My two day visit with Florence (1-1-5) and Rachid in Tours included a couple rides along the Loire. We misread the bike route signs on our way to Amboise on our first outing and ended up on the wrong side of the river. There was still a bike path, but it was dirt for a while and also included stretches on a busy road. We had to study our map to find a bridge to cross over to the other side of the river after we had gone nearly ten miles and were overheating from our efforts in the 90 degree temperatures, the first warm day of the year.
Rachid was flying though in the Direct Energy jersey I had bequeathed him. Direct Energy is the new sponsor for the team of one of France's most popular riders, Thomas Voeckler, formerly sponsored by Europcar. The team was giving the jerseys away at the Critérium Dauphiné and will doubtlessly be doing the same at The Tour. One of the co-sponsors is the Vendée, the region of France where the team is based.
At least ending up on the north side of the river took us by cliffsides with caves that had been dug out to mine the limestone along this stretch of the river that extended for over fifty miles to Saumur and beyond. Some of the caves were presently used by vineyards to store their wine. They were also used to grow mushrooms and converted into places to live for the affluent. The limestone had been used to construct the many chateaus and cathedrals in the Loire Valley, some designed by Leonardo DaVinci, who had lived in Amboise. The limestone was also transported up the Loire as far as Paris, nearly two hundred miles away, for Versailles and many other buildings.
I had seen some caves several days before when I was riding with all the vintage bikers near Saumur, but I didn't realize they were man-made. That was one of the many things that Florence and Rachid enlightened me to. They are coming up on the thirteenth anniversary of their return to France after years in Chicago. I've managed to visit them nearly evey one of those years. Florence worked as a bicycle messenger in Chicago and Rachid as an architect and an artist. Florence hasn't been able to pursue her trade in France, but she still rides her three bikes as often as she can. There has been no architectural work for Rachid in Tours, enabling him to devote his time to his art, his true passion.
He's presently been working on a series of drawings of Bic pens, a French and international icon. I've always been a fan myself, even before I knew it sponsored a Tour de France team in the '60s and '70s among whose riders was Jacques Anquetil. No one could appreciate Rachid's art more than me. Rachid could answer a question that has puzzled me for years, ever since Bic added a hole to the caps of their pens. It is in case an infant should swallow a cap. The hole would allow air to pass through it if it was blocking an air passage.
Bic has also lately been a general sponsor of The Tour, distributing pens from the caravan preceding the peloton, always a prized item. Bic has a museum in Paris that would be a perfect place for Rachid's art.
The chateau in Tours has been turned into an exhibition space for art. A couple years ago it featured another Chicago artist--Vivian Meyer, the nanny-photographer who had a French mother. It was a sensation, as it was in Chicago and elsewhere.
Rachid stayed home to draw when Florence led me out of Tours along the Loire in the opposite direction to which we had ridden the previous day.
It was another warm, sunny summer day, hot enough to make me happy I was heading to cooler temperatures to the north along the English Channel for the start of The Tour in Mont St. Michel, 150 miles away. Most of the others cyclists on the path were pannier-laden, as I was, riding this popular route that extends all the way across France. There were a couple of mini-Free Libraries, the first I had seen in France, no doubt inspired by the thousands that have sprouted up all across the US. The first we came upon was a large, metal structure, much more substantial than those in the US.
The other was a more modest wooden replica of its North American counterparts.
Neither had any books in English. Florence did find something she was interested in, though nothing by Simone de Beauvoir, who was on her to-read list. The first box was ten miles from her apartment, so she'll be a regular patron.
The bike path markers through Tours are accompanied with markers for the Camino de Santiago, as Tours has long been linked with the pilgrimage route due to Saint Martin having been the bishop of Tours in the 300s. He is greatly revered, not only for his saintliness but for having brought wine-growing to the area. He was born in Hungary and served as a soldier. His first noted act of nobility was to rend his military cloak in half, sharing it with a pauper after a battle in Amiens, France. The bike path took me through Candes Saint Martin thirty miles to the west of Tours along the Loire, where he died in 397. Pilgrims have been drawn to it ever since. The cathedral constructed 800 years after his death, replacing the original church, is a modest version of the later grander cathedrals of Tours and Chartres.
The overriding question whenever I have a visit with Florence and Rachid, whether in France or Chicago, is will they resume their life in Chicago. Many of their belongings from Chicago remain stacked in boxes in their apartment awaiting a move to a larger place or back to Chicago. Both have more and better friends in the biking and art communities of Chicago than they've been able to establish in France, but the social services in the US are nearly non-existent compared to those of France, making life much more worry-free. They have readapted to life in France, though it may not be as enriching for them as it had been in the US. I'm among their many State-side friends who would love to have them back, but at least I'm fortunate enough to be able to regularly enjoy their company in France. It has become so much a part of my routine, it never seems like it's been a year since I've last visited them. We lose ourselves to time and every evening during my visits find its well past midnight as we chat away.