Saturday, April 29, 2017

Barge Date: 29-04-2017 

How we named our barge — and a little of its history

Naming a boat can be more difficult than naming a child. At least a child is born nameless. 

Our boat was named Rouge Corsair when we bought it, but we quickly learned that two books had been written about it and that at the time its name was Lionel. After we read both books, Tim felt that we should go back to naming it Lionel whereas I thought we should come up with our own creative name — something we would agree on. I suggested many (too many) names; some were meaningful to me (connection to Belgian or French culture, songs etc) but unfamiliar to Tim. In the meantime — it took months — we learned the following about our barge:

Built in 1920 or 22 in the Netherlands, it was used as a bunker boat at one time. No idea of its original name.

In 1982, it was purchased by Hart and Melodie Massey, a Canadian couple, through a Paris broker, Alphonse Dufresne, while it was moored at the St. Cloud marina in Paris. The previous owners, Corinne and Jean-Luc Dandurand, a French couple, called the boat Pijarro (or Pizarro) from what we can gather from a hand-written note by Massey.

In Travels with Lionel, Hart Massey describes his own experience naming the barge: “We had considered the possibilities at great length, rejecting all the trickier ones, and finally settling on Lionel, the name of my brother who, we thought, would have liked the idea. It has the advantage of being the same in French and English”. So Lionel it was for the Masseys who kept the boat until November 1991.

We had no history for the barge after that until July 2014 when it was owned by a French couple from Normandy, Jaky and Lili Hours, who had named it Marie-Suzanne

Noel and Jackie Parry (he from Australia and she from the UK) purchased the barge from them in 2014 and kept it for 2 years. They named it Rouge Corsair after a favorite horse. 

As we were debating the merits of various names, someone miraculously came to the rescue. 

A French woman, Danielle Foglia, contacted us after she discovered some pictures of her previously treasured boat that she called "notre cher bateau, ce bon vieux et beau bateau" (our dear boat, that good old and beautiful boat). She explained that she and her husband Michel had purchased Lionel from the Masseys in 1991 and sold it to the Hours in 2007, so we were able to account for those missing 16 years and we learned that during all that time the boat had retained its name of Lionel. Danielle Foglia wrote: “Le bateau était baptisé Lionel par Hart en mémoire de son frère aviateur, en service commandé, et malheureusement descendu sur les côtes de France par les Allemands… Pour nous il était hors de question de changer le nom par respect et honneur pour ce combattant !” (The boat had been named Lionel by Hart in memory of his brother who was a pilot on an official assignment, and unfortunately shot down over the coast of France by the Germans… For us, to change the name was out of the question out of respect and in honor of this fighter!

This email, plus some old blog posts and pictures sent very kindly by Danielle Foglia (we learned that she had hand-painted the name — see below) convinced me that Lionel had to be at least part of the name, since it had been the boat’s name for a total of 25 years!

The name we finally agreed on, and which now features prominently and proudly on the bow and stern of our barge is Lionel d’Antan, which means Lionel of Yesteryear. 

“d’antan” is my personal literary addition; in French, it is a direct reference to a 15th century poem by François Villon (Ballad of the Ladies of Time Past) with the refrain: “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?" = "But where are the snows of yesteryear?” 

If you want to know the whole story, the English word “yesteryear” was created by Dante Gabriel Rossetti when he translated Villon’s poem into English in 1869. And, more information still, the refrain of the poem is featured in D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 (Referring to a man named Snowden, Yossarian asks "where are the snowdens of yesteryear?” which he translates into "où sont les neigedens d'antan?”), and even in Bob Dylan's album The Times They are a-Changin' (« Ah where are the forces of yesteryear ? »)

There are a lot more references to this refrain in English and other languages, from Cervantes to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, from Jack Kerouac to Umberto Ecco, from Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds, to Mad Men, and Downton Abbey. 

Poetry survives, even in translation. And so does our boat, who managed to let us know what name it wanted.

by Marianne


  1. Thanks for the references to Villon - I noted one comment that the entire poem was almost untranslatable, so much was the personality of Villion embedded in the use of language. The only line with a clear translation to English was the one you quote. Cool! I was wondering about the addition to Lionel's name.

    Wonderful to have such a link back to the early days of recreational barging. Do you have both of Massey's books?

    And in passing, we had looked closely (by Internet) at Marie-Suzzane in 2013 when we were looking for our barge. Lovely vessel.

  2. Doing some winter reading I see. Yes, we were able to obtain both books. It is nice to re-read after as season on the boat. There is still a lot of Massey on this barge. His wife died just a year or two ago and we actually contacted their son to see if he might have other info or pictures from their time on the water. Nothing yet.