First of all, let me just say,
‘WHAT THE HELL IS IT WITH ME AND FLAT TIRES ON FRENCH ROADS???”
Got up early this morning, for once had the appropriate attire for riding a bike, felt kind of jaunty in my nifty Cervello cap, had a nice conversation with my host Luc about my planned mountain route to Marthod, mar-chayed my ass out to my awaiting vélo, pedaled …..oh, I don’t know, maybe 30 yards . . . .and—how do the French ask if you prefer tap or sparkling water??–“gas or sans gas” . . . let’s just say my rear tire was “sans gas” As in SANS GAS. AS IN TAPPED OUT
Then I had the dreaded “Battle of the Bulge.” You cyclists will know what I’m talking about. It’s when you change a tube and, for the life of you, you can’t get a bulge in your tube to go away. Not only is this annoying as your smooth ride turns into “Here-Comes-Peter-Cotton-Tail-Hippity-Hoppity-Easters-On-It’s-Way”, but a bulge usually leads to another flat and, having burned my only spare, and being out in the middle of French-nowhere-ville with no bike shop in sight, that constant worry makes for a nerve racking ride. As in, “Boy, if this one blows, I’m in for a long walk.”
“My Kingdom for a Spare”
Miraculously, the tube doesn’t blow, and I’m diddy bopping town the Piste de Cycle. This whole country is criss-crossed with dedicated bike lanes, reserved for roller skaters and cyclistes, with pavement–had you a bulgeless rear tube–like glass.
I’ve got a 2 percent négative grade, a 10 mph tailwind, I’m cooking with gas. Faverges wizzes by. I blow by Marlens. I hang a right under the bridge at Ugine, release the spinnaker, and I’m sailing south for Albertville.
Now I’m riding where Napoleon rode. The famous Route Imperiale.
Round the corner, spot the steeple, and climb. Climb. Climb some more.
Roll into the town center with a hour to spare before I am to meet Claude.
Sip of water, wonderful view from the cemetery to the valley below.
The bell tower rings 11 . . . then 12 . . . then 12:45. Still no Claude. Think Rob. Think. You said “jeudi” at noon. “Jeudi” is Thursday, isn’t it? Shit, “Lundi, mardi, mercredi . . . what the hell is Thursday?
Despair arises anew. You moron, you don’t even know your days of the week??? Quelle idiot!!
Only one thing to do. I know it’s bold, I know it runs contrary to the Jackson y chromosome, but desperate times, Rob. It might just be crazy enough to work,.
Ask someone, where the hell does Claude Fontanet live?
There, that lady getting in her car. “Pardon Madame, je cherche pour un homme, Claude Fontanet?
And then I heard the words. Magic words. I wasn’t entirely certain what they meant. But they sounded reassuring.
Back down the hill I went, hot on the rear bumper of her VW. She points out her window and then a kind waive, I barrell up a steep driveway, and there smiling and waiting are Claude and his lovely wife Mado.
Exchange pleasantries. A little awkward. And then as Mado is getting the second of what turned out to be a six course lunch, it dawned on me.
Claude doesn’t speak a word of English. Neither does Mado.
No safety net, Rob. You’re on your own, buddy.
And for four hours, throughout the white wine with grapefruit something, melon with proscioto, chicken with potatoes and légumes grown in their garden, red wine, six kinds of local cheese, and the most divine dessert, “des oeufs a la neige” (eggs in snow) ,
Througout all of that, you know what?
Words came out. French words.