Curiosities of the mind – day 3

Ok, let’s deal with today’s ride first. And then ……. well, we’ll see.
Preparing to set out from the excellent Hotel a Rocher I spot a small group of lycra clad “sports” cyclists gliding past in the direction I’ll be heading. Will I overtake them? I’ll leave you to answer that question.
The morning sun is still struggling to penetrate the thick haze hanging over the hills. Thank the Lord! However it’s still very pleasantly warm: t-shirt cycling weather.

The stiff climb out of Villecroze towards Aups proves formidable – I’m still struggling to find my legs and pause twice for breath. No chance of that overtake!
During the second pause a car pulls up alongside me – the Hotel manager: I’ve gone off with the room key!

On reaching the attractive and bustling town of Aups I enter the church and discover the organ being played – not very well, I’m afraid. I resist a strong urge to go and show her how it should be done. It would, I suppose, be cheeky. But it’s amazing what you can get away with, with a bit of gall. This definitely gets easier with age! Taking no chances, I also buy a big bottle of Ice Tea.
The gentle and beautiful descent along the D60 towards Tavernes enters the Parc Naturel Region du Verdon, an area of wild upland heath/moor decked with flowers representing all colours of the rainbow.

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It’s getting hot, the sun now burning through; but what’s this – do I detect the onset of a headwind? Not the Mistral, surely? It’s true that I’m getting ever closer to the Rhone valley. And I am descending from the Alpes-Maritime into a more typically Provencal terrain. There is increasingly that heavy indolent heat, laced with a potpourri of the intoxicating scents of Mediterranean Europe which seems to weigh down.
I disturb a vivid green lizard which scuttles up the rock-face at the side of the road.

At Tavernes I enjoy my now customary grande creme washed down with Ice Tea – and I spend five minutes chatting to another “lone-wolf” English cyclist. He’s heading for Lyons, where he’s meeting a friend, and then continuing all the way home to England, camping along the way. He has to be back by the end of May; a good few miles a day.

I continue through Varages towards Rians, my intended stopping place for the night. I hope there’s a hotel! The road follows a gently rising river valley. Not this time a gorge; more reminiscent of the sweeping valley you might find in parts of Wales. Even the castle perched on the hillside above St Martin de Pallieres looks like a Black Prince job.
I cycle through a drift of dandelion down. Does dandelion flower and seed more than once each summer? I’m sure it must.

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On this upward stretch I overtake not one, but two cyclists. Any pride I might feel quickly dissipates when on greeting them with a cheery “bonjour” I realise that both are at least my age – probably older. Good on them!
I am now cycling through tree-clad hillsides, juxtaposed with a palette alive with the yellow of gorse, buttercups and dandelions contrasting with the flame-red of fields of poppies. Even the odd “field of waving corn”. Drat it! That’s why I’ve got this wretched “worm ditty” in my head. I adopt my usual policy of displacing it with a longer, more complex tune. At least if this becomes a “worm” it’s more interesting than “I wish I was back in Liverpool”!

I stop at the Chapelle Notre Dame d’Esparron, a 12th C church built on the site of a 6th C monastery. Resting in the shade of an old oak, using my gillet as a pillow, I …… fall asleep (dreaming of chanting monks in black cowls!)

On awaking, after how long I don’t know, I continue uneventfully to Rian. And yes, there is a hotel!

Distance travelled:                 33.1 miles
Elevation gain:                              2,414 ft
Moving time:                                 3:31:38
Average speed:                            9.4 mph

Overall, a pretty easy day.

And now ……… for the important stuff!
Curiosities of the mind? I’ve made a list.
It includes, in no particular order: beauty; faith healing/placebo/curse etc; statistics (believing the unbelievable; and vice versa); Schrodinger’s cat; phobia (why?); perception of time; illusion; happiness/well-being; why are the richest usually the meanest?; neuroplasticity; neuro-diversity.

Where to begin? Well let’s start with beauty.

What is it? Who defines it? Is there such a thing as “absolute” beauty or is it only in the eye of the beholder? (Hume, Kant). Can beauty exist or have any meaning without a beholder? If beauty is entirely subjective, why does the word exist? Why does beauty exist anyway? From where does it derive? Does it have an existence in its own right, or is it always an adjective? Does “Art” have to be beautiful? Why do we differentiate in our minds between beauty and ugliness? Should we teach our children to appreciate it? If so which/whose? We do!
Plenty of questions; are there any answers? (That was another question!)
Traditionally beauty has been regarded as an ultimate value, along with goodness, truth and justice. Plato’s “Republic” explores the last of these in great depth. Augustine asked whether things are beautiful because they give delight, or whether they give delight because they are beautiful. The classical notion of beauty has great regard for form or shape (the head as well as the heart?)
Can beauty be equated simply with that which gives subjective pleasure? If so, surely this seems trivial, equating for example, with amusement or entertainment. Hardly an ultimate value!
The world is full of fantastic beauty, alongside, it must be said, a lot of largely man-made ugliness. Ironically, however, exquisite beauty has been created by some “ugly” people. (Mozart?) I’m aware, also of the apparent cruelty which exists within nature. How can all this fit together?
Well, I’m going to put my head on the block.
PS I’ve just returned from an excellent 3-course meal washed down with a demi-pichet de vin rouge. Just as well – as it will help me finish this speedily!
The universe is intrinsically violent and chaotic. It originated with the cataclysmic big bang. From where? From whence?
Time, of course, did not exist before the creation (?) of matter. With the relentless increase of what we call “entropy” (disorder) the universe will ultimately descend into chaos. This, we know.
Yet within this violence and chaos we have an oasis of calm, order and beauty. Possibly (probably?) the only one in the entire cosmos. Why?
Could it simply that this is how it’s meant to be? What would this imply?
We don’t know. However the unlikely existence of beauty is one reason why I choose to believe in “God” – though not necessarily church, or indeed “God” in the conventional sense.
When I listen to a Bach partita, or admire an orchid, or hear a nightingale sing, I know I’m in the presence of something extraordinary.
Call it nature; call it science; call it “God”. The choice is yours.

I’m going to bed. Sleep well!

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