Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

28 July 2016

What's This Bike Doing On the Place des Invalides?

The Retrogrouch has written an excellent series about the rise and fall of the US bicycle industry, and how the rise helped to make Shimano the largest component manufacturer.  In the third of his four installents, he discusses the rise and fall of Schwinn.  One commenter made a couple of interesting points, one of which is that the "Bike Boom" didn't happen in Europe because Europeans didn't have one or two generations that didn't ride bikes, and bikes made decades ago are still in use.

That commenter also couldn't understand why The Retrogrouch and others were describing Schwinn as the top Amerian bike.  That commenter had never seen. let alone ridden, one.  Come to think of it, the few Schwinns I've seen in Europe were ridden by Americans who brought them for tours or other rides.

See original image

Today I saw something that's even rarer than a Schwinn in Europe:  a Ross.  A Eurotour, no less. Isn't it funny that an American company would call something "Euro" when it has no connection with this continent--and it ends up here anyway.  It's like McDonald's selling "French Fries" to the French.

I didn't get a chance to take a photo of that bike, as I was dodging and weaving traffic near the Place des Invalides, where the bike was parked.  But it's the same model as the one in the image above.  I'd be curious to know how that bike got here.  These days, most airlines charge over 100 dollars to bring a bicycle aboard.  (For a long time, Air France and other airlines simply counted it as one of your checked bags--they allowed two--as long as it wasn't over the weight limit.)  Although there's nothing wrong with the Ross, I simply can't see spending that much to bring it along unless you're moving here and absolutely love its ride, or if it has sentimental valus for you.

Tomorrow I will tell you some more about my adventures here. 

27 July 2016

Meeting Under The Unicorn

First off, I want to assure you that I have made up nothing in this blog.  Not even the third-place finish in a race.  Or the climbs in the Alps, Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, Green Mountains, Adirondacks or Catskills.  Even the bad, crazy and silly things I've done are as I've recounted them.

Still, you might not believe the story I'm about to tell you.  I understand.   But I assure you that I couldn't make up anything like it.  

It took place in la Musee Nationale du Moyen-Age, a.k.a. the Cluny.  Even if you've never been there, you've seen this:

Most people think of it as "the unicorn tapestry".  Truth is, it's just one of six tapestries in the "La Dame a la Licorne" series.  The other five tapestries feature the lady, the unicorn and nearly all of the other elements of the one you've all seen.  But what this one--"Mon seul desir"--represents is the subject of debate.  Some have said that it is the mind, while others believe it is the heart or love.  I think the tapestry's creator intended it to be the power of the unicorn, whatever that might be.  

Now, what exactly is the power of the unicorn?  Some say it's something that happens when the woman touches his horn. (I won't disagree. But I want to keep this clean!) Well, perhaps it got me out of bed early so I could ride for an hour, with no destination or purpose, for about an hour before cycling to Cluny.

And the unicorn's magic (or whatever you want to call it) may have been the cause of what I experienced while in the museum.  

Many of the objects displayed there, at one time or another, adorned cathedrals.  A couple stood before one of the displays.  They were talking about how those objects were made and how cathedrals were built. 

I chimed in with a comment about how, in places like Chartres and Reims, literally everybody in the town contributed in some way or another to building the cathedral.  Of course, some were artists and craftspeople.  Others cut and set stones and glass, and did other things vital to building the structure.  And, of course, there were those who prepared food and did other things for the other workers. "Most of those people never lived to see the finished product," I pointed out.

That led us to talk about the things we were looking at--and, soon, things entirely unrelated.  Naturally, the conversation led to the inevitable traveler's question, "Where are you from?"

When I'm far from my home area, I say "New York"--which, of course, is true.  But unless someone's familiar with the city or its environs, I don't mention anything more specific.  It's not that I'm trying to impress anybody: Rather, it's just easier:  Almost everyone has heard of New York; only people who've lived in it have ever heard of Astoria,  Queens.

But that couple obviously knew the city.  So I told them I live in Astoria, Queens.  Each of them mentioned living in Brooklyn.  "No kidding!  I lived there for a long time."  That led me to confess that I'd grown up in Bensonhurst and Borough Park and later lived in Park Slope.  

Turns out, she lived there, and he in neighboring Windsor Terrace.  They mentioned The Park (Prospect), eating at the Silver Spoon and the Pintchick's store on the corner.  

"Bergen Street", I exclaimed.

Up to that point, I had the feeling that I somehow recognized them.  Especially her.  "Yes, I lived there during the '90's," she said.  "And we started dating then," he added.

The FBI has age-progression software that shows, for example, what a child who went missing years ago might look like today.  My mind's eye did the opposite of that:  I found myself imagining what they might have looked like five, ten, twenty years ago.  In her case, I didn't even have to look that far back:  She's hardly aged at all.

We asked each other's names.  She told me hers. "Really?"  

Her eyes, and his, fixed on me.  Then I asked whether her last name might be (N)."

"How did you know that?"

"We used to be neighbors.  In fact, I lived in the apartment next to yours."

For a few years, we exchanged pleasantries and sometimes got into conversations in the hallway of our building.  Our talks veered into all sorts of topics:  art, movies, politics, the not-for-profit agency for which she worked, my writing--and the class and workshop I was taking with Allen Ginsberg.  

But at that moment, she could not recall those things--or, more precisely, she could not connect me with them.  

"Well, I am Justine now," I confessed.  "But back then, you knew me as Nick."  

I could see flickerings of recognition.  Then I added  more dim, dark secrets:  I had a beard in those days--a red one, at that.  

"Wow.  Yes, now I remember.  The beard!"

Then she recalled, aloud, the poetry--Yes, I still write, I assured her--the studies, the teaching and even my cat.  "And you used to ride your bike everywhere," she recounted.

I nodded.  And, yes, I still ride, and I've been riding here in Paris.  She, her husband and their teenage daughter went for a ride the other day, she said.

Just when we were about to fall off each others' radar--which was much easier  in those days, just before everybody started to use cell phones, the internet and e-mail-- she had started dating him.  And I would meet, and move in with, the last partner I had in my life as Nick.

Now tell me:  What are the chances that two people who lived next to each other--in Brooklyn--would bump into each other twenty years later--in Paris, no less?

26 July 2016

215 Steps--How Many Kilometers?

I have no idea of how many kilometers (Remember, I'm in France!) I pedaled today.  I'm guessing it's not less than twenty, but not more than forty.  

There is, however, one measure I can give you with certainty:  215 steps--from 8, rue Elzevir to 5, rue Thorigny. Both addresses are mansions in the Marais district of Paris, which straddles thte Third and Fourth Arrondissements and contains, among other noteworthy sites, the Place des Vosges.  

I had intended to go to the first address.  When I was about to lock my bike to a signpost in front of it, an African man in what looked like a butler's uniform informed me, politely, that there was bike parking at the end of the block.  "Pardon", I said almost simperingly, "je n'ai lai pas vu."  I guess I wasn't the first person not to notice it. "Pas problem", he said. "Merci," I responded.

8, rue Elzevir

So why was I going to a mansion at 8, rue Elzevir.  Well, I had a free pass.  Then again, so did anyone else who wanted one.  But since I'm so, like, "over" being part of the "in" crowd (I mixed generational references.  Is that as bad as mixing metaphors?), I didn't mind.  For one, the man who showed me where to park my bike was so nice.  And so was everyone else I met inside.  And there were some really interesting things to look at.

All right, I'll admit it:  I was there to look at the stuff, and the place itself.  You see, that mansion is la Musee Cognaq-Jay.  I had seen signs for it and was intrigued by the name: "Cognac" with a "q" at the end, and "Jay"--that doesn't look so French, does it?

The fully-articulated fish in the foreground is made from gold, enamel and jade.  The other cases are made from gold , enameling and precious stones. 

Well, it turns out that Theodore-Ernest Cognaq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay founded the Samaritaine department store, which grew from a small tie vendor at the foot of the Pont Neuf to an eleven-story Art Deco colossus that took up several square blocks.   If you can imagine a combination of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, a la francaise, you'll have an idea of what the store was like.

Messr. Cognacq and Mme. Jay were, not surprisingly, among the wealthiest people in France.  This allowed them to accumulate a vast collection of art and objects, which are displayed in the museum.  What is so unusual about this collection, though, is that almost everything in it is from the 18th Century.

Although few collectors and curators focus on this period today, it makes sense that Cognacq and Jay would have spent their time and money on it.  For one thing, the work of painters like Van Gogh and other Impressionists were not yet deemed collectable, let alone immortal.  And the work of other artists who are so revered today--including one I'll mention later on in this post--was either in the process of creation, or hadn't been conceived yet. 

So, it's not surprising that whoever advised Cognacq and Jay would have told them to buy works from the 1700s.  By that time, it was a century or more old, so it (or at least some of of it) would have passed the test of time.  In other words, paintings, sculptures and other objects from that period would have gained the stature the Impressionists would attain in the 1970s or thereabouts, when Japanese collectors started to pay large sums of money for Monet and Van Gogh paintings.

I must admit, though, that I never had any great interest in 18th Century art, with a few exceptions.  If I were to become a scholar, I probably wouldn't choose that period.  The most interesting work of that time came, I believe, from philosphes, political theorists, few novelists--and composers.  There isn't much poetry to capture my attention (apart from some of William Blake's early work near the end of the century) and even less drama. 

The painting and drama of that period, with a few exceptions from Fragonard and a handful of other artists, leaves me cold, for the most part.  But seeing them in a setting in a mansion of that period made them more interesting.  Also, seeing those paintings and sculptures along with objects made of porcelain, gold and stones--some of which were intended for daily use--made the paintings more interesting.

If you are in Paris, the Musee Cognaq Jay is worth checking out, even if you're not interested in works from the 18th Century, just to see how an extremely wealthy couple would have lived with the things they collected.

After spending the morning and the first hour of the afternoon at Cognaq-Jay, I walked 215 steps to see the work of an artist I mentioned, but didn't name, earlier.  Yes, his museum is at 5,rue Thorigny:  the Hotel Sale, a.k.a. la Musee Picasso.  

If you've been reading my earlier posts, you know that the Musee Picasso has long been one of my three favorite museums in Paris.   Although it, like the Cognacq Jay, is located in a former residence, the two could hardly have had more different atmospheres:  The Cognacq-Jay has the intimate atmosphere the creators of the Picasso tried to achieve and, I believe, would if it hadn't become a tourist destination.   To be fair, the Picasso has become one of the most famous museums in the world because even people who know nothing else about art have heard his name. 

Vue de la façade, côté rue de Thorigny – détail, le fronton.
215 steps later:  5, rue Thorigny

Still, I love the Picasso, in part because of the artist himself,  but also because of the way it creates a milieu for him and his work.   But after 215 steps, I think I have found a new favorite to add to my list.  

And I got to take a late-day ride after taking in both, on a Tuesday in which clouds swirled and rippled in the breeze, diffusing but not muting the sun's rays.