Sunday, October 7, 2012

Books & Shame

Lately one notices many books and films related to cycling. Not much interested in chasing pelaton; rule out 90% of them. After decades of knee abuse, Stryker's eccentric wheel ad commands more attention despite its nonsense. There's a silly biking sequence in this year's ornithologist comedy "The Big Year" in which a trio competing to observe the most different birds go wherever vagaries of weather increase chances for sighting rare species. On location in Attu, North America's most Western Aleutian Island, they huddle in hovel then hurry off on beater bikes upon each new rumor. Leave it to Steve Martin to bash bikes again. Just out, director David Koepp's bike messenger action flick Premium Rush may be too tired a plot after "Quicksilver" and seeming countless dirty cop shows, none of which accurately depict reality. It leaves you looking for cultural statements with a shred of authenticity.

In her new how-to guide Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards entitled 1st chapter, "Drawing and the Art of Bicycle Riding", not surprisingly. The very first exercise they give freshmen at a certain prestigious New England art college is to draw a bicycle, because it immediately reveals all of a student's flaws and strengths. But that's not what Edwards was after, instead comparing how someone who's teaching cycling will mount bike her/himself to show what needs to be done. Drawing teachers seldom mimic this hands-on approach, either out of ego or inability, lest they be outdone by those they're supposed to instruct. Learning to draw well really means learning to perceive everything, negative space to positive edges, things all cyclists intuit just to stay alive.

Suzanne Joinson's audiobook A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is a fictional account of two sisters who become missionaries to China about a century ago, one with a real calling and the other with aspirations to be a travel guide writer. Notice neither ever expected to become physicists, politicians or such careers still closed along gender lines. Even the percentage of women graduates among computer scientists has fallen drastically. Conservatives prefer them in their kitchens, possibly what they mean when they say they want jobs for everyone.

Aili and Andres McConnon's Road to valor: a true story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the cyclist who inspired a nation (Crown, 2012) is a biography of cycling great Gino Bartali. The 1st half of the 20th Century was the heyday for cycling, when people still pedaled more than motored and tested the limits of human endurance. Bartali, a devote Catholic who discovered his own natural talent and laughed at cold, mud, rain and snow on twisty mountain roads, was divided like Christ's cloak by clinging church, fans, fascists and nazis as a hero. Evidence demonstrates he aided resistance fighters during World War II, that black hole for cycling careers, before making the greatest comeback in Tour de France history. By 1950's fickle public no longer doted on cyclists as if rock stars. NASCAR and other sports had become bigger attractions for foolish betting and idol worshipping. Champions are still fueled by arrogance, ego and pride, much like Nazi ideals. Mechanization proved a wartime advantage. Bikes do free youths from apron strings to conquer horizons, but it would be a shame if they contributed to Hitler's horrors. Bartali would have none of that. Climbing mountains and enduring pain teaches balance, compassion, and humility, not to take everything too seriously.

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