Monday, July 22, 2013
My Trip to France, a ramble
I've been watching The Tour de France since US sports TV decided it was "content" a few weird Americans might watch, back in the late 1980's, when the first US GT champion, Greg LeMond, hit the cycling scene. At first, coverage was patchy--you practically had to know someone at the network in order to track down when a condensed 60-90 minutes of the three week race would be shown. Today we get the entire delirious three weeks with live and repeat showings, and I have to admit, it's my laziest time of year. As I'm a cycling junkie and a wanna-be-but-too-poor-to-be-a-traveler, I call it my "Trip to France" and take the excuse to sit and watch for hours every day. Where I live, in s/central PA, it's usually hot and drought stricken. The garden is turning up its toes for lack of water, or developing some strange, 21st Century plague that this old dirt-digger has never seen before. I'm hot, disgusted and ready to pack it in, so I take to hiding out in the delightful a/c which my husband decided the house "really needed" about the time he was getting ready to retire.
This 2013 edition of The Tour was the uber party of all time. Three hundred thousand people lined the narrow roads at the top of the storied slopes of the Alpe d'Huez. The organizers closed central Paris for the finale and used the venerable Arc d'Triomphe as a backdrop for a cyling-based spectacular disco son et lumiere. Check out U Tube:
The French, as a nation, go on holiday about now, so the roads around the Tour are clogged with spectators and the thirty-seconds-of-fame junkies who want to charge up the 9% grades beside the professional riders, screaming in their ears, while dressed in some bizarre costume, or waving their national flag. At night, these hardy fans, who camp for days on mountain tops, drink and dance--usually wearing as little as they dare--in order to be in a certifiable state by the time cyclists finally arrive. These days, it seems that all of Europe heads over to join in. Flags of every country line the roads. The Tour is originally pan-European, but there are riders from Japan, from enormous and mysterious west Asian countries with "stan" at the end of their names, Russians and member of their ex-empire, as well as South and North Americans. (A twenty-three year old Columbian mountain climber showed up this year and blew the doors off all the big favorites, and winning Best Young Rider and the coveted King of the Mountains competition.)
What's this got to do with Cronehenge? Well, over the years, the Tour has provided a good view for me of the globe stitching itself together, using a spectator sport as the needle. Here we see our sameness, our humanity, far more than our differences. At the bottom, I think it's the same impulse which gives us the Olympic Games. It's good for our collective heads to cheer and celebrate together.
For Americans, it's a serious change from the post war put a motor on yourself thinking which used to dominate. We're exercising more, and seeing exercise as something people of all ages should do, not just the physically gifted or the young. More and more of those weird people with "pansy" black shorts, odd shoes and helmets are to be seen on the roads, along with those other "health nuts", the runners. US Cities are putting in bike lanes and beginning to learn that bicycles can be another useful form of transit, just as they are in major European cities like London and Amsterdam. Cycling is gaining "respectability", even in the land of the almighty gas-guzzler. If enough of us used it for short trips, it would lower oil consumption, cut road congestion, carbon emissions--and, maybe, even, the fat from our thighs.
"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race." H.G. Wells
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