Monday, May 14, 2012


Over the winter my friend Hubert in Le Caylar conducted a search for all the bicycle museums in France.  No one had compiled such a list, so he sent out a request to the various French cycling organizations and some of the larger clubs asking them to name what cycling museums they knew.   He came up with fifteen.  I had visited eight of them over the years--in Plouay, St. Etienne, Domazin, Saint-Meen-Le-Grand, Moret-sur-Loing, Le Fresnaye sur Chedouet, Trois-Fontaines L'Abbey  and Notre Dame de Cyclist. 

One of the seven I hadn't visited was fifteen miles beyond Avignon in the town of Pernes-les-Fontaines.  It had to be a new museum as when I  visited Pernes several years ago to pay my respects to Paul de Vive, Velocio, the father of touring cycling, who was born there in 1852, there was no bicycle museum at the time.   There was a plaque on the house he was born in and the street of the house had been named in his honor.  The town's sports complex is also named for him and has a statue of him.  It made sense that the town would have a bicycle museum, as France is a country of museums.  One never knows when one will come upon a museum commemorating the Resistance.  Ive passed three of them already on this trip.

While I was in Avignon I stopped at the tourist office to confirm there was a bicycle museum in Pernes. No one knew anything about it so they called its tourist office.  It turned out that it was a special exhibition at the town's City Hall from April until October.  It was mid-afternoon, so I could not linger in Avignon to see its many attractions.  I had seen them in years past, but they are worth seeing again, particularly the chateau that was home to seven Popes in the 1400s thanks to a French Cardinal who was named Pope and didn't wish to relocate to the Vatican.  Avignon is the only city other than the Vatican to have such a distinction, though Chicago nearly joined the club during World War II. The Pope at the time considered relocating the Vatican to a palatial Catholic retreat on the outskirts of Chicago.

I arrived in Pernes-les-Fontaines with ample time to give the bicycle exhibition a thorough look.  The young man overseeing it gave me a personal tour.  The fifty bikes on display and various jerseys and  posters came from the personal collections of two men.  There was a heavy emphasis on Velocio.  At the entry to the exhibit was a bust of Velocio.   Down the hall way to the four rooms  comprising the exhibit were a series of photos of Velocio, a bald-headed man with a flamboyant mustache and sparkling eyes and smile, bearing a resemblance to another who inspired many, Gurdjieff.

Among Velocio's contributions to the world of cycling was the invention of the derailleur.  One of the bikes had an original version of it--a y-shaped prong that hung from the chain stay over the chain just in front of the freewheel, allowing one to push the chain from one cog to another.  The museum also included the first tandem, manufactured in Dijon in 1899.  The stoker in the secondary seat also steered the bike via cables attached to the handlebars that extended to the front wheel.  The handlebars for the person sitting up front were at his hips, rather than extending in front of him, making for a somewhat precarious perch.

Most of the bikes were over a hundred years old, but there were also a handful of modern day bikes as well.  One was a touring bike that had been ridden from Paris to Beijing in 2008 with a large group sponsored by a French touring organization.  There was also a bike designed last year by Raymond Martinez in Aix-en-Provence, not too far away, with a pair of cranks and chains on either side of the bike that enabled the bike to go 80 miles per hour with the person aboard spinning only one hundred revolutions per minute.

After my personal tour, I gave everything a second more thorough inspection.  There was a yellow jersey from the 2010 Paris-Nice race signed by Contador before he was suspended.  Lance was acknowledged in a poster from the 2003 Centennial Tour de France.  Most interesting was a poster for the bicycle movie "Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles" by Jean-Pierre Jeunet starring Jean-Paul  Rouve.

I had a nice conversation with the young man tending to the exhibition afterwards.  He did not realize there were so many bicycle museums in France.  He didn't actually live in the country, but rather in a French territory on an island off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.  It is one of eleven territories or protectorates belonging to France.  Hubert had mentioned them, as their residents were all entitled to vote in the presidential election. They include islands in the South Pacific and the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean and one lone island off the coast of Canada along with Guiana in South America.  One small island in the Caribbean is inhabited mostly by the wealthy.  It voted 87 percent for Sarkozy.

With Avignon the weather turned warm as I cycled through Provence on the home stretch to Cannes.   For the first time in ten days the handful of mini-Kit Kat chocolate bars I had brought along melted.  It cooled enough at night though for them to resolidify.  With the temperature in the 80s I greatly appreciated the shade provided by the magnificent plane trees Napoleon planted along the roads, another of those small amenities that make cycling in France so exceptional.

I continually marvel at the lush rolling countryside so meticulously maintained.  The one hundred mile stretch to Le Caylar was particularly exceptional on narrow roads with no traffic.  When I visited Le Caylar last year I made my approach from the east.  Coming in from the west gave me a wholly different perspective.  It is nestled around a peak that looked like a former volcano, though it wasn't.  Ten miles before town I passed a prominent Buddhist Temple that has hosted the Dalai Lama three times, once for a week-long conference that attracted people from all over Europe.

France offers up one pleasant surprise after another.  Its not just chateaus and cathedrals and museums and wine.  After descending the Cevannes from Craig and Onni's I passed a large bamboo forest that is a tourist attraction.  I had read about it in one of the nine books on France I had brought along--"French Dirt," by Richard Goodman, a 40-year old American who spent a year in a town of 211 in the vicinity and started up a garden as a way to integrate himself into the community.

I made it the first book of the nine I brought along, all on France,  to honor my friend Janina, an ardent gardener who I had helped before I left saw down a few trees and dead tree limbs on her suburban estate.  Working together she expanded my French vocabulary and appreciation of French culture.  Among her many talents, she is a long-time art critic for Chicago's "Reader" and "New City" and also teaches film and women studies at Columbia college.  She is as handy with the chain saw as she is with the pen, and the paint brush for that matter.  We had both spent a considerable part of our youths playing in the forest and sawing down trees.  We had a marvelous time reliving the fun times of our adolescence.

I brought along enough books to read one a week other than the two weeks during Cannes and the three weeks of The Tour de France.  I finished off my second book, "Seductive Journey," yesterday sitting in a small park in Frejus twenty miles before Cannes, as I was well ahead of schedule.  It was a highly informative study of the reaction of American travelers to France starting with Jefferson up to 1930 and the Jazz Age. In the early years those venturing to Europe never knew if their ship would survive the journey across the Atlantic or how long it would take.  For a long time Paris was a sex destination for American travelers.  Twain and Jefferson and Howells and others all expressed dismay over the prominence of prostitution and the acceptance of adultery.  Abigail Adams couldn't find anything to like about France other than balloon launches.  She was disturbed over the French lack of family values, reflected in the number of children the French had, three or four, compared to the eight or nine of American families at the time.

I could have arrived at Cannes yesterday, but made yesterday a reading and rest day, holding my mileage to 42 miles and having one last night of wild camping at my usual spot near the summit of the three-mile climb from Frejus to Cannes.  My twelve-day ride to Cannes totalled 940 miles, three hundred more than the direct route, but every extra mile was worth it.  It was the  least direct and most enjoyable ride of the nine I have taken to Cannes.  The totals for my last three days are 83 miles to before Bonnieux on May 11, 67 miles to before Salernes on the 12th and 42 miles to before Cannes yesterday.  Kathy informs me that I still rank third overall in the competition but first for Illinois.  I could fall behind during the next two weeks though when my mileage will be just ten a day from the campground into Cannes to the most distance of the 50 theaters showing films.

Now I have twelve days of wall-to-wall cinema to immerse myself in.  It too will be most thought-provoking and will enhance my appreciation and understanding of the world and the creatures that inhabit it.

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