First, a point of precision and psychological background. When I was a clueless teen boy in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado in the mid 70’s, I took a class in French at my high school. I was sort of a pre-Jonathan Vaughters.
I had no particular interest in French other than the fact that my divorced father had mailed a large check to send my younger brother on a trip to Russian because he had studied Russian at my same high school and they had a seminar program.
I began the study of French because I was jealous of my brother’s free trip so I took inventory of the languages that were left. My evil brother had already stolen Russian and German — and so I took French.
I should also add that I had just gained my driver’s license and so on the weekends I would drive the 30 minutes into downtown Denver to the only movie theater that showcased foreign films. It was there that I discovered the French director Francois Truffaut and several other heartbreakingly beautiful French movies. I was hooked.
It’s also necessary to say that I fell under the spell of France and French culture almost immediately. I hate the guttural sound of German and Russian — and Spanish was at the time a step down (I now deeply wish I could speak Spanish). The French language in my limited and feverish brain, represented everything I wanted at the time — beautiful and stylish women who lived in elegant Paris apartments and spent a lot of money on lingerie. That was the true extent of the cultural injection.
But that is hardly the full truth. Coming from the suburbs of Denver, the old world architecture of France was for me a romantic revery. The French seemed more worldly, more confident, more intellectual, more romantic and better dressed than anything in my small world of suburban Colorado.
I should also admit that my French teacher in high school was young and sexy and had big beautiful brown eyes, great legs that she showed off with short skirts and a sassy short french hairstyle. Again, I was transported and sexually engaged.
So I never got that free French seminar in high school but I did take the French seminar in college. I spent three months in Brittany, living with a family in the regional capital of Rennes. At the advanced age of 22 (ever and always so shy), I finally got my first girlfriend, a Breton girl named Anne. My accent improved and I spend a late summer in heavy near-coitus in a tent in the backyard of her mother’s summer house. Mom hated me.
So I love France. I love it beyond logic and there is nothing you can say to me to make me question the granite fact that France is the greatest country in the world. Now if I had learned Italian (or even Spanish) I might honestly say the same loving and addictive things about those cultures. Fate however has locked France and I in an embrace I never plan to leave.
France holds deep psychological pull on me. I think it has something to do with the inherent distance. The Italians and Spanish are all passion but there is a certain reserve to the French that I love. They don’t immediately want to be your deep personal friend like Americans, immediately over-sharing their most intimate secrets. The French want you to prove your worthiness and I appreciate that.
The French also have an intense pride in feeling like they of all people have figured out the right way to live. Again, I would say the Spanish and Italians might have done a better, more down-to-earth job of that but I appreciate the snobby intellectual distance the French impart. For if I am honest with myself, I too am a slightly irritating faux intellectual with higher aspirations. I can’t help myself — I am Antoine Doinel, the alter ego in the Francois Truffaut movies. I make no apologies, ever.
So when I am in France and at the Tour de France, I certainly notice the fabulous and charmante hostess girls. I want to take them all home like little poodles. I wish that I was 25 and owed a small chateau on the outskirts of Dijon and could bring them to my family gathering around a large wooden table in a backyard garden. Such are the fantasies of an aging 55 year old with two kids, a stressful work life and a diminished income.
But all of that is too say that few things will make me happier than to land in Paris and take the train to Nice for stage four’s team time trial. Ahh, les filles du Tour, tellement belles.