“The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush” Podcast Commentary (+ New Links)

Mysteries of the Bicycle Explained podcast #6 “The Cyclo-Pimpernel in the Adventure of the Free French-Munchie Ambush”… MP3 link 1link 2link 3 – . It seems to take time for some of the links to function well, but I hope you can access it through link 1 or 2 right now.

As you may know, the original Scarlet Pimpernel is an adventure hero invented by Orczy early in the 20th century, set during the French revolution. This hero has typical super abilities (unalloyed Goodness, fencing, craftiness, bravery, master of disguises) but one unusual and interesting characteristic: an effete persona. His aristo- foppishness stands in contrast to his true vital abilities, but also in contrast with his direct, brutal French characters of the Terror.

Now let us sweep forward a hundred years to a time of what people call the global war on terror. You may recall the time when Rumsfeld was the media’s darling, a rock star. This was before the public tired of his increasingly peevish koans. And this was when a majority of Americans believed that Saddam caused the 9/11 attacks. You may recall the partisan American gloating and bullying about so-called “Old Europe” (France and Germany) as certain politicians assembled the Coalition of the Willing (because many, including the French, were Unwilling). Viewed from an arch literary pimpernelish point of view, the situation has turned. The fiction is that the Frenchies are effete. They never win a battle, etc. (Remember Napoleon, anyone? How about Admiral DeGrasse? The US Navy named a ship after him.). This grew more and more ridiculous, with some politicians suggesting that graves of American G.I.s who died in France should be moved to the U.S.A. Congressional cafeteria French fries became “Freedom Fries”. Some markets across the country began to throw out French cheeses, and dump champagne in the gutter.

In my opinion, it was appallingly stupid, not just a form of devolution, but rude on a global scale. Aside from the politics which have proved stupid, it was just bad behavior.

During this embarrassing cultural moment, in my little panorama, far from D.C., a few small things happened in counter-reaction.

One, I saw a cyclist whizzing down Portland’s Hawthorne Boulevard carrying a huge French tricolor.

Two, I wrote the local French consulate to let her know that my low opinion of this anti-French gloating. (She wrote back, telling me that everything was going to be okay.)

Three, I wrote a satire for my column in a bike magazine adopting the Pimpernel to my purposes.

 

Right after I wrote the story, which involves our local Joan of Arc statue, unidentified beer-drinking men poured flammable fluid on the statue, and set it afire. They broke some of it too. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure these criminals felt inspired by partisan pseudo-patriotic hatred of the French which was promoted at the time by our troglodyte leaders.

 

If you listen to the podcast, you will probably see how all this fits in. Narrating the story aloud gives me the opportunity to practice my French, which is poor, but if I may say so, I think does well for silly, comical purposes. The French have such a strong, wonderful culture and way of life, one aspect of that is opportunities for affectionate satiric treatment.

 

The idea of the live statue comes to me from, again, Russian literature… The animated statue of Peter the Great, the bronze horseman haunts a character in Andrey Bely’s novel St. Petersburg, which is how I absorbed, but I believe the image came to Bely from Pushkin.

 

There used to be a pneumatic message system across Paris. That was my inspiration for the Cyclo-Pimpernel’s system. The internet, as another troglodtye leader has told us, is just a series of tubes, after all.

 

There are many examples of comical superheroes, which generally helped inspire me. (One of my favorites is DangerMouse. I used to wake up at 5:30 am just to watch it.)

 

It was difficult for me to narrate the Cyclo-Pimpernel’s mock-stentorian voice, but I did the best I could, after many tries. Also I didn’t belabor my efforts his theme song, which is sort of groovily driving forward and yet half-coming apart, which I liked for a comic hero, and I think is okay to listen to for 30 seconds. Aside from the time it took to write the story (three years or so ago), it took maybe 15-20 hours to do the podcast.

 

I went up into the attic, so as not to scare my sensitive-eared guinea pigs with my odd voices… it started to rain. I left the sporadic pitter-patter in.

 

I wrote another Cyclo-Pimpernel, published in two parts in 2003 I think, concerning a battle with a certain bicycle logo. I wrote parts of two more, but then stopped writing for that magazine.

 

I stopped writing for them after longstanding non-payment, and worse, after two book anthologies picked up a few of my stories that they had published, they quietly tried to assert copyright over my stories.

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