Old Europe

If I were a true man of letters I could read these books, but like most Americans I’m uni-lingual and consequently unable to read Peter Winnen’s Dutch-penned works. I was at a post-race party last summer and found myself in a fairly lengthy conversation with a Belgian, about the same age as me, whose employment happened to bring him to the US. I was envious of his ability to speak not 1…not 2…not 3, but 6 languages fluently. By the time he left the Belgian equivalent of high school he already could speak 4 languages well and he added 2 more later in response to work demands. I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted the English language’s assortment of cycling literature, and what’s left (a rather substantial amount of books and magazines, utterly dwarfing what’s available to me in English) reside in the tongues of what Rumsfeld affectionately considers “old Europe”.

I’ve been reading an incredibly illuminating book, One More Kilometre and We’re in the Showers, and the author has laid out a rich reading list of cycling books chronicling the history of European cycling penned in Flemish, French, and Italian. Sadly, for me they’d be no more than finely bound paper weights. One of these years we’ll head over to the continent, particularly northern Italy and Belgium, and I’m hoping whether we find ourselves contemplating the Madonna del Ghisallo or in rapt attention atop the Muur de Gramont that I’ll be able to communicate with people. Most likely there will be English speakers around, but I’d prefer to have something to say in their native language. Are there any “Converse With Any European Cyclist” language immersion programs out there? I’d gladly take part.

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