Since I went up Stelvio on 1 June, I had been riding only flat routes. At some point during the intervening 12 weeks I started wondering whether I ought to switch from a compact (34/50) chain ring set-up to a mid-compact (36/52). 34/50 is a bit pointless on flat terrains, and because I seem to have the memory of a goldfish, my mind started wandering towards a 36/52.
Until I came upon a 22% gradient on Saturday in the Ardennes. Thanks, but I’ll just stick to my 34/50. What was I thinking?
During the rather wet and hilly sportive today, I overheard at one of the feed stops: ‘Cycling is 80% suffering and 20% pain.’
I was about to say, ‘Dood, you need to get over yourself,’ but I bit my tongue…
A few weeks ago, I met up with Jimmy, an old classmate, in Paris with our respective families in tow. Jimmy had been boozing for a couple of weeks amongst the vineyards in Bordeaux and Burgundy and came reasonably close to waking up and finding himself staring at the sky in the middle of a chalky vineyard. He subsequently brought his wife, children and Belle Mère over to spend the following weeks in relative sobriety in the South of France and Paris. In-between his French adventure, Jimmy and I went guzzling Belgian beers in Brussels one evening (well, afternoon to evening, to be more precise), cracking jokes about a kind stranger’s photographic skills only to realise a day later that it was Jimmy’s own handiwork.
When we planned to have dinner in Paris, I chose le Cherche Midi. Yes, it is a bit odd to choose an Italian restaurant to take visitors from abroad, upon their first visit to Paris. However, the selection was based on the fact that Jimmy was moaning a bit about overdosing on French food during his extended stay. It was also because Le Cherche Midi serve simple food that is consistently good. Or, as I found out, they did.
The front-of-house staff was charming and accommodating as usual. But the food?
Summer is not the prime season for truffles, but it is not impossible to get decent material even in summer. Bruno in the Provence can and does. If, on the other hand, all you can source are flavourless slices of brown lumps, then the proper thing to do is not to offer tagliatelle with truffles.
The Little Brunette had pasta with pesto that was of glowing green colour. It looked more like parsley than basil. And tasted like it. I’m not sure what happened there.
Something went a bit wrong with the ravioli too.
The veal I had as main course was adequate, good for sustenance but not for enjoyment. At this point, I was hoping that the conversations were keeping Jimmy and his family’s attention away from the food they were consuming. Of course, I knew that this was just wishful thinking.
So, all my hopes were on the dessert to somehow redeem the evening. Hope can be a terrible thing sometimes.
When I used to spend a considerable amount of time in Zurich, my colleagues and I frequented an Italian restaurant on, if my memory serves, Walchestrasse, to the north past the Hauptbahnhof. Nothing fancy, not the sort of place you would choose if you wanted to impress your hot date. Just a simple, family-run trattoria that one of our Swiss colleagues has known for ages. It was a bit out of the way, in the wrong direction, as I was more or less living at the Baur au Lac and my feet had a tendency to walk in the direction of the grande dame, Kronenhalle. The trattoria, whose name now escapes me, served simple but good food. The best was their panna cotta. On some evenings, the old geezer would refuse to serve us the coveted dessert even though he had a batch sitting in the kitchen. Why? Because he thought that they did not turn out as he liked. They failed QC. I know that it is deceivingly difficult to get consistent, good results when making panna cotta, but we begged. He refused. So, we had to take something else, which was also excellent, just not what we actually wanted. The owner has since sold the business and retired.
The panna cotta I got at le Cherche Midi had a vague fizziness, the sort that one detects in some young non-sparkling white wines. Or, in food that has gone a bit past its sell-by date. Memories of Zurich came rushing back, which, of course, made matters seem even worse.
Well, Jimmy, my apologies to you and your family. I should have taken you somewhere else.
The next day, we were determined to have a good meal before heading back home, so we lunched at Mariage Frères in the Marais.
Being Japanese, I love tea. A tea to match the season. A tea to match the food. A tea to match the mood. A tea to wake up to. A tea for everyday. A tea for special occasions. A tea to remind one of a moment past.
I find that it is rare to find a tea merchant that is strong in a broad range of teas. For instance, Harrods have historically been very strong with Indian varieties but relatively weak with Chinese and Japanese teas. Fortnum & Mason are relatively strong with Chinese tea whilst weak in Indian teas. In a way, they occupy complementary positions in the London market. However, I think it is extremely difficult to find anywhere the breadth and depth of the high quality assortment offered by Mariage Frères. It may have something to do with the fact that it is co-owned and operated by a Thai who loves to travel and discover things. One must be drawn by smells, colours, shapes, textures, flavours as well as stories and people to be good at being a tea merchant of high standards.
When rushing about to procure provisions, their Madeleine shop is convenient as they are just a stone’s throw away from Fauchon, but that location lacks a salon de thé. The Rive Gauche branch does have a lovely salon upstairs, but the service is of a colonial pace. I’ve not been to their salons in Étoile and the Louvre, so they are for another time. However, I think that I will always favour their home base in the Marais.
It’s an oasis. Paris, like other big cities, can be stifling at times, with a gaggle of people, cars, pollution, noise, etc. Step inside Mariage Frères, and it’s as if you entered another dimension. You wouldn’t know that you are in a quartier swarming with boisterous students and those who haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that those years are long gone.
It is a bit of a cliché to say that tea is an elixir for the soul. It’s a cliché that pre-dates the word ‘marketing’. When you step inside the Marais shop, and the tea salon in particular, you will actually observe that it is not just a silly cliché.
Of course, it is not all because of tea. Every detail of the whole shop, the salon’s menu, every ingredient in the dishes, the staff uniform and the staff profile are all meticulously considered elements. None of it is an accident or a coincidence. And, everything comes together seemingly effortlessly. Every time.
The food is designed to surprise and delight the senses. Literally everything on the menu is excellent. No exceptions. The opportunity to try an unfamiliar tea before buying a packet is most useful and pleasurable. And, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the handsome, courteous and helpful staff. In fact, they are delightful.
Sorry, Jimmy, they don’t serve dinner.
I get excited whenever I get a new set of rubbers… to an extent that may be bordering on being a bit unhealthy.
The Panaracer Gravel King looks like it will roll quite nicely, and the shell is very grippy.
Usually, tyre pressure guidance is given as a range, such as 6 to 8 bar. Not here. I chortled when I saw that the imprint on the side wall says, ‘Inflate to 7.4 bar’. Not 6-8 bar, but rather, 7.4 bar. We Japanese can be a bit prescriptive at times…
I am looking forward to seeing how they perform in the coming days. Mwahaha.
During a ride the other day, a woman I haven’t met before said to me, ‘I like your handlebar.’
I instinctively gave the only appropriate reply, ‘Thank you,’ whilst thinking to myself, ‘You like my what?!’
For the last few weeks I have been hearing an unfamiliar and annoying noise when I pedalled. It sounded like a bare, taut cable being plucked, similar to a muted note on a string instrument. Usually, these bike noises tend to have a regular pattern, namely, once a revolution either of the drive train or the wheels. This one was irregular. Sometimes it was once a revolution, sometimes it was twice a revolution but not at equal intervals. All I knew was that the noise is audible only when I pedalled, not when I coasted.
I tried to identify the cause on several occasions, but I was not able to spot it because I was unable to replicate the noise on the repair stand. I realised that the noise occurred only when there was resistance on the rear wheel / drive train, so I thought of putting the bike on the turbo trainer to see if the noise becomes audible. However, I never got round to it, not for any good reason.
On the way to the start of a club ride the other evening, my chain got stuck in the rear derailleur. It got unstuck fairly easily, and the drive train seemed to be working fine again. Therefore, I went along with the others on the ride, which featured one of the boys hitting the deck at 40+ kph during a group sprint.
Yesterday, whilst wiping down the bike, I remembered the chain getting stuck and had a closer look at the rear derailleur. I was able to replicate the problem, and this is when I found the likely cause of the plucking noise. One plate of an inner link was broken in two pieces.
I never had a broken chain before, so this was an interesting discovery. I always wondered about the durability of these 11-speed chains with paper-thin plates. I have done a bit more than 6000 km with the chain, and one mechanic at my LBS told me today that an 11-speed chain should be changed every 2000 to 3000 km.
That recommendation may sound a bit exaggerated, but I am inclined to think that it is better to be safe than sorry. If the other plate of the link broke during the group sprint the other evening, it probably would have resulted in a much bloodier scene.
I shall pay more attention to the condition of the chain from now on.
I have been a bit bemused by all the articles and commentaries in which people moan about ‘the TdF that wasn’t’ because Froome and Contador crashed out. They all say, either explicitly or implicitly, that Nibali and everyone else who achieved a good GC standing at this year’s Tour had it easier because Froome and Contador abandoned.
They all make it sound like Froome and Contador didn’t even turn up at the Tour. The fact is that they turned up, crashed and abandoned the race.
So, I am left wondering why anyone thinks that it was less of a race because of people who were unable to finish the race.
To state the obvious once again, Froome and Contador were not able to finish. Nibali et al, including Ji Cheng, managed to finish. Nibali survived the race that Froome and Contador couldn’t. And won.
I think the Sicilian deserves to be recognised for his win without the hoi polloi trying to devalue his achievement by confusing correlation with causation.
Chapeau, Vincenzo. Bravo.
The same spam filter to which I referred previously is proving to have a very particular mind.
Its reason for tagging an email as spam this time: ‘Found word(s) cum in the Text body.’
Like the previous time its imagination ran amok, it picked out a sequence of letters which forms an unrelated word. The offending word, which occurs twice in the email, is ‘documentation’.
I’m starting to wonder whether the filter is a freeware.