Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

25 July 2016

The Promenades

Here's what I had for breakfast today:

Now, you might have a difficult time finding this product in your local store.  However, it might be worth finding, as it promises really good things:

The nutritional value goes like this:  Joie de vivre, 19 9 grams  Soleil (sunshine), 33 grams.  Synergie, 12 grams.  Energy, 13 grams.  Poesie (poetry), 21 grams. Addictif, 2 grams.  The "sacoche de banane" is what the French call a "fanny pack", "waist bag" or "bum bag."  Sometimes they're simply called "banane".

"Menil Monkey" is the name of a collaboration between the office of the 20th Arrondissement--which includes the neighborhood of Menilmontant, or "Menil" for short--and DJ Joachim Touitou, or Joachim.T.

Menilmontant is a neighbor of Belleville, the neighborhood that gave the world none other than Edith Piaf.  Both neighborhoods are in the hilly northernmost area of Paris that includes Montmartre and the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, where none other than Chopin, Oscar Wilde and, yes, Jim Morrison are buried.

On Menil Monkey's "cereal box", there's a warning that consumption of the contents can cause addiction to the 20th Arrondissement, among other things.

Well, I was there the other day...and the last time I was in Paris...and the one before that.  The 20th is indeed interesting because it's Parisian and cosmopolitan at the same time.  It's an area where you can eat and drink at old-school Parisian cafes or in West African, Middle Eastern, Asian or  Kosher (mainly Sephardic Jewish) establishments.

And I saw a lot of bike riders--of all kinds.  Some were on Velib (the Paris bike share program) machines; others rode bikes older than themselves; still others pedaled classic touring and racing bikes.  It was, in short, an interesting procession of un-self-conscious utility cyclists, cognoscenti  and folks on trendy bikes.

That procession seemed to spill down the Avenue de la Republique toward the bike lanes of the Canal St. Martin. There were some hipsters and wannabes on fixed-gear bikes.  (These days, most fixed-gear bikes in New York are being ridden with single-speed freewheels.) And there were a few riders on the kinds of bikes that seem to be sold, under different labels, but with the same cartoonish graphics, everywhere in the world.  But I got a kick out of seeing young people on bikes that would be considered "vintage" but to their riders are simply bikes that are getting them from wherever to wherever--and, possibly, did the same for an older sibling, parent, aunt, uncle or someone else before them.

The canal, like most others that are no longer used for shipping, offers a calming time for those who ride along its paths or sit on its banks.  I've been told that some of those romantic or painterly photos that look like they were shot on the Seine were actually taken along the canal.

Its calm surface, though, belies a tragedy that took place just steps away last November:

The Bataclan bar and concert hall, a site of the November 2015 terrorist attacks

But that didn't stop people from enjoying their afternoon there, whether they were dangling their feet into the water or spinning pedals.  

One equally-pleasant place where you're not allowed to ride, though, is the Promenade des Plantes.  You can bring your bike up there, but you're not allowed to ride it.  Still, it's worth climbing the stairs from the Avenue Daumesnil, near the Bastille and the Gare de Lyon  (where the Orient Express originated), to see what became of a former railway.

At the Grand Train exhibit I saw the other day, sections of old railroad tracks in a disused rail yard were turned into patches.  The Viaduc des Arts is, in contrast, a botanical garden about two kilometers long in the former track beds.  At street level, cafes, restaurants, shops and art galleries are in the vaults that hold up the railroad by way.  

This project is said to be the inspiration for New York's High Line, which was also a disused railway.  The difference, though, is that while the High Line does indeed have gardens, it's lined with all of the kinds of touristy shops and restaurants you can find at the South Street Seaport.  With the Viaduc des Arts, you can choose to go to the galleries and shops on the street level, or go up to the Promenade des Plantes for the flora and fauna--which, interestingly, do more than anything on the High Line to evoke (at least in my imagination) the tracks that once lined, and the trains that ran along, them.

After descending from the Promenade des Plantes, I rode by the Gare de Lyon--faster than any of the trains ;-)--to the Seine and the bridge back to my hotel.

Ah, yes, another fine day!

24 July 2016

What I Could Have Done, And What I Did

After you read what you're about to read, you might decide that you won't ever read this blog again.  I understand.

Here goes:  I was in Paris on the last day of the Tour de France.  And I wasn't among the throngs that lined the Champs Elysees for the finish.

Why?, you ask. Well, for one thing I have a general aversion to being in crowds these days.  I have stood along the world's second-most famous thoroughfare (after Broadway in NYC) on two other occasions for the finish of the race.  I have also been on the side of the road, in other parts of France, where other stages of the Tour passed. I just don't get the same thrill about such things that I once did.

For another thing:  I hardly ever attend sporting events anymore.  It's not that I don't like sports:  I once wrote about them for a newspaper.  Rather, I am not crazy about the way many different sports, from baseball to basketball to bicycle racing, have devolved.  Too much is decided, I feel, by drugs and other kinds of technology, compared to events past.

Which brings me to my final point:  This Tour, like the past few, didn't have the storylines  of Tours past.  Even when everyone expected Eddy Mercx, Bernard Hinault or Miguel Indurain to win (as they usually did), they could generate more drama than any of the current riders.

Finally,  I just cannot bear to watch Chris Froome.  I don't have anything against him winning:  He's worked hard and, as far as anybody knows, hasn't used drugs.  But he is the most awkward-looking rider I've ever seen at the front of a major race.  As long as no one can prove he's cheated, I have no problem with his winning the Tour.  But that doesn't mean I have to watch him.

So, after filling myself up at the hotel's breakfast buffet, instead of going to the Tour, I got a (relatively) early start on a gorgeous morning and found myself pedaling streets that were all but deserted--even in places as popular with tourists (or heavily used by delivery drivers) as the Boulevard St. Michel, St. Germain des Pres and Trocadero.  I really felt--to borrow a cliche--that Paris belonged to me.

But, most important of all, I spent the afternoon and early evening with one of my friends, the man she married last year and a friend of theirs who was very friendly toward me.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, Michele and I had not seen each other in a number of years before I saw her last August, in this city.  She was just a few weeks away from marrying the man who is now her husband.  I saw her again in New York in May, with her husband Alec, near the end of their belated honeymoon trip.

An old Italian proverb says that a good meal can keep a person content for a week.  I tend to agree with that.  I'd say the same for a good bike ride or a few other things (some of which can't be mentioned on a PG-13 blog ;-) ).  And, as much as I love good food and writing, as well as cycling, i can't help but to think that nothing can keep me happy longer than a good time with an old friend.

23 July 2016

A Paris Bike Tour To The Grand Train

Sometimes I am a creature of habit.  Yesterday I went to Paris Bike Tour, from whom I rented a bike when I was here last year.  I did the same this time, except that I  got one of their "official" bikes (with the PBT logo and colors) this time.  Last year's bike was a silver Arcade, which was similar, if not the same, except for one thing:  the bike I got this year has a Shimano Dynohub powering the front and rear light, which I used last night.  Last year's bike had battery lights.

At first, I thought this year's bike was slower--or that I've aged more than a year or gained more weight than I thought I did since last year. (Don't ask!  Never ask a woman questions about her weight! ;-)) Then I thought that the seat was slowing me down--after all, it's the cushy sort found on bikes like this, and I'm used to my Brooks saddles.  But, finally, after steering out of the rond (or roundabout, as the Brits call them) of the Place de la Bastille, I realized why everything felt so sluggish:  The tires had about half as much air in them as they needed.  

I could have topped off the tires at any number of places, namely bike shops and gas stations.  As it happened, PBT is closer to Bastille to any other such place (that I know about, anyway), so I went to them.  Just for good measure, they did a quick check of the rest of the bike, and found nothing amiss.

All was well with the world, and off I went on the bike.  Mostly, I've rambled:  I've had no particular destinations in mind.  Actually, I headed for the hills, such as they exist.  Of course, I rode up the longest and steepest hill in Paris:  the one leading to the Sacre Coeur de Montmartre--and, of course, down to the teeming streets and open-air markets of Goutte d'Or, often called the "petite Afrique" (little Africa) of Paris.

When I pedaled in that neighborhood--and neighboring Barbes-Rochechouart-- this year and last, I noticed that however well-intentioned the bike lanes are, it is all but impossible to stay on them unless you want to stop-and-start, or do a lot of dodging and weaving.  It seems that, even by Paris standards, the streets and sidewalks of that neighborhood are narrow, and people are always out shopping or otherwise out and about, always in large groups. So, they almost can't help but to spill into the bike lanes.  They almost invariably get out of your way, at least to the degree they can, and say "pardon".  I saw only one cyclist argue with the pedestrians.  That cyclist himself is African, from Senegal.  "Vous n'etes pas francaise"--"You are not French" he said with a knowing grin.  I nodded, sheepishly.  "Pas problem.  Vous etes sympathique."  I almost expected him to say I am "tel" or "trop" sympathique--so or too nice--buy he just left it at "nice".  

Anyway, from there, I rode to Saint Denis--home of the Stade de France, site of the Euro soccer championship and one of the terror attacks in November--only to find the Basilica closed.  Still, it's impressive from the outside:

If it looks unbalanced, that's because the North Tower (the one that would have been on the left) was removed in 1840 after it was damaged by lightning three years earlier and subsequent storms.  Work on reassembling and installing is now in progress.  

But the ride to St. Denis was not for naught, as I found a path along the canal to La Villette, a few kilometers away in the northern part of Paris, where it connects with Canal de l'Ourcq, which in turn connects  with the Canal St. Martin-- an extremely popular spot for cycling, walking and picnics.

Then, after some more wandering I decided to hop a train:

No, I didn't go back to New York.  Rather, I chanced upon something I'd heard about before coming to Paris.

The Grand Train is held, as you might expect, in an old rail terminal and storage yard.  It was nice to look at tains that had, not only power, but also style.

You really had the sense that people rode those trains.


In those days, all Frenchmen wore moustaches.  At least, in the movies--and on trains--they did:

The engine in the photo below was designed for use in rugged Pyrenees terrain no other vehicles could reach.  It was used as a "relay" to and from ambulances and other cars and trucks, as well as to get pilgrims to Lourdes. 

It made its first run more than two decades after the first Tour de France cyclists climbed those peaks in the Pyrennes, and its last about two decades before I pedaled up them.

The organizers of Grand Train seem to have "discovered" some interesting uses for old track beds--like a "beach"

a "garden" 

and even a chicken coop.

(It looks like someone thought formal wear was required for this event!)

Hey, they even figured out that a gravelled track bed makes great petanque  court.

I was not surprised:  My Italian grandfather used to play bocce on a disused rail bed underneath an almost-equally disused viaduct of the New York transit system.

What would he think of that young lady?