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Flint’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 20 Jun 2009

Location: The Forests of Fontainebleau, France

MapI think Iím in love. Heís a 60 year old French man called Pierre. Or possibly Frederic. Simon? Jean Claude even? Iím not really sure because they usually donít tell you their names. In fact they usually donít speak at all. They are called Bleausards, and they are truly one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
It might seem a strange thing to call beautiful. Being on average about 60 years old, seemingly always men, with grey, balding hair and (typically shirtless) sagging sacks of skin over thin wirey bodies, they wouldnít exactly turn eyes on the catwalks of Paris. But on the boulders of Fontainebleau, where they have been painstakingly perfecting the art of bouldering for generations, itís another story completely.
Meandering through the forest from problem to problem, these rock Yogis will wander past you as youíre bouldering, possibly with a polite smile, but often without, they will gently place their tiny little carpet in front of a boulder (sometimes even the problem you are trying) carefully wipe the sand off their boots, dab the rock with an ancient sack of resin and gently caress the rock with their fingers. This is where the magic begins.
They do not simply climb a rock. No, that would be far too common, far too vulgar, far too un-French. They float, dance and glide across the rock. Feet on invisible smears, hands gently moulding into slopers, dishes, crimps you can hardly see. And when they do pull on to a climb, what you thought was just a sagging sack of flesh, is suddenly alive with a seething mass of perfectly sculpted muscles, flowing like ribs of satin across their backs.
And then they leave, as silently and methodically as they came, plodding on to the next problem in the circuit, leaving a wake of stunned climbers staring after them, as if they have seen a ghost. I have witnessed very very good climbers, people who are regularly attempting Font eights absolutely gobsmacked after watching a Bleausard climb a six or a seven.
Of course, when you actually try to pull on to the holds they were using or copy the sequence they used, you will typically find the holds are invisible and the sequence has somehow dissolved from your memory because it was simply one you would never have conceived of using, or if you can remember it, it defies the laws of possible human movement.
From time to time, if you are extremely lucky, they will stop and give you pointers on what your doing wrong, or point out a few problems you hadnít even seen because there doesnít appear to be any useable holds around. But after some patient coaching, the holds will begin to appear, the moves will gradually become conceivable and, as you begin to get the smallest glimpse of an insight into what it feels like to climb like a Bleausard, you are so powerfully reminded that what you climb and how hard you climb is nowhere near as important as how beautifully you climb.