Cher les Bicyclettes de la Grande Vitesse
It’s hardly topical at this stage of the game, but in the last week of July Richie & I hopped on the train over to Paris to catch the last stage of the Tour de France. This may seem a surprising move for someone who’s scarcely expressed any interest whatsoever in the world of professional cycling, but hey – if something interesting’s going on in the neighbourhood, ya might as well check it out, right?
What better way to start the day than getting up at the crack of dawn to get to St Pancras in time for a Eurostar… and as is tradition now when taking this train, Richie and I kicked off with a couple of Duvel. There should probably be something wrong with having Belgian beer for breakfast, but I can’t see what it is.
As Paris is such a world beacon of culture, we’d pre-decided to go check out an art exhibition that we’d read about, entitled Superdome, at the Palais de Tokyo. This decision was less about personal enrichment and challenging our aesthetic boundaries, and more about the fact that one of us had read that one of the installations was made up of hundreds of terracotta Darth Vader heads. That was fricken’ awesome – the Darths were arranged in a triangular phalanx, guarding a sinister dark monument to which they were all tethered, as it turned out, by black Cat5 cable. A deep & shifting drum & bass track echoed around the chamber, and it transpired that each Darth head contained a processor board, and collectively they were calculating the most evil-possible sounding piece of music they could think of. I had visions of them breaking free of their poles upon completing the task and hovering around Paris generally being evil, however this doesn’t appear to have taken place yet.
Some of the other exhibits in the gallery were quite cool, whereas others definitely were not, and I guess it was reassuring that modern art remains as enigmatic as ever across the channel as well as here on the meridian. One of the cool pieces was a life size sculpture of an elephant, balancing unsupported on the tip of its extended trunk.
Another potentially Cool Thing was the beer cannon – the idea being that it would use the miracle of compressed gas to fire a beer bottle across the room (and thereby initiating a smashing effect) at random intervals. The piece combined all kinds of emotional stimuli within the viewer, or at least would have done if I hadn’t translated a small nearby placard that said “due to technical difficulty, this machine no worky-worky”.
Following the brief but interesting wander, we popped down to La Tour Eiffel and environs so Richie could try out his new lens, and entertained the possibility of climbing the stairs up the France’s most famous temporary structure.
45 minutes in an immobile queue spoke the international language of “bugger this for a game of soldiers”, and we elected instead to continue our art fix at the Musée Rodin. As it was getting on a bit in the afternoon by now, we discovered we had approximately half an hour to whiz around the building and see all the pretty things. I’m confident we fully & comprehensively appreciated the works on display there. I spent at least 45 seconds standing in front of The Kiss giggling about what Monty Python did to it.
I was also transfixed by The Gates of Hell – what an incredible piece! Thankfully this was displayed outdoors, and having been already booted out of the main museum we were able to observe this at our own pace. Wow.
Sunday was the reason we were in Paris however – the final stage of the Tour de France. Clearly cycling’s quite popular, as in no time at all the throng was 4 or 5 deep all around the circuit. We parked up on the Rue de Rivoli, figuring that it was a reasonable straight on which we’d be able to see a gaggle of lycra-clad Europeans zipping past 8 times, and it would be bedlam further around by the finish line. Preceeding the race however was a parade of some description, presumably put on by race sponsors – if nothing else it confirmed my suspicion that commercial radio DJs are d1ckheads the world over, and all have that self-obsessed deep-voiced “Heeeeeeeeeeeey” thing going on. If I had to pick a favourite little car thing that drove in the parade (other than any one of the flatbeds featuring tethered gyrating hotties in skimpy outfits), it’d have to be the bowl of something-or-other with the purpose-built rear view mirror.
I’d like to provide an adrenaline-packed synopsis of the road stage, however I know naff-all about bike racing, and to my untrained eyes it looked like a bunch of blokes who were in a huge hurry to get somewhere. Granted, it showed me that cycle racing is quite strategic and requires a lot of teamwork, and it also astounded me with the physics of the whole process – as the peloton shot past you could feel the column of wind moving after them for quite some time! Following the gripping conclusion we ambled around to the dais for the last of the speeches, and the winners’ presentation. If anyone has been concerned lately about there being a lack of celebrating Spaniards in the world, I can tell you that there was a healthy population of them in Paris at the end of July!
Finally (as even the most gripping of stories has to end some time), as we walked** over to where we were booked in for dinner that evening we mooted that on such a beautiful summer’s day a nice cold beer wouldn’t go astray. Our route took us past an Australian pub – typically something which both Richie & I would avoid – however curiosity got the better of us, and Richie said “We can go here if they’re selling Coopers’ Pale Ale”. And so, the perfect conclusion to an excellent weekend was realised – the glorious amber nectar was so soothing and delicious that we even threw propriety to the four winds, and ordered a second.
** we did quite a lot of walking over the brief trip, partially to take in the splendid Parisian summer weather & architecture, but also because we had repeated hassles boarding the Metro at the station near our “hotel”, and we weren’t even sure that we’d bought the right kind of tickets anyway.
(My flickr gallery of this trip – primarily of the photos Richie took – can be found here)