Break it up

February 20, 2019 § 4 Comments

If you want to get the most out of your #fake #profamateur cycling career, you need to take breaks from time to time, as there are things that tend to get you down. For example, the other day I got caught and dropped by a guy who is pushing 70. Totally normal.

And then I get e-shouted at a lot. In law, people love to e-shout. When you meet them in person, they are more like kittens, but behind the email wall they can be super shoutypants, which gets tiresome and decreases your fitness on the bike.

For my cycling break I rented an apartment in Vienna during February, you know, Central Europe in the middle of winter, a garden spot of sorts where all the plants are dead. The apartment has a cozy couch but the last person who stayed here had a legit case of B.O.

The couch and blanket and pillows all have this really intense dude B.O. smell, so when you snuggle down into the cushions it feels like you are jamming your nose up into a hairy, unwashed armpit. But when the alternative is being cold, you sort of accept the man-smell and hope that by going for a few days without a shower your man-smell will out-duel and eventually conquer his.

I think it’s working because the seat next to me on the subway is always open no matter how crowded the car.

You can also break things up by eating. Cycling too much makes you over-worry about being a fat slob, but when you go somewhere wintry you can put on tons of clothes and no one can really tell what you’re like underneath, which means lots of butter.

And, when you run away from your bike you DGAF about overeating. Instead, you think things like, “I’m going to be dead for a hundred billion trillion years to the ten billionth power times infinity. What difference does it make if I have those two dozen cream-filled donuts?”

Vienna’s best food break is Joseph Brot, the bakery, where you can order a loaf of the best rye bread on earth. It is so sweet. And the texture is perfect. And you can go to the Lidl supermarket and get a pound of coffee for ten bucks, coffee that is so incredibly good …

One thing that cyclists need a break from is getting ripped off. A pound of delicious coffee for ten bucks reminds you that there is economic justice in the world. Everything isn’t overpriced carbon or $300 for a pair of plastic pants.

Napping? Good travel requires bizarre sleep schedules. For example, today I got up at three, went to bed at one, got back up at five, and am going out to have dinner at eight, will come back around ten, go to sleep at midnight, and etcetera, as Billy Stone would say, may he rest in peace, and if not in peace, at least in sarcasm.

You should see old friends when you take a break, like my friends at the razor shop. Okay, they don’t know me, but I know them, which is the best kind of friendship anyway.

If you are working on an impossible vanity project, such as memorizing all 744 lines of The Miller’s Tale, taking a break will allow you the freedom to walk down the street mumbling to yourself like an insane person, and in Vienna you will fit right in, but don’t make eye contact because people will think you’re about to ask them for money.

After taking your well-deserved break, expect to return to cycling slower, heavier, less motivated, and possibly a lot smellier. But the payback is amazing: When the totally clean, pure-as-the-driven snow septuagenarian rides you off his wheel you won’t care … at all.



House of prayer

March 2, 2018 § 2 Comments

My church in Vienna is Joseph Brot, a bakery. They make a big, dense loaf of rye sourdough filled with nuts called “That one, please.” One day I’ll learn its name.

My fifth day of travel had beaten me down and well. Too much walking, too much freezing, especially too much freezing. I pulled the plug early in the day and returned to the home of hostile youth. So far I’d eaten a brace of eggs and a bowl of chicken soup. The brick-hard, cobblestone-heavy loaf of bread was in my backpack for dinner.

The room supplies you with tiny plastic shot glasses, so I filled one up with water and had my evening meal. Bread and water. Sound delicious? It was. The crust was thick and hard and rough, and it tore the edges of my mouth and roughed up the roof of my mouth like sandpaper; it cut my tongue and it hurt my jaw to chew, my teeth moved in the gums as I ripped each piece out from the main body of the loaf.

I went into the bathroom to refill my shot glass, and spit a mouthful of blood into the sink. All of this could have been avoided with a device called a “knife,” but on reflection it could best have been avoided by something called “staying home.”

I ate a quarter of the loaf, stuffed the rest back into the paper bag, put it at the foot of my bed, read myself to sleep. That seems to be the best thing about jet lag. Every time is a good time to sleep.

More Vienna, more coffee

Before I hit the wall, I had hit two new coffee joints. The first was Cafe Ritter, an old school coffeehouse on the model of Cafe Sperl, minus the billiard tables. One inescapable conclusion is that wintertime is a bad time to go to the big coffeehouses because they are drafty, high-ceilinged, and poorly heated. Unless you arrive with a blanket and a foot warmer, after a couple of hours you’re going to be very cold.

The second place was Coffee Pirates, located near the university. It had great home-roasted coffee, was located in a small, cramped building, and was filled with students or those posing as such. I posed along with the other posers until the combined effects of travel, jet lag, and exhaustion evicted me. No matter what type of coffeeshop I’d been in, none played music, an amazing relief.

On the outside, looking in

I awoke a few hours later and dug back into one of my recent purchases, “Moses and Monotheism,” by Freud. It was like reading Sherlock Holmes, only so much better. Freud has an amazing ability to tell a story and to unravel a riddle. His application of psychoanalysis to history and anthropology is mind-boggling. It is astonishing when you read truly great writing by a truly great mind. Think how much smarter he would have been if he’d had Facebook!

I read a few reviews of the book after getting halfway through, only to learn that it’s been discarded and discredited by mostly everyone, which, if anything, only made me like it better.  Freud is not for those who like swimming with the current. But I did fall into the wormhole of Wikipedia links on anthropology, and wound up reading, in addition to critiques of Freud’s book, the story of the Mead-Freeman dispute.

Anthropologists, it seems, are caught in the conundrum of whether you should get your observations by participating in the culture you’re observing, or whether you should do it analytically, from a distance, like Freud did. The problem seems impossible of resolution for the same reasons that underlie Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. You can know the momentum or position of a particle, but not both. Same with anthropology: You can observe from a distance and lose all the detail, or you can interact and have all of your observations distorted by your personal experiences and by the fact that people behave differently when they are being observed.

This paradox is what it feels like to be in a coffeehouse. On the one hand you want to be a fly on the wall, but on the other hand you want to be a fly in the soup. And since you can’t be both, you’re neither.

Travel is fundamentally this way, being part of something you don’t really belong to. It’s as alienating as it is anonymizing, liberating, and in the case of Vienna in winter, cold as hell.

Wake-up bread

My alarm was set for 5:00, not for any particular reason, as the irregular sleep hours meant that I’d surely get up before then. Throughout the night I’d coast in and out of consciousness, thanks in part to the guy next door who had a truly first class snore. It resonated through very thick walls, sounding like power equipment on low mode, or like suitcases being dragged over gravel.

Also dogging my sleep was the rustle of paper. Every few minutes I’d turn over and hear paper. It was weird. By three o’clock my stomach was growling, and I stretched out under the covers. The end of my foot slammed up against something hard, covered in paper. Ah, yes, of course. The wake-up bread. Time for prayers.



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