September 10, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: St. Savin

The theme today is doing very little. This feels wierd, since I'm staying at a wonderful cycle lodge, La Lanterne Rouge in St. Savin, owned by an Irish couple, Paddy and Olive Sweeney. I had planned to ride Col de Soulor today, from the east. But I rode it yesterday, so today  I guess it's time for a day off the bike. After a short ride out to a lake, I returned to St. Savin where I sat on the square over the river, between the mountains, with the church behind me, to pursue nothing. Visited the church and museum, ate lunch, walked around town, and watched the world go past.Talked with anyone who stops to visit. Two motorcyclists seeing my bike offered a rope to pull me uphill, not the first time that joke has been made.

Much, maybe most, of the language I can fit together and am getting good at asking for explanations of unknown words. But it is probably humorous how much I don't get and make pleasant agreement to. I have a theory (supported by the opinions of several people I've talked to) why everyone thinks I'm English. Americans visit this area frequently enough, but we don't speak French beyond the very basics of travelling vocabulary. Now, my French, from my point of view, and I'm sure that my few friends at home who speak the language will agree, is terrible, bad, lousy, full of errors and hesitations. But I think I get it now, that people here think about me the way I think about people I meet in the US whose maternal language is not English. If they can speak and understand enough to hold a conversation, we can communicate. And that's what counts, for the fun in meeting people from other cultures is in the communication.

Words on roads. There are plenty of remnants from the 2011 Tour de France written on the roads. Most frequently I see Contador. We're very close to Spain. And certainly lots of Andy and Frank. Until yesterday I saw nothing for Thomas. But suddenly it was everywhere, urging him to take the yellow jersey all the way to Paris. What an incredible showng he made! Never saw Cadel Evans' name, perhaps because we're in mountains.

Also,on the road yesterday, on the ride up the valley before real climbing started, I read: NO TO BEARS and, further up the valley: WAR ON BEARS. In Toulouse last year I watched a documentary about the Pyreneean brown bears. The last native bear was shot and killed several years ago. Now there is an attempt to reintroduce bears here, bears from Eastern Europe. The news makes this sound very controversial, but I'm told almost everyone supports the bears. Except a percentage of sheep farmers, who fear losing animals to the larger predators. It sounds similar to reintroducing wolves in the Rockies.

Flowers: so many of our ornamentals grow as wildflowers here. Butterfly bush continues to be everywhere, and also mallows, filipendula, pincushion flower, oregano, mint. The roads often are fragrant with mint. There are figs, chestnuts and walnuts growing next to the roads.

Very occasionally while riding, someone has ridden alongside and chatted for a bit. Since everyone I meet rides faster than me (of course, otherwise they wouldn't catch up with me,) and since I enjoy learning about other cyclists here, this of course makes me pick up my pace a little. It is even harder to carry on a conversation in French while winded as it is in English. Best that I can make out, most conversations are about climbing cols, and watching the TDF.



  1. Susan, your photos are really wonderful. Really must get to this area for some riding! About the French thinking you are English, I think you are onto something with your idea, but I get it all the time as well and I think, for the most part, it's just the shear number of Brits here compared with (especially solo!) Americans (or Canadians, as the case may be). I've had German several times, too, so I'm starting to wonder about my accent seriously...

  2. Hi Susan --Just finished reading back posts I missed in the last few days. Your pix are simply gorjus! Must be something about that mountain air that's coming through in the pix.
    Can't imagine how super healthy you'll be upon return. Am so delighted the trip is going so beautifully! And that you've got sun instead of the continuous rain we've had of late.
    Am loving the details in your posts. XLaury

  3. Gerry, Thanks for your note! My photos are only a function of how beautiful it is, they are from an uneditable (on my tablet) point and shoot digital.

    You and Paddy Sweeney should trade blogsites. I'll try to organize an email. You both have great sites, in close but not that close parts of France.

    I've been taken also for Norwegian, but have started asking why people think I'm English and am essentially told that Americains don't talk so much. And I'm usually accused of being quiet...

    Keep in touch, I love these comments!


  4. Hey Laury, great to hear your voice, thank! I sent you an email, hope you got it. After a very good pizza tonight, but with canned olives on it, before too long I am going to have to do some serious eating on behalf of both of us!! The oysters and fish stews of the Mediterranean coast beckon! SM


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