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CARTE Cronici de bicicletă cu David Byrne

Am cumpărat “Bicycle Diaries” de David Byrne de la o librărie engleză din Amsterdam, deci contextul a fost perfect. Poveşti din oraşele lumii, locuri şi fapte văzute de pe bicicletă, împletite cu adevărate lecţii de viaţă şi eseuri.

Membru al trupei Talking Head, David Byrne şi-a luat în turnee cu el bicicleta pliabilă. După concert sau înainte, el a dat ture în oraşul respectiv, a observat şi a făcut poze. Rezultatul este acest volum cu mărturii, gînduri, opinii. Byrne nu se limitează la a povesti ce vede din şa, ci adaugă părerile lui despre arhitectura oraşului, planurile de urbanism, măsurile luate de autorităţile locale pentru a sprijini transportul alternativ.

Există o mulţime de poveşti în carte despre întîlnirile sale cu artişti locali, despre modul în care interacţionează cu oameni ce au aceleaşi interese ca el, despre cum va evolua transportul în oraşele tot mai aglomerate.

Capitolele sunt organizate pe oraşe şi întotdeauna primul şi ultimul paragraf se referă la ciclismul urban. Iată mai jos cîteva fragmente din volum. Dacă prindeţi cartea pe undeva, citiţi-o, pentru a cunoaşte viziunea unui artist biciclist despre oraşele pe care le-a traversat, pentru a-i afla visele şi pentru a vă informa despre modul în care s-a implicat el personal în dezvoltarea transportului alternativ.

Introducere, p. 2

The point of view – faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person – became my panoramic window on much of the world over the last thirty years – and it still is. It’s a big window and it looks out on a mainly urban landscape. (I’m not a racer or sports cyclist). Through this window I catch glimpses of the mind of my fellow man, as expressed in the cities he lives in.

American cities, p. 11

Most of the time it turns out the cars are merely using these highways not to have easier access to businesses and residences in the nearby city, as might have been originally proposed, but to bypass that city entirely. The highway allowed people to flee the cities and to isolate themselves in bedroom communities, which must have seemed to many like a good thing – one’s own domain, a yard for the kids, safe schools, backyard barbeques, ample parking.

Berlin, p. 45

Here even the bikes themselves are practical. They are usually black, with only a few gears, mudguards, and often a basket – something no sport cyclist would ever even dream of adding to a mountain bike in North America. In Holland they go even further, with special carts for kids and groceries and bike windshields (!) for your child. Granted, riding in the streets of New York City, with the recurring potholes, bumps, and yearly resurfacings, is closer to an extreme sport than riding is here, where somehow, despite the harsh winters, the streets are mostly smooth and obstacle free. Hmmm. The biggest bumps here are on the occasional cobblestone streets or bits of pavement. How do they do it? Or rather, how is it that the richest country in the world doesn’t seem to be able to do it?

Istanbul, p. 77

Ride a bike in Istanbul? Are you nuts? Yes… and no. The traffic here is pretty chaotic and there are a number of hills, but in recent years the streets have become so congested that on a bike I can get around the central city – in the daytime at least – faster than one can in a car. As in many other places I’m almost the only one on a bike. Again, I suspect that status might be a big reason for this – bike riding, in many countries, implies poverty. I rode around Las Vegas and was told that the only other people on bikes there were people who had lost everything, probably through gambling. They’d lost their jobs, families, houses, and, I guess – ultimate insult for an American – their cars. All they had left was a bicycle to get around on. As cheap cars become available I’m afraid lots of folks in India and China will ditch their bikes as quickly as they can so they too can be elegant modern car drivers.

Istanbul, p. 95

With some of the worst traffic in the world – the city has exploded in population in recent decades – one wonders why, with its agreeable Mediterranean climate, central Istanbul hasn’t embraced the bicycle as a mode of transport. Aside from the hills I come back to status as the only explanation that fits. Sure, folks will say, as they do in New York City, “It’s dangerous, and where will I park my bike?” Those questions get answered and rapidly rendered moot when there is political will – or when the price of gas is five times what it is today. They are really excuses, justifications for inaction, not real questions.

Buenos Aires, p. 97

Built on the floodplain of La Plata River, the city is fairly flat, and with the temperate weather and the streets more or less on a grid it is perfect for cycling around. Despite this I could count on one hand the number of locals I saw on bikes. Why? Would I inevitably find out the reason no one else was pedaling around here? Was there some dark secret explanation about to pounce on me? Am I a naive fool? Is it because the driving is so reckless, the theft so rampant, the gas so cheap, and a car such a necessary symbol of status? Is it so uncool to ride a bike here that even messengers find other ways of getting around?

I don’t think it is any of those reasons. I think the idea of cycling is simply off the radar here. The cycling meme hasn’t been dropped into the mix, or it never took hold.

Buenos Aires, p. 117

I cycle back to the hotel, where they instruct me not to bring my bike into the lobby. They suggest I ride down into the underground parking area – and from there I can use the elevator to take myself, with the bike, up to my room.

Sydney, p. 169

As a place for urban biking Australian towns are better than most. Sydney is a bit tough – the geography and the busy arteries that link the various neighborhoods are not very welcoming – but Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide I find to be more accommodating. The weather is pretty near perfect – Mediterranean – and these cities, though they sprawl a bit, are in size nothing like those in the United States, so one can get from one end of town to the other reasonably quickly. There are bike paths along the rivers that flow through many Australian towns – paths that eventually lead down to the sea, and more are being added yearly.

London, p. 186

London is a city not on a grid plan, which can be both good and bad for getting around by bike. If one knows the streets well, one can, by taking a zigzag path, avoid the large, busy thoroughfares that snake through the maze of smaller streets and, by following those smaller arteries, travel more or less as the crow flies. However, not being a native, I have to consult a map fairly often, as the winding streets here can lead one astray – without realizing it, for example, I could be headed northwest rather than west, and gradually do miles out of my way.

London, p. 213

Later in the evening I dismantle my bike in the hotel room. The seat, handlebars, and wheels pop off and then it folds into a large suitcase. Time to go home to New York. Sometimes the hotel staff doesn’t like me bringing a bike inside, but often it arrives hidden in its big suitcase so they haven’t a clue that I’m up in the room with an Allen wrench and rubber gloves to keep the grease off my hands, assembling – or in this case, disassembling – my means of transport.

San Francisco, p. 215

San Francisco is philosophically and politically bike-friendly, but not geographically – the famous hills can make one think twice about some trips around town, even though the city proper is concentrated like Manhattan, or a European city. The local cycling organization has issued a wonderful map that shows, by the deepness of the red shading, the steepness of the streets. A street shaded light pink is a mild slope, but a dark red street is a major hill to be avoided unless you’re a masochist. Luckily, this map allows one to plan a hill-free trip at a glance. I wouldn’t have thought so, but one can plot a route to and from almost anywhere and avoid the worst hills – almost.

New York, p. 243

I ride my bike almost every day here in New York. It’s getting safer to do so, but I do have to be fairly alert when riding on the streets as opposed to riding on the Hudson River bike path or similar protected lanes. The city has added a lot of bike lanes in recent years, and they claim they now have more than any other city in the United States. But sadly most of them are not safe enough that one can truly relax, as is possible on the almost completed path along the Hudson or on many European bike lanes. That’s changing, bit by bit. As new lanes are added some of them are more secure, placed between the sidewalk and parked cars or protected by a concrete barrier.

New York, p. 247

There is lots of spandex, way too much spandex. There is a characteristic sound of spandex skidding on asphalt that I’ve heard a couple of times already. I guess, for some, the fun of these events, or the fun in weekend cycling, is in dressing up. A change of outfit announces, “I’m doing this now! I’m a biker today.”

New York, p. 261

There are more New Yorkers riding bikes than ever. And not just messengers. Significantly, a lot of young hip folks don’t seem to regard cycling as totally uncool anymore, which was definitely the case when I began to ride around in the late seventies and early eighties. I sense that we might be approaching a tipping point, to invoke that now clichéd term. New Yorkers are at the stage where they might, given the chance and the opportunity, consider a bicycle as a valid means of transportation – if not for themselves, then at least they will tolerate it as a reasonable means of transport for other New Yorkers. They might eventually try it themselves, and certainly they will accommodate it. They might even support and encourage it.

New York, p. 268

Hal, who repairs bikes at Bicycle Habitat on Lafayette Street, also has a more unusual job there> as new locks come into the store his job is to determine how long it takes to crack each one. Some locks he can break in a second, with a snip of some wire cutters he carries in his back pocket. Others require more elaborate tools. Hal agrees to break some locks onstage.

Epilogue: the future of getting around, p. 276

Riding a bike won’t stop that or many other dire predictions from happening in our lifetimes, but maybe if some cities face the climate, energy, and transportation realities now they might survive, or even prosper – although the idea of prospering seems almost morbid, given that so many unsustainable cities will inevitably flounder through droughts, floods, unemployment, and lack of power. I expect some of the cities I’ve ridden around to more or less disappear within my lifetime – they’re resource hogs and the rest of the continent and world won’t put up with it for long. I don’t ride my bike all over the place because it’s ecological or worthy. I mainly do it for the sense of freedom and exhilaration. I realize that soon I might have a lot more company than I have had in the past, and that some cities are preparing for these inevitable changes and are benefiting as a result.

Epilogue, p. 292

I’m in my midfifties, so I can testify that biking as a way of getting around is not something only for the young and energetic. You don’t really need the spandex, and unless you want it to be, biking is not necessarily all that strenuous. It’s the liberating feeling – the physical and psychological sensation – that is more persuasive than any practical argument. Seeing things from a point of view that is close enough to pedestrians, vendors, and storefronts combined with getting around in a way that doesn’t feel completely divorced from the life that occurs on the streets is pure pleasure.

Observing and engaging in a city’s life – even for a reticent and often shy person like me – is one of life’s great joys. Being a social creature – it is part of what means to be human.

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Foto: Simcute