Thursday, March 11, 2010

Associative thinking

Most serious individuals concentrate upon one thing at a time. I'm not suggesting that they have what might be called "one-track minds". I'm merely saying that, when they decide to talk about X, they deliberately leave Y locked up in the wardrobe... which makes for nice easy-to-follow conversation. As for me, I'm not like that. Whenever I'm talking about X, I find myself searching constantly for associated pretexts that might enable me to liberate Y from the wardrobe. This makes me an impossible conversationalist, because my listeners find it hard to pin down what I'm talking about. In polite terms, one might say that I practice associative thinking.

Over the last few days (since the death of my uncle Ken Walker), I've been browsing through old family photos.

The bikes leaning against the fence of the Walker home in Waterview (South Grafton) are Malvern Star track machines, manufactured down in Melbourne. And, in the late '30s, one of the most famous members of the Malvern Star team in Australia was the French champion Charles Rampelberg.

This postcard was pasted in my childhood bible: "Cyclone" Johnny Walker's big brown-paper scrapbook of press cuttings. A native of northern France, Rampelberg was racing out in Australia when World War II erupted. His name appears in records of the six-day races at Sydney in 1938 and 1941. Seriously injured in a fall when his head struck a wing-nut of his front wheel, Rampelberg was obliged to end his cycling career. Unable to envisage a return to his war-stricken homeland, he decided to get into business in Australia as a delicatessen. Later, having made a fortune through this activity, Charles returned to Paris and worked as a marketing representative for his brother Emile Rampelberg, who was renowned as a graphic designer in the textile field, with family links to the great house of Boussac from northern France.

Prior to his career in Australia, Charles Rampelberg had won a bronze medal in the kilometer time trial at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Back in France, this celebrated track cyclist had surely raced at times (although I've found no records that substantiate this speculation) in an indoor cycling stadium in Paris known as the Vélodrome d'hiver (winter velodrome), located near the Eiffel Tower. I've attended fabulous six-day track-cycling events in both Paris Bercy and Grenoble. The following photo (unidentified) gives you an idea of the hallucinating atmosphere of such places.

Today, we have no authentic images of the Paris velodrome, known familiarly as the Vel d'Hiv.

It was located not far from the spot where Australia's embassy now stands. In fact, while the champion cyclist Rampelberg was recovering from head wounds out in the Antipodes, and setting up his delicatessen business, horrific events were taking place back in the cycling stadium in Paris. On 16-17 July 1942, this place was the focal point of a horrendous roundup of Parisian Jews, destined for extermination in the Nazi camps of Poland. And the most amazing aspect of this terrible affair was that it was carried out, not by German Nazis, but by Frenchmen!

On TV last Tuesday evening, there was much talk about this terrible site and this ignominious event, known now in French, for all Eternity, as the rafle du Vel' d'Hiv (roundup of the winter velodrome). This page of modern French history is darker, even, than the notorious Armistice signed by a fuddy-duddy Philippe Pétain. One of the frightening items of fallout concerning this disgusting affair is the fact that one of its prominent French instigators, René Bousquet, remained a personal friend of François Mitterrand.

These days, countless Francophiles such as myself have been striving to fathom these events. In a sense, we've succeeded, as demonstrated by the immense pride with which I shout out on the rooftops my unbounded admiration and love for the fabulous Fifth Republic of Charles de Gaulle. But don't think of us as dupes. We know that there were dark days... which will continue to take a lot of explaining. That's what I mean by associative thinking.

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