Monday, April 25, 2011

A Taste of the Two-Wheeled Life in Italy

Elegant cyclists abound. Note shoes!
Mrs. V. and I just returned last night from Italy, the Valhalla of cycling, the Aasgard of Coppi and Bartali (which would make them the Thor and Loki of the Earth plane...?) cradle of Cippolini, etc., etc. 12 hours of sleep and a couple espressos have taken the edge off the jet lag, but it's not nearly gone yet, so I'm just checking in to record just a few impressions. I hope to immortalize a lot of pictures and thoughts in a more detailed post later.
  1. Yes, there are cyclists everywhere. Everywhere. I was hoping for this and was not disappointed. Even the day we arrived, as we made our way from the Florence airport over the mythic Highway 222 (the skyline drive of Chianti country,  a sub-region of Tuscany) toward Siena, we saw fully-kitted ciclisti in ones, twos and even sixes wending their way over very serious hills with broad, green-and-brown vistas that spark the imagination of stage-race tifosi. I feared that would be the end of my exposure, but indeed, everywhere in Toscana, on weekdays, too, I witnessed the same. On a side-note, the old-school devotees in Italy do not wear helmets.
  2. The cyclists, of course, are not all in full kit. Most of them there, as here, are casual, everyday riders, running errands, going to see a friend. In the tiny seaside village of Levanto, our final destination, quite a lot of people used bikes instead of cars to navigate the winding, needle-thin roads, always busy with the famously headlong Italian drivers. They rode to the beach, to the bars, to dinner; everywhere. Italians on bikes, whether outfitted for a stage race or a coffee run, look startlingly elegant to American eyes. Like they were born to it -- surprise, surprise. Young ladies in glamorous outfits sailed elegantly through the streets of Florence, full purses dangling, cell phone pressed to one ear, cigarette gracefully floating in their handlebar hand. Old men, white-haired and bent, pedaled glacially down the footpaths of old Siena, on their implacable way to the next part of their day, presumably by the same means and on the same streets they've used all their years.
  3. In the States, the folks in full kit are usually competitive in spirit, and often fit in body. In Italy, the more sporty guys (I saw no women on bikes in cycling kits, for what it's worth) were going 12 mph with a striking cadence of about 100 rpm. This was true whether they rode alone or in groups. Not having had the chance to ride with them, I can only guess at the psychology behind this rule, which was universally applicable. As closely as I could surmise in eight days, the Tao of Life in Italy can be summed up in one phrase: Piano, piano. Slow and easy. Why push? The same task can be done with effort or with grace. Grace is infinitely more beautiful, and beauty, when all is said and done, is the spiritual life-blood of the Italian world-view. (Which, in turn, clarifies the lack of helmets.) It is far more important to enjoy oneself -- and to look stylish while doing so -- than to get there quickly. Regular readers can imagine how much this aspect of the country and its cycling community appealed to the Velosopher in me.
Allora, eccole! So, there you go! A taste of the two-wheeled life in the mother country. More to come.

View from the castle in Tuscan town of Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo and cycling heaven.


Glenn_in_MA said...

Welcome back! Sounds like a nice trip...look forward to seeing more photos.

Velosopher said...

Thanks, Glenn!

Juancho said...

Splendid! And thanks for the book list too.

Velosopher said...

Thanks, Juancho! Glad you like the books.