Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

04 November 2016

Cycling, In Living Color

Time was when I wore nothing but black:  black leather, black lycra, black latex and black everything else.

Yes, I even had an all-black bike outfit before carbon fiber and the "stealth" look became so prevalent!

Now, understand that I was young and had just moved back to New York:  to the East Village, no less.  Even two of the three bikes I owned at that time were black. The Peugeot PX-10 was available only in white the year mine was made. Somehow that was overlooked in the circles in which I found myself.  Actually, I know how:  None of them were cyclists, and I'm not sure that any of them saw me on my bike.  And if they had, I'm not sure they would have noticed or recognized me:  Rare was the occasion on which we saw each other sober or in daylight.

Anyway, in my "black" period I was keeping a terrible, terrible secret.  No, it's not the one that became the subject of my other blog. Well, all right, I was keeping that secret, but that's not the one I meant. Nor was it that I'd voted for Reagan. (I didn't, but I later learned that some of them had, in secret.)  Or that I was having splendid relationships with my family:  My father and I were barely on speaking terms at that time.

My hidden vice, if you will, had to do with my tastes in art. Actually, the fact that I cared about art at all would have enraged some of my not-so-fellow-after-all travelers.   Some of them thought the whole idea of art was inherently bourgeois; at least one wore a T-shirt that read "I Hate Art."  (I thought she was talking about her ex until I learned otherwise.)

My dim, dark perversion was...my weakness for Jean-Honore Fragonard, which I retain to this day.  Yes, he represented every excess of the ancien regime.  When the Reign of Terror descended upon Paris, he fled and died, nearly forgotten, a decade and a half later.  Given the sort of person I was in my faux-punk days, I could have hated him for painting such subjects as the wife of a nobleman on a swing in her garden, much as I once hated writers like Henry James for their focus on high society.  (I've gotten over that!)  

So what attracted me to such paintings as "Blind Man's Bluff" and "The Stolen Kiss"?  All right, the title--and the none-too-thinly-veiled eroticism--of the latter.  But even more important, to me, were those colors.  Oh, those colors!  And the way he used them!  

(Hmm...Maybe I'm really a magpie in a human's body.)

So of course I had to get myself out to ride today.  No classes on a cool, fairly windy day when fall is just starting to tip toward winter.  The sun shining brightly.  And colors everywhere.  

I figured that if the red, orange and yellow leaves were so vibrant in my neighborhood, they must be blazing in other places--like, say, New England.  Or, more specifically, the part of it closest to me:  Connecticut.

So now you know where I rode today.  I pedaled into the wind most of the way up, which sharpened my senses, I think. (That, or the colors were even deeper than I thought they were!)  And Arielle, my Mercian Audax, felt even more lively than she usually does, which is saying something.

Call me shallow or trivial or--if you want to sound like someone who's trying to sound like he or she knows better--a sensualist who has never grown up.  And I won't, as long as I can do rides like the one I did today.  They just might keep me from fading back to black!


  1. Summer of 1981, small bike shop in St. Hilaire in Normandy I bought at totally black kit to match my black with no decals bike. Still got all of that stuff somewhere...

  2. I am generally kitted out in black on a bike, rather or not I am riding one or the other of my black PX-10's. My black period never ended.

    But your second example of Fragonard's art, "The Swing"... You speak of veiled eroticism. "The Swing was almost regarded as pornographic when it was painted. It was a private commission from the "notorious libertine", the Baron de Julien. It is his portrait on the young man in the lower corner. He wanted the work to show his even younger (future?) mistress being pushed on a swing by a bishop (!) as he looked up her skirts. A historical note: women's underpants were still a century in the future at that time. The shoe flying off her foot was a symbol of lost innocence. And look at the statue of cupid on the left with his finger to his mouth gesturing for all to be quiet. This work could not be displayed in public then. It was a private work and perhaps was a part of an elaborate and expensive seduction.

    Renoir made the journey to the Louvre many times to take lessons in color from Fragonard.


  3. Coline-They say that black never goes out of style!

    Leo-Thank you for reminding me about the mores of Fragonard's time. It's no surprise that Renoir would have learned so much from his work.

    In doing a little more research, I found that some of the important art history books from the second half of the 19th Century don't mention Fragonard at all!

    1. Justine, nobody ever accused me of having style...

      That black period was when I wanted to be invisible and the black bike was supposed to look boring and not worth stealing, well that worked.

  4. Coline--You have style. You are you. That is style.