Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lacaune, France

Even though I could only understand an occasional word of Yvon's energetic discourse describing our great bicycling friendship to a local journalist, I was as enraptured by his enthusiasm as the rest of his audience--the journalist, a photographer, the president of the local bicycling club and Colette.  We were sitting around Colette's grand dining room table sipping wine and munching on a snack of potato chips.

Yvon had everyone laughing and fully engaged as if he were a master-entertainer delivering a well-rehearsed monologue.  And it was.  Yvon had told this story many times, not only to journalists, but to people we have met as we have bicycled together about France over the years since we met in 2005 at the Notre Dame de Cyclists chapel in a small village north of Pau.  We have manged to meet up every year since somewhere in France, and never at the same place.  Some times it has been during The Tour de France. Once it was at his brother's house and once at his own. A couple of years ago we met by accident when we weren't even looking for each other.

The French not only love the story, but also Yvon's great exuberance.  He has arranged interviews with the press several times before.  When interviewed, I only need contribute an occasional answer as Yvon knows my story as well as I do.  After holding forth for several minutes about the extent of my travels as the fifty-year old woman reporter scribbled away, she finally interrupted him for a question after he mentioned that I attend the Cannes Film Festival and other film festivals around the world.  She wanted to know how many films I see a year.  When I said over two hundred, she paused to give me a prolonged glance, as if for the first time I might be worthy of her respect.

She wondered what I was doing all the way over in this part of the country if I was on my way to Cannes.  Yvon explained that I had been scouting out Ville Etapes for the Tour de France, including Brive, fifty miles to the north and also that I wanted to visit a Poulidor monument one hundred miles to the south.  It just worked out that he happened to be visiting his girl friend and we were able to have our annual visit here rather than somewhere else.

She wanted to know about my favorite countries.  I told her I had many favorites--Colombia, China, Iceland, Japan--but none I liked more than France.  She wanted to make sure I wasn't just saying that to be nice.  What about Italy, she asked.  I told her I had biked in Italy four times in the past eight years and had hoped it would be a promised land of cycling since the Italians are so fanatical about racing, but it didn't have the ease of camping as did France, and there was lots of traffic and it offered only minimal prepared food in the grocery stores, unlike France, and it was expensive, as no self-respecting Italian would allow canned prepared food into their homes.

As every French interviewer has asked, she wanted to know what food I ate.  I told her quiche, yogurt, paté, couscous, ravioli and cassoulet stew.  "Ah, you like our cassoulet stew," she was glad to hear.  "How do you heat it?" 

When Yvon translated that I just ate it cold out of the can her head recoiled and her mouth fell open and quivered as if she was gagging and I'd suddenly lost all her respect.  I've never seen anyone look so appalled.

We all went out to my tent and bike for a photograph with Colette, Yvon, the cycling club president and I.  With that we all shook hands and then the journalists and the club president began an animated conversation.  I wondered if they were going on about my diet.  Yvon came over to me after a couple of minutes as I was taking down my tent and said,  "They are all now talking about the election.  That doesn't interest me."

Before lunch Yvon and I had time to look at the local newspaper.   We went straight to the sports section to find the results for the Giro d'Italia which had started two days before.  I was thrilled to see that the young American Taylor Phinney had won the prologue and was wearing the pink jersey, only the third American to do so.  The others were Andy Hampsten and Christian Vande Velde.  I had met Christian's mother three days before I left at Chicago's Garmin store where the author of the book "The Argyle Armada" about Garmin's 2011 season had a signing.  Only eight people showed up so I was able to have a good conversation with the author Mark Johnson.  We were talking about how we had both visited Christian out at his Lemont house when Christian's mother introduced herself.  She was delightful.  She said that Christian had suffered from a virus early in the season but that his legs were coming around and he was ready for the Giro.  After Mark's presentation there was a raffle for various team Garmin souvenirs--water bottles, socks and baseball caps.  Everyone in attendance got something.

I emailed Christian afterwards telling him about the event and how much I enjoyed meeting his mother and that she had left with a baseball hat.  I heard right back from him expressing as much pride in his mother as she did in him.  He had just finished the week-long Tour de Romandie in Switzerland and said his legs were feeling good.

After lunch Colette and Yvon joined me for the first hour of my ride through the hilly terrain.  Colette led us  up the hills, another super star French woman cyclist like Jeannie Longo and Florence the Messenger.  When we had to go our separate ways I thanked her for her exceptional hospitality washing my clothes, providing three great meals and left-overs to take and the use of her computer.  She had even slipped a portable heater into the bathroom when I took my shower and turned it on high.  She said "C'est normal."  We removed our helmets and I was most happy to receive kisses on both cheeks.

Those weren't my first kisses of the trip though.  The first were the night before from her seven year old grandson when he greeted me.  He lives in a house adjoining Colette's.  He was excited to have his picture taken with me so he would have something for show-and-tell at school the next day.  He was given the honor of presenting me with his grandmother's home made paté.  Colette has three daughters, all living nearby by.  As Yvon put it, one lives eight meters away, another 800 meters down the road and the third eight kilometers away.  One is a teacher, another a nurse and the third the second in command at a large department store. 

Time up at the computer.

My mileage the last two days has slackened, partially due to time with Yvon and Colette, but I'm also recovering from my hard 100 mile day.  May 7 to just after Bruniqul 57 miles and 70 miles yesterday to before Brassac.

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