There is an eighth Century image of a Caravan going to Mecca from a book of Arab literature called “The Maqamat, with pilgrims blowing trumpets, banners waving and happy glowing faces showering Dinars on communities as they pass. Le Tour de France is kind of similar.
Preceding the bicycles come the caravan of promotional vehicles, blowing the sponsor’s trumpet. Pop music blares from the vehicles turned billboards, girls dance on top of roofs, showering the thousands who line the streets with giveaways; toys, hats, sweets, stickers, whistles, wrist bands, etc.
Those in the international press who have derided Le Tour for the doping scandals, I believe, have prematurely written the obituary for the 103-year-old cycling race that brings joy to millions.
It is truly part of the French summer. It flickers from the TV screens in every cafe, energizes amateur cyclists to take to the roads, turns usually sleeping villages into carnivals and follows a precise schedule. If Le Tour is scheduled to arrive at 2:46 pm, be sure to be off the road.
The lead riders swoop in, frantic to get out of the village as if a crazed wolf is pursuing them. Then there is calm. The village folk, necks craned, a slight breeze blows through, rustling the leaves on the proud oak trees standing in the square. Then you hear a hum, then a roar, as if there truly is a beast in hot pursuit.
Police bikes and cars, flashing lights, ambulances, officials, journalists and photographers on more bikes, descend upon the corner of the village’s main thoroughfare on which I stand. These vehicles plunge into the corner, Hollywood wheels screeching, desperate to stay ahead of the peloton.
In a blink of an eye, swarming out of the shadows of the oak trees, comes the spectacle which is Le Tour de France. At its exhilarating best, the peloton’s 100 or so cyclists arrive; 3 or 4 abreast, maybe 1.5 seconds between them, brakes smoking as they too dive into that village corner, teams in perfect unison riding on each others back wheel. No place for the faint of heart, no place for second guessing, no wonder I thought, they need those drugs.
I wonder when you ride with performance enhancing chemicals zinging around your veins, do you notice? Can you feel the extra power? Do you become 10 foot tall and bullet proof? Are you just a machine?
Professional sport, it is what it is, like the World Wrestling Federation, you believe what you choose to believe, its all good entertainment.
Another French summer institution is homework. Apparently 3.5 million holiday revision guides are sold each summer to keep children tuned into their education whilst schools are closed for two months. And now it is the parents’ turn. The best seller in France this summer has been “Le Cahier de Vacances pour Adultes – Holiday Revision Guide for Adults.
It is on top of the non-fiction best sellers list, having sold 90,000 copies. I should get to work on one for Cairo parents, help the kids with a little homework payback.
Alas, my flirtation with France is now over. I said bon voyage last Friday following a slight delay on the runway at Pau Airport. The pilot informed passengers he was waiting for someone to chase the hawks away; birds of prey that were circling the airport. We took off safely; the hawks I believe are now circling Le Tour de France.
Back in England, I have missed the floods, but I have had six degrees of separation incident with those nasty terrorists who tried to burn down Glasgow airport by driving a Jeep into the terminal.
My sister-in-law, the very gorgeous and talented Charlotte, has a friend of Indian decent named Sharad, who is married to a doctor, also of Indian decent named Rupa, who owns the house in Glasgow in which the two doctors lived who were driving that infamous Jeep Cherokee. Rupa is now looking for new tenants.
As always in the UK, stories about Egyptian mummies always make the news. If it was April 1 I might not believe it, but researchers in Manchester are looking for volunteers, who are missing their right big toe, to try on a replica of the artificial toes from two mummies, one in Cairo and one in the British Museum. They are trying to determine if the toes aid walking, in which case the Egyptians would again be the first with prosthetic body parts.