Somebody out there invented the two wheeler. Somebody out there likes me.
I was sick half of the time we were in France. Certainly not dying, but I couldn’t taste anything or smell anything and I complained so much I made everybody’s life miserable.
Many thanks to Madée who nursed me back to health, to Cléa who held my hand, to Nicole Smadja for pharmaceutical advice. And my deepest apologies to everyone who had the misfortune of crossing my path when I was under the weather.
In the bare few days my lungs cleared up I was able to accomplish one of my greatest desires this summer: a bike trip through the Great Southwest.
I took the old blue Raleigh that had been built for me by a student at FMC Sens, André David, out of storage at Moulin Rateau where it had sat for ten years. I had to scrape all the attic rust off of it and buy new ‘boyeau’, but André’s work stood the test of time.
Other than one day I had perfect weather and even that day, a drizzling windy early spring kind of day, was beautiful and mysterious.
Once again I was able to taste the splendour of rural France and marvel at the perfection of her age-old churches and castles, canals and maisons bourgeois, village squares, century-old market places and sacred spaces. There is poetry in a French garden, in-grown corners, places where fruit falls and musks, vegetable plots where generosity grows row on row.
Village cafés still maintain their sad look, tea is served without a smile: the owner is not happy to see you. Nothing has changed.
And yet riding around France I realised how much has changed since I left here. The roads and urban equipment are in first-class condition, the houses are well-maintained and the fields are ripe and laboured. There is no longer litter on the roads and the forests are clean. The entire country feels like quiet, calm prosperity, hardworking people and centuries of accumulation.
It is difficult to understand how such a country can be in debt, and facing increasing austerity.
Be that as it may, my love affair with France was renewed. One of the great things about biking in France is that wherever you stop you will sleep comfortably and eat like a king.
Also: how not to be touched by the massive and tender beauty of France’s sacred architecture? The delight of it is omnipresent and it would be foolish to just say that France is now a secular country cut off from its Catholic roots. I found a sacredness in every square inch of the country, a strength for people to lean on, an unchanging force; the pulsing heart at the centre of each village. Even if you never enter a church it is hard to ignore the vibrations emanating from generations of belief. There is always a candle burning in a side chapel; always a kindled hope.