I’m slowly transcribing the long-hand diary entries from my midlife gap-year and turning them into blog posts. I’ve reached the 103rd day of my journey when I awoke in a hotel in Le Havre, France and rode my bicycle to the town of Yvetot and the 104th day when I rode on to a campground in Les Grande-Vents (a map can be found at the bottom of this post).
Thursday 3 September, 10:30 pm — Emilie and Rémi’s Home, Yvetot
I rode 78 kilometres today – that’s not a lot for many bicycle tourists but it is for me. It was my longest day since my return to France from Ireland 11 days ago and, for that matter, the longest since back in July when I was riding in the heat, in Eastern France.
So, now, I’m a bit wrecked.
The long day in the saddle was followed by an enjoyable evening with my Warm Showers* hosts Emilie and Rémi. Their English, while vastly superior to my French, is fine but not great so that made for a slightly more exhausting conversation for everyone – they were trying hard to understand my English and I was trying hard to speak so they understood. Now I’m quite tired and will just make a list of the highlights of the day:
- Christoph Waltz is “presenting” (whatever that means) a screening of Inglorious Basterds at the Zurich Film Festival on 26/27 September. (I’ll explain why this is important shortly.)
- Freelance riding – that is, not following an established, signposted cycling route – is especially hard in towns. I went around in circles several times today. In one little village, a man working in his front garden saw me ride past three times. The road I was looking for was right there on the map, but I just could not find it on the ground. And my embarrassing lack of French discouraged me from asking for help. I eventually found it on my fourth pass.
- This area reminds me of Wisconsin – rolling hills, cows, green. It’s a different geography than along the Seine.
- Things I was thinking about while I rode today:
- I want to go to the Zurich Film Festival and see Inglorious Basterds with Christoph Waltz. How do I do that? I can ride to Mainz, Germany and leave my bike with my friend PW’s brother then get the train or bus to Zurich for the weekend. IF I can get tickets to the screening.
- Riding in Australia and getting home. I’m not ready yet, not by a long shot, but I’m starting to think about it.
- The route for my US/Canada trip in October and November. I’m flying in and out of Chicago but where I’ll go from there and how remains to be decided.
I am very tired now. And this couch is very comfortable. Good night.
Saturday 5 September, 8:55 am – Camping de l’Orival, Les Grandes-Ventes
I can’t believe it’s Saturday again, already.
As freelance riding days go, yesterday was much better than Thursday. Before leaving Yvtot I stopped into the tourism office. I had decided to skip Dieppe and head as directly as possible for Amiens. The women at the tourism office helped me plot a route to Neutchatel-en-Bray – where I can pick up a cycleway for a little while. Once I’ve visited the various World War I sites associated with the Australians I will head to Germany then Zurich.
This morning is cold. Like Sydney in the winter cold. At 5pm yesterday a sign in Auffay said 14*C. A little warmer, please. Or sunnier. Or dryer. 14*C + overcast + sometimes rainy = boo.
I rode to Auffay from Yvtot with hopes of finding accommodation via the tourist office but there was nothing available. The nearest empty room the toruism officer could find was 7 kilometres away, in the wrong direction, and cost €70. But there was camping here, at Les Grande-Ventres, 19 km away, but, more or less, in the right direction. So after two extra hours of mostly nice countryside riding and a big long climb through a forest I arrived at this campground, and I was home for the night. The tourist office had called ahead for me – which was nice since I arrived a little after 7 pm when reception normally closes.
It had been one of those afternoons where I just had to keep pedaling until I got here. It may be the simplest and most universally valuable lesson of bicycle touring: sometimes you just have to put one step in front of the other until you get where you want to go. Neither the speed nor the grace of your momentum matters as much as your persistence in keeping the forward movement going.
Yesterday morning, before leaving Emilie and Rémi’s, I had a reply on Facebook to my message to the Zurich Film Festival confirming that tickets for Inglorious Basterds go on sale on 14 September. I replied, asking about when on the 14th, explaining that I am diverting my bicycle tour to come to the Festival.
Here’s what I think I need to do. One, write a post about it on Learning German w Christoph Waltz (another blog of mine, presently dormant – an explanation follows shortly) and cross post elsewhere including a public Facebook post; Two, Tweet that post @ZFF; Three, email someone at the festival explaining my worry about missing out on tickets and telling them the story briefly.
Things that might happen: I will get the ticket I need; the festival may see a media story in Cyclist Diverts to Zurich; someone might bring the whole affair to Christoph’s attention, or his people’s attention; I might meet Christoph. Or I might just buy a ticket and go – which will be cool in its own right.
I won’t get my hopes up beyond being there – but the thing feels epic and culminating, that the end of my summer of cycling in Europe should be this – Christoph and me in Zurich.
I was going to pawn an explanation of my connection to Christoph Waltz onto a link to what I’ve written on Learning German with Christoph Waltz but I think it best to simply quote it here, because it’s important and says something larger about why I’m on this journey.
When I first saw ‘Inglorious Basterds’ (which was on TV a couple of years after its release) like many viewers I wondered of the actor playing Hans Landa: “Who is that guy?”
What I found spoke, in part, to a curiosity I’d had for a time. When I was a kid everyone on TV or in the movies was famous; it seemed like young actors arrived on the scene and matured into other roles. As I got older I noticed, of course, that some young actors just disappeared, never to be seen again. And as I approached middle age I realised that some actors had been toiling someplace unseen by me only to emerge in roles which they were perfectly suited to play.
I thought about this a lot around ‘West Wing’. What had Allison Janney, for example, been doing? How had she been paying the bills? How had she remained committed to her career during what must have been difficult years of toiling in the fields hoping that the right roles would come?
So, as I began to learn about Christoph he fit into this storyline I’d found interesting for quite a while – only that much more so. He’d been toiling in German-language TV (mostly) for the better part of thirty years. He’d made some considerable efforts at gaining purchase in the US and the UK and none had really panned out. He was 52 when Inglorious Basterds was released.
I read and watched a lot of interviews with him and in each he showed himself to be an erudite, reflective, grateful, interesting human being who was thrilled by this totally unexpected change in his fortunes but who was, seemingly, also well-grounded and not overwhelmed by the bullshit.
At the time I was delving into his story my own middle-aged life had stagnated – I was bored in a job that others thought sounded great and my marriage was disintegrating.
In this context I watched Christoph’s first interview with Charlie Rose. The whole interview is fantastic but this bit here really spoke to me. This idea of becoming comfortable with resignation and edging toward bitterness and being plucked out of negativity (from the 55 second mark).
I liked this idea that Christoph had been ready. That for a whole career he had honed skills and strived for more but, for various reasons, had become pigeonholed and limited.
Then opportunity knocked and he was ready.
Over the year that followed my ‘discovery’ of Christoph my world crumbled and was built a new. My marriage broke down, I spiralled though a period of intense heartbreak and confusion; I let my friends help me; I licked my wounds and realised I was better off for the change.
I am not an actor or hoping for someone to pluck me out of negativity. I’ve luckily been able to do that for myself and I now feel on the verge of something. The verge of all I have been and done in my 45 years finally sort of coming together into … something good and right which will take me places I need to go and want to be.
Along the way Christoph’s story has inspired me with this simple idea that, yes, I probably can achieve more than the jobs I’ve had to date have allowed me to do, and that, yes, life can take fabulous and unexpected turns even in maturity.
Discussing all this with a friend, he suggested I start a Christoph Waltz blog about all his earlier work. A fine idea but that it is almost all in German – a language I don’t speak.
Two days later I was on the train heading for the South Coast of New South Wales (Australia) when the name popped into my head: Learning German with Christoph Waltz. A thing which had to be done.
It’s a strange thing maybe, and I inexplicably find it slightly shameful, that in middle age the story of a celebrity can be so impactful. I enjoy his art. I think he’s a marvelous actor. But his art is my entry point to his personal journey and it’s his journey which has affected me. And, while that’s true and been good for me, I do also find it a little embarrassing. But not too embarrassing to put it in the public domain and also divert my route for the chance to be in the same room as him, and the very very slim chance that I might be able to meet him and thank him.
When I arrived at this campground last night I immediately sensed that my neighbours were native English-speakers – the first I’d met in 13 days. From a distance I couldn’t make out their words but the tone and cadence of the sounds registered as English. And so it was, Bill and Dave from Bradford take annual camping holidays around the continent this time of year. They like travelling in September as the weather is beginning to turn and the Europeans have all gone back to work and school.
We had several beers in the snack bar with the campground matron sitting behind the bar, reading a big novel, and increasingly ready for us to go.
It was a lovely evening talking of this and that – nothing topics like fairy-floss, and the fish available in England, and how nicely they go with chips, their travels and mine.
Late in the evening Bill asked about my writing and I found myself explaining Learning German with Christoph Waltz and my diversion to Zurich. They were familiar with his work and Dave thought he was ‘fab’.
They independently – as in I hadn’t said much of my hopes – saw the epic story of it, riding to Zurich to see Inglorious Basterds with Christoph Waltz, etc. So, look, if these strangers can see it hopefully the people at the Zurich Film Festival can too.
The night went a bit late and I’d ridden 19 more kilometres than I’d expected, then I had a few beers, so this morning I’m moving a bit slowly.
I’m aiming for a short ride to Neufchantel today and a place with internet when I get there. I want to get some writing and planning done. Maybe I’ll go out tonight?
* Warm Showers is an on-line community of people who host bicycle tourists. It’s like Couch Surfing but only for bicycle tourists. Couch Surfing is like Airbnb but for free and with, generally, more social interaction.