Wednesday, January 28, 2009
My mom, Jules, in 2003 (one month after her first mastectomy). She found her bike at the French flea market for 15 euros.
vélo (vay-loh) noun, masculine
1. bike, bicycle
La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. --Albert Einstein
AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word vélo and read the French sentence, above. Download Velo Download Velo
(The following story was written in September 2007)
My mom and I are standing in the sports shop looking at a wall of locomotion.
"That's the one!" she says, pointing to the retro model with the wide seat.
I recognize the bright turquoise vélo* with the caramel leather seat and wide longhorn handle-bars. We'd seen the bike last week at the neighbor's, where it rested on its kick stand and all but swung its haunch in hipness.
"If you want, we can ride bikes together," my neighbor, Danielle, had said. My eyes left the bright blue bonbon on wheels.
"I don't have a bike," I had answered.
"Can she try it out?" my mom asked, and I could have dissolved into a puddle of grease right there on the garage floor!
* * *
Back at the sports shop my mom is stoked.
"You're going to have endorphins soon!" she chirps. "It'll be good for you to ride again."
The last time I rode a bike of my own I was headed home from Mesa Community College, only it was an ambulance that finished the trip for me. My mom received the $500 ER bill, and I sold my bike soon after. That was twenty years ago.
"Beats grinding your teeth!" my mom continued, praising the virtues of velocity. I can feel my teeth set as I approach that bike. I can't get the same vélo as my neighbor! That would make me a copycat! Besides, how would she feel to no longer own the coolest bike on the farm? And what about that ride she proposed? How's that going to look--the two of us pedaling to town like twins on our retro turquoise two-wheelers? Dorky if you ask me!
My mom is beyond dork. There she is in a pea-green poncho and a Panama hat. She pats the wide seat, then rings the bike's bell. Ring, ring, ring...RRRRIIIIIIINNNNNG! All customers look over to the bike display.
"Mom!" I hiss.
"Look at this thing! It's a Jimmy Buffet California dreamin' beach bike!" she says, ignoring me. "Do you know that Jimmy Buffet song?"
"No, I don't know the song and I don't want a bike!" I snap back. "What I need is a bench!"
Not one hour earlier we had left a home-deco shop in the town of Orange, where I found a curved wooden banc,* perfect for our front porch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the boutique, my mom found a present for her husband. She was set on buying it until I refused. (She needed my credit card for the transaction.)
"Mom! You just finished telling me that you were fed up with his drinking. You can't go buying him a set of Tequila SHOT glasses from Bavaria!"
"But they're so pretty!" she protested. I watched as she sulked back to the glass armoire and returned the shot glasses to their shelf, taking one last admiring glance at the red baccarat crystal.
"Please gift wrap them," I finally said to the sales lady, relinquishing control over my mother.
Back at the bike shop I am once again trying to control my mom. Only this time she won't have it. To my "I don't want your present!" she responds firmly: "It is not for you to decide whether or not to receive a gift. You simply accept it with grace!"
Just then, I felt all of my rigid, controlling ways melt. I turned to the salesman and asked whether there was another color.
"We have a different model in silver..." he said.
* * *
I am reeling down a quiet country road, leaving cares and copycats to the wind. If I let go of the pedals and stretch out my legs, I can almost touch the vine rows on either side of me. I stretch out my arms until the tips of my fingers grace the mountains to the east and the setting sun to the west. I feel the touch of eternity. It must be those endorphins Mom talked about.
Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.
References: le vélo (m) = bike; le banc (m) = bench
Read more stories about my mom here.
A basket for your bike, and some accessories, here.
Streetwise Paris: the best-selling map of PARIS
Terms & Expressions:
vélo tout-terrain (VTT) = mountain bike
vélodrome = cycle-racing track
vélomoteur = moped
faire du vélo = to cycle, to go bike riding
Aromatic lavender honey
Rosetta Stone French (CD-ROM) -- "an award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps"
In music: Putumayo Presents: Paris
A Message from Kristi: For twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.
Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.
Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety