Monday, May 7, 2012

Degagnac, France

I thought I might be up late last night watching election returns, but the moment the polls closed at eight p.m. the results were tabulated and it was announced that the Socialist candidate Hollande had defeated the incumbent Sarkozy 52 per cent to 48  per cent, the first time an incumbent president had been defeated in several decades.

Unfortunately, I wasn't in front of a television, as I was still on my bike, more than ten miles from meeting up with my friend Yvon at his girl friend's house in Degagnac.    Even though I had biked late the previous four nights, averaging over 90 miles a day, I began the day a little over 100 miles from Yvon.  It was no sure thing I could make it before dark, as I was up on the Massif Central with lots of long climbs.  My average speed the previous two days was two miles per hour slower than it had been the first two days in the flatlands.  But I was most determined to reach Yvon and Colette by Sunday night, hardly stopping to rest. Another day of cold rain helped keep me going to stay warm.

The only evidence that it was election day was the open door and small gathering of people outside every mairie (town hall) of the small towns I passed through.  Unlike America, there was no cluster of  signs promoting many different candidates.  For one, no other office was being contested, nor were there any stray issues to vote upon.  This was a presidential election pure and simple.  And there was enough interest that nearly 80 per cent of the population voted.

I unknowingly had a close encounter with Hollande, as I passed through the city where he is presently mayor, Tulle, early in the afternoon.  There was a huge gathering of press campers with satellite dishes on top and cameramen and journalists lingering about.  I figured some dignitary must have been visiting, not realizing that the dignitary was Hollande himself.  I was able to see them all on the news later that night as Hollande addressed the country before heading off to Paris later that night to immediately assume the presidency.

Though I began the day with somewhat fatigued legs, having biked over 350 miles in the previous three-and-a-half days since arriving in France, the anticipation of meeting up with Yvon gave me all the strength I needed.  My thought was filled with the many fine times and the many different places we had met up over the past eight years.  And Degagnac would be a new one.  

He had met Colette last August at an annual French bicycle conference that attracts over 15,000 people.  She was as ardent a cyclist and  table tennis player as he.   Both 65 and retired, they have traveled extensively since meeting, including Senegal several months ago.  Last month Yvon went to in Algeria, returning for the first time to the town he was born in while his father served there in the milirary. Yvon lived in Algeria until 1957, five years before the revolution.

When I arrived in the small town of Degagnac, it was nearly dark.  Yvon gave me directions to Colette's farm a mile out of town, but I couldn't find the road that led to it.  Luckily a young woman and her son were passing through the town square, but they didn't know Colette nor the road I was looking for.  While we spoke I noticed someone entering a house a block away.  I went and knocked on their door to ask if they knew.  They did not.  I figured I'd have to wait until the morning, so went back to the cemetery to fill my water bottles.  When I returned to  the town center I saw a man walking by.  He was my last chance. He was just visiting, but took me to his home and there I struck pay dirt.

The people there were drinking champagne and celebrating Hollande's victory. They were in such a good mood a woman said she would lead me to Colette's farm in her car.  A man objected, saying she had had too much to drink and that he would drive. They both decided to hop in the car. It was up one last big hill that had me up out of the saddle and sweating trying to keep up with them.  At one point, the man in the passenger seat stuck his head out the window and gave me a "Bravo" for keeping up.

My one question for Yvon about Hollande's victory was, "How will this effect the Tour de France?"  He said that all politicians love the Tour de France and I need not have any worries about that.  Since Yvon and Colette know the ways of the cyclist they asked me whether I  would like to shower or to eat first.   I preferred eating, if only to be able to hear what Yvon had to say and to get to know Colette.  Along with chicken and tomatoes and quiche and home-made bread and cheese was the most delicious paté I've ever experienced, Collette's award-winning home-made brand.  Until her husband died they had a flock of 80 geese that she fed by hand to enlarge their livers.  Five times a day starting at 5:30  am she would force food down each of their throats.

Yvon knows my preference for sleeping in my tent rather than in a bedroom.  I had my choice of  inside a barn or behind the house or alongside the barn.  I was happy to be beside the barn.  I had no worries of wild boars there.  A couple nights before a road sign warned of wild boars, the first time I had ever seen such a sign. That had me extra wary that night. I never camp in a forest in France without being mindful of boars after having been charged by one three years ago as I slept in my tent, just as I was wary every night in Turkey after being attacked by gun-toting robbers my first week there.    But such incidents don't effect my sleep.  I know they are isolated incidents.

As he frequently does, Yvon arranged an interview with a local newspaper.  The French love any story relating to bicycling.  Then I will continue on my way. Yvon and Colette will accompany me for an hour or so and then we will meet up again tomorrow afternoon near a monument to Raymond Poulidor about 100 miles from here where he was hit by a motorcycle in the 1968  Tour de France. Poulidor was the hero of both Yvon and Colette.  Neither of them have visited this monument and are anxious to see it as well.

Colette said Poulidor was favored over Anquetil by most of the French, even though Anquetil won The Tour five times and Poulidor not once, never even wearing The Yellow Jersey for a day.  People preferred Poulidor's manner.  He grew up in the country on a farm and had a kind, pleasant manner, while Anquetil came across as being arrogant.

Degagnac is off on such small country roads, The Tour has never passed through.  But it has been near and will come close this year too on the 19th stage from Toulouse to Brive-la-Gaillarde.  I was able to scout out Brive, though I will not be there for the stage finish, as the peloton immediately will transfer 300 miles to Bonneval after the stage for the time trial the day before The Tour ends in Paris.  Since I want to be at the time trial and at Paris, I will have to skip a few stages to be there in time.  

Brive was a large enough city it had so many other upcoming events, concerts and such, that it had yet to start promoting the arrival of The Tour.  The tourist office was closed, but peering in I saw nothing Tour-related.  There were shirts for sale promoting the local rugby team and cups and key chains and stickers with "I heart B-G;"  It was curious to note they used  the English "I" rather than the French "Je."   The tourist office was beside a giant plaza where no doubt the stage will conclude.  I hope to pass through again several days before The Tour arrives to see how decorated the city is then. No evidence that the artist Teddy Botrel had been to town.

And my latest contribution to Team Illinois: May 4: 94 miles to before Ardentes, May 5: 91 miles to  before Eymoutiers, May 6: 105 miles to Degagnac.

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