t’s July and once again I’m sucked into the vortex of the Tour de France. In the first week of the race, a young rider from Toulouse who was in an early breakaway, won in on a steep but short summit finish in a drenching downpour. One of the race moderators, mentioned how the winner, Biel Kadri, used to raid his mother’s small grocery store after a ride and scarf all her remaining baguettes and cheese. This reminded me of feeding my former bicycle-racer son before and after a ride, and I thought of all the mothers, and fathers, who similarly fueled their children’s racing careers over the past century.
It takes a family to feed one athlete.
Back from New York City and upstate New York, a contrast in cultures. In the world’s ninth largest megacity, one hears a multitude of tongues and imbibes a global potpourri of cultures – an anthropological feast.
Upstate New York, a few miles north of Ithaca, is home to Cornell, where anthropologists are trained. Multi-generational dairy farmers coexist uneasily with newcomer vineyard growers, and organic farmers, not to mention the thousands of college professors and hundreds of summer city dwellers, whose opulent homes hug Lake Cayuga. In this part of the Fingerlakes, white is the dominant skin tone except for a what seems like a (self?) segregated section of downtown Ithaca. The language is English except for Mexican vineyard workers, who labor year round, even in the snow and subzero cold.
Aurally, NYC is the cacophony of machine noisemakers. Ithaca is birdsong and wave lapping, thunder and owl hoots.
Babies are a bellwether for the human condition. In NYC, parents and a bevy of nannies marshal solemn-looking babies through crowded, humid streets. Some babies wail, but most seem on mute, as if shrouded against the tumult by an inner protective shield. They had already become quintessential New Yorkers.
At the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, set up in a wooden arcade extending like a cross in two directions, babies yelped and gurgled as their parents stopped to talk with other stroller-bound shoppers. The babies reminded me of the spritely fawns that caper through the pastures in the surrounding area: free to roam but never far from mom, or dad.
Upon my return to Berkeley/Albany, just in the space of ten days’ absence, some drastic differences:
First, our beloved French bakery, La Farine, vanished. The windows are papered over with brown wrapping paper and a small sign on the door says because of an ongoing dispute with the landlord, the bakery did not renew its lease.
I ran into a friend on Solano, the street descending 200 feet from the tunnel in north Berkeley to San Pablo Avenue in Albany, and while bemoaning the loss of our culinary delights, she did see a positive return. “I might be able to lose some weight now,” she remarked.
Then, while cycling in the Berkeley hills today, I noticed that the descent down Grizzly Peak to Spruce was smoother than normal. Was it my tires? Then, I looked down and saw that the stretch of road up to Centennial, which descends to UC Berkeley, had been repaved. The joy – like its realization -- sank in slowly, and I’m still relishing that pothole-free descent.
And all my clients seemed to have survived despite my complete lack of attention to their needs, making me wonder whether I might not take more vacations in the near future.