Dear readers, I owe each of you an apology for the long absence from these pages. It’s really irritating to keep checking back to see if a blog has been updated to discover it hasn’t, eventually one stops. Which is probably where this blog is. There was no single episode or reason for my months long writer’s block, it simply started and stretched onward. The longer I didn’t write the easier it became to continue not writing. But I either needed to start again or close it down…I’ll opt for the first solution. Assuming there are any readers left out there.
So where were we? I was about to embark on a long adventurous ride across the Maremma. It was August and very hot I recall. My fitness, though I didn’t realize it, was at its maximum for my standards. How is it we never really know for certain when we’re truly fit? I can only speak for myself but I always doubt that I’m on a tear. I can tell when I’m going well, when my body is reacting positively and handles what I throw at it. But ‘on form’ is something else again. I never quite know for real until I look backwards and think, yes, that day I reached my peak.
And the day I rode to Monticiano and back was THAT day for 2013. Total distance was 185 km with 2500 meters of elevation gain, ride time was 6′:40″. After a lunch break in Monticiano which was over an hour, the entire way back was into a stiff headwind. Had I enjoyed a tail wind on the outbound leg I wouldn’t have felt cheated but that was not the case. Even though I was alone it didn’t bother me, when I needed more horse power it was there. I arrived back in Campiglia feeling tired but good, the next day I could have ridden again but instead we left for Perugia. I only rode the bike a few more times before leaving for a two week holiday in the USA 12 days later. And that was that, top end fitness evaporated quickly. I had a few fleeting moments in September and October when I felt strong but nothing like that day in August.
Returning to the States is always a bit of an adventure for me. I’ve lived outside the country long enough to no longer feel like a native. I’m an ex-pat, an immigrant, an émigré, I’ll never be an Italian but I’m no longer really an American. It’s a strange limbo, a sort of hybrid-land that all emigrants live in. Some more comfortably than others, I don’t let it bother me at all. I simply notice it. I no longer know much about daily life in the USA, obviously because of cultural hegemony I know a lot about the States but nothing compared the reality of living there. Watching television meant having only a vague idea of what they were talking about. If it weren’t for The Daily Show in streaming that I watch occasionally I would have been totally out of it.
We flew into Dallas where my son Duff now lives with his wife Meredith. He had wisely arranged for Donatella and I to stay at a cute B&B about a mile away from their apartment. Daria stayed with Duff which worked out fine. In the morning after breakfast (prepared each day by a chef) we would walk over to Duff’s place before it became too hot. We discovered that Dallas in late August is a very warm place, even by Italian standards. They compensate for the heat with ferocious air-conditioning. On our first walk over to the other apartment we happened to cut across a beautiful park, an oasis of green amidst a lot of roads.Half way through this wonderful park we came across a huge equestrian bronze statue of Robert E. Lee, the General of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. I was speechless and after I explained who Lee was, Donatella was surprised too. She likened it to finding a statue of Mussolini in an Italian park, except something like happening in Italy is impossible, all likenesses of Mussolini have long since been destroyed. Here perhaps is an example of why I no longer consider myself fully American; would a ‘normal’ US resident be surprised, outraged even, by the presence of a bronze statue in a public park eulogizing a hero of the Confederacy? I wonder. I sure was, but anyone I spoke with thought it was insignificant. I wondered how black Americans felt about it. It still bothers me even now. That wasn’t the only brush with a vibrant confederate culture that appears live and well in the South of the US.
We drove from Dallas to Vermont, crossing through Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York State before cutting through Connecticut and a corner of Massachusetts eventually reaching the Green Mountain State. Vermont was a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. No confederate flags here, or gun racks in every single pick-up truck as there were across the south. Vermont almost struck me as a time capsule in some ways. A part from the pristine towns, where almost all the homes were original 1800′s and early 1900′s buildings, wooden clapboard and gabled construction. There were still down towns where shops were open and full of stuff, people too! These small towns were beautiful, I wondered why more US towns no longer looked like this. The food coop in Montpelier was a dream, I loved shopping there for groceries. Montpelier itself was wonderful, there was a decent bike shop right in the downtown area where I discovered not one, but two 80′s vintage Tommasini road bikes hanging from the rafters over the cash register. They even had fantastic gelato, REAL Italian gelato, made by people who had graduated from the Academia del Gelato and purchased their machinery in Italy before coming home to make the real deal right on Main Street. And their book stores, I spent many an hour in those…
What really struck me though was the total absence of strip malls, malls or shopping centers of any type. I didn’t see one. It was a completely different landscape without those monsters everywhere. A lot of woods, lots of small farms and tiny roads going every which way. Donatella and I rented hybrid bikes one morning from the shop in Montpelier, I was itching to pedal a bit and explore some of those roads. What we hadn’t counted on was that Montpelier resides in a river valley, basically you either stick close to the river in the valley or you’re climbing. Naturally we wanted to be away from main roads and that meant climbing. Donatella isn’t used to riding for much more than 45 minutes, which she does on an indoor trainer. After 90 minutes she was showing real signs of fatigue. Coffee stop! Fresh fruit, a look around Barre, Vermont which was home to thousands of Italian stone masons.Barre is where most of the granite used in grave stones in the US comes from. During the rise of Fascism in the early 1920′s, many skilled stone cutters from the area of Massa Carrara in northern Tuscany emigrated, bound for Barre. Word had spread, with it being so dangerous for leftists, communists and anarchists in Italy, of which Massa Carrara was a hot bed, Barre Vermont was almost an easy choice. If you venture to Barre’s cemetery you can see dozens and dozens of examples of their craftsmanship, some of it quite inspired.
We were staying with my sister Laura, at least some of us were. Her house wasn’t big enough to have all of us though we did all eat there. My sister Sara and her partner Jackie stayed down the road at a small inn, right out of the 1950′s. Duff stayed there too, until he was woken one night by a critter in his room, probably a raccoon. He came back to Laura’s the next day and slept on a sofa bed. Vermont in August is a delight, at night it was getting down to the mid 30′s Fahrenheit but then during the day was back into the low 70′s. We knew it was broiling back in Italy and we were happy to be avoiding it. All vacations come to an end at some point, so did ours. It was a challenge packing every thing we’d purchased during our stay, books, clothes and food. What food you ask? Well mainly maple syrup, quarts and quarts of it. And as much freshly ground peanut butter as was possible. My luggage was over weight, when I told the check-in person why she kindly let me through with no penalty. She must have sympathized with my maple syrup habit.
Part one. More to come..for real. No more disappearing acts.