Saturday, May 1, 2010

Decazeville, France

Friends: It's day three of Travels with Julie to the Festival de Cannes. I met up with her at her home in St. Cyprien on the Dordogne River after flying into Bordeaux, one hundred miles west of St. Cyprien. I was six days late, delayed by the volcanic ash that closed down all of northern Europe's airports for five days.

Fortunately, we had allowed loads of time for the 500-mile ride from her home to Cannes, so we will still make it without having to push ourselves. We'll just have to take the most direct route and won't be able to meander as much as we might have otherwise. Although this is our first trip together, we knew we were fully compatible, as Julie has bicycled extensively all over the world, even wild camping at times.

Julie has had a house in France since 2003 when she and a girl friend were on a month long bicycle trip and saw a place she couldn't resist and bought it then and there. She has since sold that house and bought another in the same small town and has rehabbed it magnificently. That has been one of her sidelines back in Michigan. She even flew over her favorite contractor to help her with the job.

When I arrived at her three-story, century-old, stone house overlooking the valley, I caught her taking out the "poubelle." Julie just completed a three-month course honing her French in Paris and has been generously sharing her greatly expanded vocabulary. "Poubelle," the trash, was the first of many words and expressions that I have picked up.

Her fluency allowed us to have a full-fledged conversation yesterday with an older French man hiking the Chemin de Saint Jacques to Compestela in Spain that I biked two years ago. He had started in Puy en Velay two weeks ago and had two months to go. Even if I hadn't noticed the shell he had dangling from his backpack, I would have recognized him as a pilgrim with his walking stick and the great glow brightening his face.

Julie and I have been following rivers as much as possible to avoid the hills. We spent most of yesterday along the Lot and will have it as a companion for the next day or so. It will take us to the Gorges de Tarn, the one sight that Julie was most eager to bicycle. The only specific destination I wanted to include on our route was the Musée de Insolite, something I had recently read about in Lonely Planet's cycling guide to France. This museum of strange and bizarre sculptures included some bicycles. Since the book was written in 2001, we weren't certain the museum was still in existence, as they tend to come and go. I've gone out of my way to visit bicycle museums here in France that were no more.

When Julie and I arrived at the small town near the Musée we asked if it still existed. The caretaker of the campgrounds said it was just two kilometers up the road, just beyond a tunnel. He warned us not to take any pictures, as the owner would demand money from us.

He needn't have warned us, as there were two large signs forbidding photography of the sculptures mounted on the cliff side behind his home and museum without paying for it. It was two euros to enter the museum of several rooms and a large courtyard that included a bus sawn in half with the heads of pigs sticking out the windows. There was also a car whose body had been flattened hanging from a wire. Computer monitors were embedded in the cliff side. A scantily glad woman mannequin dangled from a high wire above it all. Garbage galore was artistically arranged. And amongst them were various bicycles and bicycle parts. One of the bikes was accompanied by the sign Jour de Fete. I asked the owner if he was a fan of Jacques Tati. He said he was born in 1949, the year of Tati's first movie, the bicycle postman movie, "Jour de Fete," his favorite movie and one of his inspirations.

Both Julie and I were most happy to have made the effort to find this place. It was a great discovery. It had us repeating our mantra of how much we enjoy France.

Later, George

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