Tour de France: Chateau of a Doubt

We’re already more than halfway through the Tour, and we’ve refrained thus far from the familiar and pleasurable pastime of hurling brickbats at Phil Liggett. Yes, the Liggetisms are still filling the airwaves. But maybe from a temporary lapse in mean spiritedness, we’ve been cutting the Bebington Blatherer some slack (yes, he’s from a town called Bebington on the Wirral, near Liverpool).

And actually, the truce will remain in effect, because Phil and his somewhat less objectionable sidekick, Paul “The Widnes Whippet” Sherwen, aren’t really the targets of the whine we’re about to uncork. No, it’s their producers, the off-screen folks who shape the Tour telecasts, we want to address. So:

Dear To Whom It May Concern:

Enough with the chateaux already. Yes, we know France is an old and beautiful country with lots of eye-catching architecture. We remember that from last year’s Tour, and the one before that, and the one before that. Previous to the advent of Tour broadcasts in the States, we recall these history-text facts about France and the French: They helped us defeat the British. They had a revolution. They cut off heads, lots of heads. Wine. Statue of Liberty. Dreyfus. World War I. Maginot Line. De Gaulle. Indochina. Freedom fries.

Here’s the thing about having Phil and Paul reading their note cards about the Duc d’ Old Spice and the Comtesse Haagen-Dazs and the beautiful homes they built and maintained on the brute labor of their Renault-driving serfs: It ain’t informative, and it equally ain’t entertainment. So what’s it doing on your air? The droning of dates and names and who changed his socks and knickers where in 1576–that’s exactly the impoverished approach to history that repels 98 percent of those forced to endure it in classrooms.

Yes, Phil and Paul have to say something when the French whirlybird is circling Le Chateau de Fromage Grande and that’s the picture the folks at home are seeing. It would actually be refreshing to hear them just say what they’re actually thinking instead of the rote “facts” about the place: “Can you believe the size of that place?” “Says here it was built by the Vicomte le Ouizze in 1692. When do you think they got indoor plumbing?”

Very truly yours &c. &c.

That’s it. A modest plea to liberate us from the tyranny of the present’s dull grasp of the past. Besides that, after hearing Phil and Paul’s attempts to describe where they were in the Golden State during past Tours of California, I always wonder whether what they’re telling us bears any relation to what we’re seeing.

(A down-the-street informant tells us that the grand country houses and alleged cultural commentary are also a fixture on French TV. Our Informant (OI) says: “BTW, TV5Monde also does chateaux commentary, and they spend a lot more time on the chateaux, even do split screen with ongoing race action. So there’s a need to fill — a twitter feed with good sidelight details.” She also tells us we’re all wet on our distaste for the dry historical TV tidbittery: ” I like the extra pix and commentary of the chateaux, churches, and field art; it connects the event to a time and place. Sometimes it’s interesting, always good trivia. One of the things I missed during the Giro was any look at the countryside, and any informed commentary.”)

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