Tuesday, July 21, 2015

along a country road with a bunch of people on bikes

Earlier today some friends and I set up camp along a random stretch of country tarmac well north of where we normally pass our French days. Upon blankets and camp chairs claiming the scant few feet between the edge of the road and the ditch-like descent into brush, we picnicked, while other small smatterings of families and friends did the same thing along the same road. The occasional official-looking car passed by. Some drivers honked. Some passengers waved.

But then: Sights. Sound. And action!  The caravan was arriving! With music, trapeze-swinging animators, cars that no longer look like cars because they're wearing sunglasses, and...FREE STUFF! It's a parade on steroids--since the second part of the day's attraction doesn't allow steroids, the parade put on by the Tour's sponsors gets them all.

I missed this part of the merriment two years ago when the Tour de France passed through Aix-en-Provence. I must confess that since there are a lot of things in the world to pay attention to, the Tour de France hasn't managed to make the short list in my life. But when its route around Aix passed along the periphery road, a two-minute walk from my little studio apartment, I figured I needed to see it. Plus, the circus performer types who had jumped and rolled and stilted through town a couple days before to drum up excitement had given me a Tour de France key chain. Out of gratitude I had to go. But no one told me to go early enough for the parade. So I didn't know what I'd missed until today.

The 2013 Tour de France advance team in Aix-en-Provence.
But as cool as it is to fish free stuff out of the weeds, the best part is still the bikes and their masters. Two years ago, Aix was the beginning point for one of the stages, so when the bikes passed by, everyone was still clumped together and following city speed limits or something. However, for our countryside cheering near Veynes, the peloton had split into two groups. This is a good thing because I'd decided just to take video and not try for photos so I could concentrate on what I was seeing. However, I forgot to flip the camera off of selfie mode after that selfie we took in our free hats from the caravan, so all I got of the lead riders was video of myself yelling for them. Lovely.

But fortunately there was time to regroup before the rest of the riders whooshed past in all their colorful glory.

There’s something so surprisingly beautiful about it all. And it goes by so quickly. All your senses are adjusting, trying to figure out how to take it in, trying to figure out where to focus, and just as you’re almost acclimating to what’s going on, it’s over. And there’s no redo. No replay. No, “let me see that again and focus on some other part of it, please.” And sometimes, somehow, that’s got to be enough--a few seconds of beauty to be thankful for.

The countryside of which I speak. (2015)
And for your future reference, our little group voted unanimously (I think, anyway) that given the choice of walking out our front door to watch the Tour pass through town or driving two hours to see it in the countryside, the countryside wins.

Our band of fans on the roadside. (2015)

The riders arrive! in the 2013 stage
 that passed through Aix.
2013 in Aix.

2013 in Aix.