Archive for March, 2012

Late Spring Rides

March 25, 2012 1 comment

Something light, plus a few photos from recent short rides. I am getting out on the bike, but my form is not improving much. I still feel tired all the time, or rather a bit weak. Small hills are not a big problem, just the speed up the hills. I have no options but slow, ocassionally I stop. But since I started writing this I popped into the lab and got some blood results. The blast of iron I took a few weeks ago did not really solve the problem, I am still anaemic. Haemoglobin is 10.8 and it should be in the range 13-17. My haemocrit is 35.7 and the range is 42-52. I am missing strength, but can keep going slowly for a short time. A big relief. Now the toubib (Arab derived word for doctor) and I will have to make a stab at why. Maybe some more iron. Epo?

So, for obvious reasons, I have been limited to short rides (less than 50k). On the other hand, I found a couple new roads to check out for the first time ever. They are close enough to home, but are always bypassed when riding with fit, 23mm riders. We take “the normal road”, the fastest best surfaced road. Very recently, I was told about a way to ride a few k off the main valley road west and rejoin it a bit further along. A kind of alternative road or bypass. Admittedly, it takes much longer, involves a bit of climbing, and the road surface is very dangerous. What this means for a cyclist is that there are steep little bits, up and down, with holes in the road and gravel everywhere. Going down a gravelly road, around tight blind corners, is not casual. I went slowly. I only did half the distance of the detour. The end of that short detour is the beginning of the already finished section of the new cyclepath in the valley. The next section, connecting us to the existing 30k, is now under construction. Now that is an exploration I am really keen to ride the length of the valley without traffic! And utterly flat.

 The photo below is typical of the old “bypass” road. However with my 28mm tyres, I had no worries at all. I should be able to comfortably ride the cycle path (piste cyclable, voie verte) with the same tyres I use for the road. I am minded to find out a bit more about this little road. Why? The obvious route is in the valley, and always will be anywhere there is a valley and hills. This road does connect some hamlets. I suppose it might be easier for a walker or a donkey than going down the hill and back up again.



A photo of the other “old road” I ride on is below. In that case it is an obvious “old main road”, in the valley. The club almost always takes this “old road bypass” going out, quiet lull for chatting before the big hills start. They take the main road descent going home. A little go-fast hill, good surface, good visibility, a very gradual curve. There are a couple of what seem like squats on this old main road, hard to believe they have all the permits. One day I am going to stop and chat with the guy, as we always wave and say hello. Total “French redneck house and land”, no idea about the guy. Do I have a proclivity, a genuine liking for pictures of a road that could be anywhere, but isn’t? Maybe I sense a theme here. Moments like this make me want to know more about how to make my camera take better shots.


 Another ride I frequently take when I am not that fit goes up a wee climb as well. A kind of steady 12-14 minute climb when I am fit, but which takes me 16-18 minutes when I am not. Over the top and on the descent is one of my favourite bridges. I often stop here if I am going slowly and sit on the bridge, looking. I study the house, which is not occupied all the year around. I don’t covet the house, as it is too shaded most of the year. But it fits in. If I were fit, I would never stop at this bridge, I would have hardly begun my ride.



Just beyond that bridge is a sign I like a lot. I go to Camplong several times a year, to attend discussions on various subjects in the funky cafe. The cafe is famous, in a small world, for being unspoilt. I think it might have won a prize. The guy who runs that café is some kind of quirky altermondialiste. Very much backwoods French eccentric version, and strong with it. He allows another fellow, a newly arrived person, ex-chemical industry, totally strong militant leftist of some kind to run a kind of Citizens Forum, a discussion or film about some current topic. I just missed one on “the elections”, which would have been great. There is a rather varied and eccentric collection of people who are populate the sessions. On the one hand, they are some part of the political culture I have belonged to for decades, and on the other hand, they are born and raised and live in a way that is far from my own path. Sometimes I realise I will NEVER see the world as some of them do. I listen in Camplong, I don’t talk much. Still, it’s the sign I wanted to show you all. No other little village has a sign remotely like this.


That’s it really. I continued up to Graissessac (pop 700), the mining town one reaches by a road about fifty metres past that sign. It began raining. Harder and harder. It has been many months, or even years, since I have ridden in the rain. Around here, we don’t usually do it. If it is raining we don’t set out. If it has rained and might rain again, we don’t set out. But I headed back (a bit damp) from Graissessac, down the Mare River Valley, flat and slightly downhill. I found out when I got back that there had not been a drop in the more southerly valleys. My kiné is from there, and he says it is like that all the time. Rain there and nothing here. It might be hard to believe, but I rather liked riding in the rain. All the more reason to go slow and steady. Except for missing shoe covers, I was dressed well enough. I doubt I would have been so bold if the ride home had been 40k instead of 20k.


That’s my thousand words. I really did have a period of a couple of weeks when I was a bit off balance, not enough riding, not enough writing. I am better now. This morning I had to fit in the short ride before noon, as it was the Saturday semi-market, and I do like to pop in, see who is about.


Toulouse and the Front de Gauche

March 23, 2012 1 comment

I wrote most of this yesterday morning, before the killer was killed. I am trying to say something that is difficult to say about these murders. So far, I have not done very well, maybe what I want to say can’t be said. Nevertheless I am going to post it, maybe as a record of my failure.

A couple of days ago I got an email from my Attac list. Attac is an altermondialiste, French origin (1998), political education/action group that had 30,000 members in France nine years ago, now has 10,000. The local group has recently re-blossomed, and it is almost a pleasure to go to meetings and hang out at the weekly Citizen’s Market Stand. As requested by the email I toddled along to a meeting called by “someone”, at Le Local, the newish café in town. There were only four of us, and I think the fourth was there by accident. In the end, nothing “happened”, nothing was “decided”. I managed to enjoy the chat, even contribute a bit. The coffee was good too.

The subject was twofold. What should Attac do about the Front de Gauche? And what should we do or say about the murders in Toulouse? It was one of the newer, younger guys who called the “meeting”, and my long-term comrade, the militant, solid, quite bright, retired railway worker, union guy was there. The Front de Gauche part of the conversation was fairly short. Attac is not really meant to take part in elections and parties., although a bit of street action is fine. We more or less agreed that “Attac des Hauts Cantons” could not really join up with the Front de Gauche, as such. The Front de Gauche seems to be rising in the polls, and might play some kind of semi-important role in the Presidential Spectacle. It’s a “radical left” coalition, the common candidate is Jean-Luc Melanchon. You can google “Front de Gauche” to see which political groups are in it if you need to know the exact details.

Toulouse. This was more interesting. For once, my cheminot pal (cheminot is a railway worker) and I were more or less in agreement. The younger guy was really upset about this event, it was terrorism, murder and utterly awful. Especially the kids being killed. The matter was simple. A trained up but independent terrorist operative, French and Muslim, also a bit of a sleazebag, “known to the police”, had got some illegal arms, and gunned down, in cold blood, three kids and a teacher (all Jewish/Israeli/French), and three soldiers (brown or black, two Muslims one Catholic) wandering the streets, plus a motorcycle vendor. Apparently he wanted to “bring France to its knees”. He should be arrested, tried and put away forever. No one will really care if he gets killed by the military police. We need to find out why he was loose with arms in his car boot. As best I can make it, that is the essence of the obvious and oft repeated understanding of events. The young guy felt the same about elections. One votes, obviously. He felt sorry for me that I didn’t think like that, that I might NOT vote.

A word I knew, but didn’t quite understand, was the key to the longest discussion. “Faits divers” was the notion. It means a news item, an everyday event, “a news short”, with an overall feel that the item is not that important, even trivial. The cheminot was trying to say Toulouse was a not very important, everyday kind of event, like war, bombs, other killings, car “accidents”, floods and all the other everyday, unexpected tragedies. He immediately agreed that hardly anyone thinks this, the news is making a huge story out of it, the presidential candidates talk about it and the election may hinge on this event, and that the vast majority is upset and ill at ease. They are upset about anti-Semitism, kids getting killed, soldiers “from the diversity” (brown or black) getting killed “at home”, cops letting a known guy like this roam the streets with guns and some are very upset the killer was Muslim for various reasons. So what my pal was trying to do, and I joined him, was to think that although it was and still is, a HUGE media event, it was somehow “everyday”. The kind of everyday that grabs people very hard, the news creators know that and they create lots of TV about it. So how can this astoundingly important event be anything remotely like a faits divers? A hard argument to create.

I freely admit I shed a few tears myself during the reportage over the last few days. I always do when sad events happen on TV, in movies or my real life. But very quickly I remembered my persistent disquiet about the coverage of certain individual tragedies of other kinds. As one of my interests, I often read about Chernobyl radiation damage, tens of thousands of drink-related highway deaths a year, systematic pillage of cultures in the name of civilisation, family tragedies everywhere caused by utterly callous financial criminals, kids and families being blown away by munitions proudly sold by various countries to any combatant who has the money, or about the hundreds of thousands of poor people dead or handicapped by diseases that could be pretty much “cured” by the income tax payments of three rich people. I think that there is something way unbalanced about the news. Think Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq as context. This is the notion I just can’t quite pull into print. Making a big deal out of this killer is taking an everyday event and robbing it of global context. Why is the guy doing it? Global context (as well as individual sleazebag). Although the emotional upset caused to families and friends of murdered people is quite real and genuine. Too many people are using, caressing and profiteering from this event. One thing we agreed on in The Local was that even trying to make a case even slightly outside this dominant discourse is impossible now, during the National Freakout. I said it was like I felt during the Falklands War in Britain. They lied about it so much and it was so far away, that almost no one dared to utter a peep. OK, not quite the same, but maybe you get a drift.

Is this a truly important event, or is it a normal event, which has been made into a spectacle because of the manipulated use of the word terrorism, and the need for business and government to build fear and insecurity into our lives. Shock Doctrine? Happens all the time somewhere these days. It is perhaps naive to think that France will be isolated from this common event in modern life. Risk, danger, death, injury, in all forms, at any time. We live in a world wracked with insecurity and fear at many levels, created by real people, some of whom then sell us a solution to give us security and peace of mind.

Voila, that is what we chatted about. And more.

Personal 1.0

March 22, 2012 1 comment

Don’t read this one unless you know me, it really is just about me. The “sad” extreme of the blogger.


I have been quite slack lately. No writing. I have missed doing it. Lack of discipline. Inability to find and use the regular time a “real blogger” needs. I know at least three people on earth who have made negative comments about my missing writing. So why no time?


Actually life got a little messy a few weeks ago. For some time, the future has been simple. The usual things that occupy anyone who has a house, shops, rides a bit, watches sports, goes to meetings, fixes, orders, get obsessed, is unwell and being … In my case, two things that have arisen recently are to do with travel and Occupy. However much I love reading about Occupy and travelling to see my pals, it messes up normal life.


Occupy first. I promised (foolishly?) our Montpellier group that I could and would put on a good show for our annual event related to Martin Luther King. It takes place (nearly) every year at the Martin Luther King Centre in Montpellier. We invite “everyone”. I am talking about the slightly slack, rather weak, mixed liberalish small group tied together by friendship and the common experience(s) of being “political Americans in France”. Our type of group is very rare in France.


Anyway, a few weeks ago, we were in a bit of a bind. We had a duff film and no speaker for our annual MLK event, one of the very few things we actually do. The woman who has “managed” the evening for years has stopped doing it. So Occupy, as a topic, came up as an alternative to the badly organised Palestinian evening. I gladly volunteered to do the organising and maybe even the animating on the day. I said I would give a rap in French on Occupy and field or divert some questions during the debate. I am the right person in many ways. Another guy and I know the most about Occupy. I have more time to read and maybe more oddball political experience than most of the group. But animating, facilitating, is a thankless job. Even in English I would not want to do it. I lose my cool too quickly, and cannot possibly understand young people who all speak too fast and use words I don’t know (in French). I also have a low tolerance of people who will talk abstractly with no Occupy experience or ONE ancient experience they think everything should resemble. I worry about this event.


Sometimes it annoys me that I live in country where everything has to be in French. Without the help of one guy, unbidden, we still would not have a good short “film” to show. There might not yet be a good short or even medium film about Occupy, even in English.


In any case, I have to come up with a ten minute rap in French to introduce the discussion. I think I will find out what my partner organiser wants to talk about. Then I can fill in gaps, maybe use a question and answer format, so I don’t have to be too organised. Will I read a translated script or wing it with notes? My sophisticated analytic French is not that great and never will be. So I am going to try the “keep it simple” kind of theory. No footnotes. In fact, not very many complex sentences, since I forget which linking up words take the subjunctive and my tenses are still a bit ropy. I might get a bit of help from someone to make sure I don’t use a really wrong word.


As for much of real work, I must delegate soon.


Then there is a bit of travelling. Suddenly. I live a quiet life. I don’t travel much. Causes me deep regrets, but my overall bad health is a big constraint. Any trip could be cancelled at the last minute. Still, if you don’t make a plan then you never go anywhere. I should be going to Lancaster (two weeks) for my little joblet. I have to talk to my boss, although the recent reorganisation means I am not even sure who that is. Maybe I won’t carry on with this job. Lancaster is a relatively easy two week trip. I have done it twice. I know how to do it. My old pals are very welcoming. I do some work, eat lots of food “out”, hardly ever cook a meal. Not much washing up for two weeks. I buy flowers sometimes. Maybe even get a new passport and some new glasses. It is a trip “home”.


One old friend is visiting another old friend in the Pyrenees, sometime in June. I am utterly certain that will be a pleasurable trip for a few days. I have never really explored the Pyrenees as much as I would like to. That has to happen before the Tour.


Then, The Tour, when I have my annual holiday from many things. This year, if we are both lucky (shoulder problems should be healed by then), we can go swimming nearly every day at the pool five minutes walk from our house, I can ride often, and watch and write about the Tour. Three weeks. It is sometimes a “good life”.


In August I am going to host a three or four day visit from my American niece and my almost nephew-in-law. The lad and I will meet when they arrive. My niece I know a bit, but as a kid. She is grown now, working as a teacher, getting married, maybe kids. My wife and I (in our ways) will work hard to make their visit a pleasure, one they won’t forget for many years. I might even spring for a cheap hotel in the big city and hang with them there. Be a tourist for a few days. It might be the only time they visit here. It should be good. But not a quiet life. I wonder if they have ever eaten classy French food. Or if they even like it. We shall see.


Two weeks ago, I got a note about my fiftieth high school reunion. It quickly became obvious that I wanted to go. I have wanted to visit my American home town for years. Last visit 1972. I have a pal runs a bed and breakfast in Ann Arbor, where we both went to University, after sharing junior high and high school together. He has been to visit me in England, twice. Although it is not deeply important, I imagine that this is the last time I might see so many Americans of my age, from my town, whom I vaguely know, at the same time. I am excited, but its a big trip and I have to arrange it all, not something I do well. And be gone from my home again, where life is slightly simpler.


And although just that is a quite exciting but difficult short term future, for a often ill and laid back country boy, all that before the middle of October is a lot to ask. Might not happen.


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Conflict in Local Political Groups

March 9, 2012 1 comment

A thousand words to introduce you to one of my personally important political groups. What would you want to know? Other than that group is on my mind currently.

I joined this group 8 or 9 years ago. All members are American citizens, which means USA in practice, not ALL of the Americas. It had been going for a year or two when I heard about them from another list and joined. Several members have moved cities, left France, died, or in some cases, just drifted off. One co-founder quit in deep and passionate disagreement with the group two or three years ago. The group has probably shrunk slightly in the last ten years, or so it seems. The nine core organisers of the group are very much occupied with other activities, work, parenting, illness and death, grandparenting, new lovers and old partners, and other demanding political or social activities. We don’t have any enthusiasts for whom our group is “the most important thing in their life”, or even second most important.

Fact: With the exception of our most recent member, everyone’s partner, should they have one, is NOT a citizen of the USA.

The overall complexion of the group is liberal/left, in the American sense. Some members, including the late co-founder, are quite clearly identified as “revolutionaries” or radicals of some kind, maybe not even on a left right political spectrum. I sometimes think I am some kind of anarchist. One of our very active members calls himself a Dadaist. Several of our group are pretty sophisticated reflective types, “theorists” you might say. When we have organised discussions, the quality is often quite high, and people can easily ask for more explanation. Our “Cafe APJ” events take place infrequently, even though we enjoy them. But we also have members who “want to DO something” about the awful things in our world. Very sincere and passionate people. But not people who claim to be political analysts or theorists. The weight of our understanding is a slightly intuitive, critical, liberal view of the world and of political action.

It has to be said that one reason the group exists is so that USA immigrants can “talk (and do) politics” in their native language, with other immigrants. Although of course many of us, ”talk politics” or act politically with French people, in French. Never quite the same as “your own people!” Many thousands of USA immigrants in France resist ANY organised political involvement of any sort.

Most people in our group go through a bit of trouble to vote in the USA elections. Some vote in French ones. Most are aware it won’t really change much. They vote with the inner ironic smile, or with semi-false hope. The group itself has never been connected to any political party. Many, individuals vote for the Democratic Party in a “home state”. One or two people have bumper stickers for American elections (always Democrats), when in fact they live, work and have kids in France. Maybe somebody does belong to the Democratic Party, but all this is a kind of personal action, not a group action. Members generally would rather be in the group doing a little bit, than not be in the group doing nothing.

The group has members who are very much turned toward the USA, in family or other ways. There are also those who are less turned toward the USA, or turned slightly toward England, Germany or Italy. We all say we are American citizens. But that clearly has different meanings in political thought and action. About half are passport carrying “Europeans”, some are “just American”. The average number of years in France for each active member must be around twenty years, including those us who have been here for less than ten years. Some have spent nearly their entire adult life here. So although we have never talked about our “political identity” within the group, some people care more about political activity in the USA, especially around election times.

Everyone (I think) agrees with out rather well-constructed missions statement.

We are an association of Americans dedicated to global peace and justice.

We oppose the settlement of conflicts by force, while recognizing the right of people to defend themselves against infringement of their human and civil liberties.

Our objectives are:
1) To promote peace by opposing war and all forms of oppression
2) To promote justice by identifying and denouncing the political and economic sources of injustice.

Along with others who share our objectives, we take public action to achieve these aims.

At this exact moment, we don’t “do” much. We have NEVER done that much, just what we could manage. Which was not “enough”, and never will be enough. There is only one other group like us in France, naturally in Paris. It is very unusual, that we exist. The co-founders might never have met. It was Afghanistan invasion (not Iraq) that “forced” our CF to do the action that led to the group. We have some relations with the Paris group, and a bit less with the Rome Group, the only other ones we know in Europe. The links are tenuous, and very uneven. Overall, it is pretty clear that everyone in our group has two or three way more important activities. So we tend to support things other groups organise. We are not very strong or creative, but vaguely present.

This “slackness” has been present for a long time, although we continue to attend or participate in activities organised by others. This lack of action was one of the reasons the co-founder left the group, years ago. Critics, internal and external, say we don’t do anything much and we might not even be doing “the right thing”, even when we try. In my view, not too far off the mark. Anyway we have had good potlucks during our entire existence, sometimes just to hang out, more often a cultural or political event potluck. In the summer we are often around one member’s pool, maybe we have a potluck to say hello to some old member visiting town, to save them time and travel. There are always loads of non-members at potlucks. Friendships have grown through our activities, although each individual has lots of other pals and family who are more important than our small group. We sign letters and petitions. But we keep wondering, especially for the last two or three years, “do we do enough”?

Very recently, the co-founder has made an energetic come back on the email list. He is a practiced and keen email writer. He thinks he has a more “radical” and structured political view than most of us. He is openly quite critical of those whose views are wrong or sloppy. Corrections for casually put or wrong views are quickly forthcoming. He has been writing what several consider unnecessarily aggressive, maybe hurtful, emails to people he actually knows, by writing to “the list” that all nine to fifteen of us use. Apparently, he does not think he is doing this troublesome behaviour, merely being honest and direct, writing the truth, helping us find our way. We are being accused of being workers for the Democratic Party, because we don’t publicly condemn Obama, when we did condemn Bush. He is quite forcefully or insistently urging us to denounce Obama for his imperialist actions and wants us to actively promote the notion that Obama is a war criminal, to the French people. We should recognize that the USA is fascist and if we don’t condemn Obama, then we are collaborators with fascism.

So a small, weak, not very significant-for-the-world, (but somewhat important to the members) socio-political group is being buffeted by words on an email list. The latent conflict lines are no longer latent, they are being made manifest. Some members are upset. I am one. I am upset. But being a wise and experienced dude, I thought describing the situation to some of you might help me work out how I thought and felt. And it did. Took more than a thousand words. Sorry. On the other hand, the outcome of the current conflict is very uncertain. You will hear more as it happens.