Thursday, 20 August 2009

paul fournel

front runner for my book of the year by a country mile has to be paul fournel's need for bike. the indications are there in allan stoeckl's introduction before you even hit the text -

The cyclist communicates with and through his body, with himself through his own body language, and finally with others through a language conditioned, even determined, by his riding. The rider is a writer, and just as his thoughts are profoundly physical when he's on a bike, so too off the bike his thoughts, shaped, formed, and deformed by the rhythm and effort of the ride, come to the fore in the writing of texts: stories, articles, poems...... The bicycle is the key to the past, the trigger of the earliest memories, not only of childhood enchantment but also of subliminal, physical traces that refuse analysis or definition. It is also the key to the future: one's future as a cyclist, to be sure, and hence one's relation to one's aging body, but also to one's friends and to all of society - the countryside, the city, the world.

In the book he describes all the things that as a cyclist you instinctively know even if you don;t necessarily have to think about them, what it is to cycle the hills, the flats, to cycle with someone else, to cycle with friends. he talks about the blurring between equipment and rider, the significance of colour, about aging, how he cycled with his father, how he loses seconds each year. and there's great language, a challenge for the translator as stoeckl points put - the witch with the green teeth, the man with the hammer - these are characters physicalised, but which every cyclist regardless of language cannot fail to recognise.

it's the small things that make me smile, the way cyclists look at each other which, involuntarily, i caught myself doing the other day and then saw everyone else doing the same.

When i go out with someone for the first time I immediately glance at his legs to know how fast we're going to go and with what sauce I'm going to be eaten.

You can read a cyclist by his legs.

and then there's all the other stuff. after the rain cancelled my plans for a tour around the north west this week (that and the reminder of the midges) i looked desperately at the route i'd chosen, fixing it in my mind. then i reread the following, which when i read it the first time i had had to pick up the phone and read it out loud to g, who, if anything, is a bigger map junkie than me.

Road maps for me are dream machines. I like to read them as if they're adventure stories. When i drive my car I use them to find the shortest route, to find the long roads where cities join, roads that don't go through the country. As a bike rider I use them for everything else. If I know an area, every centimeter is a landscape laid out before me. If I don't know it yet, every centimeter is an imagined landscape that i will explore. For example, I like maps of Brittany, which is a cyclist's region I've never ridden. It's my store room, my wine cellar. It's the masterpiece in my library I've not yet read.

what a shame then that the book isn't widely available but it is acquirable on the internet. all cyclists should read it. as for paul fournel, apparently up until relatively recently he was working in london. what a shame if he was to miss out on the cycling territory north of the border, perthshire and angus, even in the rain. after reading his book (again and again!) that's one bike ride i definitely owe him.


apprentice said...

I might get it for my husband, he's a bit of a bike nut.

swiss said...

i had to order it thru amazon sellers