31 July 2017

Home Yet?

I spent most of yesterday sleeping just long enough to wake up needing more sleep but not being able to get it--and staying awake just long enough to get nothing done.  I guess that's normal after crossing a few time zones.

Anyway, I am going to take a ride today.  I haven't decided where just yet.  Maybe I'll just get on my bike and let it decide, as I sometimes do.

One thing I must say, though, is that the streets here seem so wide after pedaling through passages like this:

Will my ride make me happy to be home again--or miss Italy?  Probably both!

30 July 2017

It's Great To Be Back So I Could Tell You How Much I Wish To Be Back In Italy

Now I'm back in La Grande Mela.  I'm still on Italian time and, really, want to stay on it for as long as I can.  I'm not talking, of course, about being six hours later than New York, but about living like an Italian.  

Of course, for my first meal back, I had two bagels.  I mean, after being in Italy, what was I going to eat in New York--pizza? Pasta?

I'm going to tell you more--and share those photos that would still be uploading had I tried to share them in Italy!--after I redecorate my apartment:

and take a nice Italian-style lunch break!

29 July 2017

An Italian Linus?

In Rome, I haven't seen as many cyclists as I have in, say, Paris, New York or even Firenze (Florence).  That means, of course, that I haven't seen as many interesting or unusual old bikes parked on the streets. 

I have seen some people ride bikes with the legendary names of Itaian--and European--cycling on them.  I am thinking of Mosers, Viners, and others known for classic racing machines (and victories in the great races).  Take away the decals or transfers, and some of those bikes  would look like those aluminum things with toothpaste welds and flashy paint.

But there seem to be  a few bright spots, even as the world shifts to aluminum and carbon fiber

"Adriatica" seems to be doing in Italy what Linus is doing in the US:  offering practical yet vintage-inspired bikes in steel.  I saw this one in a shop near my hotel.

28 July 2017

Going The Appian Way And Becoming Native

I ended yesterday's post by asking, rhetorically, "How lost was I today?"

Well, today I fooled a few people into thinking I wasn't lost at all.  I wasn't trying to do any such thing; it just happened.

You see, I began by riding past the Colosseum and through a portal in a huge stone wall that once formed part of the gate around the city.  At one time, most cities were so fortified and the entrances in them were called "portas" ("portes" in French).  Many of those places still retain those names, and there is usually a piazza (or place or the equivalent) where the door or gate used to be.  And a road leading to that porte might parallel--or might in fact be--a road that led to the gate or door.

Anyway, after passing through the Porta San Sebastiano, I turned onto another road I followed for maybe half a kilometer to a road that had more traffic than I wanted to deal with.  So I made a U-turn and, near the Porta, took a right, which took me onto a road with a stone wall on one side and trees on the other.  I didn't see a sign for it but it was, or became, the Via Appia Antica.  You probably have heard of it:  The Old Appian Road, or The Appian Way. 

Although it's narrow and doesn't have a shoulder for most of its route, it's actually safe for cycling, mainly because the drivers are accustomed to seeing us (as well as pedestrians and runners).  If traffic approaching from the opposite direction doesn't leave a driver on your side of the road with enough room to pass you, he or she will wait.  At least, they did for me.

Along Appia are some of the catacombs.  I stopped at the one of St. Callistus which, the guide averred, is "the most important" because the very first Popes were interred there until they were exhumed and moved to what would become the Vatican.  Photography isn't allowed in any of the catacombs, but I think the images of those layers of tombs as well as the living spaces and even chapels that were carved into the ground will stay with me.  

As our guide mentioned, the catacombs along Appia were outside Rome's city walls because, at the time they were built, Christianity still wasn't allowed in Rome.  After seeing the dome of the Pantheon yesterday, I was intrigued by, among other things, the skylights that were built into the catacombs.  They were needed for ventilation and light, but I realized they--particularly the ones atop the chapels--served another purpose:  They directed the worshipers' vision upward, i.e., toward heaven.  When I understood that, I realized that much of what one sees inside a cathedral serves the same purpose, and I couldn't help but to wonder whether cathedrals were thus influenced by chapels in the catacombs.

After that interesting tour, led by a nice young lady, I rode further along Appia to some other road I couldn't identify, which led me into some other areas with those charming terra cotta and sun-colored houses surrounded by fields or woods.  I just kept on following the roads I was on simply because I was enjoying the ride.  Even after I made a couple of "wrong" turns and found myself in one of those suburban industrial zones one finds just outside European cities, I wasn't worried.  

Eventually, I saw signs pointing in the direction of "Roma" and, a little later "Centro" and, still later, "Colosseum".  So of corse I followed them and found myself wending along some old streets not much wider than most of the cars in this country.  I passed the intersection of the Four Fountains and stopped to drink water and eat yellow plums in the Piazza Santa Susanna, where a four-century-old church named for her occupies the former site of the Baths of Diocletan.  

Well, I was there for maybe thirty seconds when an Asian couple from California asked how to get to the Quirinal--the place with the great viewing spot I discovered yesterday.  I pointed and told them, "Just keep going, up this hill, about half a kilometer."

No sooner had I finished that sentence when three young dark-skinned women approached me.  I overheard them speaking French as I helped the Asian couple, so when one asked how to get to Termini--the main rail station--I told her, "Descendez la" as I pointed in their direction.  "Passez trois coins, tournez a droite et descendez."  Pass three corners, then turn to your right, and keep going.  

Yet another Asian couple saw me giving directions and, after the young women left, asked whether I spoke English. I nodded, and they asked whether I knew how to get to the Trevi Fountain.  I did, and even assured them that yesterday I made a wrong turn in the very spot where we stood but found my way to the Fountain, which actually was close by.

I guess people figure that cyclists know their way around.  In some places, I do. But just yesterday I was as lost and confused as the people I helped (I hope!) today.

27 July 2017

Finding My Corner

Sometimes I enjoy "getting lost".  Of course, sometimes it's part of finding my way.  But the pleasure comes in unexpected pleasures experienced along the way.  It might be an interesting building or landscape feature I hadn't seen before, or simply a new sensory experience or insight about something.  Other times, it's nice just to have the freedom to not travel in a perfect linear path.

I have to admit, though, that even when I'm riding for pleasure, it can get frustrating to find myself looping back to the same place three or four times.  New York has a grid pattern, even if it breaks down in places, so it's possible to go only so far astray.  Paris's streets are mostly straight, but they usually begin and end in some sort of circle or square place.  Also, because there are only a couple of really tall buildings in the City of Light, it's easy to use them to orient myself.

Now, here in Rome, they didn't have a Baron Haussmann who tried to make straight lines out of their ancient winding roads.  And, although it shares Paris' preponderance of low to mid-level buildings, the tallest or highest-standing structures (like the Vatican) don't always stand out because the city is hilly.  (Paris is mostly flat.)  In this sense, it's a lot like Prague, where I cycled a few years ago.  

I was completely unfamiliar with the geography of the Czech capital before I started riding it, so it didn't frustrate me when I found myself circling about, or simply ending up in a completely different part of town from where I intended to go.  On the other hand, I thought I still had some knowledge of this city, though I must say that I didn't cycle the last time I was here.  Turns out, I remembered some specific spots more than I could recall what's between them.  I tried, at times, to follow parts of the route on which Roberto took me, and later marked on a map.  Of course, I was trying to find my way without his knowledge of this city--and with my navigational skills, which rival those of a guy who thought he was headed to the land of the Punjabs but instead landed somewhere near Port au Prince.

Finally, after I found myself at the intersection of via XX Settembre, Corso d'Italia and via Nomentana for the fifth time, I gave up all hope of going to any of the sites I thought I just have to see before this trip is over. For one thing, I reminded myself that, for all the time I've lived in New York and spent in Paris--and for all the bike trips I took in France--I haven't even come close to seeing everything that's worth seeing.  And, I reminded myself, even if I miss the Trevi Fountain this time, it can't be a whole lot different from how it was when I saw it in 1996.  

After making that realization, I found a great viewing spot across from the Quirinale.  And, a couple of minutes later, I found what I think is my favorite spot in Rome:

I mean, where else can you find an intersection that has a fountain on each of its four corners--and each of those fountains is whimsical, and even beautiful?  

The funny thing is that a few minutes later, I found myself at Trevi, almost without trying.

The real highlight of this day, though, was going to the Pantheon:

In a previous post, I mentioned that it took New York City seven and a half years to build a toilet stall in the Brooklyn park where I spent many hours of my childhood.  Although it incorporates "green" technology found in other state-of-the-art facilities (Does that strike you as a funny phrase to use in reference to a toilet stall?), it isn't innovative or unusual, at least in a technical sense.  And it cost more, per square foot, than it would take to buy the most expensive apartment in Trump Tower!

Nearly two milennia ago, the Emperor Hadrian built this monument, if I'm not mistaken, in two years. Moreover, this dome is something that nobody would know how to construct, even today.  For one thing, no one is entirely sure about the materials used: It's said to be concrete, but to my understanding, concrete was not widely, if at all, used at that time.  Also, it's unsupported and half again as wide in diameter as the dome on the US Capitol building.

One of the reasons why the Pantheon still stands today is that since 609 it has been known as, officially, the Church of St. Mary and The Martyrs.  Although most people still call it the Pantheon (after the Greek word for "all of the gods"; pandemonium, a word coined by John Milton in Paradise Lost, means "all demons"), it is a Roman Catholic house of worship--which is probably what saved it from being destroyed during the Middle Ages, as many other "pagan" structures were.  

(Interestingly, one might argue that the reason the Hagia Sophia stands today is that it became a mosque.  Had it remained a Christian church, it might not have survived the Moorish invasion.)

Hmm....How lost was I today?

26 July 2017

On Seeing Mike Again

Back in Rome today.  Rented a Bici & Baci bike again.  This time they gave me a shinier, prettier one than what I rode the other day.  Now, if only I were shinier and prettier....

Anyway, I don't know whether the riding actually got easier or I was simply more prepared than I was the other day.  The hills, even when they seemed to "come out of nowhere", didn't feel as steep. Also, I could swear it was a few degrees cooler than it was on Sunda.

Today, after spending the morning on the hills, I stopped for an espresso in a bar close to where I'd spend much of the afternoon.  A guy ordered two cappucinos and paid for them.  Then he started to carry them out to sidewalk terrace tables.  One of the bar's owners tried to stop him, but he was about twice the owner's size.  

I stepped in. "Engleesh?"  Europeans generally don't ask for your nationality; the usually ask what language you speak.  "So, "Engleesh" can mean American, Australian or of course British.  What I found funny, later, is that I asked in the same way the bar owner would have asked, with his accent.

The guy seemed to nod and I explained that it costs more to sit at the terrace than it does to stand at the bar.  That is the custom, not only in Italy, but in France and other European countries.  The guy still seemed determined to go out on the terrace until the owner started dialing the police.

Then the customer decided to abandon his capuccinos and walk out the door.  The owner thanked me, even if what I did was of dubious value. 

From there, it was on to the Vatican, where I walked up all the steps to the bell tower.  First you stop at an observation deck near the top of St. Peter's Basilica, but can barely see anything because a chainlink fence with small holes doesn't offer vey many good sightlines.

After that, I followed the crowds to the Vatican Museum for the same reason 99 percent of the people went:  to the ceiling Michelangelo painted on the Sistene Chapel.  I had seen it before, but there was no way I was going to leave Rome without seeing it again, the insane crowds ( worse than the ones boarding the 2 and 3 trains at Times Square during a weekday morning rush hour) and 16 Euro admission (roughly $19 at today's rates) price be damned. 

Now here's something I don't get:  The Sistene is part of a "museum" which means, of course, that they can charge for admission.  On the other hand, we're told that it's a "sacred space", so security guards try--mostly in vain-- to keep crowds quiet.  But they mostly succeed at preventing photography:  I, along with a few other people were told to stash our cameras in our bags. 

So...Is it a place of worship?  Or is it a museum?  Whatever the case, their ban on photography spurs a lot of book, poster and other sales in the Vatican gift shop!

At least I got to the Vatican by bike this time.  I am thankful for small things.

25 July 2017

If "F" Is For "Firenze", "M" Is For...

I am going to make yet another confession.  This one may shock, surprise or even appall those of you who know anything about me.

You see...I once took a Gender Studies course.  Now that might seem like a confession in and of itself.   The real "dim dark secret", though, is that I didn't complete it.  

The instructor wasn't the problem:  She was actually very good.  For me, it was this:  The readings seemed very trite.  That is, once I translated them.  No, I wasn't reading French or German theorists.  Rather, I was rendering them from the abstruse, abstract terminology and the tortured sentence structure in which they were written--only to find that the authors were saying things I already knew or that were opinions masquerading as principles.  To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, "There was no there there."

So why was I thinking about that today, as I wound my way through the rooms of the Uffizi Gallery?  Well, one Michelangelo Buonarroti (yes, that Michelangelo) could have taught that class a good part of what they need to know about gender with this painting

The Holy Family with the Infant St. John The Baptist, also known as the Doni Tondo, is Michelangelo's only known panel painting.  Forget about all the little nude boys in the background:  Il Maestro definitely knew a thing or two about women

You guys all know, deep down, that no matter how strong or fast you are, nothing you do compares with the strength women exhibit in giving birth, raising children or doing any number of other things.  I find it humbling, to say the least:  Today, I cannot match the feats of strength or endurance, on my bicycle or otherwise, I could muster in my younger years.  Moreover, I have not given, and cannot give, birth.

So this is a country where a woman can have an arm muscle like Popeye's, after he's eaten his spinach

That, in a country where real men once wore skirts:

Image result for how ancient Roman men dressed

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 on a 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


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

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.