Monday, May 24, 2004

George's First Reports

Friends: Paris is truly the film capital of the
universe. Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, which
has yet to open in the US, is playing on eight screens
here. It may have a couple week run at the Music
Box when it finally comes to Chicago, unless Bill
Murray mania wins it the attention it deserves.
Murray is in only one of the ten or so ten minute
segments of this series of shorts that Jarmusch has
been filming over the years, all invovling two people
sitting and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes or
alluding to such, but he overhwelms the film, which
abounds with Jarmusch's delightful,off-beat humor.
Murray is rip-roaing hilarious playing himself as a
waiter serving a couple of hip-hop artists and begging
them not to tell anyone he's working as a waiter, as
he drinks coffee from the pot that the hip hop artits
dont care to drink. They know the perils of caffeine,
and nicotine as well. My traveling companion Jesse
and I were hurting from our laughter.
It was a great way to rest our legs this afternoon
after spending all morning wandering around Paris on
our bikes with Jesse leading the way showing me all
his favorites places from when he spend 6 months here
as a student two years ago. Many of those favorite
sites were the many, many movie theatres that abound
here. Some offer a monthly pass letting one see
everything on their multiple screens, some of which
may be a part of a chain, for 18 or so Euros. There
is one that has a weekly triple feature starting at
midnight that concludes with breakfast, all for ten
Euros. Brown Bunny, last year's Cannes show-stopper,
which also awaits a US release, is playing. And there
is the usual Jarmusch retrospective going at one of
the theatres. He is a virtual deity here, or at least
royalty. One review referred to him as The Prince of
Independent Cinema. One of the first things Jesse did
when we began our explorations this morning after
arriving last night was to purchase the weekly booklet
that lists all the movie theatres and what's playing.
It is mind boggling. The Cannes poster, a tribute to
Marilyn Monroe's uplifted dress, is already on
display, even though the festival doesnt start for
nearly two weeks and is 500 miles away. But it is a
great national event and celebration. If we werent
headed there it would be difficult not to go movie
crazy, especially since we have crashing privileges
with a friend of Jesse's from his time here who lives
in the shadow of Sacre Coeur in Montmarte.
The bike is also celebrated here. As we biked the
21 miles from the airport to Montmarte last night on
our fully loaded bikes a passing bicyclist greeted us
with the exclamation "Bon Courage." As I guarded our
bikes this morning while Jesse was in the American
Express office changing money, the Bob Matter of Paris
came over and told me about a gathering of cylists
that happens on every Friday night, not just the last
Friday of every month as happens elsewhere across the
world. Even tho its not called a Critical Mass, my
new friend Michel said the bicylists proceed to take
over the streets, including the Champs Elysees, and
have a jolly good time like Crtical Massers the world
over. He said last Friday they had over 750 cyclists
and enthusiastically encouraged us to join in. He
even had a map that he gave me showing its starting
point just a block from Notre Dame. This 60 year old
gent went on on like some disciple preaching the
gospel of the bike, saying what a joy and how
worthwhile it is to ride and expressing great glee
over the three months of biking Europe that Jesse and
I have ahead of us. He said France is "late" on
bicycles compared to Holland and Denmark and Sweden,
but it is trying to catch up. But one thing France
isnt "late" on is the Tour de France, which he also
gushed over. He said he had his picture taken last
year with two of Lance's teammates on the Champs
Elysees at the conclusion of the race. He's never gone
to the mountains to witness first hand the dramatics
of the race, so he couldnt help but pound me on my
back to congratulate me for coming all the way from
America to do just that. He said he'd be rooting for
Lance to win number 6, just as I will be.
One more day in Paris and then on to former
Chicago bike messenger and Critical Masser Florence in
Tours, maybe a two day ride away.
Later, George

Friends, All early indications are France is a touring
cyclist's paradise. Except for having to set up our
tents in the rain twice, we have no complaints
whatsoever. Camping wild has been a snap, once in an
apple orchard and last night down a tractor path
alongside a field into a bit of a forest. We didnt
even have to wiat until the cover of dark to make our
camping clandestinem and for that we are grateful as
its not getting dark here until 9:30, All that extra
daylight will be nice later on when we are stronger
and can ride without tiring, but we're still finding
our legs. Jesse says his legs are just getting used
to their first real touring experience and they need
to be broken in like a young colt to the saddle.
Before long they will be eager to be at it and wont
want to stop.
The roads have been narrow and without any
shoulder, but the French appreciate and applaud anyone
on a bike, so they slow and wait patiently, if they
must, to pass us. The only disadvantage to the lack
of shoulders is there is no place for the abandoned
bungee cords and neckerchiefs and other stray items i
usually find along the road to turn up. But the
narrow country byways make for the most idyllic of
cycling. Whenever there is a squiggle in the road
ahead I imagine the l89 strong pelton of the Tour de
France ahead snaking down the road in all its
colourful splendor. There are fields of bright yellow
flowers of a soy bean in bloom along the road that
every Tour de France photographer would want to
include in the foreground of his shot of the peloton
racing past. The Tour in its 90 years has ridden just
about every road of France. A farmer we talked to for
about half an hour our first day on the road
mentioned, without us asking, that the Tour had passed
his farm 3 years ago. Its alway heartening to know tht
we are riding roads that many of the cycling greats
have also ridden. In Iceland the question I had for
everyone I met was if they ate putrefied shark meat.
Here it will be, when last did the Tour de France pass
here. And I imagine everyoe will brighten and have a
fond memory.
France is also a touring cyclist's dream with the
great variety of food it has to offer. The deli's in
the supermarkets all have tabouli and quiche lorraine
and potato salad, but not mere potato salad, but
potato salad with bits of ham. The French tuly love
food and when they have a passion for something, such

Friends, No one warned us when we went on line
yesterday at the LeBlanc library that it closed at
noon for lunch, thus the abrupt end to my previous
message. We were in a separate internet room with 8
computers that we had all to ourselves except for one
other person. We couldnt have been happier. We had
our lunch with us and had settled in for what we hoped
would be a couple hour break from the road. When we
were informed it was closing time, it was closing
time. We did manage to find another library at 5 pm,
but it had only one computer and closed at 5:30. We
were thwarted at another town in the middle of the
afternoon whose lone store that offered the internet
was inexplicably closed. As Jesse and I sat in the
tiny square of the small town waiting for the office
to open, we watched a parade of locals come by the
shop, check the door and walk off. In 30 minutes we
saw at least 20 people come and go, a veritable cross
section of the town. It was as entertaining as a Tati
movie watching their varied reactions of frustration.
After five or six, we couldnt help but laugh as each
person approached, anticipating their reaction. It
was better than being on the internet.
Anyway, when I left off yesterday, I was
commenting on the French devotion to meat, and was
about to add that friend Florence, who is a
vegetarian, deferred to the ways of her country and
put out a spread of meat along with cheese when we
overnighted with her and Rashid in Tours two days ago.
She said her family and friends think something is
seriously wrong with her after returning from America
a non-meat eater after being away nearly 20 years.
Jesse and I didnt need meat, but Florence thought we
might after biking 150 miles from Paris in two days,
so went overboard in welcoming us. We joyously arrived
at their apartment at 6 p.m., and gabbed non-stop
until nearly 2 a.m. like long lost friends who havent
seen each other in years, when, in fact, it had only
been ten months since she and Rashid had left Chicago.
Even if there hadnt been plenty to catch up on,
Florence and I could carry on for hours trading war
stories from the seven years we fought together on the
same battlefield--the streets of Chicago as bicycle
messengers. Jesse, too, could chip in a few stories
after messengering in Philadelphia for the past two
months. It was a shame that Jesse and I have no time
to spare to make it to Cannes, so we had to be off the
next day. Florence was off to school the first thing
in the morning, but Rashid was able to give us a quick
tour of Tours before we were on our way. Florence
even let him use her super light aluminum racing bike
to lead us around. This is the heart Chateau country
and Tours had one to offer, though it was quite
pint-sized compared to some of the monstrosities we
had seen as we bicycled along the Loire River.
From Florence our next destination is Craig
MacDonald, another Chicago bicyclist who lives six
months of the year in a town of 50 about 40 miles
north of the Mediterraen about 350 miles south of
Tours. I have a couple of bicycle parts to deliver.
We were hoping to be able to spend more than an
evening with him as Craig said he had loads of roads
he'd like to bicycle with us, but once again it
doesnt look as if time will allow. We arent making as
good time as we had hoped due to the rolling terrain.
We climbed over 4500 feet yesterday in 88 miles and
today in 30 miles we have climbed 2100 feet already.
Fortunately the temperature is cool, not even 60, so
we're not overheating, but it is extra cool in the
early morning. When it's raining, it's almost as cold
as Iceland in July.
We were saved having to set up camp in the rain
last night, but just barely. We camped just outside
Guret, which will be one of the finish line cities for
this year's Tour de France. We camped in a field that
was staked out for construction alongside the raod the
Tour riders will pass. Today we are riding roads that
will be part of the Tour's longest stage, 150 miles
from Limoges to St. Floret. I havent decided if I
will return to witness these stages or not. I'm
looking forward to being part of the throngs alongside
the road cheering the riders as they pass after a
truck driver today cheered me as he passed on a long
climb just as he would one of his favorite riders.
The race touches all here. Rashid even admitted to
being captivated by the hours of television coverage
he watched last summer, even tho he never really had
an interest in it when he was living in Chicago. He's
looking forward to watching it on tv again this July.

We go in to a couple of bakeries every day, Jesse
for a baguette and pastries and whatever, and I for
their more nutritional fare--quiches and potato
patties and pate's in a biscuit and other surprises.
They are always a delight giving a distinct local
flavor, and Jesse, with his fluency in French, often
has an interesting conversaton when we have the shop
to ourself. An older guy in the pastry shop in the
town with the closed internet shop told us about
visting Chicago. He said it wasnt anything like the
movies--it was clean and didnt have any gangsters.
Jesse is protecting me from any suggestions of
anti-Americanism I might have detected with my minimal
French. So far, everyone has been charming and
conversational. Jesse is greatly enhancing the
experience and saving me countelss frustrations, they
they too can be very telling aspects to one's travels.
But I will have a chance to experience France on my
own when we split off and Jesse heads to Berlin where
his girl friend will be studying this summer.
Later, George
George Writes and Bikes - From France

Vital Information is pleased to put out the writing and reports of George, the incredible biker. George occasionally gets around Chicago as a messenger, but whenever he gets a chance, he hits the world. Recent adventures include Iceland, Thailand, the Western USA and South America. You should well enjoy these reports.