30 juin 2003
gem of a tour in the Lot
Des bijoux du Lot
On a recent road trip, we passed
through an out of the way region that is as charming and splendid as any
we’ve seen in our travels around la
profonde. We’d set out to visit
Cahors via Toulouse
(more on that another time), and on our
roundabout way back we stopped in Figeac, installing ourselves in a
hotel on the banks of the Célé river, the Pont d’Or.
A few hours
later, the raconteur/bartender at a nearby café took us aside and told
us that if we wanted to take an exquisite day trip, there was a driving
loop that we wouldn’t regret or soon forget. He pulled out our map,
highlighted some small roads with his pen, jotted down a few phone
numbers, and proceeded to offer us a drink in celebration of our next
morning we set out on the D41 and passed through a hidden valley with a
string of hamlets and towns, connected like little jewels along the
winding Célé: Ste-Eulalie,
Espagnac, St. Sulpice, and Marcilhac-sur-Célé, where we arrived in
time to watch locals shop and chat with the traveling butcher at his
truck. Time seems to have stopped in many of these spots. Part of the
special feel might come from the fact that it has always been part of a
medieval pilgrimage route. Even today you see travelers, walking or
bicycling, on their way to Rocamadour, Conques and other sacred sites in
the region of Quercy.
enchanted Célé valley of the outside Figeac
pointed roof, typical of Auvergne and Quercy
on the loop, at the fork of the Célé and Lot
rivers, looms the fairy-tale village
of Saint-Cirq Lapopie. A haunt of artists and writers, this
classic medieval fortress town has several castles, towers and a chapel
perched over the village with its winding streets, gabled houses, and a
lively art community. Views across the river valleys are impressive, and
down below the Saint-Cirq Lapopie cliff are watermills, weirs, locks and
a towpath to explore.
return trip along the Lot
river brought more villages, beautiful
light, sweeping hills and valleys. All in all, a journey that was
inspiring and filled with beautiful sights, an inspiration for
bicyclists, walkers, horseback riders, and roadsters as well.
evening in Figeac, after a quiet stroll through the town, we found a
wonderful restaurant where we drank and ate local specialties (foie gras,
duck, Cahors and Auvergnac red wines). A quiet town, a quiet region,
filled with the kind of beauty that it seems only France
For those who like touring by
train, Quercyrail offers combination train/boat tours in the valley of
the Lot. Starting from either Cahors or Capdenac
(near Figeac), you amble along this beautiful valley in an old-fashioned
slow moving train that runs 71 kilometers from Cahors to Capdenac with
stops all along the Lot river, including at Saint-Cirq Lapopie. For more
information visit the Quercyrail website.
Happy 100th Birthday, Tour de France
Le centenaire du Tour de France
One of the
world’s most grueling sports celebrates its centennial in July of this
year. For the 100th time, an international group of lycra-clad
musclemen on two wheels will set out to ride thousands of miles for
three weeks across the mountains, rivers and valleys of
to compete for le
maillot jaune, the yellow jersey. On July 27th the Champs Elysées will be crammed with
people eager for a glimpse of these superathletes when they arrive in Paris
to cross the finish line.
This renowned bicycle race began as a
promotional stunt to gain newspaper readership. In a clever competitive
move, the publisher of a sporting journal decided to boost sales by
sponsoring a different sort of cross-country bicycle race, the longest
ever (more than 1,500 miles) and in six stages over a period of time. The
paper’s vivid day-by-day reports of progress of the 60 participants
did much for bicycle sales, and the newspaper sold hundreds of thousands
of copies as well. The Tour de France has become a French institution,
and over the last century many a French school child learned as much
about the geography of France
from assiduously following this summer race
as from any classroom lessons.
year’s 22-day race covers 3,350 kilometers (nearly 2,100 miles) in
20 segments. Although the route is changed each year, it always includes
steep mountain roads, rolling fields of grain, grapes and sunflowers,
historic monuments, small isolated villages, and of course the grand
finale down the Champs Elysées in Paris.
is a world of superstars. And heroes. American Lance Armstrong competes
again this year, hoping to join the elite of bicycle racing with his
fifth T-d-F win. But he is already a superhero, not only for his
athleticism but because of his valiant fight with cancer in the midst of
his career. Other famous names that roll off the tongues of true
aficionados include the Spaniard Miguel Indurain, Belgian Eddy Merckx,
Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, and Greg LeMond, the
first American to wear the yellow jersey with his win in 1986.
the Tour de France ranks as the world’s third most popular sporting
after the World Cup and the Olympics. In fact, because these latter two occur only periodically, it
could be said that this glorious race is the
world’s most popular annual sporting event. Well, whatever…millions of
people tune in to follow progress, via television, the internet, and, of
course, the newspaper. For details on this year’s route,
up-to-the-minute coverage, and profiles of racers, check out the
Bicycling News site at www.tourdefrancenews.com.
For French coverage, try www.letour.fr.
Lance goes for
his fifth win
in the 100th Tour de France
Strikes are getting
La grève – c’est grave!
As you probably know,
has been hard hit this year with strikes and work stoppages. Some are
likening this period to the May 1968 revolution, when the French social world
turned itself upside down. Trains, planes and highway service have been
interrupted on an almost weekly basis since April, when government
officials began publicly discussing ways to alleviate the financial and
economic crises in France. Particularly galling to workers is the proposal to increase the
retirement age in
France, while at the same time requiring workers to put in more years in order
to be fully vested in the government pension system. Transportation
workers feel they are being hit from all directions, not only by French
government proposals but by new European Union inter-country transport
pricing and policies.
horreur for the average worker, but even more so for the average
family: How to get your
child educated, get to work, much less plan a vacation when it’s not
certain that on Tuesday the trains will be running or institutions will
be operational. The culmination of this mess seemed to be in June when
the annual student baccalaureate exams (le bac) were nearly cancelled because of strikes and stoppages.
Now another imbroglio has emerged during the
hot summer months. Benefit rules for unemployed dancers, filmmakers,
musicians, actors -- generally speaking those working in the arts -- are
going to be made more stringent, and as a result a significant portion of
summer arts events across France have been postponed or cancelled in
protest. No actors, no dancers, no technicians…no show!
This really hurts the towns and departments in
the south of France, where summer festivals bring in more people and dollars than in any
other part of the country. Rumor has it the Theatre Festival of Avignon
might be cancelled, an
event that drew 600,000 spectators last year. Postponements, cutbacks and
cancellations in Orange, Aix, Marseille and Montpellier
are wreaking havoc with local economies. “C’est
catastrophique! This will be the end of small business” says a tourism official from the Provence/Languedoc region. Estimates of losses
range in the millions of euros, and that’s not chicken feed. If
you’re planning to attend any performing arts events this summer in
France, be sure to check ahead on what’s still on and if you can get
there. One source for up-to-date info might be www.franceculture.org,
the Ministry of Culture’s website.
Troubling times…but somehow these
things seem to work themselves out. Just go with the flow, with fingers
crossed for good luck.
the French are different
Oui, les francais sont particuliers
In the midst
of turbulent Franco-American relations, several books have appeared this
spring that might help get at the reasons behind our differences. Two French-Canadian
journalists have tackled the
thorny subject of "that French thing" in the just-released
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but not the French.
(Glad it was written by Canadians, not Americans, given that
title.) The book does an excellent job looking beyond generalizations.
As the authors say in their intro, "we did not move to France to
renovate a house in Provence. What we are trying to do is renovate some
ideas." Bon courage!
On a much lighter note are two books on the
French feminine mystique.
Fatale : How French Women Do It, by Edith Kunz, has a
great cover and plenty of entertaining and revealing reading in between. Entre
Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl (who thought
up that title?) is amusing, light-hearted, and frivolous -- perfect for
summer reading on the beach, the bus or the train.
know what? The French are different, and vive la difference!
What a great
more new books ...
Stay cool ... à la prochaine!
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