for the melodic episodes of side valleys, peaceful, smooth-meadowed, with white villages snuggled down into them) until it reaches a climax at the horseshoe bend of the Struden; and then very gradually dying away as far as Linz. From there, the second movement, flat melancholy willow banks, like long wood-wind middle pedals, with behind them a fugue-like complexity of dead arms, ramifying mile-wide into the country, dividing and reconnecting, with dying villages hidden among them. The adagio, by the way, refers to the absence of current in these dead arms, that of the main stream still remaining so strong that fifty and sixty miles are easy daily runs instead of the twenty or thirty normal on most rivers. And then another change, to the Wachau, a pastorale of gently swelling hills and fruit trees and chessboard hedges and rococo villages, each with its own motif, yet harmonious in the whole — Dürnstein with the hautbois acidity of the castle ruins where Blondel’s song found Richard, but with creamysmooth cello themes below where the baroque church and cloister overhang the river; Melk, Handelian trumpetand-drum pomp at its best in the palace-monastery; chalumeau-clarinet villages like Aggstein and Sankt Johan and ‘Crooked Nut-Tree Town’ and dozens more.
This part, incidentally, serves to introduce an effective protest against a journalist who wrote of rivers as taking one to the ‘ back doors ’ of European towns. The truth is exactly the opposite. The towns built themselves facing the rivers and offer them their best sides — it is the railways that had to sneak in later by alleyways and ash cans.
And so to Vienna; but to watch the death in poverty of a city I have known as the best of good companions, above all feeling myself by my nationality implicated in the murder — that is something too sad to dwell upon.
I had come down the Moselle from Metz to Trier, solo, and my experience in landing there had made me resolve not to continue without a companion — cramp caught me in the calf of my leg at the critical moment, so that I made some seven tries in front of an amused crowd before I could finally fall out on to the landing stage and rub the muscles clear. Stupid little things like this make it much better not to be alone.
It was my first trip in Germany, so that I had no idea where to look for a companion, and when the innkeeper suggested the Youth Hostel my inexperience led me to visit it in the afternoon instead of waiting till evening when the ‘wanderers’ arrive, so that there was practically no one there.
I felt thoroughly disheartened as I walked back down the steep hill, and my pleasure was all the greater when I heard a hail from behind me and turned to see a whirl of white arms and legs, with a grin in the middle of it. It was Paul, from Hamburg, who had just heard of my offer.
The Moselle is the ideal river for the beginner — not a single portage, enough current to be useful but never dangerous, no steamers, pleasant placid scenery with rolling vineyard-clad hills, delightfully German townlets, and the best-organized Canoe Stations in all Europe. And the wines — especially those unknown local vintages made by the innkeepers themselves from their own grapes, and drunk with them in the cool of their cellars. Paul was a teetotaler into the bargain, so that I had to drink for two on this trip.
He was a solid, sensible kid of seventeen. A year previously he had seen that no work was going to be available at home, so he had set out on his bicycle to see Europe, living on a few marks sent him by his family from time to time, on what he earned by odd jobs now and then, and occasionally by selling postcards which he ’painted’ — chiefly with a toothbrush and boot blacking.
It was a curious trip, thanks to the exceptionally high water that year. For example, we ran ‘aground’ once on the back of a garden seat, where normally visitors would have sat high up on the bank to watch us pass; and another day we canoed in between the gateposts of a Canoe Station, up over the garden path, and landed right on the doorstep, where the host stood to welcome us.
Paul and I got on so well that we continued on down the Rhine — right to Utrecht, in fact. This is, of course, not the ‘famous’ part above Coblenz, which I did on another occasion (and consider hopelessly overrated, spoiled beyond redemption by motor roads and railways on each bank, and passenger steamers and motor launches all over the river). Still, this lower Rhine has a certain placid charm of its own, long stretches of pasture with pollard wallows and black-and-white cows; but one needs a gas mask for that awful section through Duisburg.
The Oder is not one of the ‘stars’ among German rivers, but by 1933 I had done most of the others. Above Breslau there are too many locks; below that town it is an ideal fine-weather stream, to do lazily, floating down in the sunshine, bathing on the perpetual sand beaches, and camping near the oak forests. I had, unfortunately, just one sunny day in about ten; still, I enjoyed the trip, thanks to my companion.
Kurt was the fifteen-year-old son of my hotel keeper at Breslau, and I took to him from his first appearance, when his father proposed him as my companion — an ugly kid, with a grin that gashed his face in half, but delightfully German, complete with heel-click and the funny head-bow (as if the upper vertebræ had suddenly changed to rubber) and a clumsy handshake of a boyish paw. He was an enthusiastic member of the ‘Hitler Jugend,’ the organization which has taken over the various forms of Boy Scouts and the like; and at his own suggestion wore the uniform for our trip, including the useful dagger duly engraved with ‘Blood and Honor.‘
A parenthesis. In theory, I thoroughly agree that such militarization of the young is very deplorable. In practice, I am, thank Heaven, still enough of a boy to realize that an item like this dagger gives the final touch of charm that a right-minded boy finds lacking in more peacefully equipped organizations; and enough of an Irishman to sympathize with Gleichberechtigung, ‘A Nation Once Again,’ and so on — although, of course, I sympathize more with any movement when struggling against a majority than when it has attained power.
That first day was marvelous. I believe we bathed seven or eight times, the H. J. costume, needless to say, giving place to a far more antique ‘uniform,’ both in and out of the boat, so lonely was it.
Kurt’s great preoccupation at the moment was with his ‘Sport’s Badge,’ and he was incredulous when I asked what it was.
‘I wo! But have n’t you got it in England?’ he asked. ‘Can’t a boy there win something to show he is good at sport?’
I explained that he could, of course, win medals and cups for whatever he was good at, and how he would be encouraged to specialize in this or that particular sport.
‘ Mensch! Iss ja Blödsinn! To get our badge we have to be good all round.’ And he demonstrated, with the aid of a booklet rummaged out of a boy’s pocket treasures in his discarded clothes (we were eating on the bank, that dagger serving prosaically to spread butter). ‘You see, I have passed the swimming test, and I did the hundred meters in thirteen comma five seconds. Now I have three more tests to do within a year. I tried for the high jump, but I only did a meter twenty instead of a meter thirty, and I think I shall try the long jump next time instead — and then for the other two I shall try spear-throwing and the long-distance run, I think.’
‘How do you get tested?’ I asked.
‘Oh, nearly any club does it, especially since Hitler made them all have junior sections and Sport Doctors to see we don’t take things that might strain us. Or the police, or any Army detachment, or lots of school-teachers can do it. And then when I am eighteen I can take the harder test. Have n’t you seen that bronze badge lots of people wear — even soldiers and postmen and so on in uniform? Why, it’s been going for years and years, and wir rackern uns ab to get it, and practise all the time.’
And he did hand stands and long jumps and, naked in the sunlight, threw my long-suffering tent pole to prove it.
At one of our Canoe Stations we found preparations for the Sonnenwende being made, the fire feast of the summer solstice, revived in Germany before the war and, of course, encouraged, for its Nordic character, by the present government. Kurt found himself an honored guest, while I watched as unobtrusively as possible, only reappearing when he dragged me out to leap the embers with him — and my wish was for his lasting friendship.
It was a futile little show, judged as such, the actors in the fire-kindling scene (where the evil spirits of slackness and despondency hinder the German race from relighting the Holy Fire) not knowing their parts, the girls who folk-danced having to sing the tune as well, and getting hopelessly out of breath, and the local Hitler organizer being a rotten speaker; but the earnestness of all those taking part, the shining young eyes reflecting the huge bonfire, and the feeling that one was linked not only to all Germany of to-day, but back also through history to paganism, made it more impressive than I liked to admit to myself at the time.
An advantage of writing articles on canoeing is that one sometimes meets companions as a result. I did a trip from the Lake of Geneva to the Mediterranean with an English publicschool boy who knew me only as author until we met at Montreux.
The Lake is a wonderful place to start a cruise, with water so clear that I found myself literally dizzy on first looking over the side of the canoe, as if it were magically floating on air and liable to crash at any moment; and with the heaven-storming terraces of Mont Blanc to make one forget the gritty tourist-haunted terraces of the hotels with their painted iron chairs. We camped, of course, chiefly along the French shore. The arrival of a gardechampêtre just as we got the tent up for the first time scared me, — in France camping is so little practised that one is always expecting a procès-verbal, — but he proved a gloomily amusing person, with stories of a nest of adders close to the site we had chosen, and of corpses (of canoeists, of course) washed ashore there daily.
My companion was a typical British sixth-form schoolboy, painfully ‘correct,’ allowing himself no enthusiasms for anything, no views on politics or art or literature, no visible interest in sport or the cinema or the theatre, and of course never mentioning his work. And, with all that, a quite charming companion, as restful and harmless as an English summer afternoon. They grow up suddenly in his class, usually while at their university; a long boyhood has its advantages, especially as compared with the French leap from child to young man, the French boy of the better classes not existing.
The combination of this lake and the Rhone would be one of the best trips in Europe, were it not for the short rail journey intervening; harmless as a rail section is with a collapsible, it nevertheless breaks the continuity of the mood. But the Rhone dives into the earth and disappears altogether in one place, and another gorge has never yet been navigated, so that the break is inevitable. After it, one restarts with a glorious change, from the open lake to a narrow gorge, gray limestone cliffs crowned with dismantled forts and coming right down to the water, and from a mill pond to a current of eight miles an hour or more, which makes for some awkward moments — the rapids at St. Brénaz and the bridges at Lyon, for example. We piloted a canadian through these — its occupants, an English undergraduate clothed in very scanty bathing pants and a monocle, and a German boy whose armorial signet ring was the most noticeable article of his attire, had to stop to bail out after the rapids, although we (thanks to the auxiliary deck already mentioned) had shipped hardly a drop.
The Rhone below Lyon is a river that improves on acquaintance. The first time I did it I enjoyed only the current and the towns — Vienne, with a bit of Roman road over which Pontius Pilate must have walked, and a little temple more charming than the more famous one at Nîmes, and sympathetic streets full of bright colonial uniforms; Viviers, a dying town, full of seminarians and old ladies in black with prayer books, where one feels forced to talk in whispers and hug the walls; Pont St. Esprit, with its lovely but difficult bridge (they are going to salvage the sunken barge full of the art treasures stolen by Catherine de Médicis from Arles); and of course Avignon. But now each time I go down the river its melancholy bushy banks please me more and more, and the change from France to Provence is more and more looked forward to. At Vienne the accent begins to harden, and at Valence cypresses and olives appear, and at Tarascon the air is full of the iron-clad bowls and the accent seems equally metallic and almost as dangerous.
We took the ’Little Rhone’ below Tarascon, making for the sea and the hideous village of Les Saintes Maries, bungaloid growths round one of the finest churches in France. And the ‘best’ hotel here is, I hope, the worst in Europe.
But of all my cruises perhaps the most curious was on the Vah, above and below the town of Žilina. The little river offers only about two days, but it was on my route from Budapest to the Oder, and what there is of it is very fine — angry sharp rocks (above and below water!) with castle ruins on the heights, and little herd-boys in curious felt-like costumes or bathing naked among their cattle, and women in embroidered blouses and puffed white sleeves and bell skirts of almost crinoline fullness on the ferries.
My companion was a Boy Scout of fourteen; a Jewish shopkeeper (all the merchants seem to be Jews) sent him to my hotel, where he introduced himself as ‘Boy Scout — boat — partner.’ We spent the evening constructing a vocabulary on the basis of such international words, since, although between us we spoke nine languages, there was no overlap. ‘Deck,’ for instance, meant that rapids were coming and the auxiliary deck must be added; ‘photo,’ either that I wanted to stop to photograph, or that something was coming which he thought I should like; his piano lessons helped with ‘presto’ and ‘lento’; a few Russian words that I had collected during the war proved unexpectedly useful; and gestures and grins filled up the blanks.
He is learning Esperanto for our next trip.