And Y not? - Mid-winter across Europe - CycleBlaze

January 5, 2007

And Y not?

Arras, Mercatel, St-Martin, Vaux-Vraucourt, Etricourt-Manancourt, Péronne, Athies, Croix-Moligneaux, Y, Libermont, Fréniches, Noyon, Bailly, Compiègne

Back when I lived in Belgium and worked in Antwerp, we used to have a daily copy of the International Herald Tribune.

It was a markedly dull paper and, because I suppose its staff were Americans and because in any case the news came from American agencies, reading it in Europe was akin to hearing two stuffy professors discussing you on the other side of a door. It was probably accurate enough but it had that air of being talked about rather than talked to.

Now and then, though, the tedium became too much for the staff and they'd come up with something unusual. Which is how I came to see the picture of the village of Y.

That's all there was to the name: Y. There was a picture of the sign to show it, the conventional rectangular sign that all French villages have, with the lettering in black capitals and the white background edged in red.

The idea of a place named by a single letter intrigued me. Apart from anything else, what did you call it? Was it i-grecque, a Greek I, as the letter Y is called in the alphabet? Or was it "eee", as it's pronounced in a word?

I never forgot the village of Y but as the years passed and I failed to find it on a map or in real life, I wondered whether the International Herald Tribune had uncharacteristically made a little joke. Maybe it was an "April fish", as they say in French. Maybe the village had a longer name but the other letters had peeled off.

Well, now I know.

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One of the things I do on any ride is stop when I see an old advertisement painted on the wall of a house. Until the 1960s they were a feature of France, until the day when Paris ruled they were making a mess of the most beautiful country in the world. Since then no new advertisements have been painted and those that were have largely disappeared. In a way they are the heritage of recent French history and so I collect photographs of them.

In Croix-Moligneaux I stopped to take a picture and propped my bike against a signpost. And there it was - a kilometre and a half to Y.

I couldn't resist. I set off as invited.

There wasn't much more to the village than there was to the name - just a collection of houses and a junction. On the way back, I took a picture of the sign and added "NOT?" by rubbing it into the grime, to read "Y NOT?" It wasn't much of a joke, I concede, but it helped lift the gloom of another long, grim battle through open, windswept, shelterless, rolling countryside.

Tomorrow: I meet a cheated hero.

Today's ride: 139 km (86 miles)
Total: 596 km (370 miles)

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