So what have I been up to the last few days?
Well, after our four nights in Brussels (seriously, rather besotted with that city), which included jamming the entire season of 13 Reasons Why (I know I know, insanely behind on the times; but we are now so on board we are above and beyond the boat) and our last night shared with The Pedaller's team mate (Marky Mark – absolute champ of a human being. We got takeaways from The Best Fish And Chip Shop In The World – Bia Mara – and went home to our apartment to watch the finale of 13RW, such a splendid evening) we headed back to Buggenhout (where the Belgium arm of team houses is located) for a quick turnaround to jaunt to France.
You see, The Pedaller and his pedalling pals are set to do The Tour of Alsace, a bike race in the eastern French region, right on the border of both Germany and Switzerland. So I get to take on the role of Team Groupie Girl and tack on for the trip.
And what a medley. To carry on the convo from the previous posts on accents and cultural differences and what not, this set up is like a global dinner table – quite literally.
The Pedaller's team for this stint is made up of fellas from a fair few alternate areas. There's a Pole, a Spaniard, a Dutchie (so much what I picture my Opa looked like as an early adolescent), a Great Brit Scot (that's aforementioned champion lad Marky Mark), an Irish lad (love it – purposely engage him in chat so I can just hear his lilting lyrics), a French photog (only other female) a handful of Belgie swanys and managers and what not, then us two Kiwis. Thirteen in total.
The chat at meal time is so splendid for an outsider looking in (and as is the case, an insider in just observing the proceedings). Words are all surrounding one subject (usually the velo/fiets/bike topic, though sometimes it's on another) but they sound so different depending on who the spotlight is on. Take "aeroplane"; just the range of anuniciations, some emphasising the "aer", some the "plan", some the "a" some the "roooo" and others just sounding it out in almost one swift syllable. The differences just delight me.
Yesterday Morgane – French photog – and I were talking about the best source of live results when I suggested Twitter. "What?" She asked, absolutely bewildered as to what I was saying. It took three repeats and a start spell-out for her to exclaim, "Ah! Tweeeee-ta!"
And the way the Belgies, Dutch and Poles add an "Eh" onto the end of every sentence; not like the Kiwi "aye", but a guttural "eh", as in, "Well that's bloody bullshit EH" or, "I want some rice at 11am, just plain with nothing else in it EH".
Plus there's all those delightful phrases. Marky Mark and his describing of all positive and happy as, "That's just well good". All the European transcontinental slagging (the identification of a difficult race official as, "He will be a German", and the disdain, "Pfft! Bloody Dutch". Such banter, I love it). The shrugs that mean yes and the blunt directness that is considered the way.
I absolutely adore it all.
One thing that does make me want to stop being quite so shit is the bilingual-ability. Conversational capability in at least another tongue is norm for these guys, with three or four languages quite common. Some of these fellas rip out some mother tongue, chuck in a bit of English for the rest of our sake then motor in with French to talk to the matrie D. I'm picking up on a bit of French (that fourth form year with Mrs Amodieo is actually paying off) and I can filter out a fair few Dutch phrases in the Flemish (hotfordomayounga makes a quite oft appearance). But to actually converse in another language has upped its priority place on my list to tick off in my lifetime. (Especially as I am constantly being approached with a spiel of French/Dutch/Flemish; yesterday when my response was a flabbergasted face, the woman of the engaged chat switched to English and said, "You just look so European-like, EH". I was rightly chuffed, quite proud of my Dutch/Pole lineage even if I can't speak as such).
Last night was the time trial to kick off the Tour. The Pedaller was on with his trio (Pole and Marky Mark) at 6.37pm. As they were warming up (did you know that all the bike boys wish a bit of talcum powder on their ball sacks to keep the friction at bay?) I observed the surroundings as my journalistic side always seems to do. And it was quite, well, special.
Cycling is just so big in Europe. The everyday civilian just fizzes on it. They gather up and crowd around and cheer and support and really take results to heart. Little kids in full on kit are dotted about, in awe of names they know and ambling up and down the streets watching the riders warm. Braver kids snap photos of the riders on their (or their parents') phones and the bravest even go forward to request a drink bottle or other item of memorabla. It's really quite, well, magical.
For the race I got to go in the chase car. Mate, it was electric. Tailing the trio for the 4.8km, eyeing the stopwatch to see what track they were on and trying to decipher who was who (when I couldn't read the numbers, I figured my best bet was to identify the three by their calf muscles. Marky Mark is the leaner, paler pins, the Pole is the powerhouse guns and The Pedaller has his golden pumps of pure muscle. Very much like his legs). I was a Berocca for the full 5 minutes 34 seconds – which just so happened to be the second fastest time, meaning The Pedaller (first to cross the line of the three) got the jersey leading into today and made the podium, so Pop got a bunch of beautiful green flowers gifted to her. All I could think was, Fuck, Papa Henio and the Uncles Cock and Jamie would be frothing on this.
Today is the first hilly stage (which was actually one of the Tour de France ones, of which Fabio Aru won) which has a fair grunt of climb to it (I've managed to figure out how to decipher the profile; the graphics really aid). It completes in a French town whose name translates in English to "Bed of Pretty Girls". Currently en route in the camper with the lads, all attired in my Post Chain Reaction shirt, making sure to keep out of the way but jump in where my hands could possibly be of some kind of value. From the start line I shall be in the camper with the three Belgie swannys (Danny and the two Johans – whom told me I could call them "Yo Hannes", as in "Your Highness"), of whom convo with has moved from polite chit chat to a bit of blathered English-Flemish banter.
(Update on the freckle front: when The Pedaller painted my nails the other day – yes, I made him, to what I must say was only a little bit of debate – we noticed a fair few more markings that had appeared on my fingers, forearms and legs. It led me to research into just why I have suddenly come up with such a sprinkling. Apparently, those of a paler complexion have less of what is called melanin in their skin; an injection of sunlight causes melanocytes to make more melanin, and rather than getting an even suntan like olive-hued peers, whities form freckys. So my fannying about in so much shining Indian sun combined with my lighter-than-usual shield has meant the springing up of some spots).
Plans to head to Flanders Field (where the poppies grow) on Tuesday, have booked flights to skedaddle to Spain (Barce then onto Girona) on Wednesday, then shall flit about from there as we feel fit.
Just absolutely loving life.