Montpellier Poem

The blasters have departed, the butts are all swept

now mongrels come to piss in the gullies

near the ring barked cypresses and the kitchen hand

wincing from cigarette smoke.

 

By noon all the boards are chalked

the first stoners sit on the church steps

the first cocktail is sipped, the ladies

aviators peered over and under and through.

 

The waitresses sore heels, her toes curl

when she speaks, bored

her meteorological mind is with the Mistral

the Cevennes, or Wolf Peak.

 

Humidity, hippy’s jamming and insomnia,

another sleepless night, open the window

close the window, cat curls in leg triangle,

thoughts with the love triangle.

 

You enter, like Ulysses knowing your head

and heart won’t handle the intensity,

so you divorce and timeshare the children,

sitting on stools, playing fools.

 

The square was quiet, now full

butts and black dots about our feet

he’s planning his irrational retreat

gold, myrrh, felspar.

 

A couple carrying their mattress

give way to a vespa, give or take,

hole or snake, his loneliness loaded like a syringe.

never going to be with anyone again, this week.

 

Her flingers flick specks of glitter

off her jeans onto polished travertine,

these vagabonds brandishing a partial map

of Montpellier, silently screaming over cake and cream.

 

A skulls worth of dandruff;

the erasure of our perceived mistakes

lying like a floor bound dart

or an island on the horizon.

 

You’ve read too much into her feet pointing your way

in bed reading Finnegan’s Wake

across the train views of a blue lake

that somewhere connects to the sea.

 

Almost all the men in my life are dead to me.

I have made these streets, and the streets have made me.

Day 8: Mont Ventoux.

Ventoux. Ventoux. The name wakes you up. Like an exam you’ve missed. A job interview that means something. Little need for an alarm. Shane stays in bed. I know he’s awake. We agreed to leave at 10am. I’m ready. He hasn’t left his room yet. He’s scared. He’s done the climb once before and the nerves are filling him with hesitation. I know the feeling. I half expect him to emerge from his room with some excuse for not riding.

Anticiptation. He’s still hiding in his room. I’m feeling antsy. That second coffee didn’t help. The mountain has been there for millions of years and now, since we’ve decided to ride up the slopes, apparently, there’s a possibility it will disappear.
We leave about 11am. We have breakfast on the way. We are nervous. Shane is more nervous because he knows what to expect. We pass a man on a bicycle on the highway. He has a backpack on.
We park, get dressed and assemble the bikes.
Halfway to Bedoin we pass the man with the backpack. Not until halfway through the descent, two and a half hours later, will we see him again. There are many other cyclists around. The ascent is about 20km from Bedoin at about 10% steepness average.

 

These kinds of rides fulfil my criteria for happiness: contained circuit, maximum unavoidable pain, maximum challenge, great scenery, interesting mix of people, long enough to empty your mind of clutter.

 

Shane and I ride together up until the last 5km where he starts to feel like shit. I was feeling great actually. Until that point, I focused on containing my efforts. Not tensing up, relaxing my shoulders, breathing steadily, keeping the cadence high and increasing cadence rather than changing gear if the road was shallower.

 

At the 5km to go mark there’s a cafe where the forest ends and the bald mountaintop begins. The gradient also declines for about 3km so you feel like 6% is easy. Before that I do not remember much. You’re on the cusp of pulling back and gaining your breath, or trying just a little bit harder and going over board. Treading, or pedalling that fine line keeps your consciousness full.

 

I do remember seeing an old man pulling over and slowly fanning some bushes then sitting next to his steed, we think he was delirious.

 

There’s a strong wind that is helpful in one direction and a hinderance in another. There are two riders up ahead. I’m gaining on them, I’m spinning away in the easiest gear, letting the blade do the work. An old tiling saying. When I pass the first rider he’s disappointed in himself and when I say Bonjour he yells ‘alle’ to himself. The higher you climb the colder you get the harder it gets the more you sweat the more you try the hotter you get. Everything evens out except the road.

 

White rocks and white snow. A family playing in the snow do not pause to look. By the time Shane reaches the top my toes are nearing frostbite, so I don’t hang around long.

 

On the descent I see Richie Porte the Australian rider for team Sky. He’s eating up the road with seeming ease. Not long after my rear wheel gets a flat. A bad time. It’s cold, we’re exposed. I need to gain composure to do this properly. Shane arrives. Did you see Richie Porte? Was that Richie Porte? Thought it was just some guy. Maybe we’ll see him on his descent. Probably won’t descend now though, to avoid a cold. In our post-Ventoux euphoria we lose sight of ourselves. You know you got a flat because you didn’t stop at the Simpson memorial. What? Fuck Simpson. When he passes yell out RICHIE! Go Richie. Richo! RRRoaoachie. This goes on for the time it takes to change a tube and pump the new one up. Once I’m good to go another final yell at the mountain: RRRRIIIICCCHHHIIEEE.

 

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Day 2: Cycling with Shane Starling: Montpellier

Day 2:

 
At 6:30 am I am woken by cats playing. I lock them in another room but the lock doesn’t work and they squeeze their paw through and pull the door open again. I make coffee, eat cereal, reply to emails, say goodbye to Emma and throw one of the cats into Shane’s room knowing he will wake him so we get on the road. 
 
At 9am I attempt to sort out the front derailer. It’s not pulling to the big ring. The cable housing has more bends than a river. By 10 the gearing is no better so I give up and get dressed. Have to sort it out properly later. Again down the spiral stairs carefully. Pull the big heavy door open like a cat. A thin strip of sunlight is visible in the alley. I stand there and wait for Shane
 
We plan a longer ride today. The gears work ok to begin with but about 15km from base they shit themselves again. Lose the nut in the grass. Find the nut. The bike I’ve borrowed has a triple chainring at the front. A novelty to for me but at the moment a pain. We cycle through a cross country running race. Up ahead cyclists and Wolf Peak. Having been off the bike for 6 weeks my back hurts slightly. My legs have no power. My lungs seem ok. We begin a 3km 5% climb and Shane sets a commendable pace. I drop into the granny gear and enjoy the view. There’s little point overexerting for a few days yet. 
 
 

Day 1: Riding with Shane Starling: Montepellier

Day 1:

 
Arrived in Montpellier just before 3pm. First time on a TVG and was impressed at how the train was going double the speed of the freeway cars. Stepped off the train expecting to see my cousin Shane; nuitrion journalist, runner, cyclist, writer, try hard French man. On the upper concourse he was no where to be seen. After five laps I thought, you cunt, you’re late, I don’t have your number and there’s no wifi at the station. Then wondered over to the balcony and realised there was another section to the station and after descending the stairs laid eyes on the man I would be forcing into a world of pain for the next week. 

 
First time in Montpellier too. Fancy buildings. Tight alleys. Trams. Partial stratocumulus blowing overhead. 
“That’s the Mistral. It’s like the Fremantle Doctor.”
“Ah Yes I remember you saying when you were in Perth.”
 
The Giro D’Italia was on. An important mountain stage. As I’d been following this tour intently I was keen to head back to Shane’s place, chuck the race on, get the bike ready and go for a belt around the countryside. We stop at an internet cafe to print out the hire car details. This takes 20 mins. Then we stop at a sandwich shop. This also take twenty minutes. There’s a woman in a frog suit in a small square having a fag on her break. We go upstairs. The tour has no coverage because the mountain is fogged out. We watch the final 200 metres as the racers emerge out of the fog. 
 
By now I have the hire bike pretty much ready. We gear up and descend the smooth marble spiral steps in our cleats. The town gives to countryside quickly.