July 20: Garmin Girl on Col du Aspin and Bad News from Michael Padnos

The plan this morning was to meet in Arreau, climb up Col du Aspin, and watch the Tour de France come by. Dan was to leave on his bicycle, ride around this or that way, and meet us on the side of the mountain. I’ll leave it to him to blog about how that turned out for him, but for us it went this way:

Our first order of business was to get gas. This is something I had not done on my own without Dan before, and due to the unpredictability of “carte refusee” and the unlikelihood of someone being around to accept your cash, I was very stressed. We pulled into the gas station, I popped the lever that opened the gas tank (I thought) and then was bemused when I still had to open the tank with the key. Oh well, whatever, I had other things to think about, like whether the guy was going to accept my card or take all my cash. I pumped the “gazole” into the Peugeot, and paid the dude (in cash, the card did not work). Then I punched Arreau into the GPS and she began to navigate me there. I was someplace on the Autoroute when I realized the hood was flapping. Oh, I see. That was not the gas tank release lever I flipped, it was the hood release! Woops. Stopped on one of the many emergency pull-off places and fixed it. Carried on.

There was no problem in finding the town, but the problem came in that over a kilometer from the town, there was already a solid line of cars parked on both sides of the road. We pushed on a bit until we could see that there was no hope, then we turned around and parked half off the road in a long line of other cars parked half off the road. We unloaded our flag, our umbrella, our bottles of water, our snacks, and started to hoof it toward town. Up the mountain, we could see one of the switchbacks, and we saw the very beginning of the Tour caravan passing up there, tantalizingly just out of reach. This motivated us strongly to continue, as we knew that the slap bracelets, the madeleines, the Skoda hats were flying. Sadie and I clasped hands and ran for the turn, then started making our way up – we coincided with the caravan just as the tires were passing, so the kids were able to jump for lots of swag, and were happy.

We carried on up the hill until we found a nice shady spot on a steep stretch of road, and decided to stay there.

Sadie and Benny were marching around – Benny climbing the hill on the other side of the road, Sadie puttering around on the side with the drop. I knew she was okay, but I experienced one of the numerous times in France that I would be told by an older person to mind my child. They do it with kind sternness, as if to say, I don’t mean to yell at you, but… The first time it happened, I was in a rest stop and Sadie was standing right inside the door, where if it opened quickly, she could get bumped. An older lady tapped my arm and said, “Attention,” and then rattled off a bunch of French with enough gestures that I understood what she meant. I can’t remember all the episodes of this behavior but I know it’s not done in nastiness. For people with very few safety controls and a surprising amount of freedom around physical dangers, they are very vigilant of children, and have no problem telling you to watch yours. I didn’t mind it at all – the tone was maybe what you’d expect of your grandmother if she was telling you the same thing. Anyway, this old guy came over and explained to me that Sadie could fall down the hill if I didn’t watch her, and I thanked him and made her sit down until he finally went on up the road.

The now familiar vehicles came rolling by, and Sadie had something cool happen. She was wearing orange and bright blue, and whether it was the color or just a nice gesture, one of the Garmin support vehicles slowed down and tossed her some slapping tubes which matched her outfit. That was awesome!

Benny ran with the riders, and Sadie and I stood and yelled.

I am developing my technique of holding the camera away from my face in order to take pictures; that way I can see what’s happening and still take pictures. We stayed until the last, last guy rolled past, including one guy that looked like he’d been attacked by wolves, with his kit hanging around him in tatters. When the fin route guy had gone by, we began trudging back down the hill. By the time we made it all the long way back to the car, we’d heard from Dan several times. He got stuck on the other side of Col d’Aspin, and was waiting to finish ascending so he could descend. In the mean time, I had to move the car, because it wasn’t technically in an actual parking spot, or even off the road, and the roads were going to open. So I moved it, drove around a bit, drove back and parked in a more reasonable position, and we waited for Dan.

After Dan got packed up and we got on our way, we realized it was 3pm, and none of us had eaten anything since an early breakfast. We made several attempts to NOT eat at McDonald’s, but the restaurants were closed and the cafes were only serving drinks. If you’re hungry at 3pm in France, there are few options for hot food besides cooking it yourself. I think if I lived here, I would get used to this rhythm, and be able to plan our days better. However, in the USA, there are very few restaurants that close between lunch and dinner service. In France, there are almost none that stay open. If I wanted to open a business in France, I’d open a restaurant that serves a variety of choices for children (apart from ground beef patty or baked salmon) and is open from 1pm to 7:30pm. The truth is that kids just can’t always wait until 7:30 to eat. At least mine can’t.

Back at home, the kids swam again, practiced their violins again, and rolled into bed. Dan and I, on the other hand, had a shocking bit of news to comprehend: we got an email from the guy who had done our booking for the apartment in Paris. He took our money, accepted the booking, but never confirmed it. Well, turns out he double booked it, and we received an email saying “I’m sorry, I can’t honor your booking.” As in, you’re arriving in Paris in four days, and you have nowhere to stay. Sorry! Michael Padnos, you are on my list. Michael Padnos, you gave us a bucketful of stress. Michael Padnos, by losing track of us while letting us think we were all set, you delivered three days of awful maneuvering – chasing Wifi through the countryside while trying to climb mountains and see the Tour, fussing over pictures of this and that apartment, and in general tearing our hair out. Thanks. Sitting on the terrace, bent over the Netbook, staring at little pictures of two bedrooms, one bedrooms, filling out email forms to this and that rental agent… not the most romantic evening that I have ever spent. Merci!

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