Today was my day for bike issues.
Oh wait, I wrote this yesterday, didn’t I? Guess you can’t go on an epic French bike trip without at least one déjà vu experience.
Actually, it was only one bike issue today, but a much bigger problem than yesterday’s two flats. Shouldn’t whine about it. If you’re on a bike trip, you gotta expect bike issues. Right? It’s part of the adventure.
So, to get to where I was going from Caudebac, you have to cross back over the Seine … on a huge suspension bridge. I’m talking a Golden Gate- sized bridge. Huge. It was at least a mile long and had the same profile as some of the larger hills I’ve been climbing. It was like a mountain over a river.
Oh crap, how am I going to get across this bridge … on a bike? There’s no way you can ride across on a bike with all that traffic.
No worries, this is France, and there’s always a bike lane. Must be a law.
Was a couple kilometers past the bridge … and suddenly heard a clinking, metallic sound coming from behind me that I know all too well.
“Damn it Marc, you broke a spoke,” mumbled to myself, looking down at the back tire of my bike. The wheel was wobbling back and forth, and the rim was rubbing against the brake pad (which makes it harder to pedal, especially up hills). These are sure signs of a broken spoke. Stopped and started testing the spokes, one-by-one, and sure enough, one of them was busted.
I’m not much of a bike mechanic, as my bike mechanic will tell you, but do know that when you break one spoke, more bad things can happen. Your wheel is immediately out of true (or balance), wobbles around and rubs against the brake pad. And once one spoke breaks, more tend to break since everything is out of whack and balance. Soon your wheel is rubbish.
And there’s nothing worse than a rubbish wheel on a bike trip.
Had no choice but to keep riding, gingerly, slowing down when I got to rough patches on the road, and taking is easy climbing the hills. The town of Pont-Audemer was about 15 miles away.
Please, please, please let there be a bike shop in Pont-Audemer.
Pont-Audemer is right on the Risle River, and lined with canals surrounded by ancient, timbered houses. They call it the Venice of France. Rode round and round looking for a bike shop, but no luck. Bet they have bike shops in the Venice of Italy.
Did get some strawberries – half a kilo for 2 Euros – that were amazing. They were so sweet it was like eating strawberry candy. They melted in my mouth. Went back and got another half kilo. A kilo is like 2 pounds, which meant I ate two pounds of strawberries. Hope I don’t get sick. Have toilet paper, just in case.
Honfleur was still another 30 kilometers (18 miles) away and my back wheel was getting wobblier and wobblier. Then again, it may have been my imagination. This whole TBI has made me a lot more anxious and nervous about stuff like this. Instead of seeing this as a challenge to be overcome, and part of the fun and adventure of a bike trip, now see stuff like this as the start of a chain of events that will keep getting worse and worse and ultimately end in disaster. For example: My back wheel just completely falls apart, leaving me stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
This is, or course, a total overreaction. Wasn’t in the middle of nowhere and could always hitch a ride to Honfleur if my wheel disintegrated. Or hail down a passing taxi. Or a bus. When you have some money, which I do, things are never really a disaster. Especially when you’re in a popular tourist area.
Try telling that to my brain. Anxiety beats logic every time.
Despite the wobbly wheel, and the fact that I haven’t taken a Lexapro in a few days, was able to keep my anxiety level below the red line. Maybe this was a test I needed to pass. Maybe this was a step forward. Or maybe I’m making a mountain out of a broken spoke.
Limped into Honfleur (Can you limp on a bike? I think you can), which is a port city/fishing village – and tourist magnet – located on the spot where the Seine and the English Channel all come together. According to the Normandy Tourism website: “The changing light on the Seine estuary inspired Courbet, Monet, Boudin and many others. Today dozens of galleries and artists’ studios continue to display a wide choice of classical and modern paintings.”
Courbet, Monet and Boudin are all famous painters. I’ve only heard of Monet, and am wondering why this Courbet guy got top billing over the super-famous Monet. Should I know of this Courbet? No way he’s better than Monet.
Anyway, and sure enough, about a dozen artists have their easels set up around the port, and are painting away, hoping to sell their paintings to all the tourists wandering around with that dazed-tourist look on their faces.
Headed over to the tourist office to see if there was a bike shop in Honfleur. There is, but it closed at 5:00PM and it was 5:06PM.
“It will open morning tomorrow at 10,” the woman at the tourist office told me and showed me where it was on the plan de ville (map).
Sitting at a café now, along the docks, sipping a beer as slowly as I can manage. It’s about 9:00PM and it’s just starting to get dark and most of the day-tripping tourists have left and it’s quiet and relaxing. The sky is slowly turning a darker and darker shade of blue, and as the sky darkens, the facades of all the stone buildings around the port seem to change color and get darker as well.
If only I had an easel and some paint – and knew what to do with them. Maddie was a really talented artist, and would have really loved this town and the light and all the artists trying to capture the light.
Oh well, time to get a little misty.
Think I’m starting to get the hang of the café culture, which isn’t surprising since I’ve spent time in one just about every night. It’s my new version of sitting in my green reclining chair and watching TV. Here’s what I’ve learned about cafés …
In France there is an art to everything and even something as seemingly simple as a visit to a café is a subtle and delicate form of self-expression filled with customs and procedures that date back millions of years to the caveman cafés.
Lesson number one is to pick the proper café. It’s exactly like real estate: location, location, location. A café is, first and foremost, a place to sit, relax and watch the world go by. And to be seen.
In Honfluer, this means a café along the water.
Once you’ve found the perfect seat at the appropriate café, you must then do what the French all seem to do: empty the contents of your pockets onto your table. I’m not kidding, that’s what people do over here before they sit down. Out come the keys, wallets, loose change, combs, cigarettes, lighters (everyone in France smokes) and phones. Not sure why they do this, maybe they make the pants pockets a lot smaller over here and sitting down with all that stuff in your pockets is uncomfortable. Then again, it might have something to do with World War II. Everything in France has something to do with World War II. Especially here in Normandy.
Next comes the whole greeting-of-friends ritual, although this can and often precedes the emptying-of-the-pockets ritual. A simple nod, “hello” or handshake or hug just won’t do. Not even close. Everyone must stand and kiss any and every new arrival on both cheeks and then, in turn, be kissed on both cheeks by the new arrival. This can take a really long time when someone arrives and joins a table filled with six or seven of their friends. That’s a lot of cheeks to kiss. Do the math.
Most people seem to go with the double-cheek kiss greeting: right-left or a left-right. However, have seen a few people go with a right-left-right or a left-right-left. Not sure what this means. Are these triple-cheek kissers closer friends than the double-cheek kissers? Think I may have seen a quadruple-cheek kiss greeting, but it happened so fast can’t really say for sure. And, does it mean something if you start with a left-cheek kiss? Or a right-cheek kiss?
Even the men kiss each other, which at first seemed kind of weird. It now seems perfectly normal.
OK, so you’ve found the right café, the right seat in the right café, emptied your pockets and kissed a bunch of cheeks. Or, none of the above if you’re all alone. Like I am. It’s now time for the all-important drink order. They’re expensive and the goal is to make your drink last a really, really long time.
The waiter – never, ever, never call him “garcon” or he’ll know you’re an ignorant American and will shoot you one of those haughty, snooty looks that French café waiters have perfected over the centuries – approaches and the pressure mounts. This is the point when most American tourists panic and blurt something out in English, assuming the waiter speaks English. They do all speak English, but you should never assume this and blurt out your order in English because, well, it’s just rude. You’re in France. Speak a little French. I’m still a little insecure and shy about my French, and have been ordering something simple, usually “une bier, se il vous plait.” Have been experimenting with ordering vin rouge.
Tonight, the waiter brought a little plate of almonds with my bier. That’s another café thing: you often get little snacks with your drink: olives, peanuts, chips. I like it.
The whole sipping slowly thing has been tough for me, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Writing in my journal on my laptop seems to make the slow sipping easier, since it’s hard to pick up your glass and drink while you’re typing – although it is possible. And, a couple of drinks make the writing easier. The words just seem to flow out of me, often in a torrent of inane, misspelled ramblings that require a lot of editing later. Guess that’s why Hemingway and Fitzgerald did so much of their writing in cafes. Then again, at least one of them, and probably both, were self-destructive alcoholics. But damn, they sure could write. Wonder if either of them ever wrote at one of the cafés here in Honfluer. Maybe they were at this every table in this very café.
Have been anxious to try this pastis drink I read about in one of those Peter Mayle books about living in France (that Maddie had me read). But, not quite sure how to pronounce it. What the hell, my beer is empty, so might as well try.
Hold on a minute…
Took a shot and said pronounced it “past – ease” and it worked! The waiter not only nodded, but shot me a glance that seemed to say: “For an American, you are sophisticated in the ways of France – and are a very handsome man.”
A few minutes later, he arrived with a thin, tall glass that contained an inch of yellowish liquid and two ice cubes. He also brought a small pitcher of water.
Where’s the rest of my drink?
According to what I remembered from the Peter Mayle book, you’re supposed to pour some of the water into the glass to dilute the super-strong pastis. Did it, and the yellowish liquid immediately began to undergo some sort of chemical reaction – and got all cloudy.
It was like some sort of high school science experiment. Do I need safety goggles?
OK Marc, stop being such a baby and drink it. Hold on a minute…
Hey, this pastis stuff is nice. It has a distinct licorice taste to it that I’m liking the more I drink.
Think I’ve found my new café drink! Need to get another, just to make sure. Uh-oh, think this is how Hemingway and Fitzgerald got started.
Damn you, pastis!