“How does one hold on to a memory?” I asked myself while walking along the marina
in Cannes, France. The sky was blue, the weather was warm, the sun was shining, the waves of the Mediterranean lightly rolling. I was feeling content. It had suddenly hit me (not for the first time) how fortunate I was to be able to go on an adventure such as this, to see the places I have seen, and experience the things I have done. How do I hold on to this moment of content so that I can recall it later for many years to come?
The cycle today was by no means an easy one. I cycled 125km from Saint Maximin la
Sainte Baume to Cannes. It involved 872 long, hard meters of ascent and 1111 blissful meters of descent. Basically, I had to cycle over a mountain to get to Cannes. But the moment I saw the Mediterranean I forgot the pain of the previous hours. It’s such a strange thing when that happens. I cycled lazily along the coast for awhile. Everything was so beautiful. Seeing the sea reminded me of one of my other passions: scuba diving. And it got me to think how amazing it is that I can experience life in so many different ways: by bike, diving underwater, hiking and hill walking… I am truly fortunate. Alhamdullilah. All thanks be to Allah.
I haven’t seen many cyclists in France; no where near as many as I had seen in Spain. Some French cyclists I’ve seen don’t wear helmets. I saw a lot of cyclists in Arles. There must be known bike routes in that area. I saw several cyclists climbing the mountain with me today to Cannes as well.
The French don’t seem to be as good-tempered as the Spaniards. I’ve been thinking that the Spaniards might have the right idea with this siesta thing. Shops and restaurants shut down at 1:30pm in Spain and re-open at 5pm. Maybe that’s why I saw more cyclists on the road there: they have more time for leisure activities. In Spain, the cyclists really cheered me on. Motorists beeped happy beeps for me and waved as they passed. In France, the cyclists barely nod their heads in acknowledgement, if that, and the motorists are just angry, aggressive folk. I think the French should consider taking a siesta, getting some sleep, maybe having some sex… They really need to lose the temper and loosen up!
I like Cannes. I could live in a place like Cannes. I could be the kind of person that
owned expensive yachts and sipped hibiscus (I don’t drink alcohol…you should really try cold hibiscus in the summer) on the top deck while bathing in the sun. I could be the kind of person who had a penthouse overlooking the Mediterranean near the center of Cannes. I could be the kind of person who owned a convertible and drove it in the surrounding mountains with the top down and the wind in my hair. I really could be that person!
On this last day of mine in France, God willing, I thought back on the three countries I
have been in so far. Portugal passed like a dream. I was so intimidated by the whole concept of what I was setting out to do that Portugal barely registered in my head. The language was completely foreign to me. But the people were very kind and warm. I spent two wonderful weeks in Spain. I’ve always loved that country and now I just love it more. I’ve decided to grant the Spaniards the special status of being “my people” – more properly pronounced in Egyptian English as “my beebol”. I am in love with the Spaniards. They are so alive and aware of things around them. The food in Spain was good but I struggled with understanding the menus. I wish I could have two more months of immersion in Spain. I was just starting to pick up bits of Spanish when I left. I bet I could start saying sentences after a couple of months there.
I can’t grant the French the status of “my beebol” but I can say their food has brought
me back to life. I understand some basic French so that has been immensely helpful to me.
Whereas Spain has smooth shoulders, France’s shoulders are rough and knobby. It’s true. Spain’s road infrastructure is almost impeccable. I kept thinking that it felt like the Spaniards put out their good roads just for me. There was a wide, well maintained shoulder for me to cycle on no matter what kind of road I was on. France’s roads – the ones I’ve been on – are generally poorly maintained and too many of the roads have no shoulders at all. I am under the impression that France wants cyclists to go on special cycling routes but would rather not see them anywhere else. The thing is, those cycling routes are nice if you are going where they are going. If not, you need to be on other roads.
France was good. Ending with Cannes was perfect. Ia m now looking forward to what comes next!
I need to explain the French, and this is from the perspective of someone who worked many years fo a French company. The French are our oldest enemies (from the point of view of the English) and we have spent most of history making war on each other. We have invaded them on numerous occasions which is something that they have never achieved with us. Hee Hee! The upshot of this engrained and traditional enmity is that they will go out of their way to f*ck us up; and vice versa. Believe me Franco/British business meetings can be a complete hoot. I’ll tell you some stories sometime!
So, traditionally, as nations, we don’t like each other. However as individuals we can and do get on really well.
There are some secrets to this:
Speak French. No matter how little, or how badly, or how ungramatically ALWAYS speak French. Even if you can only say hello, goodbye and thank you it melts their hearts and they will do everything to help you. Why does this work? Because it flatters them and makes them feel superior.
The French are very formal and ‘serious’ and put high store on good manners. Always and without fail say bonjour/bonsoir monsieur/madame when entering a room/shop/café/restaurant; to everyone, even to people to whom you have not been introduced (difficult for us English this one!). You don’t have to kiss people you don’t know (unless you want to!) but do be prepared to shake hands.
The cycling thing. It’s just something that, as a nation, they take very seriously as a serious matter. If you feel particularly wicked ask when was the last time a Frenchman won the Tour de France!!!!!!!
Loving your journey and blog.