Bonjour tout le monde!
Sorry if I mix hacked up french with my English postings, I know it's somewhat cutesy, but it's also a way to keep using French while traveling. I'm traveling with a, “French for Travelers” book, a French Verb book, a French Grammar book, a french/English dictionary, a, “Teach Yourself French” book and a guidebook and probably a few others I can't think of while I travel. As for payloads, it's my largest, and I may ditch a few of these books soon – def. when I get to the British Isles. Compared, my eee PC and dSLR are feathers.
I left the states with a very small, 5 class “Quick French for Travelers” class and a few sessions with a very friendly person, so my French isn't so good, but I'm determined to learn more in the thick of things. It is frustrating but also elating to learn this way. I do get into unfix-able misunderstandings with locals that I have seriously pissed off, but it's also very rewarding to have a very simple conversation at the bakery and then get… chocolate bread! I'm starting to pick up very small bits of other people's conversations. I was re-started me, “Teach Yourself…” book this morning at the cafe and just passed the page on Chapter 1 or 2 about the use of, “Allez” to mean something like, “Well then…” – a way to cut short a conversation an go and bang! one person used it to another. Voila.
So. Why, France, and French? Why this trip at all?
I think I'm going to continue to ask this question to myself throughout the trip – and the reason will keep changing. So at the moment, it is: I don't really know. What do I realluy know about France? To be honest? I knew sort of where it was, I know about WWI and WWII, I know Pepe le Peu cartoons, I know French New Wave films, Genet, Sarte, the tour de france bicycle race and a few other Pop references – and that's really it, isn't it: I know France from pop culture, from TV and a few existential authors. Which is sad. Very sad.
France in of itself is fairly western in culture and I know nothing of it, now do I. France itself is also very accessible to me – I can buy a plane ticket, like I've done and, go. That's easy. Getting around? Not so hard. Learn a few phrases and you're not going to starve. Getting a little deeper and things gets harder. And that's what I want to do, get a little deeper.
Sometimes, when you want to learn an entirely new thing, you piggy back the new thing you're bad at, with something you're good at.
Cycling long distances is something I'm good at. I don't believe in talent or anything, but I'm better at pedaling a bike for 12 hours a day than I am playing tennis or golf or running a 100 meters. I have a long tour under my belt, so I might as well do another, and raise the stakes – so instead of doing another trip in my own country, I'll go abroad – a slightly larger risk, a slightly higher price of entry and hopefully a bigger payoff.
And that's also how I like to learn – by going in a ever larger spiral ring of concentric circles of my learning. I do it with… whatever. I've done it since I started learning how to learn by myself. THAT started while skateboarding – no one skateboarded in my town, but me and a few friends. We watched videos and emulated. I would skateboard every day by starting with the most basic and ending in the most advanced and that's… just how I worked. It stays with me today – as I'm in the cafe starting on page one of a book I've been going through for the past 3 weeks.
So, for French itself – I don't have this amazing passion to learn french, but I do have a passion for learning… learning and the feeling of yourself changing to meet the needs you confront is almost my reason to live. Learning how to speak French seemed to be a good enough challenge as any, so let's do it. When I get back to the states, I may keep it up, as a part of me wants to move, or at least take up an art residency in Montreal or Toronto and it may come in handy once again.
I was also thinking when I get back… hmm, I might want to take up boxing: not a good fighter, don't like to fight, don't *want* to fight, but it looks interesting and isn't me. I might race bicycles in the fall (another thing I knew nothing about a few years ago) and it seemed like a good workout for that and a nice change of pace. Sounds strange but look up Major Taylor – a very earlier African American sports star in track racing – way before Mr. Jackie Robinson, who dominated the sport. His workout included boxing – good for reflexes – and to work the core of your body – which cycling is really horrible at.
When I think of people I admire, it is people who do these almost bizarre and random activities. So I do them, too.
So, that's the thesis I'm sort of working on in the next two months.
Yesterday was Bastille Day! A day of independence for France. Similar-but-not-quite to fourth of July for us in the states. I wasn't sure what to expect, except maybe insane traffic, which, when you're a slow moving vehicle on the side of the road spells… DEATH. Which none of us want.
I didn't get much of that. I woke up from my campsite and quickly packed. That day, it was a small, somewhat wet field next to the road I was riding. The sun was getting low and I just looked for a spot – easy enough. The morning is always fun, since you get to see just how close exactly you were from other people's houses. Today was fairly close, but nothing shameful, sadly.
I don't have my map with me to tell you exactly where but I stopped at a small, medieval town, which, well, most of the towns here are small and medieval, for my daily stop at the boulangerie to get my pain chocolat, et meringue (for whatever reason on that last one) and then to a cafe for un expresso which is a delightful way to start a 100km+ day.
Before I could sit down and order the expresso, a local came up to greet me, which is very strange, but hey, I'm a friendly guy, so we attempted, and failed to communicate fully, but he asked me to sit down, so I did. He then asked if I wanted a beer, so I told him, hey why not. And we tried to talk for a bit. He asked where I was from and told him… Canada. For… for whatever reason. He was delighted to here that and we talked some more. There was another stranger at the table of about 4 people. He was from Turkey and was getting slightly frustrated at his situation and soon quickly left. Strange, I thought, but kept this up, since beer and conversation with French people is like a goldmine for me a the moment. We broken-talked for a bit and then the man invited me to his house for a shower and for food and to meet his family.
I was open to such things so I said, why not? He seemed a little extroverted to strangers for a frenchmen. I was beginning to think this man might have been drunk. At 10:00am. I asked how far his house was.
And we were walking. Sigh. I did the mental calculations in my head: How far I had to go, how much time I had to get there and my personal relation to this man and I had to say I couldn't, I had to go, that it was very nice for him to give me the offer and thank you again.
He didn't have it. He was very persistent at his offer. And kept luring me towards his house. “prenez une douche, vous mangez” – he was very friendly about it, but looked irritated when I say, “sorry, thank you, but no”. But the way he was persistent was the same way someone's persistent at 2:00am on a Friday, “Come over. I'm lonely. Come over. Stay the night. Come over. Please”. I felt somewhat like the Turk who was irritated at this person's first kindness and then persistence of k
I finally got loose and was sad that that wasn't the best fit on things, but I did want to search out a few more things happening this day. What to expect? I didn't know.
I rolled into another town, hoping for lunch. I didn't know what would be open, as it was a national holiday. The day before was Sunday, which was also difficult to feed oneself on. I got to the town center and was greeted by a….
Street Fair! with many booths selling very yummy, terribly fattening things as well as just things they were trying to pawn off. I looked at the stalls, but I can't really lug too much with me, so I didn't look too closely. I did score another pair of underware and socks, so I good day, all around. I also bought some more bread, etc for later that night, since I didn't know where/when I was stopping.
I was basically following the signs to Mount St. Michel – seemed like a good destination. My plan was to get a few km away and camp for the night and then perhaps – oh, just perhaps get a motel/hotel for the night w/intarweb access and update this thing right here.
Well, I found myself at around 8:00pm outside of Mount St. Michel with no good camping sauvage places in sight. I'm terribly close in being below sea level and all the ground is moist. And the land is farmland and all the farmland is fenced in, which really hasn't been the norm for me. Ha. The norm for me in Normandy. I looked around for hotels and all of them were terribly expensive. So that was a no go. Weirdly there's a campsite next to the hotel so I inquired about the availability. All filled up.
I was also getting really hungry, so I tried the Super Marche next door. Closed an hour ago. Getting dark, I had too many things to do without enough time – eat and find a place, hopefully free, in the dark, or go hungry and have a better chance of seeing a better place.
The stomach won out, so I ate at the low rent restaurant and, after being satiated, looked for a place for about an hour. No camping in sight, though. The few rules of camping sauvage is that if you can ask someone if you can camp at a place, you must ask and if there's a campsite in town you are obliged to use that site, instead of finding your own. So, I got out of the area I was in, but every place I found had their own campsite. Found a few other hotels, all closed. I also found a youth hostel, which I thought, if all else fails, I'll go there. All else failed, so I went back there. Also closed.
At this point, I was dropping of exhaustion, which happens to me, after riding a huge ride and then eating. I planned to camp in a patch of grass in the parking lot and leave a note – something like, so sorry, you were closed, was exhausted, will pay when I get up. Good night.
Well, the patch of grass I was hoping to find was the entrance to another campsite! and THEY were closed to. So I thought, same note, different place. Exploring the area, I found the front desk and they were still there, so they pointed me to a plot and told me they'd figure it out tomorrow and that was that. Sigh.
Campsites in France are hilarious. This one was right in town, so we're not all exactly, “camping”. I got up and realized my tent was next to the sauna, there was a pool *with* a fountain, water slide, the showers were gigantic and numbered around 20 and,
There was a petting zoo.
A little different from what I expected and not what I really wanted, so I paid my bill and left.
And went right to the youth hostel, which I deplore, but I needed a day off, so here we go. The price was *cheaper* then camping and I was hoping they had free internet access and a washing machine, as every hostel I've stayed in the last few years has had these two amenities. No dice. Strange! But the price was unbeatable.
So, here I am, in a McDUH up the street, after hanging out at the cafe, eating pastry and drinking coffee and practicing French. I'm trying to upload pictures to share, which is a bit trying on this computer and internet connection, but we'll see what's up with that soon.
I'm also waiting for the tourists to leave St. Michel, so I can explore. I still have to do my wash, get some food and make some small repairs on the MACHINE.
Wish me luck and I'll try to get pictures up soon,