Expecting nothing, getting more: (Fontenay-Les Herbiers) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

April 23, 2012

Expecting nothing, getting more: (Fontenay-Les Herbiers)

Helping wind behind, clear road ahead
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DO YOU EVER have one of those days when you expect nothing but get something? And then expect something and get, well, not nothing but rather less than you'd thought?

My gentlemanly and snail-like progress against the wind up western France has been in some of the worst weather the Republic has known. That alone is a project for the new president, whoever he is. It is as well that we live in civilised times because the revolution of 1789 started over far less than this.

Having watched more news about the election than any man could reasonably tolerate last night, I cheered myself up by turning to a programme about air crashes. That was followed by the weather forecast, where a cheerful woman told me it was going to rain all day and all the next day as well. And it did rain all day, too, although it came with a thumping tailwind. I wish I'd been quicker out of bed to profit from it.

The trees shook in anger and wept on the road. Water ran against me like an incoming tide as I climbed. I watched it sweep past me when I descended. Cats looked aggrieved as they poked their nose out from the dry to watch me pass. Cows stood vacantly and cow-like in fields and wondered what the fuss was about.

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It was the cows that made the hills. Flat land is best for crops; hilly country suits cattle and see cows and you see views. They stood and chewed, perpetually considering the bovine riddle of whether to stay munching there or go off and nibble elsewhere. Where there weren't cows there were fields of knee-high crops, or seedlings planted in parallel rows like a running track. And when there were neither, there were empty fields as a sort of agricultural pending tray.

No, no idea either
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Sorry, no idea about this one, either
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Villages passed without sharing a glance. The election posters were still there, but suddenly out of their time now, like empty bottles after the previous night's party. But it was another site that attracted me. It was just before Les Herbiers and it pointed me to Clemenceau's grave.

Clemenceau, one of those statesmen who no longer needs a first name, was one of the world's great leaders in the era of cockade hats and generals on horses. He had the novelty of speaking English with an American accent and outdated slang learned from living in New York.

A man like that would surely have a mausoleum, certainly with all the absurd weeping angels that make up your everyday French cemetery. But no. 'Bury me,' his will insisted, 'in a plain grave next to my father, with just a railing and no name.'

Clemenceau: bury me in a simple grave
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And that was that. A small flight of steps to an oblong of grass with, at its end, two railed areas each just large enough for a coffin. No hint which was the father, which the son. A visit takes the length of a camera click. I had gained something unexpected from the day but been let down by what was there. I had gained from the tailwind but lost because it was so strong that finally it became difficult to ride - and dangerous any time the road swung off at a different angle. And, to tell you the truth, I'd had enough.

It's early evening now and it's still raining hard. Blowing, too.

Today's ride: 76 km (47 miles)
Total: 349 km (217 miles)

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