Friday, May 4, 2012

France Year Nine

I had just finished assembling my bike at  Charles de Gaulle airport and had loaded it with all my gear and was taking a quick moment to admire its great beauty and feel the anticipation of our three months ahead in France when my silent homage was interrupted by a 60-year old guy with helmet in hand who wanted to know if I was just setting out or just completing my travels.  He had just completed a month-long ride and wanted to give me advice on getting in to Paris via a bike path along a canal.

I told him I planned to bypass Paris and wondered if he needed my empty bike box for his flight home.  He did not.  He was flying Air Canada and they provide a plastic bag for one's bike, just as does British Air.  Lucky for me he didn't need my box, as when I went to the American Air Lines desk to confirm they would provide a box for me on my return flight, they said they did not have boxes, unlike Chicago and at other cities they service.  Nor would they store my box for me.  I would have to leave it with the left luggage department.

I knew that could be extortionist and it was--400 euros for 87 days.  That was utterly absurd and they knew it.  They were willing to take 80 euros, still a hefty fee, but a better solution than trying to find a bike box and get it to the airport in the less than 24 hours I would have in Paris after the final stage of The Tour.  I could somewhat swallow the fee, as the woman at the check in counter in Chicago only charged me sixty dollars to fly my bike when I had been told it would be 150.  It was a relief, too, to know that I would have a box awaiting me and wouldn't have to worry about a run on bike boxes the day after The Tour.

It was only by accident that I ended up flying American, as I thought I had booked my flight on British Air when I made the transaction on the British Air web site.  British Air is always my preference knowing their benevolent bike policy.  But British Air now has a sister relationship with American and I unknowing would be flying American and subject to their less benevolent bike policies. 

The reason I chose the flight I did was because it flew directly to Paris, rather than through London.  It was nice for the first time to fly directly to Paris, rather than via London, but not at the inflated bike box cost.  I catnapped only three or four hours on the eight hour flight, but I arrived much more refreshed than usual without that transfer.  As we approached Paris for our 9:30 a.m. landing, the pilot told us the temperature was 48 degrees with a wind of seven miles per hour from the north.  I may have been the only person on board who cared about the wind direction.  I could go hooray, as it would be a tail wind.  The pilot though didn't say anything about the rain. 

It was a misty day-long drizzle, but I hardly minded, as I was filled with the usual joy to be back in France.  I felt a little like Tilda Swinton in "We Need To Talk About Kevin" when she commented, "I wake up every morning wishing I were in France."  I wasn't as desperate as she was to escape a predicament she didn't like at all, but I could fully understand her sentiments of appreciating all that France has to offer--the kindly civility of its people, round-abouts, everyone providing their own bag at the grocery store, trucks with signs of "Convoi Exceptionnel" rather than "wide-load," walled cemeteries, outdoor cafes, Jesus crucifixes along the road, white van portable bordellos in pull-outs through the forest, the random citizen with a baguette under their arm, the daily Deux Cheveau Citroén puttering along stuck in the era of the beret, the easy camping and on and on.

My first destination was Bonneval, the stage start for the final time trial on the penultimate stage of The Tour to Chartres on Saturday July 21. It is nearly three months away, but there were already posters up proclaiming the event.  Teddy Botrel, the artist who goes around to stage cities and paints caricatures of racers on shop windows, had already made his mark there. A good many shops, as many as I've ever seen, were adorned with his art work, with the occasional one carrying his phone number (0660450184) if someone wished to recruit him.

One of my great ambitions is to encounter him in action.  I'd love to see the portfolio he shows to shops of his work.  Nearly every one of his portraits is an original and caters to the business.  Besides his trademarks of bulging muscles and buxomest women are eyes on handlebars.  He added eyes to a clutch of baguettes on the bakery.  Bonneval had a strikingly large Gothic church in its center, though nothing to compare to the grandest of grand cathedrals in Chartres.  Bonneval wasn't large enough to have a tourist office and the town hall was closed when I arrived at 5:30, so I couldn't get any details on the stage start.  Sunday May 13 there will be a bike ride from Bonneval to Chartres to honor the Tour route.

Next up for me is the Ville Etape Brive-la-Gaillarde and then Degagnac, where I hope to watch the Sunday evening election returns with my long-time French cycling pal Yvonne.  There are posters everywhere of the two remaining candidates Sarkozy with the slogan La France Forte and his Socialist opponent Francois Hollande and his slogan Le Changement C'est Maintenant.

And I must report my mileage so far for Team Illinois in the Endomondo competition: May 2 Charles de Gaulle airport to before Milly-le-Foret 73 miles, May 3 to before Oucques 95 miles.

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