Tuesday, August 3, 2004


Friends: I began these travels three months ago, attending the world's premier film festival, then followed it by witnessing the world's premiere bike race and now, back in Paris, where it all began, I've wandered about the world's most visited cemetery, Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise, on the city's eastern perimeter. It is also one of the largest with over one million graves, including Balzac, Chopin, Modigliani, Proust and Gertrude Stein. Only one, however, has barricades around it and a guard and warnings of a fine for graffiti--that of James Douglas Morrison, 1945-1974. His simple tombstone, nestled in among a jumble of others, much older and decrepit, had two bouquets of fresh flowers on it, and others, not so fresh, strewn in front of it. There was a perpetual cluster of 20 or more paying their respects and taking photos each of the several times I checked in on it.

There was likewise a non-stop stream of people at the unofficial memorial to Princes Diana just above the underpass along the Seine where she suffered her fatal accident. At the site is a replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch erected in 1987, ten years before her death. People have taken to leaving mementos in her honor there. The Eiffel Tower is a few blocks away across the river and the Arc de Triomph an equal distance in almost the opposite direction.

There was also a small congregation at Jean Paul Sartre's and Simone de Beauvoir's shared grave at the Montparnesse Cemetery south of the Seine. Their bare-bones slab was piled with scrawled notes, including a Peanuts cartoon. Jean Seberg's grave, one section away, had a handful of stones arranged in a heart with a shell in the middle of it. It too was a minor attraction. Nor was I alone at Truffaut's gleaming black tombstone in the Montmarte
Cemetery a few miles away.

All three cemeteries were nice quiet places for a stroll and some meditation, even though there were many others doing likewise. None of their attendants knew of any cyclists buried in their confines, nor could I find any. There were no sports figures listed among the noteworthies, unless one counts Nijinksy. He is buried in Montmarte. Atop his grave is a statue of him sitting pensively on a stool, elbow on knee and chin in hand. His had a little more engraving than most, but still not much--"Ne a Kiev 28-XII-1889, Mort a Londres 8-IV-1950."

Today is the first time in my three days in Paris the temperature hasn't reached 90. Its been quite steamy, but otherwise August isn't a bad time to be visiting this city of six million, as so many of its residents are off on vacation, thinning out the traffic considerably. The average high for this time of the year isn't even 80, so few places have air-conditioning, including this Internet cafe. The parks are full, especially on Sunday. One park has an outdoor movie every night except Mondays for two months. Its schedule includes "Divine Intervention," "The Hole" and "Lagaan."

I'm down to my last few hours before returning. When I sign off, I'm headed out to the airport, about 20 miles away, to await tomorrow morning's flight. I'll be camping about six miles from terminal 2B in a nice grove of pine trees. Its one of the few times in these past 98 days that I've known ahead of time where I'd be spending the night. I scouted it out on Sunday on my way into the city, even clearing a patch of ground and knocking off the lower limbs of the surrounding trees. It will be a fine final night. I'll be using my alarm clock for this first time since Cannes.

As I was fixing, what I hope is my final flat of the trip a few blocks from the Louvre, a gentleman in suit and tie stopped to ask if I needed any help. He immediately reverted to English when he heard my pronunciation of "Bonjour." Like many of the French, he said he wasn't a big fan of Lance's, as he had his doubts about his being drug-free. But it didn't diminish his love for The Tour. One of the common scrawlings on the road and banners along the route was "Vive Le Tour." It is truly loved and embraced. It is the Super Bowl, World Series and Final Four, all
wrapped up in one three-week celebration of bicycling, France and giving one's all.

The French truly respond to the racers monumental efforts, digging as deeply within themselves as they can, to do their best. That's what endeared them all to Voeckler, who struggled so desperately to keep that yellow jersey. And that's why they don't champion Lance as heartily as they ought to. He trains so hard and shows up in such great shape, he doesn't have to struggle as painfully as everyone else. Last year he acknowledged not training as diligently as usual and suffering for it. He didn't want to experience that again, so went overboard in conditioning himself this year. He was so devastatingly strong, he made everyone else pay for his suffering of last year, and had a relatively easy time of it. I didn't mind at all being free of last year's drama.

Though it may be a while before there are any monuments erected to Lance in France, I will return with the warmest of regards for the cycling here and how well I've been received. Not once did I have to patronize a McDonald's in reaction to being snubbed or ill-treated. The French may not like some of our government's policies, but they didn't hold me responsible. Still, I was asked on several occasions if I was going to be back in time to vote against Bush. One guy even phrased it as, "Doing your duty." McDonald's doesn't seem to take any discernible abuse for being an American institution. There are more billboards advertising McDonald's than any other and not one had been graffitied or vandalized. It is far and away the most popular and prominent fast food franchise, not only in France, but in all ten countries I biked on this trip.

The French are inordinately patient and accepting. Thus "France" is the answer to question
number one of the contest, which a few of the 53 people who have responded so far guessed correctly. Only one person though has gotten more than two right. As I said, I'll be accepting responses for two more days. Thanks to all who have communicated these past few months, especially to Robert for keeping me abreast of the stateside reaction to the Tour, as well as the baseball scene and all else. Even with the Internet, its hard to keep up. Look forward to getting home, but also to returning next year.

Later, George