The Town Big Band is a wonderful institution. It is utterly fantastic that it exists, state funded somehow, I have never learned the details. Run by the members. They have instruments you can borrow if you are learning. The core of the big band is the old timers, or the regulars. But the story of the youngsters is also important. Every now and again (next concert is in May) they do a free concert. I never miss one if at all possible. Most of the audience are family or old band members. Full up today, they had to bring out more chairs. Maybe a hundred people. There were 18 players who contributed, maybe 16 on every song. Although they were missing some players, they have two trumpets, five saxes, (two alto, two tenor, one baritone), four trombones, then bass, guitar, piano and percussion.
The Big Band plays mostly classic big band music, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others. Maybe a few arranged movie things, like the Pink Panther. Often I don’t know the name of the song as there is never a programme, and sometimes they don’t even announce the tune. Other times, almost like a joke, someone who can’t even come close to the English pronunciation butchers it. No idea what they say. Slightly disrespectful, but hey, they are French. Birdland (later, longer sub-story), One Note Samba, Fly Me to the Moon, Here There and Everywhere, A Train are other tunes. I know many of the tunes, although I don’t know the names.
Every time I go, I think what a privilege it must be to play in a big band, especially for kids, but for anyone. Especially a band that does not have to pay wages and transport costs. I think it is rare in any town, anywhere, to have a big band playing jazz and related music. I am not by any means a big band fan. My music tends to be more world, jazz, tinged with rock and roll, soul and country. This was, for me, most of my life, “old music”, “old people’s music”. Which is also true. But it’s what they play in in town every few months, so I have come to enjoy it more than ever before in my life. I have gone back to the originals, seen how excellent this music is, and what good players the real guys were. It is a major cultural art form and one that you can dance to. Born in the USA, but loved everywhere, even in my little town in the French sticks.
As you might expect, there is a grandfather who plays trombone, the father who plays trumpet and the son who is a drummer.
Most players in the band play one instrument all the time. But the rhythm section has a few young students of the teachers in the town music school. The school does all the music teaching, adult or children. One day, if a dream comes true, I shall buy a tenor sax, take lessons in the music school, and get good enough to play in the big band. So the bass teacher had a guitar player and the bass player. Both were girls, maybe 12-14. The guitar player was not quite the level of the bass player. The bass player looked like a regular vanilla French person, the guitar player was “from the diversity”, as they say sometimes. Brown. But almost certainly utterly French. I was thinking that when brown women bass players become common enough in French music groups, a serious social change will have taken place. The drum teacher also had two students, the good student who played often and the less good one who was only on the drum kit for one song. I found the movement of these six players and their teachers utterly fascinating. Hope they bring the same students again.
Birdland (by Weather Report) has been the encore for the last seven or eight years. They are very happy when playing it, they have got quite tight over the years, they incorporate new people to do solos, everyone in the audience waits for it. Today, I was very strongly impressed with the performance of the bass teacher’s student, although the teacher played more songs. How often does anyone get to play with big band? It’s a treat. But the young lass played on three songs, one of them Birdland. The teacher sat next to her, and helped out at tricky transitions, but she knew her part by heart, hardly looked at the music, and never made a big mistake. She looked around the room, sometimes smiling quietly. She was terrific, discovery of the day. The unusual thing about Birdland, is that it was the name and theme tune of a radio show I did on the Lancaster University Radio, in 1982 or 3. The introduction is great for giving the quick intro spiel. Check it out, and you will see what I mean. That young lass played the intro impeccably, just the bass and silence. You might have a hard time imagining how I was affected strongly when I first went to a Big Band concert, and heard Birdland, plus all these other songs I knew. It was, and continues to be a powerful treat. I am proud to be an American when I think of our music.
Oh yes, the way the band works is that for one weekend, every few months, they start playing on Saturday and rehearse, until the concert on Sunday at 17h00. Then they drift apart, although many are in the Harmonie, which rehearses more often. I will tell you more about the Harmonie when I go to their next concert.
PS I did go out for a very short ride today, as shall be away for a couple of days and the weather was fine. Accidentally, I found a road where the traffic was blocked off, and found the empty road an immense pleasure for several k. This week, I found out why I feel so weak on hills. Decided lack of red blood cells, must remedy that. Epo?
Nearly every day, I go into town. I live in a lotissement, built on a vineyard between 1981-83. It takes me about two minutes to get into “town”, traffic, cafe, first church. Another minute or so and I am on the main drag, Rue de la République. Mairie (municipal offices, annual budget 17 million euros) at the top of the road. Parking on both sides of the street. There are only two ways to get into town, I alternate for variety. For me going into town is entering “another world”. I have to return gently to the altogether different life in my suburban house. Quiet. Routines. Sense of security. Unlike the centre ville.
Today, I wanted to check if the fantastic trumpet player playing tonight at the newly built hall of spectacles, was sold out. It was, ten days ago. I am not used to loads of people coming from outside the valley to see a national class act. We get those classier acts more often with the newly built hall of spectacles. Still, life is full of things you miss. I also wanted to get l’Equipe, the best selling national paper in France. The sports paper. I consider it purchase a slight luxury, a treat. Although the paper is the best quality for lighting our wood fire for heating. I don’t buy it every day during the winter non-cycling season. But if I am in town to pick up some meds, buy some eggs, see about insurance, I will pick up a copy and check out the new cycling mags at the Maison de la Presse.
There is a new shop on the “Grand Rue”, as some call it. I should say that my town has over 7,000 people, thousands I don’t know at all. Shops shut every year in the centre ville. People who are retiring and no kid wants to take it up. Dreams that never came true. Town centre bakeries have closed recently. Maybe for reasons I don’t know. Maybe due to competition from a new branch of a bakery chain. In fact, the new bakery makes the only proper baguette in town. Anyway, the good side is that nearly all of the closed shops are taken by new businesses. Let me give you examples. The first dedicated mobile phone shop. A wine bar. A tea cafe/resto. A slick new cheap “gourmet” restaurant. The first ever travel agent. At least three pizza delivery choices. A big kebab shop. An independent bookshop that has survived for several years. Also, of course, some obvious loser shops selling tat. Oh yes, you can sit in one cafe, now called a “brasserie”, with tablecloths at lunch, use the wireless connection and order some sushi. Honest. We have definitely moved into the 21st Century.
I popped into “the new shop”, called “The Local”. They are building a kitchen, shelves and floors, really working hard to get it ready for the opening on 2 February. I know one of the three people doing it. Not well, but we have been in meetings together. I stick my head in when passing. Volunteers are helping out. It is going to be a Bedarieux version of a local, organic, friendly, cafe/grocery. No doubt where many notices that might interest me will be posted. I will always check it out when I go into town to find someone for a spontaneous coffee. It has no outside, so it might be a good place in the winter. I doubt I will eat there much, but who knows. They are going to sell basic unprocessed foodstuffs, organic local produce, commerce equitable, and cosmetique stuff. Open on Monday and Saturday until 1500. Nice choice as those are the only times when lots of people come into town, and business should be brisk. Monday is the main market day. Saturday there is an organic market of sorts, and people who work on Monday morning might pop in. The other days from 9h00 until 19h00. Is the food going to be GOOD? Will they have cakes?
Part of the (small life) adventure of “going into town” is who you might meet. At home, we have a quiet, calm, fairly ordered existence. Except yesterday, when we had a sudden plumbing-related problem, life got disrupted a bit. When you go out into public space, you risk (mild) surprises. You could see anyone, anything could happen . I exchanged a warm bonjour with a woman who lives just above us. She has to walk down and back up a seriously steep little hill to get into town. I am ALWAYS breathing hard when I walk up to her house. She has a cane, and does the walk nearly every day. Slowly, but every day. Probably to get out of the house, say hello to a few people and do some little errands. She told me she does it, carrying shopping, partly to keep herself fit. I reckon she has to be late eighties. A jaunty hello revealed one of my neighbours riding past. It was my kiné, a member of the cycling club and one of the immediate neighbours who has been pretty friendly. The two times when I wanted to ring my internet provider to tell them my phone didn’t work, but not on the mobile because of cost, I asked to use their phone. We have another neighbour or two like that. I had a massage from him two days ago, he does his house calls on the bike one week out of two. Sometimes, in town, I might meet an unexpected friend, that is always a treat. It happens maybe every three weeks.
Going into town is part of what I call “my small life”. Everyone has one, some just think their small life is a big one. I love going into town.
I am not really much of a bike rider just now, and the racing season has not begun, so there really has not been much about cycling in this blog. Time for a change. Let’s start with my riding, am I actually doing it? I do appreciate that some of you won’t know much about cycling, some of you know a lot, and some of you might not read much further. Although I inserted some photos to tempt you.
For the past three years I have not really been an awesome cyclist, even taking into account my age. I have not ridden with my club for at least two years, maybe three. When I first moved here, and became fit enough to ride fair distances, I rode nearly every Sunday morning with the local club. First time I ever joined a cycling club. It was a brilliant idea and was executed immaculately by me and them. The riders in the club were as welcoming to me as any other single group of French people. But of all the French political, social, neighbourly groups, the cycling club easily accepted me as I was, in spite of bad French and very weak cycling. “Accepted”? Well, it seemed like it to me. In fact, I was the slowest rider on any ride. The only other foreigner, a Dane, was one of the strongest in the club. I went out for between three and four hours on maybe 7 of 10 Sundays. Always back for lunch, that was the deal. I learned the roads of the area, and got pretty fit. At that time, the first few years, there was a slow group every Sunday, so it didn’t matter that I was slow.
At the moment, I mostly ride alone or with my pal Yves. I have also been quite unwell for two or three years. I won’t go into the various diseases and conditions, but during the past few years, every time I get fit, I stop riding for some reason. As one gets older, the plunge in form when you stop riding happens faster, and the recovery to fitness is slower. Right now, I am at the stage of recovering slowly from hardly riding at all for months. I am riding very short rides, without much climbing and for not very long. I hope this will change. I would love to be able to ride 80k and climb 800m in a morning or afternoon, as I used to, without destroying the rest of the day due to exhaustion. We shall see. This ride is what I did today, after I woke up from my nap, late in the afternoon. It gets dark around six here now.
The ride begins outside town and follows the most trafficked road in the valley for a bit. It is still a lovely road, the traffic is easily handled. There are hills or cliffs along the road (see photo). I ride along this particular few kilometres many times. It is one of three principal exits from town. Sky is blue, temperature about 13 degrees.
I then turn onto a small road that has very little traffic. It is essentially a false flat for maybe six k. You don’t really notice it is up, until you come back down that road. From this road, I took the very first turning, but if you continue you go up the Col de Merquiere, which is a very easy hill. Or another turning takes you to another hilltop settlement. When I am moving from almost no fitness to comfortable fitness, I climb that Col after a couple of other small climbs, easier ones. You can see the V shape that indicates that col in the distance, behind the Arabian Horse Farm alongside the road over the col.
Taking the first turning, I go up a rather short steep hill, maybe a kilometre all told. This takes me over the Col de Dio, from the horse farm valley. I don’t even know the name of either valley. From the Col de Dio you can just see picturesque Dio itself. Dio’s main feature, besides the windmills on the hill behind, is a rather large chateau. I have never been in it. This region has been exceedingly poor for several centuries, maybe more, so a chateau is slightly unusual. In the photo below, the chateau is on the right and the outskirts of the village is on the left. I don’t think you can buy anything in Dio, you have to leave by car, although there is a bus more than once a day. I have heard there are lots of English living there, or maybe Germans too. However, I don’t actually know anyone who lives there. Very pretty though. The red soil is indicative of the presence or bauxite (and maybe iron too). They have mined the bauxite for ages, still do some places. You get aluminium from bauxite.
At this point I have done all the real work on this rather easy ride. I have a long descent from the top of the Col de Dio, hardly any pedalling for three or four k. So this road, pictured below, stretches out for a fifteen minutes or so. Later, I cross the River Orb, then turn back onto the main road and ride home. Must get a shot of the river, same river that was in the only other photo in the blog so far. That circular route climbs 182 metres and is 26k altogether. So you can see I have a long way to go to get fit, but some utterly fabulous countryside to ride in. Once I get into the hills in back of the photo below, I should be fit. The one good sign is that I was not that utterly wasted when I got home, although I will be going to bed early.
I have a lot to say about riding a bike. And when I do a bit more riding, I will say a bit more. But frankly, looking at those average photos, I am really happy to be able to ride around here.
During the last meeting of my Peace and Justice group, http://www.americansforpeaceandjustice.org/, we were talking about two proposals for action. One was to “animate” a discussion after a Hollywood film about Margaret Thatcher (played brilliantly, apparently, by Meryl Streep). The movie (coming soon to a very APJ- friendly cinema in the city centre) apparently tends to be a bit Hollywood love story, and does not mention her role in facilitating the takeover of Britain by market forces, financial crooks and globalised mentalities. Our job would be to find a good speaker who could remind all the punters at the movie about the “bad” side of Thatcherite policies (none of us feel knowledgable enough to do it). We assume the viewers would be a “cross section of the population”, mainly present to see the movie.
The other choice (we may do both) was to do the discussion animation for the premier of a movie about Howard Zinn (Google him). We assumed that film would attract many people who more or less share Zinn’s sense of the world. This is a contrast with “anybody”, who might come to the Streep-Thatcher movie. In our group, nearly everyone has immense respect for Zinn and nearly zero respect for Thatcher. During the discussion, the notion of “preaching to the choir”, or “the converted” came up. So the advantage of the Streep-Thatcher movie discussion would be that people who had not heard “our rap” would hear it, and possibly be challenged or changed a bit. With the Zinn film we would be “preaching to the converted” or “the choir”. The implication is that it is a good thing to speak with the “anyone”, but somehow bad or undesirable to speak with the people who generally share a leftish-liberal, critical view (which is APJ’s view).
I was opposed to having anything to do with the Thatcher movie and for doing the Zinn movie (everyone agrees we should front the Zinn movie). Like everyone else, I had seen neither film, but we had to decide before the movie was here (via trailers, reviews). I was also very much in favour of having a post-movie discussion with “people in the choir”, or “the converted”. I was opposed to having a discussion with people who might be pro-capitalist, who might love the unfettered market, might be “globalisation helps us all” types, or people who like strong authoritarian leaders. At least after a bad movie, this discussion seemed out of place. Why did this notion of “it is better to preach to the unconverted” bother me?
After several decades as some kind of political activist and as a teacher, I have realised that you just don’t know when and how someone will be affected seriously by what you say or do. The best planned and delivered speech can affect hardly anyone. A huge march can be boring for you, although it might affect some people immensely. A discussion where people are really diametrically or deeply opposed can be lively and productive, or a waste of time. A casual remark can be remembered for a lifetime. So it might be a better idea to do a heavy economic critique after a Hollywood film, or it could be a waste of time. Hard to tell, if I am honest.
My own experience is that I have spent way too much time in my life reading or listening or even hanging out with people I don’t like or don’t agree with. Usually this happens when working for money, or with people who I meet casually, often through someone else. Those people are NOT likely at all to be open and receptive, at least not usually. I feel I don’t want to spend very much more serious time with people who are pro-capitalist, racist, mistreat animals, are grossly sexist, and so forth, that is, “anyone”. It is such hard work, so demanding. The world being what it is however, I do spend plenty of time with “anyone”. I don’t think watching a superficial, but entertaining movie, and hearing a discussion afterwards about how it is a bad movie is likely to change anyone. Certainly not us. Maybe, maybe not. For me, most of daily life is spent with people whose beliefs about life are way different than mine.
What I am in favour of, and what I look forward to, is hanging out with people I mostly agree with, with whom I feel comfortable, certainly in the context of a political group. Even in private life, I find it pretty uncomfortable to hang with people who diss protestors, advocate capitalist morals and actions, treat and talk about women negatively, and so forth. I would rather be somewhere else. The somewhere else is working, talking and having intimate relations with people who share a number of concerns, but not on everything. How could anyone possibly agree with me on everything? I don’t spend enough time with people who are my brothers or sisters, more or less on the same path. In fact, there are not THAT many soul sisters or brothers in the world. Some days go by when I don’t even speak a word or do anything with a soul brother or sister. Thanks to the phone or internet, I am in some kind of touch, but not the real thing. So I am in favour of MORE gatherings of the choir or the “converted”, not fewer. So I think that hanging out with the “our tribe” is a very useful and important thing for all movements.
What I am saying is that the converted, the convinced, the choir (don’t like any of those words, but no space to discuss here) is composed of quite different individuals, and it might be a better idea to begin to explore that difference between “us”, instead of degrading this activity. This goes both for my political group and for movie audiences and discussions. Furthermore, promoting and encouraging “people like us” to get together and see what we can do together is a laudable, not a flawed strategy. Looking within, self-reflection or collective reflection is an activity we don’t do enough. People who diss it call it “navel gazing” or “talking up your own bum”. I find this an activity that is very much lacking in my political groups, pure French (except me) or Americano-French.
My town bike on the bridge over the River Orb, today.
I just got back from my physio, or kinésithérapeute (kiné). One of my kinés is a guy who went to high school with my rheumatologist, and the other, also an autochthon, is a cyclist friend. There is a good story there, but not today. Walking home, I got to thinking why I like the French Health System so much. In fact, overall, better than the British. My recent experiences with the USA health system are that it is just plain uncivilised and inexcusable, unless you have a fair bit of money and a gold health plan. Even then … but I don’t know much about the USA system.
From my experience, the doctors, nurses. technicians and other staff are about the same in both the UK and France. They get “the same training”, read and digest pretty much “the same research” and can work in the other country if they wished. There are always one or two incompetent ones, but overall, medical staff are good. A surprising number of medical people speak English in France, the reverse not being so. In the French health system, immigrants always have to deal with the tedious French bureaucracy, which is nearly always worse than the one you know, including the British. For health it is relatively simple, but you just have to do the bureaucratic work to be looked after. What really distinguishes the two systems is everything else around “the medical side”. They have a taxi service which can take you to a specialist appointment or for hospitalisation, if you need the transport. ALL hospitals, have only two people in a room, max. You can be alone. There are no wards, anywhere, for anything. I think the hospitals are cleaner than I remember UK hospitals. They have medical labs in every large town, like mine. Any local doctor can send you there for nearly any blood test, immediately. If I want to see my generalist (family doctor) I go that day, maybe the next. Although one might wait for a specialist who visits our town once a week, overall, the waiting time for nearly any kind of care is hardly worth mentioning. There is only one optometrist in town, so he has a long waiting list. There are more problems in rural areas, where we live. I don’t ever get the feeling that I am not getting meds or treatment on account of cost. I got that feeling sometimes in the UK, no idea what it is like now. So what I am saying is that everything else, outside the technical delivery of care is better overall in France.
The French Health Service is not perfect, and it is basically the same model as the UK, look after people if they need care. This ethos is being destroyed by the same forces of market-led globalisation as everywhere else. I do very little research about the whole system, lots I don’t know, but I DO I inhabit it. For example, as a former British Health Service client I am seriously bothered by the health insurance (the “mutuelle”) that anyone would like to be able to afford. The mutuelle is essentially a private insurance agency which pays the state the difference between the state subsidy to you for a treatment or medicine, and the price the pharmaceutical company or health service charges the state. State subsidy plus insurance payment to state equals “real cost”. To make things more complex the state subsidy for each service or product differs, from say 10% to 85% or even 100%. All of this is organised by an army of health bureaucrats, but you usually don’t know any of the prices before you buy the service.
I should also add that I never knew there was a huge network of private health care givers (some of the very highest quality) that have long term contracts with the State to provide car, like my formere private dialysis unit. They act more or less like a state health care giver to me, but actually are private.
Oh Goodness, even I am getting lost. I often forget the details of dealing with the French health service. Over the years, I have noticed even French people don’t know all the details. They just assume they get health care, somehow. In fact, that is more or less what I like about the British and French Health Service. In both countries you more or less assume that if something medical goes wrong, then you won’t have to pay all that much to get it fixed, it might even be free. And if it is serious long term condition, you will be treated precisely like the richest person in France. Almost. Same doctors. Same meds. One has a sense of security. If you don’t have family around to help you, and many old or ill people do not, “the society” will more or less look after you. As time goes on, unless we can turn things around, it will be more and more, “if you have money, you can buy health care.” Not good for us almost poor folks.
I am already over “the word limit” for today. I didn’t tell the full story of kinés, and treatment locally for aches and pains of old age. I didn’t mention the narrow conceptions of health care in France. I skipped food practices too, very interesting in health understanding. Nothing on the specialists who do not follow the price limits recommended, and charge more for a consultation (often not reimbursed). I also find handing over money to doctors after a visit rather distasteful (Brits don’t do that). I didn’t talk about all those who can’t afford health insurance, maybe ten percent of the population. They are not really “poor” (the dirt poor get 100% of costs), but the working poor or old people often cannot pay the premium. Our mutuelle payment was nearly ten percent of our income this year (about five or six week’s French minimum wage). We can pay, although the price goes up with age. I didn’t give much detail on the payment system. It is all very confusing. Still.
I should end on a positive note, maybe. I do appreciate very much the formal health care I get in France. It might be good enough to stop me from ever moving back to the England, which is still my home. Especially as I get older.
As I was out on my bike today, I realised that I have not written much about Cycling. Cycling is in the blog title. Voila. I do a lot of thinking when I am cycling, looking about, thinking, riding along. If I cycle alone that is. Lately however I have not been much involved in cycling. Racing off season, weather not that great. I have been reading a bit. Certainly I have not been riding much since I started the blog. I even once wondered if I would be able to have enough time in a given day to ride AND to write about cycling. I could certainly Tweet, like Cavendish does. I follow his tweets, and republish them on a cycling forum I am on. I tried Tweeting for a bit, required for a job I have, and found it not my style. But I did read lots of British cyclists tweeting.
My actual riding for the last two or three years, has been very up and down. I ride my bike a bit and think I am about to be fit. For me that means I can ride 80k and climb 800 metres, without ruining rest of the day. That has been my rough guide for fitness over the last few years. So the overall pattern is that I get “fit”, and then I get ill or something malfunctions, or I take a trip without the bike, or some burst of awful weather. I stop riding, my form disappears really fast, and a few weeks later I have begin again. On the other hand, maybe I am just getting old a little quicker than I figured.
Right now, I am very much at the “begin again” stage. What stopped me riding this time is of no great concern. I just stop, or nearly so. November was one of the rainiest months in years. It should rain in October, maybe a bit in September. But this November, I know very serious cyclists who didn’t ride for three weeks. And I am not even a serious cyclist at present, so I stopped for a month. So when I begin again, I ride routes that are flat. I try to find routes that I can cut short if I feel weak or tired. Once I get stronger, I ride up a few small hills, or ride a proper longish circuit. I think I know every single road you would want to cycle, within ten k of my house. Somewhere after 25k I might have to glance at a map, rely on a pal or just take a chance. I would make mistakes that could really exhaust me, and it would mean I got home later than I said.
It is my impression that nearly every rider in our club has a distance of familiarity that is at least 10 or 15k wider than mine. They have ridden around here for so long, AND when they were young, that they know nearly all the roads. The club knows all the roads. Start time can be 7h30, 8h00 or 9h00 and we will be back for noon, for the family meal. Obviously. The really good riders, during the summer when they start at 0730, can ride circuits of over 100k. Since I have lived here, I have never been in this group. If I could ride, in four hours, around here, 100k, I would consider myself very fit indeed. That is 25kph, a speed I could never maintain for four hours, maybe on the flat with a tailwind at my fittest. Right now, I could not even ride a full circuit with the slower group in the club, so I don’t try. It will come. And with it stories about the big changes in he cycling club over the past few years. I keep up my membership as it is the only club I have ever been in, and it is somewhat important to me. That’s all for today. I relaly like my club and I am also looking forward to the next meeting where I will see the new pink and black colours and design. The New Wave.
Today I rode a route which is a very slight uphill for quite a distance, then after half an hour of riding, you can go roughly the same way back, but with that slight downhill. Like having a slight tailwind. I can ride on the big ring, and feel myself going pretty fast, making some ground. That is a very nice feeling. Pedalling at nearly 30kph for me is doing well these days. I remember when I get fit, on this same road, I feel that way going UP the very slight gradient. Such a lovely quiet valley. Just around the corner almost. Reliably quiet and leading in several promising directions.
So it looks like I can write and ride in one day, but I can’t do a proper carefully crafted piece. This is a bit casual really. Well, better than nothing maybe. Maybe next time I can concentrate on the ride and take a photo or two.