Travel log Maigret's journeys in France
Le charretier de "La Providence"
Paray-le-Frésil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - 2 - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
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Dizy Marne(51) - Champagne-Ardenne
The village
There really is not too much to tell about Dizy. It's a village like thousands of others in France, nothing remarkable, nothing spectacular.
I didn't even experience any impressive adventures. Except� finding the lock was not effortless.
Coming from Epernay I drove into Dizy and went to scout the village. Because there was really nothing to see I decided to go and look for the lock #14 from Le charretier de 'La Providence'.
This couldn't be difficult I considered overconfident and I didn't bother to ask for directions.
The weather was splendid that day, warm, sunny. I reflected this would create a totally different outlook on the surroundings than Maigret had in the novel.
Municipal Hall of Dizy
Apparently there must have been some heavy rains the previous days. The non-hardened roads were still drenched and muddy.
It was that type of road along the river Marne I chose to drive on for my search.
You know how it is, you enter the muddy road and after some hesitation - can I do this, can my car do this? - you start progressing, careful but with enough power to overcome the most sludgy parts.
It seems to work and you go on, even when conditions deteriorate, you keep thinking that going back is maybe worse than going on. The road narrows, the muddy tracks become deeper. You think your goal can't be much further, no point in turning back. After the next bend in the road the target is still not insight. Turning back is no option anymore, the pathway became too narrow. You have to go on!
It's for sure, now there's no more way back, disaster will strike. Murphy's law!
And it does! The next puddle was too deep or you were too wary, but you're stuck!
Meanwhile you are kilometers away from anyone and anywhere.
Finally the lock
Fortunately a few hundred meters further a farmer is working his field on a tractor. Let's hope he will be forthcoming and willing to help.
He is! After telling me lengthily how stupid I have been - which I accept meekly - he turns his tractor and drives to my car. I follow him over the grimy field, my pants covered with dirt up to my knees, and when I arrive by my vehicle he has already connected a cable. He pulls me cautiously to a stretch of road where I'm not in danger of being grounded again and he's even so kind to tell me that this path doesn't go to the lock of Dizy at all.
I follow his directions and ten minutes later I'm at the lock.
Dizy and surroundings from the air
The similarity of the picture I shaped by myself while reading the novel Le charretier de 'La Providence' with the reality of the site is astonishing. Apart from the weather conditions everything is just how I expected it to be.
Maybe it's a lot quieter. There are no barges. There's nobody in sight.
I'm amazed by the tiny dimensions of the lock.
Canal latéral de la Marne, in the distance the lock of Dizy
We have that notion of the size of modern barges, it seems they are incomparable with the vessels that were used in 1931. They must have been really small. I guess that even if the lock had been twice the size it is now, an average modern river barge would not fit in it. No wonder these canals are only used by pleasure crafts.
Pleasure craft in the lock at Dzy
Simenon in Dizy
When Simenon moved from Belgium to France in December 1922, he went to live in Paris. After a short while he knew this city inside-out. But, he didn't know France at all. He had hardly been anywhere in the French countryside, never visited the province. So, in 1924 he decided to go on a journey to see the country.
Because he had little money and couldn't afford to buy even a used car he had to find other means of travel.
Being afraid that traveling by train wouldn't give him an opportunity to really discover the country, he bought a second-hand "youyou", a 5 meter long rowing-boat puffed-up with a light outboard motor, "le Ginette".
During the next years, in the company of his wife Tigy, the servant-girl Boule and his dog Olaf, he will scour the country with this small boat. After some time the French waterways will hold no more secrets for him.
After a while he is convinced that the authentic life in France is only to be found along the edge of the watercourses. He writes:
"The villages and towns, in general, only show their behind to the highways. It is towards the waterside that they show their face."
It explains why rivers, canals, locks and the people implicated, will play such an important role in Simenon's work.

Also in 1924 he discovers Dizy, a spot that he will always recollect in a kind of ambiguous way.
In 1931 he writes about it in an article "Une France inconnue":
From this article it becomes obvious that these memories will provide the basic elements for the novel Le charretier de 'La Providence'.
Simenon in his boat "Le Ginette"
Simenon's Travel Log
A name without any meaning for the people that live on land. But a name that is known to all bargemen. There are quite some names like that: Vitry-le-Fran�ois, Saint-Jean-de-Losnes, the lock of La Mulati�re, Hoeilley-Coton, and others�

Dizy is a small village, two kilometers from Epernay, but it is above all the place where the barges leave the river Marne to enter the canal.
A lock, far from the village, three bar-groceries where they sell fuel oil, gasoline, waxes and Norwegian tar. Then, a long stretch of canal on which, almost always, a group of about fifty barges are moored. The pilots are there, they await the vessels going downstream. For it is necessary to have a pilot to descend the Marne, as well as for going upstream.
Here's a rock just below the surface that can tear open a ship's hull. There's a current that will push you against the pier of a bridge. There's a bedding of gravel.
Well, a single barge transports for almost a million Francs of sugar that can be liquefied by the water oozing in through a tiny crack. This happened on the Marne. The people of the neighboring villages came with jars to scoop up the sweetened water.

But, it's Dizy I want to speak about. About Dizy under a despairing rain on a Sunday evening in April.
The day before we washed our clothing and linen, hoping for a beam of sunlight to dry it, then the rain prevented that. We had almost nothing to wear. It was cold.
The servant-girl "Boule" and Simenon's dog "Olaf" on board of his second, much larger, boat "Ostrogoth"
We fern since the early morning like fanatics in order to reach the canal, the first big challenge on our journey.

Ten o'clock in the evening, we wanted to light the lantern. We discover that we lost half of it and that we only have the red ship's lantern to use. At the same time someone notes that the matches are wet, unusable.
Everything is wet. Exhaustion makes the muscles hurt. The tent is soaked with water. Besides, it is impossible to set it up on the tow path. On board remains a piece of bread, some corned-beef and a can of green beans.
How to heat it up? We'll have to eat it cold.

All four of us stretch out, pell-mell on the mattresses.
An astonishing rain!
We sleep.
The canvass lightens. Day is breaking. It rains even harder. As if to discourage us even more, a narrow-gauge train passes by on the nearby work-site and the driver shelters himself under a huge umbrella.

Nobody gets up. Nobody speaks. We don't even know what time it is. We immerse ourselves in a humid and sticky idleness.
- Well, shouldn't we get up inside there, at last ?
It's a friendly woman from Brussels, the bargeman's wife of the boat that is right above us.
- You're going to be sick, you know? Come aboard to warm yourselves!

It's a rather old boat! Loaded with sand that is covered-up with a tarpaulin on which one walks cautiously.
The lock at Dizy and the chalky hills of the Champagne
The woman lights a fire in the pilots' post. She puts our laundry to dry. Hot coffee. Rum.
- And where are you going like that?
- Marseilles, Bordeaux, Paris!
She calls for her husband, a very small man with the looks of a spaniel.
- But you will have to go on the Rhône!
- Yes!
- And on the sea!
- Yes!
They are perplexed. They confess only to be at ease on the canals. Even on the Seine there are tug-boats making waves and that frightens them.

I only have white pants that are drying in the cabin, under the crackling rain. The Brussels lady irons a pair for me because I have to go to Epernay to collect my mail.
White pants, a black oilskin coat, on my feet galoshes and, on my head, an all wet Basque beret. I plod through the mud. I arrive in town where everyone turns to look at me.
The road... The canal and the barges... Really, I have this feeling that I am coming home. ... I feel lighter... Time passes. The lamp gives hardly any light. And always this gushing rain. At midnight we retire.

It doesn't rain anymore. Clouded skies. The chalky hills of the Champagne are of a livid white and the vines are only shriveled wooden boughs.
From: "Une France inconnue", George Simenon, 1931. In: Simenon, Mes apprentissages, Reportages, 1931 - 1946. Omnibus, 2001. Translation: Guido de Croock.
Go to Dizy - 2
Paray-le-Fr�sil - Ch�teauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - 2 - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
Home Page - summary of works - Travel log (main page)
- Municipal Hall of Dizy: Dizymairie, website of Dizy: :
- Dizy and surroundings from the air: Website v.d. Club de Parapente R�mois
- Photos Simenon in "Le Ginette" and Boule on the "Ostrogoth", from Archive Simenon, out of: Pierre Assouline, Simenon Biographie, Julliard, Paris, 1992.
- All other photos: G. de Croock