Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

24 August 2019

Rewarded For Her Advocacy

Every month, the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina gives its Golden Pen award.  The most recent recipient won for a letter on a topic that's too often ignored or reported in an uninformed way.  

Rebecca Vaughn of nearby Mount Pleasant and her husband are committed to depending entirely on their bicycles for transportation at least one day every week.  They are able to get around safely, she says, because of an established network of bike lanes in the town.  Once they venture out of their hometown, however, "the lack of safe spaces, particularly along the Highway 17 and 61 corridors is evident," she wrote.  

In her letter, she also notes that there is no safe way to cross the Ashley River by bicycle.  That is particularly frustrating, she writes, because in West Ashley, on the other side of the river, there are bike lanes that make it possible to navigate much of the town on two wheels.

In her letter, she noted that a bike-and-pedestrian bridge over the Ashley River would allow cyclists like herself and her husband to cycle from their homes, through downtown Charleston and into West Ashley and beyond.  This linkage would provide community benefits and help "unlock a piece of the puzzle that will allow residents and visitors to enjoy a safe transportation choice," she wrote. She concluded by urging her senators--Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott--to lead the effort to secure the necessary federal funds.

As part of the Golden Pen award, Ms. Vaughn will be invited to a luncheon with the Post and Courier editorial staff.  I assume she will ride to it.

23 August 2019

A Thief Poses As A Manager

In my time, I've heard of people who impersonated doctors, lawyers and other learned professionals.  Hey, I even recall stories about someone else who posed as a Saudi prince and a guy who managed to pass himself off as a Rockefeller relative.

But a bike shop manager?

Folks who pretend to be doctors, lawyers, princes and Rockefellers managed to bilk people out of lots of money.  But the old joke about the bike industry is that if you can get into it, you can end up with a small fortune.  How?  Start off with a big one.

Also, I have to admit that as long as medical procedures or cases aren't botched, it can be pretty funny to watch an impostor hoist on his or her own petard.  The ersatz Saudi prince did himself in when, at dinner in a fancy restaurant with a would-be investor in one of his schemes, he ordered an appetizer of prosciutto.  The phony Rockefeller's scheme ended when one of his would-be investors wondered why he, if he was a Rockefeller, he spoke with a French accent.

They lived high while their schemes lasted.  But what bike shop manager ever got to date a Playboy model or live in Mickey Rourke's house? 

So why would someone pose as a bike shop manager?  To sell stolen bikes.  

That, according to Colorado State University police, is what 23-year-old Gordon Stone was doing when they arrested him.  He took photos of  bikes parked on the Fort Collins campus and posted them on the "Let's Go" app--with the name of John Lambert, who manages the Recycled Cycles shop near the campus.  

Someone would spot the photo of, say, a GT Transeo, and because Lambert's name and Recycled Bicycles were attached to it, assume it was legitimate.  When that person expressed interest in the bike, Stone would go to the campus, cut the lock and sell the bike for a fraction of what it would cost in the shop.

Lambert found out about the scheme only when a friend texted him to ask whether he was still selling a certain bike--the Transeo--online.  "I responded with, what?" he recalls.  

He says that Stone's actions have hurt the shop's, and his, reputation.  Now that Stone has been arrested, Lambert says he may pursue defamation charges against him.  After all, the reason what do a shop and its manager have besides their reputation?

22 August 2019

A Bike Reunites Them

If anyone has ever given you a bicycle, you haven't forgotten it.  Even if the bike is long gone, you still have a memory of the person who gave it to you--especially if you were very young when you were so gifted.

That memory can be a very powerful force--enough, it turns out, to reunite you, a quarter-century later, with the person who gave you the "freedom machine." 

The power of that memory is intensified if you are a small child in a foreign country where you and your parent are just learning to speak the language--and your homeland is in ruins.

When Mevan Babakar was five years old, she and her mother left war-torn Iraq on an odyssey that took them through Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia before they arrived in the Netherlands.   A man befriended them while they lived at a refugee center in the city of Zolle. "My mum said the greatest thing he did was listen when nobody really treated you like a human," she recalls of the kind stranger.

Image: "For me it was a playground," says Mevan Babakar of her time as a five-year old refugee at the reception center in Zwolle, Netherlands.
Mevan Babakar as a child refugee in the Netherlands

After Babakar and her family moved out of the center, the man visited them and presented them with bicycles.  "I will never forget how joyous I felt," she explains.  "It's not about my bike, it's about my self-worth."

Eventually, she and her mother settled in London, where her father joined them.  They lost touch with the man.  (If you are young, remember that we are talking about a time before Facebook or most other social media.)  But, of course, she did not forget him.

Recently, she took a trip to re-trace her family's journey.  One stop took her to Zolle, where she hoped to find the man and thank him for his kindness.  After a series of dead-ends, she posted an old photo of her with the man on Twitter.  Arjen van der Zee, a volunteer journalist in the city, spotted it and recognized the man as a former co-worker in the center.  

He took her to a town about an hour away, just on the other side of the Dutch border with Germany.  The man--who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Egbert, believed his gesture "wasn't all that much to make a fuss about," but was "grateful that it brought us together again."

He's 72 years old now and is happy that his wish for Mevan Babakar came true.  "He was proud that I'd become a strong and brave woman."

I like to think that getting a bicycle had something to do with it.

21 August 2019

When Is A Bicycle "Irrelevant"?

I was intrigued by the headline:  Woman Flees Police On Irrelevant Bicycle.

It got me to wondering:  What, exactly, is an irrelevant bicycle?  Is it one that can't be ridden anymore?  Or is "Irrelevant" a brand?  (Now that would be terrible marketing!)

Turns out, said velocipede matched the description of one that was stolen in Hilo, Hawaii.  That is why cops pursued its rider--29-year-old Maria Duquette.  I probably would have believed, as they did, that she stole the bike, which she used to lead the gendarmes in a wild chase through Hilo Town to the Hilo Bay Front.  There, she ditched the wheels and jumped into the water.  

She swam, and cops lost sight of her.  A helicopter and boat search didn't yield any sign of her.  Later, though, someone saw her on Coconut Island.  She tried, again, to swim away, but officers pursued her into the ocean and took her into custody.  She was charged with traffic violations related to the chase and disobeying an officer's direction.

So they got their perp.  But, as it turned out, the bicycle wasn't the one that was reported stolen.  I guess that's what the headline writer meant by "irrelevant"--to the investigation.

As some of you might know, newspaper headlines are almost never written by the person who wrote the article.  I am sure that such was the case for the story and title I've linked.  I feel sorry for whoever wrote the article:  When I wrote for a newspaper, a few of my articles bore titles (not written by me, of course!) that were silly or even irrelevant.

20 August 2019

A 400-Year Debt

My birthday is 4 July:  US Independence Day.  So, what I am about to say may seem treasonous, or even sacrilegious, to some.

The most important, if not the singular defining, event of US history did not happen on 4 July 1776.  Rather, it occurred 400 years ago on this date.

On 20 August 1619, the White Lion (you can't make this stuff up!) landed in Point Comfort, near present-day Hampton, Virginia.  Of the White Lion's commander, one Captain John Jope, colonist John Rolfe wrote, "He brought not any thing but 20.  And odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Merchant bought for victuals."

The details that would have fleshed out Rolfe's clinical description are lost to history.  Did he mean that  twenty-some-odd black people disembarked from the vessel?  What sort of "victuals" were exchanged for the captive human beings?  Peanuts?  Corn?  Barley?

What is not in doubt is that the dark-skinned arrivals from Africa were the first documented black slaves in America.  This does not mean, of course, that they were the first black slaves in the so-called New World:   Columbus reportedly brought slaves on his second voyage, and some historians argue that there were Africans--who may or may not have been slaves--on this side of the Atlantic even before Columbus' arrival.  But the arrival of black slaves on the White Lion is the first documented importation of African slaves to the soil of what would become the United States.  Moreover, it is the first documented sale of slaves.

The White Lion was not the first ship in which those slaves would be imprisoned on their way from the West Coast of Africa to the East Coast of North America. They started their terrible journey on the San Juan Bautista (really), bound for the Spanish colony of Vera Cruz on the coast of what would become Mexico.

But just a couple of days before the San Juan Bautista would have reached port (Transatlantic journeys in those days typically took about two months), it was attacked by pirates looking for Spanish gold.  Some of those pirates were on the White Lion; the others sailed on the Treasurer, which would arrive in Virginia a few days later.

As James Baldwin has pointed out, African-Americans are the only race of people (save for Native Americans) to be conceived in America.  And, at the time he was writing his seminal essays, the United States was the only nation besides South Africa that had a legal definition for black people--and used it to subjugate them.

I believe, as some black historians and writers believe, that the arrival of slaves (even if they weren't the first) on this date 400 years ago marks the real beginning of American (or at least US) history.  For one thing, it marked the beginning of European subjugation of a land and its people, which would not have been possible (at least under the conditions that prevailed) without the forced labor of black people.  The wealth of this country was built, literally, on the backs of Africans, even in those parts of the country where there weren't plantations and slavery ended before the Emancipation Proclamation.

What is commonly forgotten is that during our Civil War, there were large pro-Confederate contagions in some northern cities.  In fact, New York, which then consisted only of the island of Manhattan, was a bastion of Dixie sentiment, as many of the city's bankers and merchants had ties to the cotton- and tobacco-growing industries of the South.  (In contrast, Brooklyn, which was then an independent city and didn't have the same ties to plantation owners--and where freed and runaway slaves settled in Weeksville and other communities--was staunchly pro-Union.) 

So, no matter where one was at the time of the Civil War--or long afterward--its economy was, in some way or another, a product of slavery.  Everyone in this country is a beneficiary, in some way or another.  I include myself:  My grandparents, as poor as they were, still had more rights in this country than any African (or Native American) had the day they arrived in a port built, at least in part, by the labor of those people who had no freedom--and the profits of those who traded them, or traded with plantation owners, merchants and others whose prosperity built by them.

Of course, it wasn't just our economy that "benefited" from slavery.  The terrible experiences endured by slaves--and their children who were "freed"--were the raw material of some of the greatest art this country has produced.  I am talking, of course, about works by writers like Baldwin and Toni Morrison, but also jazz--the only truly American musical genre besides country and western--which has influenced all of the music, everywhere in the world, that's come along since.

And, finally, it's hard not to think that the "generational trauma" and prejudice experienced by the descendants of slaves motivated some of the greatest athletes this country has turned out.  Forget about "some of":  I am willing to say that the four greatest athletes to come from the United States are Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, Jackie Robinson and, of course, "Major" Taylor, the incomparable cyclist who became the first African-American champion in any sport.  

The country in which I was born and have spent most of my life owes, I believe,  much more to what took place on this date 400 years ago than most people realize--or I was taught in school.

(In my next post, I'll return to matters more directly about cycling--my own and in general!)

19 August 2019

Wheels To Woodstock

We were conversing the other night, my mother and I. We talked about the usual things:  family, the weather, things that are and aren’t the way we remember them. Her doctor visits and stroll on the boardwalk, my bike ride that day, to Connecticut—and my recent trip to Greece.  Oh, and we said a thing or two about the state of the world. That the weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock came up.  She saw some footage of it on TV, she said, and became wistful.  “You know, I would’ve liked to be part of something like that.  All of those people, and they all girls along and had a good time.”  She wouldn’t have wanted to partake of the drugs—she’s never done such things. I pointed out that there were indeed intoxicating substances consumed, but among half a million attendees, there must have been at least a few people who didn’t “toke” or “drop”.

Of course, she could no more have made the trek than I could’ve: “I had four young kids”—one of them being, of course, yours truly.

As with the Stonewall Rebellion, which happened a few weeks earlier, a lot of mythology and misconception surrounds what one commentator has called “the world’s first viral event.”  (Interestingly, ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, was getting started around the same time.). But from what I’ve seen, heard and read, my mother’s perception about the camaraderie of Woodstock is accurate:  According to police and civilian reports, there were no reports of violence.  Also, there were only two overdoses reported.

On the other hand, one of the major misconceptions about the event is it’s location:  It wasn’t in the town of Woodstock.  The name came from the company that organized the event, which was actually held nearly 40 miles away from the fabled Catskills ‘burg.

I’ve been there three times, twice on bicycle tours of the area.  There’s lots of lovely riding up that way and, not surprisingly, the area is well-served by bike shops.

The upstate New York haven is far from the only town called “Woodstock.”  Every US State seems to have one and many seem to have more than their share of cyclists—and bike shops.

Here is a bike that would look out of place in any Woodstock—actual, historical, mythical or otherwise.

18 August 2019

What Did You Hear?

You're pedaling down a litter-strewn street or a pebbly path.  You hear something go "clang".  And you feel a thump.

You wonder:

17 August 2019

Any Color, As Long As It's....Plum?

How might the world be a different place if Henry Ford had said that a customer could have a Model T "in any color so long as it is plum"?

Better yet...What if he'd offered a bicycle in that one shade?  He did, after all, repair, design and manufacture bicycles before he turned his attention to automobiles.

The closest we may come to answering the answer to those questions comes in the form of RE:CYCLE, a bike just developed by the Swedish start-up firm Velosophy.

So how did plum purple (which, as you've probably guessed, I love) come to be the one and only color  you can choose for your RE:CYCLE?

Well, it just happens to be the color of the Nespresso Arpeggio pod.  Turns out that Nespresso, a Nestle-owned company, has been trying to encourage the recycling of its pods, which are made of aluminum.  Turns out, the metal can be melted down and recycled almost indefinitely, so today's Nespresso pod or Coke can can be tomorrow's Swiss Army knife bodies, fancy pen or--you guessed it--bicycle frame.  As Jimmy Ostholm, the brainchild behind RE:CYCLE, says, finding a way to convert the lightweight aluminum into a material rigid enough to meet bicycle maunufacturing safety standards "isn't rocket science."  The problem, it seems, is to get consumers to embrace the idea of re-purposing the containers that brought them their "morning Joe."

The bicycle's color isn't the only clue as to its origins.  The bell is shaped like a Nespresso pod, and the front carrier has straps to hold a take-out coffee cup.  

In case you're wondering:  It takes 300 of those Arpeggio pods to make one RE:CYCLE frame.  Oh, and it takes about 150 years for one of those capsules to decompose in a landfill.  It can be argued that we'd be better off if we didn't have single-use containers in the first place. (In 2016, Hamburg, Germany became the first city to ban all types of single-use coffee pods in its government offices.)  But given the numbers I've just mentioned, the RE:CYCLE, while not the solution to all of our waste problems, is an example of how we can move toward  more circular, sustainable ways of consumption.

And you can have whatever color you want...as long as it's plum!

16 August 2019

Mayor Wants To Hold Motorist Accountable In Latest Cyclist Death

Too often, a motorist kills or maims a cyclist and gets not much more than a traffic summons--or a sympathetic pat on the back from a police officer

The cynic in me, and other cyclists, believed that Umar Baig would be the latest such driver.  Last Sunday, in Brooklyn, he sped through a red light on Coney Island Avenue. Another driver, traveling on Avenue L, T-boned his car.  Both vehicles spun out of control. One of them struck 52-year-old Jose Alzorriz of Park Slope, who became the 19th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019.  

Baig was briefly held and released.  The NYPD says it will charge him, but they did not say with what. Presumably, they will come to a determination after working with the Brooklyn District Attorney.

If Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way, Baig will not be the next driver to get tea and sympathy, and maybe a ticket.  "If you kill someone through your negligence, maybe that's not murder one, I'm not a lawyer, but I'd say it should be a serious, serious charge, with many years in prison" he declared. "It's not that that something unavoidable happened," he explained. "He blew through a red light at high speed, and someone is gone now, a family is grieving."

Let's hope that the Brooklyn DA and the NYPD see the situation as the Mayor has seen it.   Already, nearly twice as many cyclists have been killed in 2019--with more than a third of the year to go--as in all of 2018.

15 August 2019

Yes, This Is A Love Letter To Greece!

A week after my Greek adventure, I am still reflecting on it.  And my toe is still healing.

Despite that mishap, my Hellenic holiday is one of the best I've ever spent.  I know I will always return to France because it's become a part of me, but, of all of the countries I've seen, Greece is the one to which I most passionately hope to return. I didn't do as much cycling as I'd hoped, in part because of the injury.  One day, though, I hope to return and do some more cycling--and, of course, to experience more of what the country and its people have to offer.

First, let me say something about the people.  If any of you are Greek, I hope you won't take offense to this:  In all of my travels, I've been to only one other country where the people were as effusively yet genuinely friendly as the Greeks:  Turkey.  A friend of mine once described me as an "extroverted introvert."  Yet I did not find the Greeks, as outgoing as they are, intrusive.  Perhaps it has something to do with being in a country that produced philosophers who wrote about balance and harmony:  Who better to understand the introspective soul within the effervescent, demonstrative personality?

If this view isn't worth pedaling up a road with five hairpin turns, what is?

Then, of course, there is the sheer physical beauty you encounter throughout the country, whether on the islands, or in the interior or Athens.  The Aegean Sea really is as blue, and its beach waters as clear, as what you see in photos all over the Web--and in postcards!  Seeing the temple to Zeus and the sanctuary of Athena in Delphi is even more awe-inspiring than I ever expected.  And, finally, even in its grittiest alleyways, Athens has a beauty very different from any other city I've seen--in part because you're never more than a few steps from a view of the Pantheon, and a subway ride can take you through an archaeological site.

That combination of classical balance and harmony with the large, wild bursts of line and color in the graffiti that adorned abandoned villas (and, in a few cases, defaced others) paint a portrait of a people and culture who have endured difficulty--whether from the economic crisis of 2009, the military dictatorship of the '70's or the Nazi occupation--but have not been broken.  Although I still love New York, so much of what I first loved about it has been co-opted or even destroyed by the pursuit of profit, always by those who already have much.  I don't know what the future holds for Athens, or for Greece, but I sense that Greeks young and old, contrary to what you may have heard, work hard but are still working to live, not living to (or for) work.

Finally--since this a blog about cycling, after all--I will say something about cycling.  I greatly enjoyed the cycling I did, although (or perhaps because) cycling in Greece was a very different experience.  Riding in Athens is different from riding in New York because the streets are narrower and there are almost no bike lanes.  (In fact, the only lane I encountered was the one I rode to the marina.)  Also, motorists are different:  A cyclist needs to be careful because most Athenian motorists aren't accustomed to seeing us.  This is in contrast with the open hostility one too often encounters from drivers in New York and other American cities, and is an even starker contrast to the relative bicycle-friendliness of, say, Paris or Montreal, let alone Amsterdam.

There is, as Manos at Athens by Bike told me, "no bike culture in this city, at least not yet."  Along the route to the marina--which parallels the #1 (green) Metro line, I did notice a shop in the process of opening, and there were a couple of stalls in the Flea Market that were as well-stocked (albeit with local brands) as shops I've seen elsewhere.  But in the city, or on the islands, you're not going to find the lycra-clad cyclists on carbon-fiber bikes.  They may show up one day, but I didn't see them on this trip.  On the other hand, in the countryside between Athens and Delphi, I did see a few cyclists who looked like they were doing some serious training on late-model, high-quality road and mountain bikes.

But as much as I like bike "culture," cycling is all about riding.  And people.  And places.  And history and culture.  Oh, and food.  Greece has all of that, which is why I want to return.  Maybe, by then, there will be more "cycling culture"--or I will help to create it!

14 August 2019

How Did It Get Here?

Now I'm going to subject you to another "look at what I found parked on the street" post.

I've seen this bike a few times before, locked to a post underneath the elevated tracks on 31st Street.  It's a spot I pass often, as it's right by Parisi bakery, a Dollar Tree store and a pub whose name I can't remember because I never go to it.

In my neighborhood, Astoria, you can see a greater variety of bikes than in most other New York City communities.  Even so, this one is unusual:  It's more like bikes I saw in Cambodia and Laos than anything I've found here.

First of all, that top tube has to be one of the thinnest I've ever seen.

And that internally-expanding rear hub brake is something, I believe, that has never been standard equipment on any bike made in, or exported to, the US.  I've seen brakes like it on a few older bikes in Europe, but not in the US.

I'm guessing that someone brought that bike with him or her from Southeast Asia or Europe.  

13 August 2019

What’s This, Mulder?

While pedaling streets that straddle and crisscross the Brooklyn-Queens border, I came across this:

It looks like a decent bike, but the frame is obviously not custom or even the product of a small-volume builder.  That is why it caught my eye:  Rarely, if ever, are mass-produced mixte or women’s frames found in such a large size.

I tried, but couldn’t, determine its provenance.  A couple of details, like the heart-shaped cutout in the seat lug, led me to think it’s Japanese because my old Nishiki had a similar detail.  Also, the largest mass-produced diamond frame on a 700c-wheel bike—71 cm—was made, ironically, in Japan by Panasonic.

On the other hand, the shape of the twin laterals made me think of French bikes.  Also, the only part that seems to be original—the Weinmann centerpull brakes—indicates a European bike of some sort.

I would love to know more about it—and how it ended up on    Halsey Street by the Brooklyn-Queens birder.

12 August 2019

Disguised For A Naked Bike Ride

Naked Bike Rides are held in London and a number of other cities every year.

Some riders paint their bodies, while others get onto their bikes the way they came into this world, except bigger.  The only requirements seem to be that participants are riding a bicycle and not wearing clothes.

I am sure at least a few riders cover themselves as soon as the ride ends.  Somehow, though, I doubt that any have done what a man in Wilton Manors, Florida did.

The unidentified chap was riding, naked, down a local street.  Police were called.

Then the guy entered a local store, put on an article of clothing and told an employee he was trading the bicycle for the garment.  

Oh, but it gets even better:  When he got outside, he took off the article of clothing and exposed himself to passerby.  

The cops showed up.  He wouldn't give his name.  And the constables couldn't ID him because, well, he didn't have any ID on him.  After all, we don't come into this world with a musette bag.

He was arrested and charged with "lewd and lascivious conduct" and "obstruction by disguised person."

That second charge, I don't understand  Then again, since most of us wear clothes most of the time, I guess going au naturel could be a "disguise."  After all, there aren't many people who know what most of us look like without our clothes on.

Now, if the guy had kept the bike, he could have finished his ride naked--and, perhaps, evaded the cops!  And he wouldn't have needed to disguise himelf.

11 August 2019

If Only One Of You Makes It

Question of the Day:

A tandem enters an intersection.  The green signal is about to change.  The "captain" (the rider in front) makes it past the signal before it turns red.  But the "stoker" (rider in the rear) doesn't.

If some cop with too much time on his or her hands sees this, does he or she ticket:

a.) only the stoker,
b.) both the stoker and captain, or
c.) neither?

I have ridden tandems only a few times in my life, so I must admit that the question never entered my mind--until I saw this:

Image credit:  Copyright:© Drew Dernavich via Cartoon Collections - www.cartooncollections.com/cartoon?searchID=CC144669

10 August 2019

Breaking A Tradition--In More Ways Than One

On Monday, or some other time during the coming week, I will offer some of my reflections on cycling and traveling in Greece.  

In the meantime, I simply cannot resist sharing this:

Apparently, the Green Bay Packers have a tradition in which players ride kids' bicycles onto the field at the beginning of training camp.  It's supposed to bring the players closer to the kids, and the wider community.  I don't doubt that it helps to accomplish that.  If nothing else, fans and players alike get a good laugh:  How many things are funnier than a 280-pound guy atop a two-wheeler that's barely bigger than a tricycle.

I can't help but to wonder whether J.J. Watt is the first player to break the seat off a kid's bike.  You might say that he's breaking a tradition in more ways than one.

Manufacturers of racing components (and bikes) sometimes specify rider weight limits.  At least, they did when I was young and racing.  For the lightest stuff, the limit was around 70 kilograms (about 155 pounds).  I wonder whether any kids' bikes have similar stipulations.   If they don't, I could understand:  How many kids, anywhere in the world,are the size of J.J.Watt? 

09 August 2019

One More Day In Greece

On Monday, my last full day in Greece, my toe was still hurting.  And if I were to rent a bike, whether from Athens by Bike or anyone else, I'd have to worry about returning it before closing time. (Athens doesn't have a bike-sharing program, and dockless services like Lime and Ofo don't seem to be available in Athens.  So I decided, reluctantly, to skip cycling.

All was not lost, though.  I figured that in a few days, I'll feel better and start riding again, on my own bikes.  Also, exploring Athens for one more day would be fun, however I did it.

So, from my apartment (Funny, how I started to think of it that way), I crossed the street to the path to Filopappou Hill and the Hills of the Nymphs, just to look at the views and imagine.  Then I descended to the Odeon of Herodes Attiicus

and sauntered along a stone path to the cafe-lined streets of Thissio, near the Agora, where I stopped for some coffee and yogurt.  Then I took the Metro to the Cycladic Art Museum to--look at more of the statues and pottery I saw on Milos!

Actually, I am glad to have come to the museum when I did, just as I was glad to visit the Acropolis Museum after spending time in the Acropolis itself.  For one thing, those museums contain artifacts that can't be left on the sites where they were found.  Also, the museums, in the ways they exhibit their collections, help to contextualize what you see in the Acropolis or archaeological sites on the islands.

Yesterday, I mentioned that some images in the Byzantine and Christian Art Museum made me think of early photography. Well, in looking at some of the very early female figures from the Cycladic islands (which include Milos and Santorini), I found myself thinking of Pablo Picasso and artists who were influenced by him (OK, who wasn't between 1910 and 1950?) like Joan Miro.  

Even some of the pottery made me think of those early 20th Century sculptors and painters.  Seeing those almost-geometric representations of female bodies made me re-think something I'd always been told (or had read) about Picasso:  He is seen as a "visionary," or a "trailblazer."  Now I can't help but to wonder whether he was trying to "get back to basics."  After all, some of what you see in those female representations could also be seen, more or less, in the African masks Picasso collected.

Now, as a woman, and especially as a trans woman, I have problems with objectifying or abstracting a female body.  Then again, such work was being done by male artists and artisans.  Would female artists see male bodies in terms of their elemental forms?  (For all I or anybody knows, some of those sculptures may have been done by women.)  

And, really, how different is any of that from the way I experienced my body in the sea at Milos?  I felt myself as waves; my arms and legs were no longer the taut, straight lines I had always assumed they were.  And, if that's all we were--sinews and flesh in straight lines--we would be nothing more than machines pumping other machines (e.g., our bicycles).  We pedal (or swim or walk) our best when our bodies are flowing, when we are in a state of grace, which is to say in balance with our essential selves. 

Now, I have a confession:  After spending time in the museum and learning all of those wonderful lessons, however inelegantly I have expressed them, I headed to the flea market.  Please don't hold that against me!

08 August 2019

A Thousand Words For "Red"

Even with the mishap I described in a previous post, Milos was great.  The swim alone would have been worth it, not only for its own beauty but for the way in which I was able to experience my own body.  Also, Irini is an absolute gem.

I went back to Athens on Saturday night.  Irini took me to Adamas, the port of Milos.  "Those ferries never leave on time," she advised me.  She was right:  Mine left more than an hour behind schedule.  I wasn't worried, though:  I wasn't making any connections in Piraeus or Athens.

If you've read anything having to do with ancient Greece, you might have seen Piraeus mentioned.  When people fly into Athens to take cruises, their ships leave from this port, which is in essence, if not in fact, part of the city of Athens.  It's at the western end of the #3 (green) Athens Metro line, which includes the stop (Petralona) nearest to the apartment where I stayed.  The train ride took about fifteen minutes, then it was about a five-minute walk (uphill!) to the apartment.  So, in spite of the ferry's tardiness, I got back at a decent hour.

The next morning, on the advice of the doctor at Milos, I called a doctor in Athens, who came to the apartment, took a look at my wounded toe and told me that the nail would need to come out.  Did I want to do it right then and there--she had the local anaesthetic--or wait until I got home?  I decided to do it then and there, even though I had to pay (I'll most likely be reimbursed by my health insurer) because I didn't want to think about it for the rest of my trip.

By the time she finished, the morning was all but gone and Athens by Bike closes early on Sunday.  I probably could have rented a bike elsewhere, but I figured that being off the bike for a day might not be such a bad idea, even if the doctor said riding would be OK, as long as I wore open-toed sandals.  

So, the afternoon seemed like the perfect time for something that was highly recommended to me:  the Byzantine and Christian Art Museum. "Don't think about the "Christian" part; it's a great museum," advised Kostas, the young man who drove me to Delphi.  He was right; I think I've found one of my new favorite museums.

"Byzantine" is often used as a synonym for "intricate" or "complicated."  If your tastes don't extend beyond minimalism or even late moderinism, you probably mean the latter.  For me, though, the Byzantine artists were just as meticulous and studied as the great Renaissance figures, even if their priorities are completely different. 

Oddly enough, I found myself thinking about photography.  The artists who made all of those amazing icons of the Orthodox church weren't, of course, striving for anything like photographic realism:  How could they?  For one thing, I'm not sure whether anyone had any concept of "photographic."  And, if they did, how could they apply it to representations of Biblical scenes?

What made the connection, for me, was that, like medieval artists of western Europe, they were creating two-dimensional objects and images, and realized that not everything could be "classically" proportioned.  Also, I felt as if some artists were exploring different ways of looking at (actually, imagining) faces, particularly expressions, in ways the early photographers did.

I can't help but to think those artists understood that whatever they were making could be seen in a variety of different ways--whether by the leaders of the church or the lay people, many of whom were illiterate.   Those artists even understood that what, if anything, you saw depended on where you stood in the church.  So they even created double-sided icons, like this one:

The museum also contained architectural adornments and other objects from Orthodox churches:

In looking at the painted icons, I came to this conclusion:  If Byzantine were a language, it would have at least a thousand words for "red."

07 August 2019

I Really DIdn't Want To Leave, But...

I am on my way back to New York.  I wish I weren't.  In my next post, I'll talk about the last two days of my trip, which I spent in Athens.  And I will share more about what I've experienced on and off my bike during the past two weeks in Greece!

06 August 2019

A Mishap And A Mining Museum

After all of those wonderful experiences I had on Friday (which I described in my previous two posts), the night ended, not in tragedy, but in a way not befitting of the goddesses.

After returning to the hotel, I dozed off for a bit.  When I woke, I was hungry.  It was past ten, and my mind told me not to eat at such a late hour.  But I ignored my mind and walked down to the waterfront.  I bought a soulvaki from Yanko's, where everything is fresh and cheap, and a small salad with olives goat milk cheese from Gregory's, a place next door, and took them down to a park by the water.

After reveling in the tastes of that moment, and the other sensations I experienced during the day, I started my walk back to the hotel.  The apartment in which I stayed the previous night was now occupied by a couple on their honeymoon so, as Irini said, I was moved to another room.  While not as spacious, I hardly felt cramped:  It's bigger than apartments in which I've lived, and had a balcony of its own.

But the doorstep stood a few inches above the ground, with a "step" carved of stone in between.  I wasn't looking for it:  I entered as if the doorstep were level with the ground.

I let out a howl not usually heard in Milos.

My left foot struck that "step" and pushed my big toenail back 45 degrees, pulling away the skin.  One of the hotel staff members ran up to me and, seeing the blood spurting from my toe, called Irini, the owner, who drove me--up the winding road I pedaled earlier in the day--to the tiny hospital in Plaka.  

There a medic splintered and bandaged my toe.  He didn't remove the nail; instead, he told me to go to a doctor in Athens, where I was headed Saturday, the following evening.  And he prescribed an antibiotic.  

Irini stayed with me the whole time and, the next morning, went down to the port, where my prescription was filled in a pharmacy.  When I went to the courtyard for breakfast, she gave me the pills.

I have to admit, I was tempted to change my plans and stay in Milos.  But I had a boat ticket to Athens (Piraeus),  where I am as I write this,  for Saturday night  and another ticket back to New York for Tuesday morning.

So I went to a place I never imagined I'd go:  a mining museum.  (Last year, I went to the Landmine Museum in Cambodia. I never thought I'd go to a place like that, either.) Turns out, Milos and other Cycladic islands are rich sources of minerals. Why do you think such beautiful pottery and jewelry were made there?  Even today, a few minerals are extracted for use in everything from paper to cement.  The exhibits also include films in which old miners were interviewed.  

What I found really interesting--and encouraging--is that the museum makes a real attempt to show that women did at least their share of the work.  Many worked as sorters and packers, but some actually worked the mines.  I have a hard time, though, imagining how one would carry so much equipment and bear the heat of those mines in an outfit like this:

Oh, Irini took me to the museum and back to the hotel for lunch--and to the ferry.  With hospitality like that, I'm going back to a place where an orange guy tells the world there's no room left in his country?