Thursday, August 7 - Conflans and Back to Paris

Having made the decision to forego the excursion to Versailles, we rose a little later and had a leisurely breakfast made all the more languid by our view of cloud-filled skies and a persistent rainfall.  At 9:00 sharp we met our final guide for the cruise, an energetic and knowledgeable lady named Sylvia, and off we went into the intermittent showers.

There are only two main streets in Conflans St. Honorine, both of them running parallel to the Seine.  As we traipsed down the one bordering the river, we were treated to the sight of posters advertising a local exhibition of photographs depicting the participation of the commercial barges and their crews during the Great (or First World) War.  Each poster displayed a different picture from this turbulent time, spotlighting the myriad uses to which these ubiquitous craft were put: hospital ships, transport of the wounded, barracks – you name it.

Our first stop was at a barge that has been turned into a parish church and way station for (mostly Asian) refugees.  One of the most unexpected things to all of us was the actual depth of these floating facilities, which effectively allowed (in this case at any rate) for the actual feeling of the nave of a church, complete with stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross.

Returning in the direction from which we had come, some of our group elected to return to the Neptune while the rest of us headed with Sylvia up the hill toward the Montjoie Tower (or Tour Montjoie), an ancient fortification ideally situated to scan both up- and downriver for the approach of enemies in the 11th century when it was constructed.  The latter part of its existence had been devoted to much less warlike pursuits, as it was eventually converted for use as a priory housing ten to twelve monks. 
After a brief sojourn in the peaceful small garden below the crumbling keep, we continued higher up the hill to a house whose exterior has been magnificently restored.  Once the residence of a wealthy businessman named Gévelot, it has since been ceded to the town, which is continuing the process of completing the restoration with an eye toward converting it into a museum.  Before arriving here we stopped in the diminutive church built in honor of St. MacLou (I know, I’ve never heard of him either!).  Facing the Church from the street is a modern sculpture of St. Honorine, patron saint of the city, a young lady of the Middle Ages who made the then-unheard-of decision to defy her father, who wanted her to marry a non-Christian nobleman.  This insolence cost Honorine her life, after which her body was thrown into the river.  She is now revered as the patroness of women in childbirth and of prisoners.

About halfway back down the hill toward the ship, we were given the option to either return to the Neptune or go through one of the tiny alleys up to the other main thoroughfare to take advantage of the few shops that might be open during this height of the European holiday season.  (Something to think about the next time we decide to head this direction!)  Noriko and I decided to brave the shops (surprise!) and so wended our way slowly back toward the Seine, taking a few minutes to purchase a lovely scarf in a small boutique.
Once back aboard, I found Gary totally engaged in a film about the life and death of Marie Antoinette, and I was sucked into this story of the 14-year-old tragically destined to be the last Queen of France. Just before we were scheduled to depart Conflans, the two buses that had carried our compatriots to Versailles returned with the half-day tour crowd, who managed to re-board just before the heavens opened up yet again.  Then it was time to cast off and head back up the river to Paris and our last evening onboard.

We had a lovely lunch with Kent and Noriko and then repaired to the cabin for a nap and packing.  Lionel had promised some musical entertainment for us after dinner this evening, so we know it would be a later-than-usual bedtime with an early breakfast prior to debarking for the trip back to DFW.
We arrived back at our original berth in the 15th Arrondissement at about 6:45 p.m., and almost immediately the few remaining survivors of the all-day Versailles tour came back on board.  The full passenger complement piled into the Lounge for our final briefing with Lionel, during which he did a dramatic reading of the alphabet according to Viking in Paris.

Dinner that evening with our new friends was bittersweet – we had just started to tap into the depths of companionship, but the next day we would all be headed off in different directions.  There were promises of continued contact via email (and also via this blog) that we could only hope would be kept in light of real-world stresses and obligations.
The majority of the guests chose to return to the Lounge to enjoy the final soirée that Lionel had arranged for us, one that was designed to evoke and imprint in our minds all the sights, smells and sounds of France, and particularly Paris, in which we had been immersed for the past seven days and nights.  An attractive trio of young singers and an excellent pianist diverted us with everything from Erik Satie to Cole Porter, from La boheme to Crazy for You.  Little did we know when we decided to attend this delightful event that our friend (?) Maurice had cooked up a little side show of his own.  As we were preparing to exit the Lounge before the last set, we were stopped by one of the crew with the news that Lionel was looking for us; more specifically, for me.

Dear, darling Maurice had informed Lionel that a rather, you should pardon the expression, vocal, subset of the guests had been pestering me to sing after I had participated in the singing of the National Anthem at Omaha Beach, and this seemed to him and them the perfect venue for their wishes to be granted.  Never mind that I was in the same clothes that I had worn all day to truck around Conflans in the rain (including oh-so-sensible Easy Spirit walking shoes, the height of fashion).  Oh, no – they were not to be denied.  So Lionel hustled me back to the improvised green room that the young performers had been using and the baritone (what a cutie, and a voice to match!) and I rifled through the file of tunes that they had at their disposal.  We quickly settled on Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and I was shoved out to the front of the crowd with a microphone slapped into my hand.  All I can say is, thank goodness for the red wine that accompanied dinner – it took care of any jitters I might have experienced AND served to relax the physical apparatus so that my contribution to the evening’s festivities was, according to reports, great!

At the conclusion of the concert, there was one last chance to go topside to watch the Eiffel Tower do its nightly shimmering dance, and then it really was time to go below and attempt to sleep before the early rising that awaited us. 

Until then…

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