Monday, June 3, 2013

St.-Antonin-Noble-Val, France

Finding an open supermarket on a Sunday in France can be a challenge, especially in a rural region of small villages, such as where we found ourselves on this latest Sunday.  Even in urban areas, if a supermarket is open at all, it is only open until half past noon.  We knew we were within range of reaching a couple of towns that might have an open supermarket in the morning hours before closing time.  What we didn't know is that the longest and highest climb we had encountered so far awaited us, peaking out at nearly 3,000 feet and throwing occasional grades of ten per cent at us.  We spent more than an hour at it.

It was a rare climb where we stopped for a rest before reaching the summit.  While we sat on a bench in a small village we were joined by another touring cyclist, a German from Bonn, recently retired from the advertising world.  He was radiant with that glow of the touring cyclist thrilled to be doing exactly what he wanted to be doing.  He'd been on the road for forty days and had several more weeks before he returned home.  Last year he had spent six months bicycling across Canada.  He'd previously biked China and Vietnam and much of Europe.  He said he'd saved enough money to be able to bike tour for the next thirty years.  We were hoping we might ride along together for awhile to get to know him even better, but he was carrying a huge load and was much slower than us.  

We had enough food to scrape together meals for the day, but just meager fare--bread, sardines, peanut butter, honey, cheese, madeleines and a few other stray items that had fallen to the bottoms of our panniers.  We also knew we would most likely reach the large city of Castres by the end of the day where we could resort to restaurant food if need be.  But our ace in the hole was knowing the possibility of harvesting some edibles from a supermarket dumpster.  And so we did at the Casino supermarket in Lacaune--a dozen yogurts, some cheese, eight liters of various juices, a liter of milk and a single egg (in Andrew's hand), plenty of extra calories.  We celebrated each additional item we dug out.  If we had been truly desperate we could have dug much deeper than we did and no doubt scored much more.

It wasn't the only bounty of the day.  An hour or so later we stopped in the town of Brassac to partake of our yogurt.  We noticed people streaming in and out of a nearby gymnasium-type building, some carrying an armload of assorted stuff.  We looked closer and saw a "Vide Grenier" banner over one of the doors.  It was the town flea market. It was five o'clock, no doubt closing time.  Though we were overloaded with bottles of juice, we had to give it a look, knowing we might have to resist some end-of-the-day bargains. 

Craig bought a wallet for twenty cents.  I saw a twenty-year old book on The Tour de France packed with classic photos.  The person selling it said I could have it for a mere euro.  That was a give-away price.  I don't know how I said no, but did, not needing the weight of an extra book, even though I had unloaded two of the ten I had brought along at Craig's house.  After I  walked away I thought I could endure carrying it for another day if Craig would take it to his house when we parted ways and then pick it up from him at a later date.  When I broached the subject with Craig, he wasn't interested in lugging it the one hundred and eight miles he would be riding on his own.  

A while later, after his bargain wallet, Craig asked if I would like the book if he could get it for fifty cents.   It was a bargain at a euro, so getting it for even less shouldn't have mattered, but he suckered me into his proposition.  I handed him fifty cents.  A few minutes later he returned with the book, apologizing for taking so long, as the sellers had already packed it up.  The hard-backed, over-sized book weighed as much as any three of the paperbacks I had, but I did feel a sense of delight knowing my pannier would contain a treasure-trove of Tour history.  That was weight I didn't mind.

Our arrival in Castres coincided with a torrent of bumper-to-bumper cars with blue flags flying and tooting horns and celebratory fans streaming along the sidewalks, many with faces streaked in blue.  The local team had just beaten the team from Toulon to win the national rugby championship, an increasingly popular sport in France.  All over the city windows and statues were draped with the team colors.  We were drawn to Castres as it will be a Viille Départ in The Tour de France for the eighth stage on July 6.  I wished to see how it was celebrating this honor.  There was a sign at the entry to the city announcing it, but otherwise all the city's energies were concentrated on its rugby team.  

It was past seven o'clock, so we knew the tourist office would be closed, but I still wished to seek it out to see if it might have a Tour poster in its window or a display inside or out promoting it.  As we paused to study the maps on Andrew's and my matching mini-iPad GPS devices when we got lost in the labyrinth of the narrow streets of the old part of the city, a slightly tipsy older guy asked us if he could help us.  He told us the tourist office was "cerrado," Spanish for closed, speaking a mixture of French and Spanish.  After a couple minutes of Craig trying to make a coherent conversation with the guy, we were joined by the guy's girl friend, a somewhat elegantly attired lady with short-cropped white hair.  

He turned to her and asked if it would be all right to invite us for the night.  She agreed.  When he made the offering Andrew immediately blurted, "That would be fantastic."  Craig and I might have been more hesitant, but Andrew is accustomed to sharing his apartment in Sydney with travelers affiliated with couchsurfing or warmshowers, so had no qualms about overnighting with folks he didn't know and who might be slightly off-kilter.  I knew it would be an interesting experience, so gladly added my assent.  Poor Craig would have to carry the burden of maintaining a conversation, since Andrew's and my French weren't up to it.  The woman spoke enough English to understand, but only to minimally speak it.

The guy, Frank, said he had to run a few errands, so his girl friend, Maryanna, would take us to their house, several blocks away.  As we walked, we learned Frank was an artist and Maryanna a former ballet dancer.  They lived in a compound of artists.  Their building was a two-story former ceramics factory.  The ground floor was Frank's studio and warehouse for all his motorcycles.  They lived upstairs in a very spacious apartment.  They had one large guest room with enough space for the three of us to throw down our sleeping bags. The walls and even the refrigerator were adorned with paintings. The book shelves were packed with books on art.  The bathroom walls were covered with postcards of motorcycles, and there was a stack of motorcycle magazines, porn for those with such a passion.   Maryanna put on some Chet Baker, whose music cleanses her head, she said.

We had time for showers and a plateful of salad from their garden before Frank returned.  Maryanna was increasingly concerned about his tardiness and smoked cigarette after cigarette that she rolled herself.  She said this was typical of him, and why she kept an apartment of her own for retreat.  She said she couldn't call him on his cell phone because he had left it on the kitchen counter. We asked if he was Spanish.  He wasn't, and couldn't explain his lapses into the language.

When he finally arrived, he walked in carrying three pizzas and a bottle of wine.  He then asked if we minded if he smoked.  "Of course not," Craig said, "this is your house."  He continued to be a most cordial host.  He told us how much he respected us and greatly admired our "joli," our strong fellowship.  He said a close relative had attempted a bike trip around the Mediterranean, but  had fallen ill in Italy and had to quit the trip.  He asked if we would write him a note of encouragement.

Craig was able to match all his banter and draw laughs from all, serving as a fine master of ceremonies.  Frank told him he was a poet, making it sound as if it was the highest compliment he could pay him.  Andrew and I certainly appreciated his valor, translating and keeping all in good spirits.  No one was happier though when at ten o'clock Frank said, "You all must be tired.  I should let you go to bed."  He was absolutely correct.  Craig was afraid we might be kept up until midnight.  We weren't  sure if we had gotten enough to eat, but we had certainly gotten enough memorable experiences for the day, the essence of travel.


dworker said...

Wow. Inviting one person in is something. But 3! That is real hospitality.

parrabuddy said...

As you will recall , i have the habit of leaving the " Crit Dauphinee Libere " to ride "L'Alpe d'Huez " several times a day .
This year i again caught up with " Peter " the instigator of this event , many years ago . Having explained some " Issues " to him , he attempted to deal with them . The retaliation by the Motor bike marshals " has resulted in broken skin & bent handlebars !

Needless to say , i have quit & heading for Albertville to rejoin the dauphinee .

Really surprised that you continue to ignore both the Dauphinee & Tour de Swiss , of course they do not have the mystic of " le Tour " but you should think about these next year .

Last night , a guest of the Sapeur Pompiers , tonight , who knows , maybe i will locate Pascal & Annie , who have moved from Albertville