Thursday, May 6, 2010

Notre Dame de la Rouviere, France

Friends: I had my first rain-free night of sleep in almost a week camped out in the attic of Craig's century old stone house last night with the church bells chiming the hour right outside my window. I could have slept in the guest room the floor below or on a couch by the fire on the first floor, but I preferred the attic, as mounted on the wall was a bike bearing the name of Louisson Bobet, three-time winner of the Tour de France in the '50s and France's greatest cyclist until Jacques Anquetil came along a decade later and became the first to win the race five times.

Craig and I visited Bobet's grave and a museum devoted to him in St. Meen-le-Grand, his home town, in Brittany on our way to Mont St. Michel three years ago. After our visit Craig wrote to the museum offering the bike, but he never heard back. Now it is the crown jewel of Craig's corral of ten bikes here in France. Another is a Peugeot PX-10 similar to the one Bernard Thevenet rode to two Tour victories in the '70s. That one Craig still rides.

It is his Nishiki though that he will be riding to Cannes. It was the first bike to take up habitation in his house here when he bought it fifteen years ago, somewhat on impulse when he and Onni were visiting a friend who lived in the area. That is a common affliction. Not a few of those, even before Peter Mayle, have written books about it. I just finished "A Home in France" by Ann Barry, a "New Yorker" writer. In 1984 she bought a house in the departement Lot between where Julie and Craig have homes. Twelve years later she succumbed to the urge to write about it.

Like all such books she speaks glowingly of her working class neighbors who continually come to her rescue. A book I would like to read is one by those people who befriend their American or British interlopers and how helpless they are and their butchery of the language and alien ways. Craig could be just the man to write it, as he is thoroughly accepted into his small community and well knows the ways and thoughts of his French neighbors. It was heart-warming to see the genuine happiness so many people greeted him with after his six-month sojourn in America.

Among those was the pony-tailed bike shop owner in Le Vigan. We paid him a visit to see if he could fix my wobbly left pedal. After he detached it from the bike and took a look at its innards, he said a part was broken that could not be fixed. He did not have a similar Shimano clip-in pedal, and his alternative was one I had heard bad things about. I'll just borrow a pair of old-fashioned pedals with toe clips from Craig. Before we left the shop, Cyril, the owner, invited Craig to take a ride up Mont Aigoul with a few friends when he returns from Cannes.

On the way back from Le Vigan Craig suffered a flat tire, something Julie and I had been spared. The delay caused us to be caught by a light rain, something we anticipated and almost wanted, so Craig could test out a new heavy-duty, first-rate poncho he'd acquired from an English company a couple of years ago. It draped over his handlebars and kept his legs perfectly dry. Like most things Craig purchases, he thoroughly researched it. It met all his expectations.

Getting rained on caused me no concern knowing I had a dry place to return to. We lit up the fire and draped damp clothes all around it. My shoes and booties and gloves and tights and laundered clothes all needed drying. There was a faint aroma of coconut to the fire, as Craig had brought ten coconut shells from America to burn. Craig is determined not to let anything go to waste and tries to find a use for anything he comes upon, even if it means taking up space in his luggage and flying it across the ocean only to be burned. It is just one of his many idiosyncrasies that makes him such a fascinating fellow.

Craig had flown over on Swiss Air for the first time. The highlight was the chocolate they offered. I came via Air France. For me the highlight was the vast variety of French newspapers they offered, including the sports daily "L'Equipe." There was a rack of them in the terminal at O'Hare for our perusal before we boarded the plane.

Craig is just now tending to his final house-opening and packing chores. Then we'll begin the climb out of here. A sign warned of a barrier six kilometers away. No one could tell us if we could get by on our bikes, so I rode out this morning to investigate. A 100-foot section of road had washed away, but there was a narrow path along the cliff that we can walk our bikes along to get beyond it. It will be a mid-afternoon departure, but we'll still be able to get forty miles or so down the road and spend the night in our tents somewhere lost in the French countryside, just where we long to be.

Later, George

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