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Notre Dame de Nizes and Back

February 27, 2012 3 comments

I seem to be in a mood of wild experimentation. For months, when I rode, I rode in the late afternoon after my nap. This is nearly impossible between November and January if I don’t get to sleep fast. Seemed too much effort in the morning, too cold and too short, but then I get up a bit late. But today, even though I got up at the same lazy time, I manage to ride for almost two hours. Not all of it downhill, I have to say (250 metres of climbing). It was a pleasure. Very slow and feeling rather weak all over, but I got where I wanted to go and came back. I rode to Lunas on the other side of the river, not the main road, a rather nice view of an old local mining town. A declining mining town, even if supported by central government plus a few new immigrants, is a declining mining town. But it looks good from a distance. Coal. All shut now. The town in the photo is the home of the current female cycling champion of France. I got passed by her once on her time trial bike. I don’t know her at all.

By the way, I was told everyone like photos, so posts with photos might be good. Later more writing, unless I keep riding every other day or so. That would be nice. The weather has showed us what is coming, even if I am not convinced it is Spring.

Lunas is not that far from my house, 16k maybe. One is well warmed up by then. It has a chateau and is pretty. The photos below are of a local work of art. A serious and committed person has built a mock Occitan village at the edge of the real village. On the hill. You can see if you look closely, a lot of work. There are no live people in the shot. By clicking on the names of shops or activities under the photo at the URL, or on any area of the photo, you get closeups of the village. Judy and Don, definitely take a look on the site, you’d like it. http://www.lunas.org/village_de_lunas/village_curiosites_villageoccitan2.htm

But I had a goal for this morning. So I rode another few k up this little road which goes nowhere really, but does form part of various roads that go to various hamlets I know nothing about. You have to climb to reach them. I got to my destination, a church. Notre Dame de Nizes. On the little map here http://www.lunas.org/village_de_lunas/village_hameaux.htm You can see the road, but the church is not marked. Actually you can hook up with another road and go over the hill and descend to Lunas or turn right and go up toward Lodeve. The pass is 602 metres. But that connection is not on the little map. I don’t think the light was great for a shot of the church, but there is my photo. I turned around and semi-freewheeled back to Lunas. No traffic at all, except one car. Very quiet. Of course the shots on the site are better, they waited for the light to be right.There is a story.  http://www.lunas.org/histoire_de_lunas/histoire_ndnize.htm  A few metres away is the miraculous fountain that cures eyes. I must check that out next time. http://www.lunas.org/folklore_traditions_populaires/fontaine-des_yeux.htm

I stopped in Lunas partly because the idea of sitting by the river for a bit was appealing. I took the shots of Lunas from that spot. Very tidy village, only 600 people in full summer. A few immigrants, mostly white ones. The chateau is lovely, and does serve food. It looks better if the sun shines on it and the river is fuller with ducks on it, but I was not there at the right time. I have never heard any report about the food that makes me want to eat there, although I would like to try it one day. I only takes 20 minutes to drive there. I guess they have regular slightly fatty French food with great surroundings. Dutch guy cooks, I heard. Just below is a kind of virtual Tour of Lunas I found while looking for an explanation of the fake village on the hill. http://www.streetviewandmaps.com/en/map/fr/62043-Lunas-Hérault/#/point/43.707382/3.193326/117.21/3.74/2/

Then I took the main road home. Never felt very strong on this ride. Able to do it, kept going, had a good time stopping to take photos, but I was not feeling strong. Be patient, although it may never happen. On the other hand, I felt quite good about the ride. Perhaps if I learn a bit more about taking photos I could get together a little series, send them off to the CTC mag if they still do it. I really am a cyclo-tourist at heart. Although I would like to further and explore more territory around here. It’s not bad around here for riding a bike, not bad at all.

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Early Spring Pootles

February 25, 2012 2 comments

I have been riding again … again. Three short rides in the last week forced by the lovely weather. Not wild rides, although I do not consciously avoid small hills. I found out that with the increased iron in my body, I can actually climb up small hills that really were not fun a few weeks ago. Now they are just harder than flat bits. In fact, these small hilly bits will certainly become “easy” very soon, he says. Speed is still very modest. But I am getting the idea, again. Remembering the roads, again. And of course they keep changing them. Two new roundabouts since the beginning of the winter. One of my usual “getting out of the traffic” roads is now closed at one end. It will be some weeks before they are finished, I should think.

It was a very sunny day, even a little bit warm. In fact, I was overdressed. After a month or so of perishing cold, plus wind, it was about time for some warmth. I had on the new club kit, which I was testing, but I could have had a lighter top layer and not even bothered to carry my ski gloves. I know it is going to get cold again, but “it was springtime”. Honest. For me the ride up the valley does not really start until you turn the corner beyond Poujol sur Orb. Then this hits you.

This is the Caroux Massif. I naturally thought you would say Kah-roo. They naturally think you say Kah-rooks. They live here, so I say Caroux. I have NEVER climbed up it and around it. I thought of that a few years ago, and was bewildered how I could drive and cycle by countless times, and to never have walked around up there. Not once. Anyway the wee notch on the left is a mark which distinguishes it from other lumps of rock around here. There are many. But that coming round the sharpish bend after Poujol is one of the minor positive experiences of life. Uplifting.

A bit further on, you come to the old road (above), to the right, rejoining the main road in two k or so. For some reason, I always take that turning going up and the new road coming back. Actually it makes sense, as the descent at speed with a new surface is quite fun. In the ten years I have been taking that small little detour, several people have built houses. One more in process. They range from the slight “foreign” feel of the fixed up two room stone buildings to what look like two poor person’s dwelling. One guy looks like he lives there while trying to not have any building that looks like a house. Another guy just has a kind of redneck shack place. Next time I go by I will take photos. Often the “resident” is outside the self built cabin/shack. I always give a greeting and it is always returned. I don’t actually know the guy. He does have a car. But there is no way the mayor of the area could have given permission for this guy to settle as he has. I like it. After that bit of old road, you come to the next little waterfall feature, right in the middle of the village. The only shop is right there, but not in the photo. It is the river Colombieres, or the Gorge de Colombieres anyway. There are a couple of swimming places, even this very pool at the side of the road has had swimmers. There is also a quite long walk up the mountain behind, essentially following the little stream that produces this waterfall.

The three photos below are where I stopped, sat in the bus shelter for a few minutes, in the sun, out of the slight wind, and returned home. Normally I would never even think of stopping here. Never. My excuse, other than it’s a good spot to stop and sit, is that for the first time in years, I went out in the early afternoon. Normally I have lunch, a spot of the news, a bit of computer tapping or watching, a little read of this or that, and a proper nap for maybe 30-45 minutes during the hours between 1230 and 1530, roughly. On this ride, I went out at about 1315 and got back around 1545. I felt a little bit tired all the way, like I should be having a nap. Not a lot of continuous riding, as I stopped to take photos. For the blog of course. Anyway the shots are of the bus stop with bike, further up the valley toward Olargue and St. Pons. Haven’t actually ridden to St. Pons and back for about three years, or more. In any case, from not far, in Mons, there is an old railway turned into a cycleway, all the way to St. Pons. I have never ridden it, but with my current bike and its 28 mm tyres, I should be able to just ride it without any changes. This cycle path is not always paved. And within a year or two, that same cyclepath will extend all the way to the top of the valley, my way. Totally bloody gorgeous.  oh yes, the last photo is what you see looking up the road from the bus shelter.

 

 

The two photos below are from the return journey. They give you the idea of the sweep of the valley going upstream toward the source of the Orb, and of the Orb itself. It looks quite impressive there, off the suspension bridge near Poujol. Not like the Mississippi or the Thames or the Rhone. Just our local river I cross and recross many times. A joy, to be honest.

 

In more or less the middle of this photo, there is a semi-pointy hill upon which are the TV broadcasting towers that should give me a TV picture.  But there is a hill in the way, so I get signals via internet.  I bet no tour guide could have told you that.

I thought I would do a classic touring bike shot, the bike leaning against a famous spot. It is exactly here (I think) that the well from which Verniere water is drawn is located. The actual well. You can buy it all over France. Well, not in every shop or supermarket, but you could see it in this or that area, especially around here. I don’t really know what it is good for. A little further up the road, there is a spot where you can clamber down a wee embankment and get water, healing water, for free. I have drunk it and it is OK. We never buy it though. If you have eye problems, or your pet does, you just bathe the eye in this water and it gets better. Or maybe that is St. Raphael’s well water. Or maybe digestion,  Anyway, it is free, and good, and there is nearly always at least one car parked with someone loading up bottle. I will get a shot maybe, but you have to walk, and I will be cycling. I can stop to pose the bike, or get a coffee, but walking is what you do with walking shoes, not cycling shoes.

That’s it, a wee ride from my house. The slightly unusual thing is that, “normally”, I am just starting a ride when I pass that bus stop. It is rather a pleasure to go slow and take snaps. Still, I hope that next time I will take snaps of unexplored territory (for you). Normally, I just fly past that bus stop like it had no meaning. It really is a joy to ride a bike around here. Uplifting.

Nice little ride, I say. I feel the fitness waiting got out, but forcing me to ride five or ten more time before it will manifest itself. Be patient.

 

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My Presidential Promises

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Inspired by ever increasing election material on the TV, a short conversation with an old friend and coming across this advert again, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AyVh1_vWYQ have led me to propose my Presidential campaign promises/programme. You should also know that I could never be a presidential candidate, would never be one, and there a few more proposals that might come up. All of those proposals are realistic, but in the process of change, some interests would be damaged. Nevertheless.

 

Free telecommunications for all. Anyone would be entitled to use their communications devices as much as they liked for free. Huge pressure would be organised to make this the case throughout the world, not just in the place I am President.

 

All dwellings (maybe other buildings too) would be entitled to free insulation throughout. I am sure there would be debates over what a dwelling is and how much insulation and so forth. No leaking windows or doors anywhere. Walls rebuilt and insulated. I am told a young eager worker can be trained to do basic insulation for 98% of cases in about a month. No doubt flying squads of super insulators could deal with the rest. The number of jobs created would be colossal, even though eventually the work on old dwellings would run down. I won’t rehearse all the arguments, but I think nearly everyone agrees that insulation, draught-stripping (and maybe even luxurious double glazing) are totally obvious things for any house people live in. Or workplace, for that matter.

 

All children would be taught some form of effective martial art, with the various trappings, clothes, traditions, philosophy. What is and is not a martial arts would also employ the expertise of many people and many meetings. In addition a basic sabotage course in how to undermine buildings, rail lines, and so forth would be offered to all. Although there would be something like an army, they would mostly help people, rebuild things after earthquakes or floods. In a few years, there would be a massively reduced defence budget, but a country full of confident martially savvy people and saboteurs. Signs would be put up on all the country’s borders, which say that we are trained up and ready for action, come right in or go away.

 

A guaranteed income for all humans. I am not sure how we do the kids’ revenue, at what age and how much. But the adults would get, simply for being alive, maybe 1200 euros a month, bit more maybe. Enough so you could live in that amount, if you were frugal and had a small life. Everyone could work of course. Assuming they liked the job.

 

Oh yes, everyone “owns” their current home, no rent. If you want to move, you could, assuming there was a place that someone wanted to leave, or had recently left empty. Dealing with people who have two, three or more houses requires detailed study. I am not totally against it.

 

Notice I am not even touching on renewable energy, but other people have already done that. Less used and produced. When it is, renewable and local.

 

Each human being is entitled to choose one physical and one mental therapy/care each week. They can change options whenever possible. Could be a counsellor and a massage. Could be yoga and psychotherapy (of any kind). Could be osteopathy and line dancing. Anyway, you have one of each if you wish. Obviously there are constraints and definitional problems, but no one should want for mental\spiritual care, or physical care. If you chose yoga, you could still ride your bike, but you would have to pay for the bike and the other stuff.

 

Tax the rich. I figure that if you don’t pay rent (everyone “owning” their home), you can live pretty well on 1500 a month, per head. Income ten times that much would be living as well as you ever really needed. Anyone making more than that would pay huge amounts of tax, like 98%. Even those on 10,000 a month would be paying a massive percentage in taxes. Those who live between the universal income and ten times that, pay a graduated tax. So I accept richer and poorer, but nobody filthy rich and nobody really poor.

 

Small groups of between 7-20 people who know each other will be set up. The object of the group is to give away money, no single chunk more than 50,000 euros, to fund projects which would make life better for large numbers of people in a particular area or of particular type. Each small group would have to meet quarterly to tell their stories and make plans. We give the group a million euros a year. Less than ten percent can be used to pay employees and expenses of the group, including the volunteers. Up to 50,000 euros can be given by any one person in the group, any time. The idea is to have large numbers of small groups looking about for people, groups who make life better, then they fund them.

 

That’s all I can think of tonight. I don’t spend too much time on electoral politics, although when the elections come around, they take up more of my time. Even the American one takes up a few minutes a day. The French one is also hotting up, but will be over soon. My inclination is to think that organising a cycling club or a political education group is a much better way to improve the world than the meetings and debates of normal presidential candidates.

 

The other day, I thought if I ever hear any candidate suggest two things, I would vote for them. One, they would publicly suggest that we could live a lot better life with much less stuff. Two, they would propose something like the insulation plan mentioned above. They would have my vote, but my love would depend on a lot of other things.

 

My real programme would deal with money (gone), love (more), power (more and less) and health (way better). As for older people, don’t get me started. France is too large. I would make immediate plans to re-orient things so that regions like, for example, Languedoc-Roussillon would be pretty near autonomous. As much as any decent country in this existing world is autonomous. The Republic of Occitan.

Montpellier Sport

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Professional spectacle sports are not interesting to most of my friends. They don’t mind participating in some kind of physical activity, like walking or swimming, or even more secretly, a few might do competitive or team sports. But they are very critical of business/sport and not terribly intrigued by watching it. So this entry will not make the “most read” list.

 

I have made some moves in the direction of watching very local sports, rugby and football. The Stade is just three minutes walk. But I have never found a pal to go with and don’t know anyone who is a player, so my interest died.

 

Montpellier, on the other hand, is a big sports city. Their various teams are quite good, and one of those recent ranking efforts based on the success of professional sports teams in France put Montpellier in first place. Take football. The current team is related by complex mergers to a team founded in the early 20th century, but it only moved into the big time in the 80s. It’s recent moment of glory was winning the Cup in 1990 (and in 1929), although they almost won last year. They got dropped from League 1 while I have been here, climbed out and are presently second in the League. They have a very outside chance of beating Marseilles, Lyon, Lille and Paris St. Germain. Montpellier are owned and run by the garbage king of the area (or his son). Louis Nicollin, a local character (born in Lyon) who made it from nothing, speaks street talk even to the media and is a hugely fat figure. They have the finest academy in the League, where they take mostly local lads and do the schooling and footballing under one roof. Parents are delighted when their lads go there. A huge percentage of the team is local talent. Their budget is about 12/20 in the League, which in turn ranks below England, Spain, Italy and Germany. Last year they bought the best scorer in the second division for peanuts. He is now the best striker in League 1. They will have to sell him, as they do with their younger players who become really good. I can’t watch them much as I don’t get the channel that bought their games. Crudely speaking, there are about 50% vanilla French and 50% not vanilla, with largest local percentage in the League. Some of the players are totally French, born and raised, but on account of their parents, they choose to play for a foreign team. Overall it is a very local club, with the highest scoring offence, a small budget talking and they are beating the giants from the bigger cities. In fact, they have scored in 21 of the last 23 games. Only Man U and Tottenham have done better in all of Europe.

 

This is a region famous for rugby. The area from here to the Atlantic Ocean contains nearly every team in the Top 14. True enough, some of the towns with teams are ones not easily located on a map by foreigners. Castres, Agen, Biarritz, Bayonne, Toulon, Brive even Perpignan are not towns that everyone knows very well. There are teams outside the South, like Racing Metro and Stade Francais (Paris), Bordeaux, Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, as well as the big southern cities like Montpellier and Toulouse. The Montpellier team has not been fantastic (founded in 1986), but lately they have managed to make a mark. They have a new head coach, Fabien Galthié, a former French captain, who also is a TV commentator. They have a new stadium, holding 15,000 spectators. They have some quite good young players raised in this area, including a quartet of local lads who recently made the French national team. They also had the largest number of foreign players in the World Cup of any French team. I hope one day to find a sympa rugby fanatic to tag along with a few times.

 

Handball is not big in the UK or the USA, so I hardly knew it existed. Actually, it’s not that big in the world, many of the teams are from second-rate cities and small countries, and none of the players are really famous outside the country they live in. Lesser known cities in the top league are Istres, Pontault-Combault, Tremblay, Selestat and Villefranche (which one?). It is a quite fast game with incredible athletic, almost gymnastic skills. Supposedly “the best player in the world” plays for Montpellier and they have won the French championship 9 times in the last 10 years. They had a new (multi-purpose) arena built partly for them.

 

The Montpellier Barracudas, the baseball team, are in the top four nearly every year and have won the Championship and Coupes. They are not a professional team and have some relationship to the University. I have never seen them, can’t believe there is any baseball in France, and I doubt if anyone other than family members knows much about them. They have teams at all levels for kids. One day I am going to a game. Baseball in France!

 

There is a very good women’s basketball team, but no male basketeurs, and no ice hockey.

 

I can’t really find a terribly great reason to have written this entry, but I do spend a good deal of time reading about and watching semi-local sport. Since I have moved big-time thrice in my life, I have gradually grown or kept a connection with sports teams. Of course as a kid I supported the Detroit Tigers, Redwings and Lions (the Pistons were not in Detroit when I was there), then University of Michigan teams (much live football and basketball). Then I adopted both Manchester United and Tottenham, when I lived in England, even went to a few matches of Lancaster or Morecambe footie. Once to Arsenal. So interest in Montpellier sports teams came easily. A lightweight blog bit, I agree. Maybe too banal, but it seemed a good idea this morning. I know a lot more stuff about the local cycling club and am actually a member. The most important aspect of sport is always the local level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Occupy, the Black Bloc and Chris Hedges

February 10, 2012 2 comments

It might be fun to write a bit about the black bloc, Occupy and Chris Hedges. Chris Hedges has been writing a lot on Occupy since it began in New York. I had never heard of him before 2011, but I live in France, and don’t read his New York Times reports. Seems a good bloke, did pretty passionate and fair reporting on the New York Occupy. Like most of the New York media, he lives there, and tends not to get out much. One of the criticisms of Hedges “Cancer of Occupy” article http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_cancer_of_occupy_20120206/ was that he really didn’t know what actually happened in Oakland (or other places) http://www.truth-out.org/print/12338 It seems obvious tome that he was not really familiar with the styles and structures we have invented over the last fifty years. When I first read his stuff, I knew there was something important that he didn’t understand about radical movements since the 60s. However, he brings up a really common, recurrent question.

 

Hedges reckons, like many before him, that “violence” (almost entirely carefully-chosen property destruction by “the black bloc”) always puts people off, therefore degrades and negates the basically non-violent nature of Occupy. This violent action will result in “the people” no longer supporting Occupy. These exact same arguments were made, during the Civil Rights Movement, SDS (radical students), Vietnam, anti-nuclear, anti-roads, altermondialiste … and now Occupy. The problem will never go away, the question will never go away. This is what Hedges does not understand. There will NEVER be a meeting where black bloc tactics, action and thought will be forbidden. The metaphysical meeting could never take place, and if it did there would not be a decisive vote, accepted by all.

 

Very much unlike Hedges, what impresses me most about violence in the Occupy movement is its almost total absence, in quite complex and provocative circumstances. Absolutely anyone could come in and out of a site. No papers, no forms, no prior history needed, you just turn up. Its not the occasional window breaking that is so exceptional and noteworthy about Occupy, it is the exact opposite. How have they managed, with totally open urban camps, to keep violence between all the possible kinds of people who turned up, at such an incredibly low level. Not a lot of news of rapes came out of Occupy camps. Not much news of fights amongst people. Plenty of hot discussion for sure. I was deeply impressed.

 

I don’t have the age, health or will to participate in the black bloc. As far as I can see, it is a temporary, well organised (contrary to Hedges claim of anti-organisation) combination of the following four or five groups of people in various proportions in various places. The black bloc must have dedicated anarchists with a good theoretical understanding of what they are doing. Without these leaders, who don’t call themselves leaders, the black bloc MIGHT not exist. A few artistically creative people to do “art”. For example, I remember being totally enchanted by the altermondialiste “pink and silver” bloc http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/genova/pinksilver/index.htm. Of course, some young lads with way too much testosterone and not much wisdom. I suppose some of them MIGHT even be under the influence of drugs, alcohol and so forth. Hedges’ notion of “hyper masculine” is one good way to put it. Don’t forget some undercover police provocateurs. The exact number and typecan never really known, but I have never talked to an activist who is not utterly certain they are present, sometimes clearly identifiable. As with all categorisations, there has to be a “others” category. The only time this particular combination of people, “the” black bloc, get together is for an action. Their form of organisation does not require or suggest heavy decision-making by an open mass meeting before the action. This is Hedges’ delusion. The black bloc is, and I know this is a bit heavy, that bit of all of us that wants to strike out pointlessly at oppression. Most of us don’t do it. The black bloc does. It bothers us all.

 

Black Bloc anarchists spend most of their fury not on the architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or globalism, but on those, such as the Zapatistas, who respond to the problem. It is a grotesque inversion of value systems.” (Quotations are from the article above.) Total nonsense, based on no research. Of course people criticise the Zapatistas, they criticise everything. Hodges spends four paragraphs on one article that Zerzan (supposed brains behind the outfit) himself did not sign. Importance of the article, who knows. Foolish point, made badly.

 

Once the Occupy movement is painted as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob we are finished. If we become isolated we can be crushed.” Actually, I think there is almost no evidence for this at all. First, most of the movements that came into being over the last fifty years still exist, they have not been crushed. There are still feminists, anti-war people, co-operators, gay activists, hippies, leftists, anarchist, liberals, radical environmentalists, live simply types, Social Buddhists, loads of people that work in those “old” movements. Most everyone knows that eventually, in a big open action, there might be broken windows and injured demonstrators. Americans know about and do loads of violence. Everyone knows MacDo, Whole Foods and Starbucks are insured. The frontiers between violence and non-violence are where the black bloc lives. Its not like they are armed military or police people. Those armed groups ARE violent. They have arms and technology, they use them regularly. I think in all the hundreds of thousands of Occupy/days throughout the world, it is non-violence that has been overwhelming, in very difficult circumstances. I think enough people know that.

The Black Bloc’s thought-terminating cliché of “diversity of tactics” in the end opens the way for hundreds or thousands of peaceful marchers to be discredited by a handful of hooligans.” I don’t think Hedges gets it. It is not the black bloc who invented “diversity of tactics”, it is our movements who have put a name to their reality. You can no more eliminate the black bloc than you can stop people in Occupy trying to reduce it to individual action, people trying to impose a collective tidiness, people who want to get some “real power” , people who want to agree on some practical proposals, people who want their views to be shared by all, people who see the movement as genuinely revolutionary … All these people exist. They won’t be silenced and they won’t go away. Therefore we invented “diversity of tactics”. No other way. I still liked the pink and silver lot and their “tactical frivolity”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_frivolity

I was also a bit narked that Hedges seems to rely so strongly on a phone call with Derrick Jensen. Smacks of casual journalism. Almost four paragraphs about what Jensen thought about Occupy and black bloc. The guy sounds like a well meaning liberal, with a kind of woodsmoke feel, who was not really involved much. Lives far away from Oakland and does not appear to have been active there. Who knows? Seems more like a “personality” and writer, than an activist.

Hedges does not quite get that one can’t control a movement like Occupy, for better or for worse. You just can’t. You can start it. You can work within it. But you can’t control it. You can, of course, work to destroy it, as the state has been doing since Occupy began, even before the nasties from Oakland went into action. In my view, Hedges should stick to helping Occupy by reporting on what is actually going on, rather than trying to make a serious theoretical analysis and try to shape the way it is going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contador and Doping

February 6, 2012 3 comments

I thought I might try to sort out the “Contador and doping” story. Today was when the result of 18 months of postponing, posturing and silliness was finally over. Mostly I try to ignore doping, it simply does not interest me that much. Still, I will gather my thoughts on this.

 

The story so far, and it could carry on for months as one avenue of appeal remains, is that Alberto Contador, currently the finest stage racer on earth, has been banned from racing for two years. The two years will start when the test results were announced, just after he won the Tour de France 2010. Since then he has been racing “on probation”. His results during that time will be annulled. It is not clear if “someone” will take his prize money or whether all the points he earned will be subtracted from the Saxo Bank team score. If the points were taken from Saxo Bank, the team would be eliminated from the World Tour top level. Many people are a bit surprised by this verdict, others are not.

 

What happened? Drug control by a cutting edge lab found minute traces of clenbuterol during the Tour. He was well tested during the Tour, and the clenbuterol appeared, and a few days later disappeared, quite naturally. The level of tolerance for clenbuterol is zero. The most minute amount means you are a doper. It is well known that the amount of clenbuterol detected could not possibly have enhanced his performance. But a tiny amount is more than zero, so he is guilty. He might appeal, he might not. Since he gets to count the period while he raced on probation as part of the penalty, he will be ready to race after the Olympics, in time for the Vuelta 2012.

 

Alberto and his lawyers contend that he ate some beef from Spain, brought over specially for him by a good pal. They say the beef was contaminated with clenbuterol and he ate it unknowingly and that is why the illegal drug was detected. There is a record of other athletes getting off with this excuse, the contaminated meat one. Five Mexican footballers and one cyclist at least. The problem is that there are no receipts, the beef cannot be traced. Spain is a bit lax apparently with traceability. In addition, the Spanish Beef Producers say there could be no clenbuterol in beef because it is illegal in Spain. Therefore …

 

A simple story that lasted a very long time. The Spanish government and the Spanish Cycling Federation let him off. The UCI appealed to the CAS (Court for Arbitration in Sport) and after months of delay the final verdict fell today. At least two broad views have emerged. He should have been busted, he broke the rules. Furthermore, although not involved in the legal case, his blood was also tested for a petroleum based product in the blood (plasticisers), which could be left over from blood bags used for auto-transfusion, also illegal. Plasticisers are very common and are used to keep the blood from congealing. But then again that test is not formally accepted yet, and so they could not bust him for blood doping, based on the presence of plasticisers. The clenbuterol bust is fine. Another view is that the amount was not performance enhancing, and the idea that it should be zero tolerance for that drug is silly and inappropriate. Alberto gains no advantage so the drug is not REALLY performance enhancing. And since he is the best stage racer on earth, he should really have been slapped on the wrists and allowed to carry on. It is logically possible that the contamination came from meat, although no one knows.

 

Do I care deeply? Not really. For me the real cyclists are those who ride at levels where doping is not even a question. We ride for pleasure, no prizes, no money (or not enough to cheat for) and we sustain the sport at its grass roots. The Pros are cleaner than they were, but dopers still exist. To bust a doper you have rules, often not the best ones (like zero tolerance on clenbuterol), but you sign up to the rules when you ride. When you break the rules, you get busted. If I were really interested in drugs, meds, preparation, training and so forth, I would have studied sports medicine. The truth is that it is all a game of experts trying to catch cheats and cheats trying to fool experts. There is something about the system which invites and perpetuates such a game of avoidance and cheating. It seems the doctors, the suppliers and managers don’t get busted. I mostly watch the racing for excitement, and to try and figure out what is “really” going on. In some quite superficial way, even though it falsifies some kind of “pure sporting result” of races, I don’t really care. To me the pressure of the sport, the money, the bosses, all conspire to encourage “anything goes” to win races. All this is quite normal in our society. Many people have to use legal and illegal drugs to do their work, to do, in fact, their lives. Alcohol is just an obvious example. Not good for you, but legal. Helps you get through the day. Helps you relax, have a bit of fun. Coffee, cocaine, grass, and so forth are all part of our society’s package. Loads of people break the law, gain an advantage on others. A sport embedded in this mess is bound to catch it, so the whole messy business is not really surprising.

 

So in the end, I just feel a bit sad that Andy Schleck will now have “won” the Tour 2010 and Scarponi the Giro 2011. I regret that his year Alberto won’t ride the Tour. Contador, instead of maybe having won four Tours and a Giro at the end of July, will have only won two Tours. Still we got to watch him wipe up the field in the Giro and also lose in the Tour. Both of those were good races to watch. Although if he had not been riding, both races would have been ridden differently.

 

Really a huge mess, and like most people, I am glad it is over for a bit. As for Lance …. later.

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Le Local Opens

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment


 

Illustration 1: Location, right on the Rue de La Republique, main drag

Thursday was the opening day, so I checked out Le Local. It felt very comfortable and very awkward. Three youngish people who have lived here for years, have opened an Epicerie – Cafe – Restau. Me, an immigrant, would have spelled it Resto, but no doubt I shall find out about that. Le Local will sell equitable, local, wholesome food products which you can buy in your chosen quantities (en vrac), give you a nice coffee or, after the 2 March, serve you some cheap, good food. It is a serious business trying to support the three people who run it. I think the shelves will have cosmetic or body care products (ethical), plus some kinds of food, like juices and soya milk. As a founder member of much the same thing in the mid seventies, a place that still exists, I felt old, but comfortable. Course I AM old, and this is a younger, more rural person’s place, so some of it is awkward for me. All of this means the three founders think they can be supported (maybe) by that particular tribe of consumers, plus a few “ordinary folk”. I am really excited about this project, since I am curious who will have a coffee there. For me its a question of whether it replaces or augments the existing cafes around which I have built my trips into town, over the years. That’s a good story, to me anyway (later).

Actually, it is now Friday, the day after the opening day. I popped in to see a kind of bustle about the place which means it is not yet “fully operational”. All the simple coffee tables were empty. It was really cold today, 4 below and the wind just did not invite being out. For me, the weather did not invite me to be anywhere but home, near the fire. I said hello, see you tomorrow. A trip into town on Saturday morning is obligatory, cancelled only for a good reason.

Illustration 2: Interior of shop, not showing door to kitchen

Hard to tell if it will make it, although I very much hope it does. There is already a bio/organic, health food shop in town, with a loyal clientèle. Quite efficient, and I don’t know if Le Local can find the products that people want and are not available elsewhere.. So I am a little bit pessimistic they can compete on the unprocessed food front within the existing market. We even have an “AMAP” here. That’s what the Brits call a basket scheme (I think), Americans have it too. You pay a certain amount and get what a certain farmer or two have in their market garden at that moment which is worth whatever you pay every week. You can see the advantage to everyone, and our AMAP started in 2007 or so. We have not been members for ages, although we were, and you might think we should be. It is a complex matter, where exactly we buy our food, very well thought out, but not by me. Anyway they have changed their pick-up place to a more central town location, so we might re-consider. There are also a few local veg producers who sell directly in town, at the market. Hard to see the niche for Le Local, but they do have veg and fruit. On the other hand, a cheap hearty organic lunch could go over well. That might be a success, if and only if the food is good and they have good cakes. I guess if they choose their products carefully, serve a nice coffee, and a hearty pleasant healthy lunch, they might make it. I will do my bit.

Saturday morning I often go into town to see what is happening and have a coffee with Yves. What’s happening on the street is almost nothing at all, since there is a wind and the temperature is minus four. Instead of our usual cafe, we checked out Le Local. Coffee is fine. No cakes yet. Quite bustling really. But the vast majority of the people who came in (during our 50 minutes) seemed to be between 25-40 often with little kids. Lots of pushchairs. Everyone bought stuff, but above all lots of greetings. I didn’t know ANY of the younger people. They work, they pop in to town on Saturday morning. Could be an interesting sector of the population for business success. The actual space for having a coffee is not that great, but it will do. A little cold, but then many people didn’t close the door, which allows a draft into the coffee area. It is appears to be too small a place to have a successful shop, restau and cafe. But it might work out as a combination. I must have seen five or six people I knew, one of which popped by our space and hung out for a little bit, chatting away. It might be that the layout for a “quiet cuppa with a pal” is a bit too collective, too open. Overall very friendly ambiance, lots of background noise all the time, but not too loud. I have taken a liking to the Peruvian rather than the Mexican coffee. Yves likes the Mexican.

Illustration 3: First attempt to arrange window display

I shall continue to do first hand research on how the coffee bit feels. The sitting down at a table and having a coffee with a pal or alone. I don’t often do it alone, usually meeting someone or coming across them. So maybe this place will be different. The people that run it are not people I know well. One I go to meetings with. I like her style. The other two are a mystery, but they are friendly as well. So it might turn out to be my favourite coffee spot on market day or Saturday morning. Might turnout to be a new wild experience.

Illustration 4: More action outside?

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