Our first weekend after school started, there was to be a rubber ducky race down the Doubs. Of course, we couldn’t miss it! We read online that one could not use artificial propulsion on their ducks – we figured that meant no motors…. so we got excited about the other things we could do. It was kind of a crazy morning since we were trying to do French and American homework and go to the store for final school supplies.
The French requirements are absolutely insane when it comes to school supplies. They have to have a specific kind of notebook, with a specific type of cover, even the color is specified. Earlier in the week, I went to three stores searching for an orange cover for one of Callie’s small notebooks (cahiers). I also unwittingly covered Callie’s textbook with an old paper bag. We even spent some special time decorating it with water colors and she almost got laughed out of the class, poor thing! The amount of stuff they need is ridiculous. Each of them has (among other things) highlighters, paints, markers, colored pencils, glue sticks, pencils, erasers, folders, notebooks, gym sneakers, scissors, pencil sharpeners, tissue boxes, photos of their heads and multiple little zipper bags to hold all the paraphernalia. I spent over 200 Euros on school supplies (and I didn’t buy any new backpacks) – that’s worth a weekend in the Alps, folks!
But, back to the ducks. We were running a bit behind schedule and had to race to soup up our duckies and place them on the line with all the other contestants. Each duck cost 2 Euros with the proceeds going to benefit UNICEF. We each had our own theories on the best way to get the duck down the river. Griffin and I were on the same team, we were going for a sticker-covered duck armed with Styrofoam egg pontoons and a sail. Zander was on his own and decided on a platform plus sail design. Callie and Daddie went the stealth route – putting some rocks on a sail-like plastic bag. Their theory was the weight of the rocks would drag the bag under the water – but not down to the bottom of the river – oh no! The weight would sink the bag just enough to then be caught by the faster flowing current that runs under the surface of the Doubs. It was soon readily apparent that our ducks were freaks, not fitting in with the other plasticine contestants, but we didn’t care – they were fun to make! Most people didn’t do anything at all though there were a few with cool paintings or feathers on them. We figured it must be because we were crazy Americans, plus we were psyched since we thought they might actually have a chance to win! There were soooo many people at this thing. The press afterwards http://abcnatation.com/natation/franche-comte/25/anb/ claimed 1500 ducks were launched and there were over 1000 spectators. I have no idea if that is true since my estimation skills are poor but it was very crowded.
We found a spot at the edge of the Doubs to watch the start of the race. There were 3 kayakers and a guy in a wet suit all helping to pull it off – they carefully corralled all the ducks into the starting gate. This took about half an hour since they were trying to keep them all contained. Of course, we were anxiously watching for our special duckies. As more time passed, I realized ours were missing. I saw some ducks with balloons on them but not our special sail ducks. I went to the organizer and asked and he said that it wasn’t fair to have a sail – because it might make us win! Well, isn’t that the point? I thought a sail would be a natural propulsion – who knew they considered pontoons artificial? So, it seems they ripped off our extras and tossed in the ducks only. Well, I then argued (see, I must be getting better at French) why do you allow balloons to be attached? Isn’t that a sail too?? It’s not fair! The organizer shrugged and walked away – bastard! I delivered the sad news and the kids – showing again their resilience, rolled with it.
And, they were off – it was soon apparent that the balloon duckies were kicking some duckie butt in the race and had a major unfair advantage. I was comforted to see that, after a few minutes, the kayakers popped the balloons and tossed those babies back into the main pack. It was a very, very, slow race – the Doubs is no river wild, but it was fun to just stroll along with the crowd, following the pack down the river. I was pretty sad to see no one was encouraging their duck along. I am always looking for venues in which to scream excitedly, but this crowd was pretty subdued. I did try yelling a few: ‘Allez, Allez, les canards!’ but no one picked up on it. Lame-o’s! As we strolled along, it became very clear that this race was not to be even remotely fair. The boaters were totally focused on keeping the pack within the designated zone (using swim lane markers) and often pushed the duckies, tossed around escapees and pushed stragglers to the front. It was all in good fun, and for charity so I had to try to swallow my competitive urges. The slow pace gave us time to stop and watch the crazies at the skate park as well as wonder at the wild basil growing along the river bank (I never knew basil grew wild!) When we joined the crowds at the finish we were quite amused since the ducks seemed to want to avoid it entirely. Perhaps they too felt all the cheating would cheapen any supposed victory? The real problem was that the line did not stretch over the entire width of the water and the current was pushing the ducks right around it. After the winners were announced (needless to say, we weren’t among them) we got to watch the amusing sight of the floating staff attempting to dock the ducks. There were some gaps in their bouyant rope and the little quackers just kept on escaping though them and bobbing on towards the ocean. Run free ducks!!!!
I just have to close this blog with that Sesame Street classic song. If you don’t know it – I truly pity you. I grew up on Sesame Street and totally remember watching this very clip on TV as a kid. Man, I love you tube!