31 January 2023

Biking To Work (Or Wherever)

Cities that have Bike to Work Days or Weeks usually hold them in the middle of Spring.  The reason, I believe, is that it's easier to entice people to give up four wheels and one gas pedal for two wheels and two pedals on a day when it's neither "too" hot nor "too" cold.

Now, I agree that if people pedal rather than drive to work a couple of days a week or a few months out of the year, it's at least something of a victory.  However, bike commuting is seen as a real transportation alternative mainly in places where people ride bikes year-round.  And not all of those places have balmy winters: think of Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Paris, where I recently took a trip.

Another such place, I imagine, is Fort Collins, Colorado.  I have been to the Centennial State only in the summer, but I hear that winters can be brutal.  So, I would think that any committed bicycle commuter--or any committed cyclist in general--is prepared to pedal through all sorts of meteorological perils.

Also, I would expect that the daily rides, for some, don't involve a trip to the office or other workplace. Some, of course, might be ride to school, but others are headed to the store, the park or "wherever."

It is that last category of riders, as much as the time of year, that makes Fort Collins' Winter Bike To Work (or Wherever) Day interesting, and possibly unique.  This year's Day will kick off at 7 am on 10 February, a week from this Friday.  Local businesses, schools and other organizations will run an array of free breakfast stations, some of which will double as bike tech or warming spots.  They will remain open until 9:30 am, when a ceremony involving remarks by the mayor, a concert by Crispy Watkins and recognition for bicycle-friendly businesses.

A cyclist in Fort Collins' Winter Bike To Work Day in 2019.  (Photo by Bethany Baker for The Coloradan.

As much as I want to encourage more people to pedal to work or school, I think a true bicycling culture develops when people ride "wherever," year-round. It seems that Fort Collins is trying to encourage that.


30 January 2023

In The Landscape

In this photo, the bicyclists almost seem like one of the rock formations.

They're in Saudi Arabia where, I imagine, one has to be as impervious as those rock outcroppings to heat. 

29 January 2023

Out Of The Habit?

Many, many years ago, I went to Catholic school.

How many years ago?, you ask.  Well, the nuns who taught us were covered from head to toe, except for their faces, in black.  I remembered them when, years later, I learned about the severe sartorial codes conservative Islamic states impose on women.

Needless to say, women who live under such restrictions don't do much cycling. To be fair, that also has to do with other restrictions--arguably, the most extreme have been imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan--on where, when and with whom women can work, travel or simply be in a public space.

To my knowledge, even the most conservative orders of nuns aren't so constrained in their day-to-day movements. Still, I have a hard time imagining a woman riding a bicycle in one of those long habits.  Unless...

28 January 2023

You Can Leave Your Bike Underwater--And It Will Survive

When a bicycle ends up underwater, it's not a good thing.  At least, most of the time.  I think now of all of those bikes from share programs that were sent to "sleep with the fishes" (if indeed any are present) in the rivers, canals and lakes of the cities served by those programs. Or of any other stolen bikes that met a similar fate, or bikes that were made to take a dive without scuba gear because their owners were too lazy to find new owners or simply discard them in more environmentally conscious (though not absolutely environmentally conscious) ways.

Perhaps it surprise no one that in Amsterdam--where the bicycle-to-person ratio favors velocipedes even more than the gun-to-person ratio favors firearms in the United States--thousands of two-wheelers have met their untimely and uncalled-for demises at the bottom of the city's canals.

This week, however, the city's cyclists can leave their bicycles under the waves of the so-called Open Harbourfront--and their bikes will not only collect seaweed, barnacles, debris or toxic chemicals, they will even remain dry.  And safe.

In a stroke of genius that can come only from a city that's one of the world's most densely populated--with people and bicycles--a bicycle parking facility, complete with useful racks and a security system, opened under those waters where they lap up by the Amsterdam Central Station, the city's main rail terminal.

Now, aside from its unique concept and design, what else makes this facility something from which other cities can learn?  Well, the fact that it allows direct access to the city's--and, by extension, the country's and continent's--rail system means that bicycles can become part of a reliable transportation system for many more people.

A few forward-thinking planners are starting to realize that if they want to get at least some cars off their city's streets, they not only have to make cycling (whether on a traditional or electric bike) more available and safer for more people, they also have to integrate it with mass transportation--which, of course, also has to be made more available and safer for more people.  

Many people who would be willing to cycle for all or part of their commutes, or simply for recreation, are not long-distance cyclists or any other kind of athletes. Even for those who are, the distances between their homes and classrooms, offices or other workplaces make an all-cycling commute impractical or simply inconvenient. (After all, if you have to ride two hours each way, spend 8-12 a day at work, you don't have time for much else.) But riding to a train or bus, and knowing that, when they return, the bicycle will be where and in the condition in which they left it, could entice some people out of their cars.

The thinking that went into Amsterdam's new underwater facility is a hopeful sign.  Here's another:  Another such facility, albeit smaller (4000 bikes vs 7000) is scheduled to open next month.


27 January 2023

Fear Not: I'm Still Here!

 Dear Readers, I am still alive--but not well. That is why I've been posting less frequently.

My illness isn't life-threatening or disabling.  But it has drained, seemingly, all of my energy.  

As I recounted a few posts ago, I started to feel congested and tired near the end of my Paris trip.  My former religious self might've said that I was being punished for having too good a time.  Truth is, the only possible connection I can see between my sojourn and my illness is the Munch exhibit I attended with Alec and Michele at the Musee d'Orsay.  It was one of the most crowded exhibits I've ever attended:  We, and other visitors were literally shoulder-to-shoulder.  It was all but impossible to move individually and independently.  

(That, by the way, was my only complaint about the exhibit, or any other I attended while in Paris:  I thought it was well-presented but I couldn't linger at some of the works, as I often do when I'm interested.)

I came home just in time for a long weekend. (Monday the 16th  was Martin Luther King Jr. day.) Surely, that would give me time, aided with copious quantities of chicken soup and orange juice, to recover my energies for the beginning of the semester on Tuesday.

My body--specifically, my respiratory system--didn't get the message. I felt as if I were being submerged even deeper into a sea of phlegm.  My routine has included going to classes, answering only the most urgent emails and curling up with Marlee.  

I figured--correctly--that whatever I was suffering wasn't COVID or the flu, as I was vaccinated as soon as the jabs became available.  Finally, I called my doctor who believed I had a respiratory infection and advised me to go to the nearest City MD center rather than to make a trip to his office.

His hunch was correct.  All I can do now is wait this thing out.  Then, I hope, I'll be back to my regular habits of cycling--and blogging.

25 January 2023

Because We're The "Low Hanging Fruit"

 Five years ago, on Halloween, Sayfullo Saipov drove a rental truck into the bike lane between the Hudson River and the West Side Highway in Manhattan

Even if he hadn't killed eight cyclists, I would've been as terrified:  I have ridden that lane a number of times, for transportation as well as recreation.  For the cyclists who died that day, some of whom were tourists, it was most likely their only ride on that lane.

The fear and grief I have felt since then has turned to rage: Yesterday, during Saipov's trial, US Attorney Jason Richman recalled that the accused was "smiling" when he asked to hang the Islamic State flag in the hospital room where he was confined after the incident.  "He was proud," Richman told the jurors. "He was happy about the terrorist attack...He had done what he came to do."

We don't have the death penalty in New York State.  Federal law still allows for it, however, and since terrorism is a Federal crime, Saipov could be condemned. If he's not, he will be sentenced to life in prison.

Even his defense lawyers concede that Saipov carried out his attack.  They argue, however, that he should be acquitted of a racketeering charge because they dispute the charge that he carried out the attack so that the Islamic State would allow him to join.  They claim that to do something "so awful" (their words), he must already have been an IS member and that he "had an expectation that he would die by police shooting."

In other words, according to the defense, he wasn't carrying out a gang initiation rite.  Instead, he was trying to be a martyr for the cause.  How that absolves him of racketeering is beyond me, which is probably one reason why I'm not a lawyer.

Whatever Saipov's motives, to me he's no different from the motorist who yelled "More of you should be killed" to cyclists who staged a "die-in" where a truck driver ran down Sarah Schick, a 37-year-old mother of two.  She was riding down a bike lane along Brooklyn's Ninth Street that is protected up from Prospect Park West to Third Avenue, but is separated from a major truck route by nothing more than a couple of lines of paint west of Third--at the exact point where a mixed residential and commercial zone turns into an industrial area.  I know it well:  I used to ride that way quite often when I was living in Park Slope--and there wasn't any bike lane at all on Ninth, or almost anywhere else in the neighborhood outside of Prospect Park.  

Photo by Julianne Cuba for Streetsblog

That motorist and Saipov are also no different from a colleague who, during my second year at Hostos, remarked, "When I see bicyclists, I'd love to run them down." When I told her I am a cyclist, she accused me of "overreacting" and complained to HR.  When I told them about her comment, they said there was "nothing we can do" and questioned my motives for taking umbrage.  "Well, that wasn't any different from saying I should die because I'm trans.  She's saying I should die because of who I am." The HR person dismissed my comparison because cyclists aren't a "protected category" but admonished me to "watch what you say" because that faculty member was a member of a "protected minority"--as if I wasn't.

Anyway, I am disgusted by the way people can so casually call for, or even commit, violence against cyclists.  While Saipov may not have been targeting cyclists because they were cyclists, I am guessing that he saw them as the "low-hanging fruit" to carry out his gang initiation or bid for martryrdom. In that sense, he is no different from the motorist or colleague I've mentioned.   

23 January 2023

A Voyageur In Astoria

Here in Astoria, as in other New York City neighborhoods, I see all sorts of re-purposed bikes locked to fences and signposts. Sometimes I wonder whether the folks who ride them have any idea of what they have.

A case in point is this World Voyageur I saw on a side street in my neighborhood.  

In the mid-1970s, Schwinn sold bikes that were manufactured for them in Japan.  Probably the best-known is the LeTour, which was basically a rebadged Panasonic Sport Deluxe and, it seemed, positioned to compete with bikes like the Peugeot UO-8 and Raleigh Grand Prix. 

The World Voyageur was a couple of steps up from the LeTour.  Both bikes had lugged frames, but the WV was constructed from double-butted chrome molybdenum tubing, in contrast to the LeTour's carbon steel.  While the LeTour's rims were steel, the WV's hoops were Araya alloy.  Both bikes had rebadged Dia Compe center-pull brakes, a standard on Japanese bikes of the time.  They also had rebadged Shimano derailleurs and hubs, though I think the ones on the WV were Titlist: at that time, Shimano's second line, behind Dura Ace.  It would form the basis of the popular 600 series Shimano would introduce a couple of years later.

Interestingly, Schwinn didn't try to rebadge the crankset:  a very nice Dura-Ace.  One reason why it didn't become more popular, I think, is that its chainring bolt circle diameter pattern, now called BCD or PCD, differed from Campagnolo's or other popular European cranksets of the time.  Ironically, Dura Ace's BCD--130 millimeters--would become the de facto standard for road cranksets a decade later.

What made me wonder whether the owner of this bike has any idea of what he or she has are the handlebars and stem.  My guess is whoever rides that World Voyageur inherited it from someone or bought it from someone who didn't know what they were selling.

My guess is that the bike in the photos is from 1973, as that seems to be the only year in which the World Voyageur was offered in that shade of blue.

22 January 2023

What You Need To Hydrate Properly

Paris in January is neither hot nor dry (at least, not yet). Even so, when pedaling down the boulevards, avenues and pistes cycleables of the City of Light on misty day, it's just as important to hydrate as it is if you're barreling down an Arizona canyon in summertime.

But drinking like a proper French person is not just a matter of choosing jus, eau, vin, cafe or some other libation. The proprietor of La New Cave, on Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris' fashionable 8eme Arrondissement, understands that one must also consider the spirit (pun intended) in which the beverage is presented:

I asked the proprietor whether there was a "frais supplementaire" for his charming accent,  to which he replied a resounding "Non!"  So, some of the best things in life are free after all!

21 January 2023

If I Were A Museum Director...

 Every museum should have bicycle parking facilities--preferably indoors, with a valet.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York offered it briefly, thanks to a collaboration with Transportation Alternatives, when it re-opened after its pandemic-induced closure.  I was reminded of that during my latest Paris trip, when I went museum-hopping on the bikes I borrowed and rented.

In nine days, I visited the Rodin, Picasso, Modern Art (twice), Jacquemart-Andre and Orsay Museums. Sidewalk or curbside bike racks stood just outside all of them, secluded from the traffic.  Also, there were Velib ports near all of them.  So, in Paris it is easier than it is in New York to bike from museum to museum, without having to worry about whether your bike will be where you parked it after spending a couple or a few hours looking at paintings and sculptures.  Still, I would love to see indoor facilities--and even more encouragement of, not only cycling in general (which Paris' current mayor seems to be doing plenty of) but of riding to museums and other cultural sites.

"The Scream" isn't Edvard Munch's only painting.

I mean, for me, there is nothing like taking in the colors and forms, and the ideas and feelings they convey, after a ride along city streets.  The people, buildings and streets I see, almost kaleidoscopically, put me in a mind and mood about how artists see the subjects of their work and transform them into transmissible visions. 

Perhaps it has to do with the blood that pumps into my brain as much as the sensory stimuli I experience while riding.  That might also be the reason why I can go into "old favorite" museums like the Rodin or New York's Guggenheim, or newer favorites like the Jacquemart-Andre,  and feel as if I am, not only re-connecting, but re-discovering.

Lady Macbeth, by Fussli

Now, in the Jacquemart- Andre, I sauntered through a special exhibit of Johan Heinrich Fussli, an artist I knew peripherally through his connections with the London literary and theatre worlds of the 18th Century.  But its permanent exhibit, like the one in the Rodin, also felt fresh. So did seeing the more as well as the less famous Edvard Munch works in a special exhibit at the Orsay:  Even the "Scream" resonated for me, as did the works of Oskar Kokoschka in a Modern Art special exhibit.

Oskar Kokoschka, self-portrait

If I were a museum director, I would make bike riding a requirement for entrance.  Or, at least, I would offer a discounted admission price. (I can't exclude people who can't ride, after all!)  On second thought, if I had my way, all museums would be free.  It would be the only policy that would be fair to everybody, wouldn't it? 

That I think that way is probably one reason why I never could be a museum director:  They have to raise money somehow.  But perhaps one will listen to me when I say that cyclists make the best museum visitors.  Really, we do.

20 January 2023

A Bike And A Bike Lane Done Right

Today I'm going to talk about a bike and a bike lane.

First, what I rode for three days in Paris. I'd already mentioned it in an earlier post.  I wanted to come back to it because it's unlike any other rental bike--or any other bike, period--I've ridden.

It's like the other bikes that comprise Paris a Velo's current rental fleet.  When I availed myself to their services four years ago, the bike I rode--which, again, was like the others in their rental fleet at the time--was a kind of hybrid/city bike.  It wasn't made for fast riding, but it sucked up abuse and neglect pretty well.

The same could be said, perhaps even more so, for the bike I rode on this trip.  Victor assured me that the tires were "flat resistant" and that the bike shouldn't give me trouble. He was right on both counts.  What I found interesting about this machine, though, were its construction and its ride.

About its build: While it, not surprisingly, doesn't have the fine filet-brazing of a constructeur bike, it did incorporate at least one principle of those old masters: structural integrity.  The rear rack is of a piece with the frame, and the front end is braced for strength.  One result is a surprisingly stable ride given the small wheels.

Those wheels, perhaps not surprisingly, got me to thinking about the one small-wheeled bike I owned and rode for any period of time:  a Dahon Vitesse.  (I briefly owned an Italian folding bike that I found on a curbside and "flipped" a few days later.)  One major difference, of course, is that the Paris a Velo bike doesn't fold.  That might be the reason why the PV bike felt so much more stable and was unexpectedly easy to accelerate.

(Oh, and I want to add that Victor included a really nice rain cape with the rental. I was tempted to ask whether I could buy it from him.)

One of the first places where I rode it was a bike lane along the Seine, toward the Notre Dame.  Too often, when I see new bike lanes in the US, I ask, "Why did they bother?"  If a lane isn't demonstrably safer than riding in traffic, there simply is no point to it.  Whoever designed that lane must have understood as much:  It's physically separated from the roadway by barriers that motor vehicles can't easily cross.  Better yet, there's plenty of room for cyclists traveling in both directions.  Too often--as with the Crescent Street lane in front of my apartment--a cyclist coming from the opposite direction risks a head-on collision or forces one cyclist to veer into traffic traveling in the opposite direction. (Crescent is a one-way street.)

So...while there might not be one "right" way to do a bike lane or city rental bike, I am happy to have experienced both done right.

19 January 2023

Une Vraie Parisienne?

While riding (or walking) Paris streets, one encounters bikes not normally (if ever) seen in the United States, even in New York.  In the 11th Arrondissement, a lively area between the Place de la Bastille and Place de la Republique, I spotted this:

I had a difficult time photographing the whole bike because it was so closely parked.  Nontheless, I got to see the tidy lugwork and worn but tasteful paint job.  The only identifying mark I could find was the "S" on the head tube, so I don't know its provenance.  Somehow I don't think the frame is from a constructeur, as nicely done as it is. Perhaps seeing such basic equipment, such as a long-cage Huret Eco derailleur (not the Duopar; this one was almost never exported to the US) and a lower-end swaged triple crankset (from Nervar or Solida, perhaps), prejudiced my judgment.

What I couldn't help but to notice were some details one almost never sees on a bike in the US. One example is the front rack in the first photo.  It, like the rear, is attached to the fender, in the manner of the constructeurs.  I can't help but to think that rack was designed with panniers in mind.

I also loved the "guards" around the front and tail lights. Those, along with the fenders, rack and wide tires, show that this bike is meant to be ridden in all sorts of conditions.

The wheels are obviously not the originals:  The hubs look like the sort found on basic-level repair wheels.  I wonder whether this bike originally had a set of touring wheels with, say, Mavic MA3, Super Champion/Wolber 58 or Weinmann Concave rims and a nicer set of hubs--like the Maxicar?

Whatever the original intent purpose, and the provenance, of this bike may have been, it looks like a classic Parisienne!

18 January 2023

Riding To A Light Show

More about my Paris trip--including the bike I rented and one I saw on the street--are on the way, I promise.  I'm still under the weather, just as the new semester is beginning.

In the meantime, I'll show you a treat that awaited me during one of my rides in the City of Light.

You were expecting a crepe or some such thing?  Actually, I did enjoy one with creme de marron (chestnut paste--much better than Nutella!) at a nearby stand. The fellow who made it was, in his own right, an artist.  So was the person (or were the persons) responsible for that riot of light and color.

No, a rabid painter or eccentric designer didn't storm his or her way into the abbey of Saint Germain des Pres.  The artist or artists in question did their work long ago and, perhaps unwittingly, made another kind of art--something we might call an "installation"--possible.

Ironically, the abbey stands across the eponymous Place from a cafe--Deux Magots--renowned as a haven for artists, writers, composers and other creative people during the first half of the twentieth century. Most who make the pilgrimage to the cafe and the surrounding area for its literary and artistic heritage do not, I suspect, visit the church for which the Place is named.  Likewise, I don't think most who enter the church are much interested in the walking in the footsteps or imbibing the  nectar that nourished the talents of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Hemingway and their contemporaries.

17 January 2023

Sans Casque?

In the sweep of history, four years isn't even the blink of an eye. But, even at my age--when you start to think of people within fifteen years or so of your own age as your peers--four years, especially if they're anything like the ones that have just passed, can seem like a geological age.

I'll spare you the cliche that "we are living in a different world" from that of 2019. (OK, since I've mentioned it, I didn't spare you from it, did I?) I have seen changes in my Astoria, New York neighborhood and in the city as a whole.  The passage of time, however, seems all the more sweeping when you return to a place you haven't seen in a while, especially if that place doesn't change as much or as quickly as your own environs.

While Paris is a modern city in terms of technology and infrastructure, its overall appearance doesn't change nearly as dramatically as that of New York in any given period of time.  You can count on returning to a building you saw in the City of Light four, fourteen or forty years ago.  Even some of the stores, restaurants and cafes you remember will be there if you return.  So, perhaps, that quality makes any change  all the more striking.

In my case, I couldn't help but to notice how many more people were on bikes than I saw during previous visits.  I'd heard and read that many people took to riding--for transportation, recreation and fitness--during the pandemic.  Apparently, they stayed in the saddle.  Of course that makes me happy.  I also noticed, on the other hand, e-bikes and scooters, which were nowhere to be seen the year before the pandemic.  I saw the proliferation of those vehicles in New York as the first weeks and months of the pandemic turned into years, but in Paris, it seemed as if they were all superimposed on the image I had of the city from the last time I saw it. 

One thing hasn't changed, though:  Almost no scooter-rider or cyclist, whether of the completely human-powered or electric variety, was wearing a helmet.  I admit that I didn't wear one, either:  It's not the easiest thing to pack, especially if you're traveling only with a carry-on bag.  But somehow I didn't feel as vulnerable or exposed as I do when I leave my apartment avec velo, sans casque.

I got to thinking about that when I came across this article. It points out, correctly, that the obsession with helmet-wearing is mainly an American one.  As the article's author, Marion Renault, points out, few cyclists in the Netherlands don the plastic and foam shells.  One reason, according to Renault, is that the Dutch feel safer while riding:  Their infrastructure lends itself to safe cycling to a much greater degree than what we have in the 'States.  Also, Dutch drivers' awareness and attitudes towards cyclists are very different from those of their American counterparts.

Something similar could be said, I think, for Paris and France, if to a lesser degree. Certainly, I felt safer, whether I was riding on a protected lane or in traffic.  About the latter:  Even though Paris streets are narrower than those in New York, I felt as if I had more room to maneuver.  Most likely, that had something to do with the fact that vehicles are smaller and lower to the street:  You don't often see anything like America's best-selling vehicle class: the Ford F-Series, which weighs 7500 pounds and has a hood that stands four and a half feet tall--about the height of an adult's chin.

That brings me to another point Renault makes:  most helmet testing does not, and cannot, measure the impact of a collision between such a vehicle and a cyclist.  For one thing, it's all but impossible to replicate such conditions in a laboratory.  There are more variables in such collisions than there are in, say, a clash between (American) football players.  

One of those variables, as I implied earlier, is the driver him or her self.  When I was doored two years ago, a nurse in the emergency room declared, "Good thing you were wearing your helmet."  While that was probably true, I would have been safer had the driver glanced out her window and seen me on the other side before she opened her door. I think a lot of French and Dutch riders would agree.  They also know that having good bike lanes, room to maneuver and traffic regulations that makes sense do at least as much as any piece of protective gear to promote their safety:  Their cyclists' rates of injury and death are much lower than those of their American counterparts.

So, if and when I return to Paris or Amsterdam, or anyplace else in France or the Netherlands, will I see as few cyclists wearing helmets as I saw during the trip I just took?

16 January 2023

It Wasn't Age After All!

 The other day, I mentioned that I didn't post during the last few days of my latest Paris trip because my full days ended with my getting back to my hotel in the wee hours of morning and collapsing onto the bed.  I intimated that, perhaps, age was catching up with me because I felt tired, if in good ways, after the sorts of activities--visiting museums and friends and, of course, walking and cycling--that also comprised previous trips.  

Well, now I know (or, at least, think I know) the real cause of my fatigue.  You might think that I am in denial and want to continue calling this blog "Midlife Cycling."  I assure you that's not the case.  Also, I tend not to suffer from "jet lag" for very long, so that's not a reason why I have become an immobile object or, if I want to put a positive spin on it, Marlee's bed.

What seemed like a slight cold during my time with Alec and Michele on Thursday devolved into bouts of coughing and sneezing on the flight home and, now, my respiratory system turning into something the Department of Environmental Protection might condemn.

Oh well.  I've gone from lunches of confit de canard with Jay and Isabelle  and civet de cerf with Alec and Michele to slurping down gallons of water, juice, chicken broth, alone, wrapped in a blanket.  That means, of course, that I haven't ridden since I've come home to colder, blustier (Is that a word?) weather than I experienced in Paris.

So I am in my apartment with Marlee, my books and my bikes.  About the latter--here's what I rode after returning the bike I borrowed:

Turns out, Paris a Velo  (formerly known as Paris Velo, C'est Sympa) was open after all!  The proprietor, Victor, explained that the pandemic boosted demand for his bikes and, therefore, he's operated year-round ever since.  When I last rented one of his bikes four years ago (almost to the week!), he made a special trip into the shop for me and one other customer who'd made a reservation. That might be the reason why he remembered me, "d'une monde different."

The bike I rode was different, too:

in contrast to the more conventional hybrid/city bike I rode four years ago.  More about that later.

15 January 2023

Une Meilleure Version De Moi?

 I didn't get lost, kidnapped, hired or eloped in Paris.

(Sometimes there isn't a whole lot of difference between any two, or all, of the four items on that list, is there?)

I did, however, have my portrait painted by an expatriate artist:

Actually, that Oskar Koskoschuka painted that portrait more than a quarter-century before I was born.  Was he envisioning a better version of me?

Seriously, though...I saw that painting during my just-ended (boo-hoo) visit to Paris.

14 January 2023

Me Revoila!

You haven't heard a day-by-day description because I really filled my days there and wasn't getting back to my hotel room until the wee hours of morning.  By then, between all of the bike riding, museum and cathedral visits and socializing, I was tired, though in good ways.

Perhaps, in reading the previous sentence, you might think I shouldn't be calling this blog "Midlife Cycling" anymore.  But I'll continue to do so because, well, what else am I going to call it?  Anything with "Old" or "Senior" in the title just wouldn't have the same ring. Besides, I want to stick to "Midlife Cycling" as an act of defiance, just as I continue to speak French for as long as I can get away with it after getting home from a trip.

But I digress...and now I'll confess:  I simply wanted to spend a few days un-tethered to my electronic devices.  I didn't turn on my laptop and or answer e-mails on my smartphone unless they came from my friends in Paris or anything else related to my trip. 

I mean, when the spire of the Eiffel Tower is peering from behind l'Ecole Militaire, across the street from my hotel (the Derby Eiffel), the Seine is a five-minute walk away, and art, great food, friends and new bike lanes--real ones!--beckon, why would I want to spend time with my face in front of a screen? 

During the next few days, I'll tell you more about my trip...including, of course, where and what I rode!

09 January 2023

Until Today, I Hated Only One Thing About France

I didn't ride this bike

as interesting as it looks.  Parked outside a boutique in the "Village Suisse" not far from where I'm staying,  it's the kind of bike that's all but impossible to find in the United States. 


One thing I love about it is that it's a testament to how a well-made older bike can continue to serve someone, if in a different way from how its previous owner(s) rode it.  

Just about any bike "of a certain age" will need to have its tires replaced. (I must say, though, that even a decade or so ago, I read and heard that owners of Raleigh three-speeds from the sixties or earlier will try any and all things to keep the original Dunlop tires--which, as I understand, were exclusive to Raleigh three-speeds--intact, if not ready for daily use.) Also, if the bike had caliper brakes, it will need new cables and pads.  Chains and pedals also are often damaged, worn or missing.  Finally, if the bike had a leather saddle, it might be dry-rotted or otherwise damaged from not getting the care it needed.

So it's no surprise to see new tires (or a front wheel) on this bike.  As the bike has a coaster brake and, therefore, no derailleur or other shifting mechanism, there weren't any cables to replace.  I don't know what kind saddle originally graced this machine, but it's a bit of a surprise to see something that looks like a Brooks Professional--albeit with holes punched in it--with such upright bars.

I really would have liked to ride that bike.  I mean, really, how can you not love something with a reflector like this

even if it isn't the original?

I couldn't ride this bike. (Well,  I could have, but I don't steal bikes--just lovers and spouses. ;-)) But I did get to borrow one somewhat like it--what seemed to be a French-made Dutch-style city bike--for a day.  

Unfortunately, I neglected to photograph it, but it took me along the Left and Right Banks, and up to another "date" with my friend Jay.

About Velib:  It's been a long time since I've seen a site or service so frustrating to use.  When I typed in my information--including my home address and phone number--in the requested format (phone number with country code selected from drop-down format, the area code and number without any spaces or characters that aren't numerals and my address in the air-mail format), the site "auto corrected" them to the American format:  (1 (212) 555-1212; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, 20001, FRANCE) no matter how many times I went back and corrected it. Then, when I tried to buy a pass, the site said it couldn't process my request because my phone number and address weren't in the required format--which I typed in, repeatedly.

For years, I told people that I loved Paris and France, with the exception of Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Then again, how many airports do people actually "love?") Now I can add one other thing about this city and country that I don't love--and, in this case, actually hate:  Velib Metropole, the official name of what everyone calls Velib.


07 January 2023

Not According To Plan, But I'm Happy

I didn't get a chance to try Velib today, as I'd anticipated.  For one thing, I woke up later than I'd planned. (Then again, last night--or, should I say, this morning--I stayed out later than I expected.)  Then, Jay called:  Isabelle was "invited" to an official function and wouldn't be able to accompany me and him tomorrow, as we'd planned. So he asked if we could see a film and have dinner today.

Of course I accepted:  As much as I wanted to ride, visit museums and such, I want to see them.  (Also, this afternoon brought the first rain of my trip, along with a significant temperature drop.) So we went to an old-school independent movie house--with red velour chairs and a "stage"-- called the Brady.  From what I understand, it's the same theatre in which Francois Truffaut started to view, and make, films.  

The Truffaut connection made sense because we saw "Armageddon Time"--in English, with French subtitles, which I read just to see how some things would translate.  Isabelle is a fan of its director, James Gray and I must say that she has taste.  In some ways, AT reminded me of "Le Quatre Cent Coups" ("The 400 Blows.")  In Truffaut's foundational New Wave film, as in AT, a boy who is misunderstood befriends someone who shares in his misadventures.  And, the final scene of each movies' protagonist had similarly enigmatic expressions upon running away.

After the film, which left all of us--and, it seemed, everyone else in the theatre--stunned, we went to a nearby bistro.  I chose one of the  specials for the day:  a large classic Lyonnaise salad consisting of frisee (a.k.a. curly endive),  lardons (chunky cuts of salt pork that are poached to remove impurities, then fried to a crisp), topped with a poached egg, two wedges of toast topped with a dollop of pate de foie gras and a light vinagrette dressing.  It sounds so simple, but the flavors are intense and as a meal, it's more than satisfying.  And, since I don't eat much meat and most of my animal-protein consumption comes from cheese (by choice), this was a great "splurge."  

This chair was in every one of Picasso's studio spaces.

Anyway, before meeting up with Jay and Isabelle I did manage to sneak in a visit to the Musee Picasso.  Part of the museum, which normally contains much of its permanent collection, was closed.  So, the admission price was cut in half (from 14 to 7 Euros) for the privilege of seeing three special exhibits: one detailing his working methods and spaces and two others showing works by contemporary artists influenced by Picasso.



Franco-Belgian painter Farah Atassi, who is of Syrian descent, takes Picasso's distortions of the human (especially different) direction.  While he tended to give his subjects oversize limbs and to exaggerate features of the face and body, she pares the limbs of her bathers, dancers and models down to angular forms, as if to accentuate only their function--which could mean anything from actually propelling or supporting the body to simply creating another form for the artist.  The bodies took on, not just the form, but the essence of their subjects:  the bathers' torsos were enlarged but wavy, if you will, while the dancers' bodies were rounded or angled by whether they were dancing, reclining or sitting.  And the models' bodies, like their limbs and heads, were just props for the artist, though one image suggests a "burining."

On the other hand, Pierre Moignard became obsessed with the drawings Picasso made during the last year of his life.  Some of his work consists of those drawings, or parts of them, superimposed on his own paintings. Is he trying to show how Picasso might have "finished" or "continued" those works--if, indeed, they are not complete?

Then again, what do we mean by "complete?"  I had planned to ride today, but didn't.  But the day was fulfilling, which is pretty good working definition of completeness, at least for me.