Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 July 2017

Side Trip

Yesterday I mentioned that I'm taking a side trip.  I had planned it before I arrived in Rome.  This morning I will be on a train to Florence and will return to Rome tomorrow night.  Since I don't want to carry my laptop with me, I am writing this post before I leaving.  Fear not: I'll be back soon!

23 July 2017

Seven Hills--And There Are More!

You have no doubt heard that Rome is built on seven hills.  Trust me:  It isn't hype.  You become very, very aware of that fact when you cycle in this city!

I can now honestly claim that I've climbed all seven by bicyce.  Yesterday I climbed the  with Roberto:  the Aventine, Capitoline, Caelian and Esquiline.  I climbed them all again today, on a bike I rented from Bici & Baci.  I also pedaled up the Palatine, which I have to ascend, at least most of the way, to reach my hotel:  Today I scaled it bike. And I got to the Quirinal and Viminal.  


A view from Janiculum Hill.  Yes, I pedaled to see it!


Oh--the hills on which the Vatican is located, as well as the Janiculum and Pincium hills, are not counted among the seven because they are on the right bank of the Tiber, which, at the time Rome was founded, was inhabited by the Etruscans .  The "seven hills" all lie within the area that was surrounded by the Servian Wall, which enclosed the original settlement founded, according to tradition, by Romulus.

Anyway, today I rode mainly for the sake of riding and seeing more of Rome's streets and alleyways close-up. I did stop at the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican, though I didn't wait on the long line to go into the museum.  I will do that later this week, when the weekday crowds--I assume--should be at least somewhat smaller than they were today.

I have to admit that the hills aren't the only challenge of cycling in Rome.  (There are other, smaller, ones in addition to the famous ones I've mentioned.)  Everything you've heard about Roman drivers is true though, to be fair, a few stopped or slowed down to let me go by.  And Roman traffic circles make their Parisian counterparts seem like elements of a Mondrian painting.  

And then there is the heat and sun.  The former, at least, is not accompanied by humidity.  So, by the end of the day, the T-shirt I wore looked like it was covered with white tie-dye swirls from the sweat that evaporated from it.  When I returned my bike, I saw Roberto again.  He, who rides in Rome every day, told me that on days like today, he can "drink five liters of water, easy."  I probably drank at least as much--at least some of it "like a Roman", as he taught me yesterday.  

But I didn't expect the sun to be as intense as it was, given that Rome lies at roughly the same latitude as New York.  (The part of Florida where my parents live lies about a dozen degrees closer to the Equator.)  Perhaps the dry air made it feel so.  Whatever the cause, I don't think I ever before used as much sunscreen as I used today!

I'll be taking a side trip tomorrow and will be back in Rome on Tuesday night.  Then I'll rent the bike again and check out the Pantheon as well as a few other places.

22 July 2017

Tours That Brought Me Back

So, again....Why Rome?

I thought it would have remained a rhetorical question after I missed breakfast at the hotel this morning.  It seems that I took in more sun than I'd realized and stayed up later, so I slept until 9:30--something I don't normally do during a trip.

So I went for a walk.  I figured that I needed to get beyond the neighborhood where I'm staying, as much as I like it. The hotel is most of the way up a hill, and the Forum, which I visited yesterday morning, is at the bottom of it:  about a five-minute walk.  And the Colosseum is only about the same distance in another direction.  Although I walked a lot yesterday among the ruins (they cover a lot of ground), I hadn't ventured much beyond my "base", if you will.

Today I started by walking in the other direction, past Termini--the main rail and bus station--and kept going.  I honestly had no idea of where I was, but I knew I was moving away from the tourists.  Finally, after about an hour and a half, I stopped at a cafe for a coffee--an espresso, to be exact.  

Then I did something that, I think, took the baristo by surprise:  I ordered another.  It was that good:  Caffeine jitters be damned, I told myself.  But I didn't experience them, though I was almost giddy for a moment.



Anyway, I continued to walk, guided by the navigational skills of no less than Signoro Colombo, and climbed the hill to the Villa Medici.  It now houses the Academie Francaise of Rome, but the real reason you go that way is for the gardens adjacent to it--and for the views.  In particular, it's at the top of the hill you reach when you climb the Spanish Steps--which I descended.



Even though it seems like half of the human race is in La Piazza Spagna on days like this, it's difficult not to like:  When a staircase is built with such artistry and function and connects two places with different kinds of beauty, well, it's not difficult to see why it would draw all sorts of people.  

By this time, I was feeling better about having come to Rome, but something still felt a bit off.  Then I realized I hadn't taken a pill I normally take in the morning. (It's not psychtropic, at least not technically!)  So I went back to my hotel room--as it turned out, five stops on the Rome Metro A line--and downed it with a bottle of San Benedetto water.

Actually, that trip back to the hotel room wasn't a diversion.  I had scheduled a bike tour for 3 pm, and the shop at which I booked it--one of the three branches of Bici & Baci--is located most of the way down that hill from my hotel to the Forum, near the end of la via Cavour.  

Bici & Baci is an interesting place.  Although they rent bicycles and conduct bicycle tours, their main focus is on Vespas.  In fact, the shop's basement hosts the Vespa Museum.  Perhaps if I really wanted to "do as the Romans do", I would ride one.  But I wanted to stick to pedals, if for no other reason that I haven't driven any sort of motorized vehicle in a long time. 

They couldn't have given me a better guide than Roberto.  He asked what I'd already seen.  When I told him, he said, "OK, we will not do the 'highlights' tour--unless you want that."



Instead, he offered to show me "Rome as a Roman."  Of course!   That meant, among other things, this:




Hundreds of fountains like these are located all over the city.  The water is indeed potable, and people often fill their bottles under them.  But that's something a Roman wouldn't do, Roberto told me. Oddly, most people don't seem to notice the hole at the top of the pipe on all of those  fountains:  To prove his point, we stopped at three, all of which had that feature.  

I wonder whether the Roman water authorities designed them that way and didn't bother to tell the rest of the world. Or, perhaps, that hole serves some other purpose (aeration?)  and someone discovered the easy way to drink from them.



Anyway, on our route, I learned entertaining stories like the one about the fountain the Borgheses supposedly built in one night to show that, although they'd fallen on hard time, they had the financial wherewithal for such things. Why?  Well, a Borghese daughter wanted to marry the son of the family that owned the land on which the fountain was built--the Matteis, who were rich and influential.  But they were reluctant to let him take her hand because they'd heard about their financial straits.  According to legend, the next morning, the Mattei patriarch woke and, much to his surprise, saw the fountain on his land, amidst the houses that ringed the palazzo.

Interestingly, although the Matteis were Roman Catholic--as were nearly all members of noble families at their time--they lived right in the middle of the Ghetto (yes, the original one), the traditional Jewish quarter of the city.  Literally steps away from that fountain, one can find momentos like these:



Although a higher percentage of the Jewish population survived in Rome and in Italy than in other European cities and countries, many Italian Jews ended up in Auschwitz once Mussolini was deposed and the Nazis invaded. Although the Italian Jewish community is smaller, especially in Rome and the North, than it was before the war, it has had a lot of influence in Italian and the world's culture. And, as Roberto--interestingly--pointed out, much of the Roman kitchen (cuisine) in fact originated with the city's Jews.

Back to the Matteis:  They were patrons of the arts.  Among the painters they sponsored was the one who gave us this:

Madonna dei Pellegrini (Sant'Agostino in Campo Marzio) September 2015-1.jpg
Madonna dei Pellegrini, by Caravaggio

It adorns a portico of the Sant'Agostino chruch, the last stop of our tour.  Roberto made a point of stopping there because he loves that painting, and Caravaggio generally.  So do I.  

Finally, in keeping with Roberto's promise to show me what a Roman knows about his city, he took me up the Aventine hill, which has a garden with the most unique view:



You might think it's just another way of seeing the Vatican. But the park and garden were designed so that the closer to the edge of the hill--and to the dome of the Vatican--you walk (You can't ride in the park.), the smaller it seems.  That is because the approach brings other tall structures into view, which diminishes the perspective of the dome.

Nearby is another interesting view, which I tried to capture:

I wasn't peeping.  I swear!

This peephole is on the gate of the Villa del Priorato di Malta, which--like the Vatican--has extraterratorial status in Rome.  I tried to capture the view of the Vatican which, as Roberto pointed out, makes the gate one of the few places in the world where you can look at three countries (or, at any rate, sovereign territories)--i.e., Italy, Malta and the Vatican--at the same time.

Now tell me:  What else could I have asked for on a day in Rome?


Note: As you can probably tell, I am feeling much better about this city and country than I did yesterday.  Still, I have one complaint:  I am on the slowest internet connection I've experienced in at least 15 years.  My photos are taking forever to upload! So, you won't see as many of them in upcoming posts.  But I'll share some more, if you'd like, after I return home!

21 July 2017

I Am Not Her, But I Am Here

OK, I have to admit:  Yesterday's post wasn't quite fair.  I asked you to guess where I am, and the clue was the photo I included.  Its subject is an attractive, stylish woman on a bicycle.  You can find others like her in lots of places in this world--and there are more than a few blogs dedicated to them.  

Behind the woman in that photo are two girls dressed in a way that almost nobody would be at this time of year in this place.  Ever since I arrived yesterday, the weather has been very hot.  I am not surprised, as I had been here before in the summer and experienced similar weather.

No, I'm not in Florida with my parents.  From the background, I think you figured as much.  Also, I don't know of anyone in the Sunshine State who dresses like that woman.

If you figured that I'm in a European capital that's not Amsterdam, you're on the right track.


I was here this morning:



And this is where I spent most of my afternoon:



So now I have something in common with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.  Yes, I am in Rome.

So "Why Rome?," you ask. Funny that you should:  One of my history professors asked that same question. In fact, that query was his entire final exam, and we had three hours to answer it. 


But as to why I am here now:  I kinda sorta thought I should come to Italy again.  Until yesterday, I hadn't been anywhere in this country since 2001, and I last set foot in this city five years before that.  The later visit was part of a bike tour that started in Lyon, France and took me through parts of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps.  Some would argue that it's not "really" Italy, but it is in its own way.  

Now, as for that 1996 trip, I'm going to tell you something I don't often talk about.  I had an Italian girlfriend whom I'd met in the US, when she was living and working here.  Then she had to go back and, practically from the moment she stepped off the plane in Fiumicino, was urging me to come over.  So I went the first chance I got--which, since I was teaching, meant summer.

Anyway, our relationship ended during that trip.  I am long past that:  I know that even if I hadn't undergone my life transitions, our relationship had a limited shelf life.  Still, having crossed the ocean to experience it is not a pleasant memory, to say the least.

I guess it's ironic, in a way, that a relationship should end that way (or in any way at all) in the "Eternal City"--one with the Forum and Colosseum, where I spent my morning and afternoon.  

Of course I loved seeing them again, and learning some things I never before knew (or, perhaps, had forgotten) about them.  Hey, I even saw a guy give the ring to the young lady with whom he wants to spend the rest of his days.  Still, I have felt sad:  I should love this city and this country but I don't.  Sometimes I feel as if I'm the only person in this world who doesn't.  Maybe I just don't identify with my heritage enough.  

Tomorrow I'm going to go on a bike tour of the city.  I would have gone today, but the English-speaking guide wasn't in.  And, after that, I'll rent a bike.  Maybe I'll feel better about this place then.


20 July 2017

Where Have I Gone Now?

Here I am, on my way to work this morning:



All right, that was just a slight exaggeration.  A very, very slight one.  I won't use the "l" word--no, not that one. (I'm more like the "b" word.)  I mean, I'm not lying.  Just, shall we say, creating an alternative fact about myself.  Or, at least, a fact about myself in an alternative universe!

Anyway, that photo was taken--by somebody else, of course--in a location just a few pedal strokes from where I am now.  

More details to follow.

Hint:  The above photo can be found on The Amsterdamian.  I am not, however, in the Dutch capital.

19 July 2017

Elettricita

Its romantic style with dips and crests take (sic) us back in time onto the bumpy, narrow passages of Italy.


Does anyone describe anything Italian in the English language without using words like "romantic", "love" or
"amore"?


This year, a beautiful pair of Sudini boots I wore for years finally gave out.  What I'll remember as much as the boots themselves is the box in which they came.  It was unremarkable, at least as Italian boxes go, except for the slogan underneath the Sudini name:  "Make love to your feet."

I am guessing it was, shall we say, an idiosyncratic translation of something.  To my knowledge, there are no more foot fetishists, per capita, among Italians in Italy or the diaspora, than among any other people in the world.

So what has the "romantic style" with "dips and crests" that are meant to remind us of "the bumpy narrow passages" (Sounds like a relationship or two in which I've been involved!) of my ancestors' (some, anyway) country?

It's something called "Velorapida".  That, of course, means "fast bike" in Italian.  There's nothing wrong with a name like that:  After all, "Motobecane" means "motor bike" in French.

But the "Velorapida" is something I don't normally associate with romance:  an e-bike.  Most of the ones I've seen here are ugly and are, most of the time, ridden by delivery workers or people who want to believe they're riding bicycles but don't want to put forth the effort.

I must say, though, that the Velorapida does challenge my belief, at least a little, even if it won't turn me to an e-biker:




To me, it looks like a newer, updated version of bikes you see all over Europe.   It even has the requisite charm and character.

The handcrafted leather bag, however, is not there to merely to add charm or even to carry formaggio or frutta from the local market.  Instead, it encases a "secret" battery pack.  




Oh, no!  I'll never look at leather bike bags the same way again!

I must say, though, that if someone is riding an electric bike instead of driving a car--or because he or she, for whatever reason, can't ride a regular bike--I am happy.  And I can't begrudge someone who's trying to make a living on an ebike:  If it's more expedient for them in any way than any other delivery vehicle, I can understand why they'd ride it.

I don't know what the Velorapidas cost.  If I were President (tee hee), I would decree that employers could provide them (or regular bicycles) for their workers and deduct them from their tax bill!

18 July 2017

Who Voted For The Bicycle Tax?

Someone--I forget who, exactly--told me that growing up is becoming what you hate.  I think most of us have had a day when we thought--or said--or, worse, did--something at which our younger selves would have recoiled.

So what does it mean when you hear something of which your younger self would have approved--and you agree with it?  Or when an opinion you agree with is expressed by someone your younger self wanted to be, but who now makes you cringe?

I am thinking now of day I heard exactly what I thought about the US invasion of Iraq and our meddling in the Middle East--with the exact reasons I had for my belief, expressed almost verbatim in the way I'd expressed it--from none other than Pat Buchanan.  And, I have to admit that even though I have long dismissed my youthful embrace of Ayn Rand's philosophy (such as it is) as a jejune fever-dream, there are still times I find myself siding with libertarians--at least to a point--on some issues.

So it is today.  But I am not the only left-ish person to find herself siding with anti-tax conservatives about a law just passed in Oregon.  

Last month, I wrote about the debate in the Beaver State legislature over a proposed bicycle tax.  The bill, in its original form, would have placed a levy on sales of new bicycles costing $500 or more.  Apparently, the authors of the bill thought bikes in that price range are "luxury" items.  I argued that if you are going to buy a new bike that you want to use for daily transportation, you have to spend at least that much if you want something that's reliable and will last.

One of the bill's authors--Lee Beyer, a Democrat--argued that it would ensure that cyclists had "skin in the game", ignoring the fact that cyclists pay the same taxes that everyone else pays.  A fellow Democrat, Earl Blumenauer--a Congressman who regularly appears on C-Span with a bicycle pin conspicuously attached to his lapel--also defended the tax, saying that it would "raise the profile of cycling."

Well, yesterday the State legislature voted in favor of the tax as part of a sweeping transportation bill.  Worse, the threshold for the $15 tax is not $500, but $200, and would apply to bikes with wheel diameters of 26 inches or more.

(Does that mean small-wheeled folding bikes are exempt?  What about 650s?)

Not surprisingly, Bike Portland publisher Jonathan Maus called the tax an "unprecedented step in the wrong direction."  He found an ally in Bill Currier, who blasted Governor Kate Brown's "endless obsession with finding new and innovative ways of taking money out of the pockets of Oregon taxpayers."

Who is Mr Currier?  The Oregon Republican Party Chairman!


From the New York Times


My concern about a bicycle tax is the same one I have almost any time a government tries to raise revenue for some ostensible purpose or another--in this case, improving bicycle and other transportation infrastructure.  New taxes--whether direct ones on sales or incomes, or less direct ones like lotteries or other government-sponsored gambling schemes--are sold to the public as a way of funding what people want and need, whether it's education or infrastructure improvements.  Too often, however, the money doesn't find its way to those stated purposes.  I've a feeling that whatever is raised from bicycle sales won't go to bike lanes (which, more often than not, are of questionable value anyway) or other facilities for cycling, or even for other forms of non-automotive transportation.

17 July 2017

Henry James Had Two Words For This

Summer afternoon--summer afternoon; to me, those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.




So wrote Henry James in An International Eposiode.

I have a confession:  For a semester in college, I couldn't decide which I hated more:  James' The Wings of the Dove or the professor who assigned it.  Or maybe I hated Henry James even more because, well, at that time I had to hate (or, at least, make some gesture of rebelling against) something.  It was easy to rationalize a distaste for his work:  the sentences were long and the stories seemed to be about a bunch of upper-class twits.  I mean, to a kid from a working-class Italian-American family in Brooklyn and New Jersey, it seemed that those folks--and, perhaps James himself--simply had too much time on their hands.

Of course, you know that if you hate something enough when you're young, at some point later on, you'll go straight for it.  For me, it actually didn't take very long to change my opinion about James:  a few months later, I found myself reading some essays, and still later novels, by James Baldwin.  He grew up poor in Harlem, so it was easy for me to feel sympathy for him.  The funny thing is that, in style, no American writer is more similar to James.  And, I had to admit to myself that it was exactly what I liked about his writing.  Then, wonder of wonders, I came across a Baldwin essays in which he cited James as an influence. 

So, to my way of thinking at that time, if Henry James was good enough for James Baldwin, he would suit me just fine.

Besides:  How could I hate a writer who could come up with a sentence like the one at the beginning of this post?  

During yesterday's ride--to Connecticut--I could see what he meant.  Blue sky, full trees and flowers, all so serene.  Who couldn't find beauty in that.  And, the sound of the two words echoes the feeling very well.



Who wouldn't ride to the sight--or sound--of a summer afternoon?  Sometimes I think Arielle, my Mercian Audax, responds to such things as much as I do!

16 July 2017

Sound Repairs

If a restaurant doesn't post its prices on its menu, I probably can't afford it.  

I learned that lesson the hard way on my first trip to Europe.  On a wonderful day of riding through the Loire Valley, I was ready for a nice meal.  So I stopped at an utterly charming restaurant where the staff were oh-so-friendly and attractive and the food was even better than I dreamed they'd be.  I would have enjoyed the meal and the ambience, I think, even if I hadn't been hungry and spent the day pedaling.

I was in Nirvana or paradise or whatever you want to call it...until I got the check.  That meal didn't cost much less than my budget for a whole week!  At least I didn't have to worry about a tip:  In France, that's included (service compris). 

Now, I must say that the rule about menu prices doesn't necessarily apply to bicycle shops.  Some post "menus" of repair prices.  Of the shops in which I worked, none followed the practice.  The reason was that, very often, repairs turn out to be more complicated than they seemed at first glance:  The flat tire might have been caused by protruding spokes, which means re-truing or re-building a wheel (or even replacing it) rather than simply installing a new inner tube.  Or that creak or other noise might come from a crack in a frame tube caused by a fall that the rider might not have given a second thought because he or she rode home after it.

(I can honestly say that, in spite of the fact they didn't post "menus", none of those shops charged more than others in their area for repairs.  Two of them, however, advertised "tune up specials" where, for a fixed price, cables were replaced, bearings and chains lubed and adjustments were made.)

I got to thinking about "menu" pricing after I came across this:



Imagine if we could determine what needed to be done, and what it would cost, simply by listening!   For all I know, at least one mechanic with whom I worked may have been doing that:  He used to work with a stethoscope hanging from his neck!  Then again, he took substances that may or may not have been legal at the time, so he may have heard things I never would have.


15 July 2017

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Bicycle

What is the greatest threat the hat industry ever faced?

No, it wasn't the Reign of Terror.  

Since you are reading this blog, you may have already guessed that it was--the bicycle!



Believe it or not, in 1896, supposedly sane and rational businesspeople actually believed that the bicycle would bring an end to la fabrication des chapeaux. Apparently, cyclists were wearing cheaper caps and saving their more expensive headwear for special occasions--or doing without it altogether.  One irate hatter even proposed asking Congress to pass a law that would have required every cyclist to purchase at least two felt hats a year.

But the makers of cranial coverings weren't the only ones who feared for their livelihoods because of the newfangled two-wheelers.  Before the bicycle craze of the 1890s, men went for a shave and haircut on Saturday afternoons, in preparation for a night out.  "Now they go off on a bicycle and do not care whether they are shaved or not," lamented one barber.

(Imagine how he would react to today's young male denizens of Portland, Oregon and Williamsburg, Brooklyn!)

Shoemakers also complained they were losing business because people weren't walking.  Not surprisingly, cigar makers were in a panic:  Even in those days, before people knew about the health hazards of smoking, pedal pushers saw that cycling and stogies didn't go together very well.  Saloon owners said they were losing business because cyclists preferred other beverages to beer.  And, interestingly, booksellers complained that times were tough because people were riding instead of reading.

That last complaint seems really odd to me:  Cyclists, at least the ones I know, tend to read more than other people.  Perhaps things were different in 1896.

Moreover, I haven't seen that cycling keeps people from drinking beer.  Now, I can understand the panic of cigar makers:  I can't think of a single cyclist I've ever known who smoked them.  Then again, I've never known a lot of people who smoked cigars.  For the record, I've smoked two in my entire life, and don't plan on lighting another.

Jason Feifer, the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur, talks about the "panic" I've described to make this point:  that change should be embraced rather than fought.  We may be experiencing another "golden age" of bicycling and, he explains, it presents all sorts of business opportunities, some in industries that have no apparent relation to cycling.  He draws parallels with other innovations that some companies should have embraced, but didn't--or did so when it was too late.  For example, he says, music companies should not have resisted streaming, any more than energy companies should have shied away from solar technology.

All you have to do is look at how many books about cycling and bike-themed beers are on the market to understand what he means!

P.S.:  A reproduction of the photo in this post hangs on my wall--next to my bicycles, of course!


14 July 2017

Why Their Mood Is Festive

Today is, of course, la fete nationale francaise:  Bastille Day.



Well, the French have two things to cheer on this day.


One is that one of their own, Warren Barguil, won today's stage of the Tour de France.  In addition, he now wears the polka-dot jersey, awarded to the leading climber in the race.

And what's the other?  Well, it depends on your point of view, but I'm sure most of Barguil's compatriots would agree:  Donald Trump has gone home.

These days, being shocked when The Orange One commits a faux pas is a bit like just having discovered the Rolling Stones.  So nobody was surprised at his awkward handshake with Brigitte Macron, the French President's wife.  But one can be forgiven for expressing consternation after he remarked on her "good physical shape," if only because he made the comment while standing next to his wife.

Well, maybe.  After all, we are talking about a man who said, "If Ivanka weren't my daughter, I'd be dating her."

Anyway, the French actually have some more reasons for optimism.  Another Gallic rider, Romain Bardet, won yesterday's stage and moved up to third place overall.  He finished second in last year's Tour, so hope--and expectations--for him are great.

Will the festive mood continue all the way to the race's end?  Who knows?  But, with Bardet's and Barguil's stage victories, and the guy with bigger eyebrows than hands gone from their country, life is pretty good in l'hexagone.

13 July 2017

Bikes From The Night The Lights Went Out

I took Tosca, my Mercian fixed gear, out for a spin this morning. My plan was to finish before the worst of the heat and humidity we would experience this afternoon.  I succeeded at that, and at avoiding the downpour that would end them.

My ride took me through, among other places, the non-hipster parts of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Believe it or not, they still exist, mainly south of the Williamsburg Bridge and east of Bedford Avenue.  They are, in some ways, time-capsules of what this city was like, say, 40 years ago.

On this date in 1977, one of the most infamous blackouts in history darkened New York City.  Brooklyn's Broadway, which cuts through the borough from the East River to East New York, incurred some of the most serious looting and arson that night in a city that was already suffering from a reputation for anarchy.  

At that time, all of Williamsburg--and much of the rest of this city--bore more resemblance to  today's South and East Williamsburg than it does to the nightlife capital to its north and west.  Hipster-equivalents of that time never would have ventured into such a place:  In fact, about the only young white people to be found were those who were born and raised there and hadn't gone to college, joined the military or gotten out in some other way.   And, perhaps, a few punk-rockers and anti-establishment artists, who are practically the antithesis of hipsters.

You see, in the year Howard Cosell supposedly exclaimed, "The Bronx is Burning!", most residents of neighborhoods like Williamsburg were poor or blue-collar.   If they were white (usually Italian, German or Irish) they weren't young.  Those who were young, or even middle-aged, were likely to be Puerto Rican, Black or Hasidic Jews--like the folks who live in the non-hipster enclaves today.

I saw them on the streets today: the kids running and doing the kinds of things kids do everywhere when school's out.  Their mothers were never more than a few steps away, propped against poles or fences or sitting on stoops in front of the houses.  

Even with the hipsters nowhere to be seen, I saw plenty of bikes.  Some were being ridden, mainly by folks like me who were pedaling through the neighborhood.  Others were chained to parking meters, signposts and other immovable objects.  Ironically, they might have been new--or, at least, not more than a few years old--during the days to which I've alluded, but I probably would not have seen them because, in those days, there were relatively few cyclists in this city, and almost none in neighborhoods like the ones I've mentioned.

I saw this French ten-speed bike from around the mid-1970's as I spun down Franklin Avenue:





Paris Sport was a "house" brand for bikes imported by Park Cycle and Sports of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey.  They were made by several French manufacturers, most commonly Dangre-Starnord, a company based in Valenciennes (a northern French town along the Paris-Roubaix race route) that also sold bikes under the France-Sport and Nord-Star brands.

So it's not surprising that the bike resembles machines from Gitane, Jeunet and Mercier made in that era.  What I found interesting, though, were some of the apparent changes.







The reason this bike caught my eye was the Sun Tour bar end shifters ("Barcons").  One rarely sees them on any bike parked on a New York street, and they certainly were not original equipment on the bike.  More likely, the bike had shifters on the down tube or handlebar stem, and they probably would have been made by Huret, the manufacturer of the "Svelto" derailleur that probably is orignial equipment.




Seeing Weinmann "Vainqueur" centerpull brakes on a French bike is not unusual. However, if you look closely, you will see that the "yoke" that pulls on the straddle cable is not Weinmann's.  This one looks clunkier, and the cable hangers on the steerer tube and seat bolt are thinner than the ones that usually came with Weinmann brakes.  The hangers look like they could be Mafac, but may have been from CLB, whose  brakes and fitments (except for their later "Professional" sidepulls) looked like cruder versions of Mafac's offerings.




I am guessing that someone simply replaced parts as they needed replacing, or simply didn't have the money to do a complete "makeover".  (I mean, what else would explain such good shift levers with such ordinary derailleurs?)  I am also guessing that whoever rides the bike now "inherited" it from somebody and has no idea of what I'm talking about.

The same might be said for this bike parked a few blocks away:





It's the first time I've seen a Royce Union--or, for that matter, any bike with a chainguard like that--in such a color.






It looks like the same model as (or one similar to) the Royce Union three-speed my grandfather gave me about three years before I could ride it. Like my old bike, it was made in Japan.  But the color--and the head tube that could have passed for aluminum if not for the rust spots--reminded me of a bike I often saw a couple of decades later:




The Vitus 979 was, of course, one of the first widely-ridden aluminum frames.  It was available in anodized blue, green, gold, red, purple and the pink shown in the above photo.  As much as I love the other colors, whenever someone mentions the Vitus 979, that rose hue is the first that comes to my mind.




Somehow I doubt that the Royce Union came with such a finish.  I suspect that the bike had once been purple or magenta, or perhaps even red, and had faded--a common fate for the paint on Japanese bikes of the time.

At least it's being used, or looks as if it is, if not by its original owner--who may or may not have lived in the neighborhood the night the lights went out.


12 July 2017

En Danseuse: Le Mot Juste

Laura Lawless is a self-taught "maven of the French language."  I subscribe to her website, which is full of all sorts of interesting and useful items, from lessons on vocabulary and reflexive verbs to articles about various aspect of French culture and history.

She does not neglect "La Grand Boucle", a.k.a. the Tour de France.  The other day, her post included a list of French cycling-related terms.  You probably know some of them already.  One of my favorites is "en danseuse", for a rider who's standing up, i.e., doing a "track stand".  I have long argued that the best (or, at least, my favorite) sculptures are a still form of dance.  And it takes as much athleticism and coordination to do a stand as it does to ride well, in my opinion!





11 July 2017

Another Day In The Good Life

Sometimes the weather forecasters like to scare us.  Or so it seems.  Today, they gave us dire warnings of "possible" or "likely" thunderstorms this afternoon.

Whatever they were trying to accomplish, their admonitions worked for me.  I got out nice and early for a ride today--on Arielle.  She seemed as happy as I was:  Even when I pedaled into the wind--as I did for about half of my 125-kilometer ride--she just kept on going.  And I felt that I could, too.




In fact, when a very light rain sprinkled the streets, sand and stones of Point Lookout, I wanted to ride even more.  Rain on a warm day can sometimes has that effect on me.  The precipitation, though, didn't last as long as the cup of coffee I drank at the Point.

The clouds looked more ominous than they actually are--at least to me, or anyone else who is familiar with the weather patterns.  The tides swelled, but the clouds were moving south and east--in other words, out to the sea whose waves were growing.




In contrast to yesterday's ride to Connecticut, the trek to the Point is flat, which may be a reason why it seemed so easy.  In fact, my round-trip didn't took four hours, and I wasn't even trying to "make time"--and I took a slightly longer-than-normal route from Forest Park back to my apartment.

By the time I got home, though, I did make time for a nice long European-style lunch:  a cod fillet I poached with  mushrooms and onions I sauteed, along with a simple salad of Boston lettuce, sliced carrots and beets pickled with dill in Balsmic vinegar.  I washed it all down with  a small wedge of Mimolette: a reddish-orange French cheese that looks and tastes oddly, though pleasantly, like butterscotch.  If that doesn't make it a dessert cheese, I don't know what does.

Yes, Max and Marlee got small pieces of cod, too.  I'm not cruel enough to make them watch me while I eat food they'd love without sharing some with them.  Of course, I held the onions, mushrooms and everything else!

I didn't have to go to work today.  I got to ride and have a nice meal, if I do say so myself.  I had the company of two cats.  And I'm going to do some more writing after I finish this post.  Am I privileged, or what?

(I apologize for the photos, which I took with my cheapo cell phone!)