---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 11:53:03 -0700 (PDT) From: Cathy GellisThis was the exact moment my life became a Mentos commercial....
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: two guys, a girl, and a twingo After I sent out my last missive, I started to have a bad day for various reasons. Suffice it to say, at the end of the evening I was very cranky and decided to go to bed early. 'Early' turned out to be 11pm... At midnight the apartment complex where I live with many other Americans suddenly turned into a disco. One girl had moved in that week and thought it would be a good idea to open all the windows and blast music. In a pissed-off daze of sleepiness I threw on some shorts and mismatched shoes (the best I could do at that moment) and went downstairs to confront the party. It took forever for anyone to pay attention to me given the noise and their drunken stupor. I would manage to shout one sentence above the noise and then that person would bob off and I'd have to try again. Eventually I succeeded in getting my abbreviated point across: that the music was too loud, and they were going to wake the neighbors and get in trouble. I didn't even go into the longer version of how I really felt about them. First they didn't believe me and just sort of sneered, particularly "Sarah" with her Cheshire Cat smile. When they realized I was serious they got mad, because "I" was breaking up their party. The girl hosting the party, who makes Sarah look like a weakling in the nasty self-centered category, started speaking to me patronizingly in French(!), grabbed my arm, and "led" me out the door (since, obviously, she was welcome to wake me up but I wasn't welcome in her apartment.) Stunned, I stomped up to my apartment spitting bullets. But the fun didn't end there. Another girl who was there, who I generally liked, came upstairs after me to apologize. I told her not to apologize for the rest of them, only herself, so she did. She asked if she could crash on our floor that night (normally she lives with a family outside town and that night she was going to sleep on the floor of the party's host). Wanting to spare her any more contact with these misanthropes we agreed. THEN we realized how drunk she was. She started pacing and wanted to go to the window. We let her, until we realized she was trying to throw down French insults at the other people. Fearing that someone might get beat up if this continued, we told her to drink a bottle of water and go lie down. Which she did, although not before a trip to the bathroom to throw up. Somehow my roommate Jennifer and I have become a magnet for puking 18 year olds. The night passed, eventually I got some sleep, and the next day after classes I went to Cassis, a coastal town near Marseille. Aix has an annoying quality in that you can't get anywhere directly from it by train. You always have to change trains in Marseille. On the train I ran into other Americans, and then I stuck with them when they got there. Of the 10 of us, 8 went to rent sea kayaks and paddled out about an hour to the secluded cove of one of the Calanques. I had fun pretending I was Ulysses touring the Mediterranean. We didn't have a lot of time to stay there so we paddled back and then sat on the beach for a while. One girl left early, and then the other 9 decided to take a later train. The problem with Cassis is that the train station is 3 km uphill from town, and the busses stop running around 5. Our train was around 7, so we went to the taxi stand to take a taxi. Pretty soon we noticed that no taxis were running. I went and asked a shop keeper if there was anything we were doing wrong. She said no, but gave me the mobile number for one of the cab drivers. Another American called it ("I understand you are a cab driver...?") and was basically informed that all the cab drivers were eating dinner so none were available. My teacher once had joked that if you want to invade France, you can do so between 12 and 2, when everyone eats lunch. Apparently 7:30pm is also a strategic option. We decided to grab a bite and meet back in an hour to take a later train. This time we asked a hotel to arrange us the cab. We were told someone would come to shuttle us up in 2 trips. Eventually a taxi did show up. Half of us piled in. The cab backed up a half-block, then a guy tapped the window. He said HE was the one who called, that this was HIS cab. The driver believed him and made us get out, despite our best protests. We went back to the curb, completely believing that we would never be able to leave this town. But then the cab reappeared having dropped off the other guy. The driver opens his trunk (station wagon) and tells all nine of us to get in. We cram 3 in the trunk, 4 in the back seat, and 2 in the front seat and then he raced this mound of people up the hill to the station, 6 minutes ahead of our train. Yet this is not my only tale of fun with French automobiles, for that coming weekend (this past one) was the Tour de France stage at Mount Ventoux. Mt. Ventoux is this Mt. Washington-like monster that looms up out of Provence to torment cyclists (and others, I suppose). One year a cyclist died going up it during the Tour, and for many years the tour avoided it. But this year the tour was going to travel over 200km and finish at the summit. It's the kind of stage that makes cycling legends. For reasons way too silly to go into (ex-boyfriend) I decided that I HAD to see this stage. It was the closest Tour stage to Aix, it happened on a weekend, and it was to be a really important one for the race overall. It turned out that two others in my program, Tom and Ivan, also wanted to see it so we tried to figure out how to do it. Despite our best efforts, we could find almost no information about how to go watch that stage. How to get there, when to get there, where to park... we got very little useful information except the stage's routing, and a tip that the roads would be closed on Sunday (the day of the stage.) (Although it turned out that the hours given in that last tip were wrong.) For lack of a better idea, we decided to rent a car, drive up the day before, camp out in the car on the side of the road, and then hope for the best to see the stage. The car we ended up renting for 82 euros for the weekend was a Renault Twingo. I could describe the car, but suffice it to say it was no bigger than you'd expect something called a "Twingo" to be. It was also a disgusting yellow color, but whereas normally it would have been too hideous to drive, we decided it was appropriate to have a 'voiture jaune' (yellow car) in honor of the 'maillot jaune' (yellow jersey) that Lance Armstrong was now wearing as the race leader. And so on Saturday we departed, struggled through the gridlock and poor signage of Carpentras, and then followed a sign directing us to Sault. About 2 miles down the road I pulled over because I realized it was ridiculous to go all the way over there. Instead we decided to turn around and follow the road to Bedoin, another village with a road heading out of it and up the mountain (plus it was the route the riders would take). For future reference, Twingos have no power steering and terrible turning radiuses. I found this out when I tried to turn around on the road and ended up driving into a ditch. Instantly aware of the depth of my stupidity, I immediately entered a period of panic and swearing. I ordered Tom and Ivan out of the car to push it back on the road. While at the initial moment there had been no traffic, like moths to flame suddenly many cars converged on us. But rather than honking, 4 or 5 more Frenchmen got out to help push. It was all over very quickly and we continued to Bedoin, keeping strictly to the pavement.
Bedoin is a small town with only 1 ATM that doesn't work, just so you know. We had a nice lunch there and then headed up the hill. Once out of town we started to see campers parked by the side of the road. As we climbed we started to see more and more, to the point that we weren't sure if we'd have room to park. We reached a junction where the roads from Bedoin and Sault merge, at the Chalet Reynard, just 6km from the top. This was where I at least wanted to be because the top was walkable from here. A cop stopped everyone. Where can we park for the Tour, I asked him. "Over here!" he said, waving his arm towards a gigantic parking lot full of cars and campers. There were acres and acres of cars and campers there in that lot and other nearby lots, as well as along the road. They also had set up a long row of portapotties and a bar. This was hardly roughing it, what with food and drink and a means of disposing them afterwards so close at hand. Plus the Chalet and its food and restroom was just a bit down the hill. We found a spot and settled in for the evening. I talked with tons of people: some Spaniards, some Dutch guys, some Americans in a VW camper... Only the last group wasn't already drunk. Then later that night a German guy from Team (Deutsch) Telekom came by to set up for a party the team was going to have for VIPs to watch the race. I talked with him for a long time, all in French as it was the best common language between us. At about 1am Tom and Ivan came back and (despite all rumors and innuendos to the contrary - it was just a Twingo, remember....) we all managed to sleep in the car for a couple of hours. The next day I walked up 6km to the summit, talking to all the Americans I could find along the way. The mountain is extremely distinctive. For about a kilometer there was some low scrub, but after that it was all rocks up to the top where there is a weather station. I found a nice spot 10 meters before the finish line. Next to me was a nice French man from Brittany who had seen 4 previous stages. We talked off and on for 7 hours while we waited for the race to come through, all in French. Near 4pm the publicity caravan came through. The various Tour sponsors drive some garish automobile/parade floats ahead of the riders and throw out small gifts. Except that by the time they got to us they had mostly run out. Meanwhile, at about 3, they started giving a play-by-play commentary over the loudspeaker. Lance was as much as 12 minutes behind a group of escapees at one point. This wasn't a problem for him with regard to the overall race, but it wasn't going to be easy to win the stage. He wanted, but didn't really need, to win the stage. He just couldn't let his closest competitors beat him up the hill. The best climbers in the groups of escapees weren't a threat to unseat him as the race leader, so he didn't start to catch up until he had started the climb. I naturally wanted him to win, so it was very exciting to listen and wonder if he would make it as the commentary indicated the gap was getting smaller and smaller. Since there are no trees on the mountain, from the top we could see the cyclists start winding their way up the switchbacks with several kilometers to go. Eventually Lance closed the gap to 2:20 (I think) and came in 3rd to Richard Virenque, a Frenchman which made the locals happy. The next day there was a picture in La Provence on the cover of the sports section with Virenque crossing the finish line, and my elbow in the background. It will be interesting to see whether I let my fame go to my head. Waiting for the Tour is a bit like waiting for New Year's - a lot of waiting and then it all passes quickly. Even going uphill the bikers were fast. They rode up the entire 20+ km faster than I walked down the top 6. But it was fun and good to have done. The weather was great, the scenery striking, and I don't think we could have found anything to do that was more French. This week has been low key. One night we went out for a nice French farewell dinner, and last night my roommate and I went out to another one that was fantastic (I had lamb, and some appetizer I couldn't identify but tasted great). Today was the last day of classes, so we all brought food in. After our "breakfast" we all watched a French movie, and then we joined the party of the other classes next door and ate even more. It was a fun and filling day, but sad because we wouldn't see each other again. I will miss all the people who did not wake me up in the middle of the night, or vomit in my vicinity (there were a few). Tonight I have to pack and clean the apartment, and then I leave at noon to head to Slovakia to visit ma soeur Vicki. Then back to Paris for a few days, then home. Where I won't be able to speak French anymore... very sad. So this is probably my last French update unless something astronomically interesting happens in the next few days. Au revoir, Cathy
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