Everything You Want to Know About France and More...

Roger St Pierre, Journalist, Author and Francophile

 roger st pierre journalist

The Good Life France talked to Roger St Pierre – an award-winning writer who visited every one of France’s 94 metropolitan departments as a cyclist, journalist, author and Francophile who sadly passed away in 2021.

Roger, who The Good Life France was honoured to include amongst its very talented group of writers, told me he taught himself French by reading magazines and working out from picture captions what they said! His brother went youth hostelling in France and returned with lots of magazines about cycling: “There were photos of people covered in sweat, mud, blood – and tears too. I thought it was heroic. I remember vividly a photograph of two guys sharing a bath; Tour de France cyclists… their bodies were marble white, their faces, arms and legs burnished bronze, almost black. They looked shattered but happy to have survived another day of the world’s toughest sporting event. I thought it was incredible, exciting, and it started a passion for cycling that has never ended.”

Favourite place in France

“Asking me to name my favourite place in France is like asking Imelda Marcos which is her favourite pair of shoes. It is simply impossible to say! I used to love the high mountains – mostly because of the Tour de France and the epic sporting battles fought out on those mighty slopes – but now I favour rolling hills and gentle mountains. I find them more interesting plus their valleys are less often in shadow, so they see more sun – the uplands of he Cevennes, Lozere, the Lot, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Auvergne, the Dordogne are all delightful… I love the River Loir (the little one), Normandy, Brittany… the granite and half-timbered houses and, nearer home, the Seven Valleys, close to Boulogne… then of course there is Provence.

From region to region everything changes, there is so much variety in France – building materials, the people, the cuisine, they all change dramatically from place to place. In the north it’s normally cream and dairy based cooking. In the south it revolves around olive oil and those wonderful Mediterranean vegetables. The northerners might often seem quite dour but are very warm when you get to know them and overcome their surface reservation. In the south they are like Italians – extravert and exotically foreign to us British!

France is like a kaleidoscope – every time I’m there I discover something new, no matter how many times I visit. Often it’s something that has existed for a long time but which I had somehow not noticed before, like some of the regional culinary specialities of the South West that I have only just discovered despite many previous visits to the region.

With France – there is just so much to it. So many incredible stories… the French have left an imprint on the world and must rate highly among the top ten most influential nations.”

People and heritage in France

“I love how France so proudly embraces its heritage yet somehow leaves a little room for the influence of others to squeeze in. Couscous for instance is now pretty much as French as croissant – which also didn’t actually originate in France by the way! I like to observe the different quirks in character that the French have; they are obsessed with making rules – and then with finding ways to break them! We British are obsessed with resisting the introducing of new rules but then sticking religiously to them.

Despite our many differences, the British and the French have a very close relationship – our language and customs are intertwined. Long before Julius Caesar, for hundreds of years we were trading partner, pre-Celtic. Our DNA is mixed up and we were travelling to each other’s countries and exchanging customs and goods long before Thomas Cook came along.

Sir Winston Churchill once famously said: ’The British and the Americans are two nations separated by a common language’. My own observation is that the British and the French are two nations separated by a common history.”

roger st pierre journalist

Favourite French Character

“Louison Bobet is certainly is one of my favourites. He was my hero when my classmates were all idolising footballers and cricketers. He was the first man to win the Tour de France three years in succession and sparked my love of cycle racing in France. Did you know that he is the godfather of seawater treatments? When he left cycling he opened the first thalassotherapy centre in the world – in Brittany. He brought science into sport. {Ed’s note: Roger wrote the forward for the acclaimed book “Tomorrow We Ride”, by Jean Bobet – the fascinating tale of how brothers Jean and Louison became champions].

I dreamed of becoming a professional cyclist and reached first-category amateur status but I also wanted to be a writer and tried to do both. I’d finish a 100-mile race then be straight off to the office to write up the report on it. You can’t really do both but I couldn’t give either one up.

In the end I raced for 21 years and did reasonably well but was never able to put in the amount of training you need to log up to reach the top of the sport. To get there you have to be totally focused, single-minded and self-centred too

It didn’t help that much of my writing was in the music field, notably for New Musical Express and Blues & Soul among others, and I was PR for the Jacksons, Marvin Gays, BB King, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis and other big stars, so there were lots of late nights – which isn’t the best preparation for race day!

Eventually I became a single dad, bringing up three kids on my own, so my racing career took a back seat and I soon found myself pumping up their tyres and getting their bikes ready to race. They ended up winning 16 national championship medals between them.

I’ve now been to 130 countries around the globe but my special love for France has never wavered. I vividly recall my first ever trip abroad, arriving in St. Malo at five in the morning, entering a cafe and watching the men there pouring big shots of Calvados into their hot black coffee. They were wearing denim dungarees and  berets – not to mention all those big, bushy moustaches – it was all very strange and exotic but I felt that I’d arrived in my spiritual home.”

Roger St Pierre has been writing for 65 years and is much missed.

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