Last week, the Tour de France wrapped up its 2014 season. I’m not much of a sports fan, and confess I’ve rarely watched cycling on television. Ten days ago, the Tour’s 2014 routing brought the cyclists right in front of my house. Literally. I gathered with friends at the village bakery, hours before the expected passage of the riders, to see the “Caravane”. I didn’t ask what the Caravane was. I felt sort of silly, actually, as everyone else seems to know. The Caravane, as with those that wound their way from Ancient China to the West, or across the deserts of the Sahel, was a long winding organization, loosely strung together with a clear destination in mind. The caravans of old carried needed goods from one place to another. A highway of sorts. This Caravane, 5,000 strong for some 150 cyclists, is made up of sponsors and Tour organisers, riding in at speeds of 40 to 70 km/hr, throwing plastic merchandise, candies and advertising leaflets at those that line the route of the Tour. Its destination is the route itself, sharing loud music, and useless merchandise with anxious fans.
We stood next to Belgian in his late fifties who had positioned himself strategically near my three youngest kids and three of their friends. As these cars and trucks whipped by at breakneck speed throwing out their goodies, I watched this man literally throw himself upon fluorescent yellow bicycle hats, “Picsou” children’s comics and school erasers shaped like bicycles. One ten-year-old friend of my children had his fingers stepped on; another had a fabric Frisbee with a sponsor’s logo ripped from his hands.
I could not help but think back to the week before, which I spent in Haiti. We visited a neighborhood built along a crumbling ravine, made mostly from recuperated objects and a few tarpaulins. The people live with livestock, and the odor of refuse is inescapable. They have nothing, and are happy to be alive.
The contrast with the Tour spectators, waiting for hours and grasping at things they did not need (at all!) was disturbing. Eventually, the riders arrived, and passed by, all in one peloton. It lasted 25 seconds. Then the aging bully went to his wife across the road and put her own “catch” into a large bag. They smiled at each other, and climbed into their BMW coupe, happy with a day well-spent.