More offline blogging about France

When I last left you, a perpetual scholar of the French Academy was starting her speech. You do not need to skip ahead, as I will not recount it here. I was not standing at the side of the parade route paying rapt attention. I was sitting on the curb with my head cradled in my crossed arms. I dreamt that she talked about Joan of Arc’s blog.
There is widespread consensus that Joan of Arc was illiterate when she started her career, but some scholars believe that she gained literacy by the time she died. Orléans was her first campaign, so the chances of her being able to write by that time are very low. She dictated some letters to the English, but she didn’t write them. Therefore, alas, Joan of Arc could not have blogged her campaign against the English at Orléans unless she dictated it or perhaps did audio posting via her cellphone. What would her blog have said? I sense a work of fiction in my future.
I awoke as a show of French military force rumbled up the street. Tanks, troop carriers and soldiers marching in dress uniform. The announcer gave statistics about who had just come back from Afghanistan, who was about to go and how many had been killed or injured there. Then came the gendarmes, also in dress uniform, marching with bayonets affixed to their machine guns. These military police are used domestically to quell unrest at demonstrations, like the one I had seen the night before. Then, came the firefighters in their shiny silver helmets and with their big red firetrucks. For the first time, the crowd applauded. They’re not too taken with the Gendarmes, but everybody loves a firefighter.
Then, more speechifying. Then the civic / religious parade started in the opposite direction. The Joan of Arc character rode up the street on her horse in show armor, smiling and waving at everyone. She looked radiantly happy and overwhelmed by the moment. You could almost imagine the real Joan of Arc with the same expression. The Orlánaise girl was enjoying the attention, but knew she was standing in for another figure. Joan of Arc might have enjoyed the attention as well, but herself put all the credit on God and the patron saints of the city.
She was followed by a bunch of pages and knights in period dress and then by other folks in period dress including the dancers from earlier and people with what looked to be relics and people whose idea of period dress got farther and farther afield until it devolved into men dressed as wizards and other such silliness. There were also altar boys, town leaders, regional politicians, priests, bishops, archbishops, honored guests and people with various flag sashes pinned to them. There were boy scouts and girl scouts and gymnasts and jugglers and basketball teams and rowing teams carrying their boats and every other civic organization in the entire department proudly marched by.
Nicole and Xena and I went to the medieval market to get lunch and drink mead. I made the only notes in my journal of the entire trip:

8 May 2007, 17:30
I am sitting at a table at the medieval market in Orléans. Xena is sitting at my feet, leaning into my leg for reassurance. Today, she has been surrounded by crowds and subject to barking dogs, marching bands, drum corps and a couple of canons.
I am waiting for Nicole to return with mead and a crepe made from ostrich eggs. [Here] there are also breads and sheep cheeses in traditional styles. Behind me, there is meat smoking over a small wood fire and a few meters to my right, there are sheep awaiting their edible fate.

The people in silly costumes from the march started to come back into the market. The march is exceedingly long and goes all around the city. I don’t recall if Joan dictated the route for the thanksgiving parade, but I believe she may have. It goes from the cathedral, down the main drag, across the bridge and along way down the road on the other side, certainly farther than the city extended when she was there. Perhaps there was a monastery or other shrine at the end. Then they come all the way back. Hours later, exhausted gymnasts and scouts, with encouragement from the parents, finish their long trek around the city.
The Joan of Arc character was in front of the Cathedral where another part of the ceremony took place. Then, they marched to the city hall where some of her colors and banners were retired to wait until next year. She looked exhausted, like she wanted to climb down from her horse and fall asleep right at it’s feet. Again, I can imagine the real Joan of Arc, who had an injury and who had barely eaten anything in the last day, after having lead charge after charge against the English. She would have been even more exhausted. But with a sense of duty the modern girl went on, to the museum to store the rest of her armor for the next year. It poured down rain for this last kilometer. And then she went on to return to normal life and her relative obscurity. Perhaps even now, people she knows are complimenting her on her good work, and next year, people will remind her of, but in the end she holds a place held by hundreds of other girls. Joan the Maid went on to the next town to beat the English there and the next town in victory after victory until the whole Loire Valley was in the hands of the Armagnacs.

May 9

The next morning, we broke down our camp to head the same direction that Joan went. She had with her local guides. We had the camp ground director. We intended to follow the Loiret for a very pretty shortcut through small, lovely villages. But the director sent us off in the opposite direction and then I misread the map several times and we found ourselves on the opposite side of the river than our planned route, with no crossings for quite a long time.
The roads along the left bank had steep inclines, leading to charming tiny clusters of houses, made out of rock, lining narrow cobblestone streets. Chickens hid behind the high walls, heard but not seen. An old lady here and there peeked her head out of a garden gate, preparing to visit her neighbor or ride her motor scooter to the next town with a bakery. It was on one of these steep hills (beside a charming town, leading to a bridge over a small stream) that my gear shifter ceased functioning. I tried shifting it furiously from low to high gear to make it pop back into place, but all I succeeded in doing was getting it stuck in the most difficult gear.
Only one bike has a trailer hitch, so there was no trading dog dragging duties. I carried on, going up steep inclines at slow, difficult paces. My camera batteries had died overnight, so I have no documentation of the steely grey skies threatening rain as the wind blew against us. Nor the outrageously orange wildflowers in large fallow fields on either side of the road. Nor the trees, blowing in the wind. Or the small stone towns. Or the Renault mechanic who said the gear shifter was too complicated for him to fix.
We came to a town with a basilica and a tourist office. This town, like all the others for the last 30 kilometers, had no bike shop, but the town across the river, Meung sur Loire, did. So we crossed the river and went straight for the tourist office there. The desk clerk directed us several kilometers away to a non-existent bike repair place. Fortunately, some locals told us where to find a repair shop – about 3 blocks away from the tourist office. The shop adjusted the cable and fixed the bike in about 5 minutes and charged nothing.
After my bike was fixed, I went back the the tourist office to ask about camping. The municipal campground was closed. I had to go only 7 km to the next town. And so I did, on the hot, sweaty, windy, buggy main road, choked with rush hour traffic, while the humid sun beat down on me. I got to the camp ground and nearly fell asleep while checking in. “Are you tired?” the camp ground guy asked in French. I told him my tale of bike woe.
I did not return to Meung Sur Loire, but on the way to bike repair, we passed the Joan or Arc marker on the side of a building, detailing her stay in the town. When she arrived in town, she first captured the bridge fortifications and then, like us, sped off towards Beaugency.

Offline Blogging about France

I am sitting in a room in a hostel in Berlin. The hostel is called “Generator.” The reception floor is anti-skid polished steel, like you see on loading dock sort of area. The walls are a bright blue. There are drunk German kids shouting and running up and down the hallway. I think I may seek a different hotel come morning.

And now, back to our story

When I last left my story of my adventures in France, it was the evening of the 6th of May. On the 7th of May, I walked over to the tourist office in the morning and learned that the municipal campground for Orléans does not open until June. However, the nearby town of Olivet had camping, only 8 km away. I made a reservation and then called the campground to ask when I should arrive. 20:00. So We walked around the cool medieval stuff going on.
Medieval germans had machine-loaded cross bows. The bow was spring steel. To pull it back, two people used a winch and then one of them aimed and pulled the trigger while the other got read for the next shot. The same folks also demonstrated a trebuchet, launching a soccer ball at the cathedral. Then they set off a cannon and we had to leave, since poor Xena was ready to run all the way back to Holland from fear of the noise. As it was, she ran towards a cage bear, which she had surprising little fear of. Bears look a heck of a lot like dogs. Why haven’t people domesticated them? I want a domesticated bear for a pet!
We went to the medieval market and it was nearly identical to the year before. The same booths in the same spots selling the same stuff. I felt disappointed at first for the lack of innovation, but realized that the search for innovation and the search for authenticity were often at odds. Having it the same very year is the point. The authenticity derives from the traditionalness, which comes from slow change. So then I felt better about. Well, that and a glass of honey mead.
One new thing was a vendor of natural horn trumpets made from the horns of former bovines. This instrument is what was meant by the word “bugle” until they came to be replaced by brass version. In modern French, they’re called clairons, but in medieval French, they were called another word, which I can’t recall, but is a cognate of the English word “bugle.” They were used mostly for signaling, especially in military operations. Recall the horn of Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. They play only one pitch well and all the rest sound kind of choked. I got a zebu horn.
One of the food vendors took pity on Xena and brought her some steak. He was feeding it to her with a caution: “C’est chaud!” “It’s hot!” She swallowed it anyway. Thus, all happy, we hopped on bicycles to head for the campground, free tourist map in hand.
We followed the directions provided by the tourist office, and it looks us over streams and next to old water wheels and stone buildings and little bridged and lakes with swans and by all sorts of flowers, and woods and nature. We went back and forth down the street looking for it and then went to a small island in the middle of La Loirette, a tributary of the Loir. It was 19:40. We were standing in a shaded meadow, next to an ancient waterwheel in a picturesque stone tower. The sunlight filtered down through the trees. It was incredibly beautiful, but we were totally lost.
A man biked by and I called out to him, asking if he knew where the campground was. Luckily, he did. He told us to follow him and lead us all the way there. Morever, when I was struggling to get my loaded bike and dog trailer up a steep hill, he went into a super low mountain bike gear and pushed it along. I don’t even know his name.
The camp ground was nowhere near the location the tourist office woman had drawn on my map. It was about 5 km away from there, in fact on an island in the Loirette. The camp ground woman told us to camp in any part of of the tip of the island. It was a small green peninsula, with a picnic table, green grass, wildflowers and several trees, all of which were slowly dropping blossoms like lazy snowflakes. Some ducks were meandering around the island and quakcing, and coming up to peck around. The water floated lazily by, until disturbed by a crew team, quietly rowing past. It was entirely lovely. Xena ran in broad happy circles, pausing only to roll in the grass or chase the ducks. She was the happiest I had seen her in ages. Until I tried to get her back into the dog trailer. She trotted off, with the idea that she could avoid me by wading out into shallow water. But there was no shallow water, only a sudden drop off, so with a look of surprise, she plunged into the Loirette. She confusedly got back on the island and promptly started rolling in dust and dirt to dry off. Once this strategy was successful, I put her in the dog trailer anyway and started back to town for the evening events. She started trying to escape again and succeeded in getting half way out!
We showed up for the evening ceremony and illuminations. Like all big French public events, it started with a speech, which was pretty good about how French identity would not have existed today without Orléans in the 100 years war and Joan of Arc in particular. It went a little long. Then another speech started, so I wandered away in search of dinner. I still have never seen the illuminations.
The night parties were set to go until very late and included more cannon shots, dancers, musicians and all sorts of stuff. Some of the musicians had firecrackers, which they set off quite close to their audience. Between that and the cannon shots, Xena was terrified, so we went back to camp. I calculated later that we rode about 30 km that day, even though it was not supposed to be a biking day.

May 8

the next morning, I woke up exhausted. The ground was harder than I remembered from previous camping experiences. It had started to rain and attempts to get the dog under the rain flap had proved fruitless. The dog was wet, and I hadn’t slept much. However, the campground provided bread. They gave us 2 croissants and a baguette. It was fantastic. We went back into Orléans for the parades. We missed the start of the first one, but still got to see the traditional dancers perform with traditional instruments. We were very close to the Brittany contingent, who had an extremely loud and fun bag pipe band. The music made me feel like dancing, which is not what I ever would have expected from a bag pipe.
The second parade began with a long speech from some official about how happy he was to be in charge of things this year and probably some other points which I missed. Then a perpetual scholar in the French Academy started to give a long speech about the historical and social role of Joan of Arc and how it’s changed over the years.
this shall be continued

Back from France

I’m back and I want to share all. I wasn’t sure where to start, especially since the trip ended much as it began: biking across Paris, towing a dog, trying to make a train connection. The second trip was a bit more hectic than the first because it involved a much farther away train station, a shorter time and a case of wine. Some Parisian yelled «Bravo!» as I struggled uphill across and intersection, trying to pick up speed to make the train on time. We had an hour and 5 minutes, two foldy bikes, a foldy trailer, dirty clothes, camping gear and the aforementioned dog and case of wine. And a medieval-style bugle that I bought in Orléans. 20 minutes to unfold everything. 20 minutes to bike from Montparnasse to Gare du Nord, 20 minutes to refold. I highly recommend sprinting across Paris with so many things, especially down the hill from the Sorbonne to the Seine.

We arrived in Paris the day of the election. The streets were crawling with Gendarmes, prepared for possible unrest following the results.
First stop, was the bakery near where my apartment used to be. God, they make the best bread in the world. First thing off my bike and I step in dog shit. Yay Paris. Some older French ladies approached me and spoke to me about my dog trailer. Maybe it was the nice weather. Maybe it was the expectant air around the election, but probably it was the dog. I almost never had conversations like that when I lived there.
The streets were full of flics and first-time roller bladers. At every corner, there were grim-looking cops in riot gear and young people on wheels desperately clinging to phone poles. Xena was trying desperately to escape her trailer as we slowly crossed the city. Nicole rode behind me, repeating “good dog!” over and over again. She said the scowling gendarmes broke into amused smiles as they spotted the dog.
We arrived in Orléans later that evening and went to the tourist office, which was closed. They also had cops everywhere. I tried to call the campground listed in the guidebook, but they didn’t answer their phone. Rather than ride the 5km to the campground with the risk of having to ride another 5 km back, we went to the Ibiss, a 2 star hotel chain in Europe, roughly equivalent to the Motel 6 in the US.
And everywhere I went that day, I head over and over «C’est un chien!» It’s a dog! but I felt very proud of myself when a kid added, «C’est genial!» That’s brilliant! indeed. My goal was to take my dog with me and avoid the hassle of trying to find a sitter, but I don’t mind amusing the French also.
Over dinner, I learned that Sarko had won. I hate that guy. He said several months ago that the (poor, immigrant) suburbs should be cleaned out with a pressure hose, a comment that contributed greatly to the riots that followed shortly thereafter, leaving many cars burned. His parents were immigrants! He’s like the Ward Connerly or Clarence Thomas of France. In the time leading to the run off, he actively courted supporters of Le Pen, the ultra-right nationalist who adores Joan of Arc. Not because she was an awesome cross dresser who could place a cannon, but because she drove France’s foreign enemies out of France – you know, like um, immigrants. Because immigrants are totally against the country they want to live in (yeah, I hate France and want to destroy it). And Joan of Arc was not accompanied by a huge bunch of Scots who were also foreign and there to help her.
As I was walking back to the hotel, I heard whistling and shouts. A huge crowd of youths came up behind me on the Rue de Jeanne d’Arc. They had a bedsheet banner that had an anti-sarko slogan on it. Other folks were joining them as they marched. The joiners had their cell phones in hand and busily SMSed and called their friends to let them know to join in. (I heard one guy saying something about “le podcast.”)
as they marched down the largest street in town, towards the cathedral, under the huge patriotic banners and flags the town hung for it’s yearly festival, the older, whiter, richer Orléanaise leaned out their apartment windows and looked worriedly on the crowd below. In the expensive apartment, old white folks worried. In the street, a young, diverse crowd marched, whistled and gave speeches.
WhenI heard Sarko won, I was disappointed, but not surprised. The poll numbers were in favor of him. He was running against a woman. Her “yay I won” speech after the first round was wooden and boring in a manner unsurpassed by even John Kerry or Al Gore (although maybe Bob Dole could give her a run). But still, I hoped somehow she would win and I was angry that she hadn’t. But then, I saw these other angry kids and marched with them for a while. They were unhappy, but engaged. Their actions demonstrated hope. They weren’t in the street just because they were angry. They were in the street in their smallish town because they knew it mattered. Their participation in this semi-spontaneous march meant something, not just to them and the worried old folks, but to their whole nation.
I felt tears in my eyes. How can such a great country be so stupid? I went back to the hotel to sleep.

Travelin’ / Upcoming Concerts

I will be playing in Berlin on May 18th at Zentrale Randlage as a part of a conference going that weekend. I’ll be playing tuba &/| laptop and Nick Fox-Gieg will be playing computer and doing visuals. It will be cool. Our part will only be about 12 minutes. I don’t know what time, yet or much else, really.

And I will be playing a short set of a larger “show and tell” concert in The Hague on May 24th. The venue is Verhulstpl 17. I don’t know what time yet. I’ll probably be playing some tape music, but might also do some live laptop.
I’m leaving Sunday to go to France for the Joan of Arc festival in Orleans. It turned out to be cheaper to buy something called an interrail pass instead of buying a ticket to Paris and another to Berlin. Theoretically, this means that I can go anywhere within commuting distance on the 21- 23 May or 25-27 May. Realistically, this means: Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France maybe Denmark. It would be nifty if I could play some music someplace, since my transit is already paid, but, yeah, it’s way last minute and I’m not sure who to contact.
Xena now has a very official looking pet passport. It’s a little blue booklet with a Netherlands flag and an EU flag on it. Getting citizenship in the Netherlands is so easy for dogs! she can legally travel all over the EU (except for England). I got her a trailer yesterday, so I can pull her around with a bike. The trailer doubles as a crate/ “pup” tent. (ha ha ha). I’m now looking for a human tent. The idea is that camping is cheaper than hotel rooms. The reality is not so clear however.
Long-time readers will recall that last summer, I was planning a bike trip, but got lyme disease and had to cancel it. This year, hopefully, I’ll avoid dread disease. Nicole, Xena and I will be heading out along the Loire, following the route of Jeanne d’Arc on the the anniversary of her having travelled that way. Except she got to ride a horse and not tow a dog. On the other hand, she was wearing armor and had the constant risk of death, so I think it will be more fun for me than it was for her.