Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Draguigan, France

Friends: I'm dealing with a French keyboard for the first time, so this could be a mess. Every other computer we've been at, we could press a button and switch the keyboard to English. The keys didn't change their surface identity, but now the "q" and "a" keys were switched as were the "z" and "w," and a few others including the "m" and comma, so that my fingers programmed to the "qwerty" system could go about their business without fault. There's not much I can complain about in France, but the French keyboard would be one of them.

We`re now one hundred miles into Provence, crossing into the departement shortly before Avignon, one of the few cities in France that retains the walls built in Roman times to keep out invaders. The walls are just one of several features that make this city a UNESCO World Heritage site. At one time it provided residence for the Popes. of Catholicism. As we biked in from the west we past the the best-preserved aqueduct in France built by the Romans. All along the 700 miles we have biked so far from Paris, we are continually emphatically reminded that this is not the New World. Centuries old castles and cathedrals and chateaus and other sites are as much a part of the scenery as the forests and the fields. Leaving Avignon we were on roads with heavy traffic for the first time since leaving Tours a week ago. But after 40 miles or so we returned to roads with little traffic and lots of breathing room, more A-plus cycling. Jesse is continually commenting, "I love France," and I can't disagree.

Dogs are a passion of the French. People are so accustomed to taking them anywhere and everywhere, some stores have sings prohibiting them. We see many dogs every day. Some try to give chase, but none have been successful, as those prone to chasing have all been fenced in or leashed. Since leaving Craig's, each chasing dog brings him to mind, as he seems to be part dog himself, keeping an eye out the window of his house for bicyclists to chase after. His three-story, one hundred-year old house, abuts the narrow road that winds up the secluded valley he lives in. He can often hear the cyclists huffing past, if he doesn't see them. He doesn't always bother to chase after lone cyclists, but if there is a group of them, he`ll drop practically anything for the challenge of chasing them down, picking them off one after another and giving them all something to puzzle over when they end their ride--who was that guy in the jeans and straw hat with a rocket between his legs.

Craig excitedly told us about a mass conquest he'd had a couple of days before we arrived, "dusting off" a group of twenty. It took him half of the nine-mile climb to catch the first of the string of them, but he managed to pick them off one by one and beat them all to the summit
like a champion greyhound. One of them came over to him as they gathered and said,"I ought to have you arrested for how fast you flew by me." At 135 pounds Craig has the climber`s physique and the heart to match. If he had grown up in France rather than Detroit, he would have discovered his talent on the bike before he was past his prime and might have become a household name in bicycle racing circles.

Thoughts of Craig also bring to mind the array of local delicacies he served us, all washed down by a local wine that goes for 75 cents a bottle. Along with the wine was a strawberry/raspberry concentrate a local makes that added to a glass of water made a sublime drink and was my beverage of choice. As we munched on olives, Craig cooked up a batch of organic radish greens. He said," I don't have any meat for you, but I`ll make sure you get plenty of greens." There was also green in the pesto we had over pasta and then a lush green salad as course number three. That was followed by pellets of goat and sheep cheese the size of a hockey puck purchased straight from the farmer for a dollar each. Our dinner feast was concluded with pastries, also purchased from a neighbor. Craig said his girl friend Onni will do most of the cooking when she arrives in a week or so. As accomplished as she is, Craig says whenever she cooks for neighbors she tries to cook something unknown to them, as otherwise they will all tell her how she could have done it better or differently.

Yesterday we had the tastiest strawberries from a road side stand that either of us had ever
experienced. They were so sumptuous Jesse had to buy a bottle of the farmer`s apricot nectar and another of his apple juice, equally beyond compare. Last night's campsite in a patch of wild rosemary and lavender just off the road dazzled our nostrils as much as those strawberries had dazzled our taste buds. Cleopatra's boudoir could not have smelled more divine. As Jesse keeps
commenting, "Provence is just too much." Though we haven't been able to spend as much time
as we would have liked with the three sets of friends we have stayed with since leaving Paris, we've been able to cover all the ground that we had hoped to except for a slight detour to climb Mont Ventoux, one most storied climbs of the Tour de France. It is just 30 miles out of Avignon, but we would have needed an extra day to squeeze it in. Even though it is only 1,200 feet higher than Mont Aigual that we climbed, its summit is covered in snow and was recently closed to traffic. We will make the effort to return to climb it in the next month or so. Its not included in this years Tour de France, but Lance will be climbing it in the middle of June in the Dauphene Libere race. We are now less than 50 miles from Cannes. We`re both very excited.

Later, George


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