Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Category: travellin

Eià

My Swiss train from Zurich is late, my dad’s German car from Trento is on time. We meet in Zuoz on Friday evening: fourteen hours away from La Diagonela. We check into our stylish B&B in Zernez, we take a lavish dinner, and we wax our skis. ‘It is going to be an easy race, cold, long, but easy‘ my father tells me ‘An excellent training for next week’s Marcialonga: a couple of climbs in the first half, but then it goes down nice and steady‘.

The next morning we meet two other guests from our B&B for breakfast. They are young guys hailing from Basel, probably my age, athletic bodies, cool fellas. One of them has already completed many races before. He says this is the hardest one he has ever done, by far. ‘I have done even the Vasaloppet in Sweden (note: so has my father and so will Niels, later this year). That one is longer but it is easier because it is flat. This one is a killer. It goes up and down, up and down, it is never over. I cannot believe this is your first one. Good luck!’.

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We leave the B&B at 8:15. It is a sunny day in Lower Engadine, with the temperature down at about minus 20°. We arrive in Zuoz at 8:45. My dad greets some other die-harders. Carlo from Tirano looks a bit like Maurizio Corona and wishes me luck. ‘In the end what matters is to get to the finish line but it won’t be easy: you are young and do not have much experience!‘. We stretch before the start. ‘OK, game plan‘ my dad goes ‘We start slow, you do not worry. We will catch up over time. It is a long race‘.

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Five-hundred people have signed up for the event. Based on my estimations, some three-hundred are professional athletes and one-hundred-and-fifty are pensioners who go skiing on a daily basis. The remaining fifty are reckless individuals who have no idea what they are getting into.

Start!

Meanwhile, at the very bottom of the group, I look confused: what the hell am I doing here?

9:30, km 0, boom, start. We are at the very bottom of the group. My dad asks ‘Are we the last of the bunch?‘. I turn. Behind us only two figures: an old man who seems to be limping on the skis and a dwarf. (An actual dwarf, a strong man who is giving it all, but still: he is about one meter high). ‘Not yet, keep going‘. The old man catches up with us and moves on. Then the dwarf catches up too and keeps our pace. Together, we are last.

Three km down and I look exhausted already

Three km down and I look exhausted already. Far on the back you can see the dwarf chasing us.

9:50, km 3, twenty minutes into the race. I hear a noise behind us. It is the sag wagon: the support motor vehicle following long races to pick up athletes who are unable to complete the event. The guy on the wagon, which is actually a sled but let us call it wagon for the sake of the story, stays right behind us for five minutes; then he gets on my side and tells me we are too slow, ‘You have to retire, I am sorry!‘. I translate for my father and ask him what our next move can be. ‘Tell him to go fuck himself‘. I translate diplomatically: we go on with the sag wagon behind us. The dwarf retires.

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10:00, km 4, half an hour into the race. The sag wagon passes us and then stops, as to halt our journey. The driver gets down: I stop to parlay with him while my father carries on. The organisers want us to get out, we are already five minutes overtime. I give him my electronic chip and tell him that we if we continue being too slow we will retire at the first feeding point situated at km 7. He lets me continue.

10:10, km 5, forty minutes into the race. We reach the first feeding point. The driver of the sag wagon and some other staffers want us to stop: we are seven minutes overtime. My father explodes ‘I had a stroke one year ago, if I have another one now vi denuncio!‘, he  slashes through and makes his on way. He reminds me of Bernard Hinault, 1984. We carry on.

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10:30, km 9, one hour into the race, our first overtaking. It is Beaud: you can see her in the picture of the start. She did not look very good then and looks even worse now. I imagine she is about to spend one long day in hell. We then take a second and a third participant. Farewell to the last positions. The bystanders cheer for us: Eià, eià! We are now getting into a good pace.

10:45, km 11, one hour and fifteen-minutes into the race. We reach the second feeding station and, surprise surprise, we are now back in the official time of the race.

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11:30, km 18, two hours into the race, first climb. We are riding with a couple from Sweden and with Franco from Bologna. ‘Dai che glie la facciamo vedere a questi svizzeri‘.

12:30, km 25, three hours into the race. We reach St. Moritz ten minutes ahead of the sag wagon. The driver catches up with us and hands me my electronic chip back. ‘Well done guys‘. We keep passing participants who are slowly but surely going adrift. I pity them.

St. Moritz

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14:30, km 42, five hours into the race. We are in Samedan: it is the beginning of a long, lonely flat. It feels like we are crossing the desert. I pity ourselves.

16:00, km 54, six hours and a half into the race. We are back in Zuoz with some 10 km to go. Last feeding point. The sun is about to set. ‘Are you the last?‘ one bystander asks me. I would think so: the sag wagon is behind us again. All those whom we have overtaken in the last few hours have been excluded from the race. Here we go again: fighting against overtime. We catch up two skiers who are very happy to see us. I assume that is because they are happy not to be the last (‘Ah, ma guarda, c’erano ancora altri due stronzi dietro…‘). It is only the next day my father tells me they were the cool fellas from breakfast.

Right before sunset. We are heading towards the end. Behind us, our friends from breakfast, also the last two men standing in the race.

16:30, km 59, seven hours into the race. We have passed S-chanf and we are finally heading back to Zuoz. The two skiers are 50 meters behind and we have caught up another guy. We are giving our best to get to the finish line before they close it down. Sunset.

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17:20, km 65, seven hours and fifty minutes into the race. The final climb in Zuoz is done. We reach the finish line 432nd and 433rd. The sag wagon stops and the guy jumps down to congratulate us. I meet Carlo from Tirano. ‘I cannot believe you were slower than I was! You are young, you should have been faster!

The next day we bid farewell to our hosts, who have treated us handsomely, and we stop in Zuoz in a big shop. We are having a look around when the owner comes to us and congratulates for the race. ‘Good job, I did not think you were going to be able to finish on time! Well, I hope you are not going to call a lawyer now‘. He is the driver of the sag wagon. We take a picture with him, our mental coach, and we head to Samedan. Grisons are a magical place. If we survive another week, next Sunday we will be at the starting line of the Marcialonga.

Looking for the Jasper

Eighth edition of our NYE ( UtrechtInnsbruckFirenzeDen Haag, Berlin, Turin, Stockholm) with the false Canadians in the 18th arr. of Paris. Notable participants: Iris, Stephanie, Noa, Arianna, Lorenzo, Jasper. Special invitees to be included in our tenth edition: Jack, Justine, Sylvan, Gianmarco.

Some take aways. Jasper made a last minute appearance on December 28 and then badly injured his leg surfing down the Sacre Coeur a couple of hours into 2019. Crutches are cheap, though. We tried to eat more vegan food than usual but it was not easy: we will keep trying. Museums are good. Some of us snore really loud. We still enjoy spending time together: cooking, playing board games like nerds, eating, walking, and chatting our worries away.

Mother with three children

My last night in Nairobi I walked out of the hotel to get a quick meal. I was told not to go out in the dark but my hotel was in the better-off part of town (Westland) and there was no risk. As I left the mall where I had dinner, I saw a group of people sitting in the middle of a cross-road. Upon closer inspection I realised it was a woman with three children. I could not understand why they were standing there but I found it to odd and dangerous. I tried to take some pictures from far out. After a couple of minutes, I decided to approach the group and ask for permission to take a few photos. Walking there, I understood that the street was the only place where the woman would have been safe from rape during the night. The cars were roaring centimeters away from them and the children were exposed to the constant on-and-off of the lights. I spoke to them for a minute or so and I took this photo. It is the only serious picture I felt like having during my week in Nairobi.

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Trust to me

Between October 14 and October 20 this year I went to Nairobi for a conference as part of the Better Migration Management Programme sponsored by the European Union and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. Here I will write only about my experience in the city, copying down the scattered notes I took on my journal.

***

I land at Jomo Kenyatta Airport on Monday 15 at 2 in the night. Large, empty roads, kind taxi driver. Arrival at the hotel: massive security devices, big gate, armed guards. It is a consequence of the terrorist attack at the Mall in 2012, I am told. The hotel is in the same neighbourhood where those events took place: Westland. It is the richest neighbourhood of Nairobi. My room is luxurious. The whole building is luxurious. A stark contrast with the city. Still, I love the dress of the staff: lean and colourful.

First impressions of the day: loud, sandy, buzzing. The streets are full of traffic. There are no sidewalks for pedestrians. Only mud and grass to walk in. People come and go, everywhere. This strikes me as a poor place but in a different way from Cuba. In La Havana, for instance, I had the impression that people idle all the time. Here in Nairobi people run around. They seem busy. What do they have to do? Where do they run?

There are high hotels everywhere, half are finished half are being built. Most of them are property of the Chinese, who bring in their money but also their own workers. Locals do not fancy that.

I walk out of the hotel with wallet and my camera but Victor suggests me to do otherwise. It turns out it is forbidden to take pictures in the open spaces. Another consequence of the terrorist attacks of 2012. I am not sure sure it makes any sense; but people tell me they feel safer. Other actions that are forbidden: walking with a plastic bag and smoking outside. Only the Chinese can do whatever they want: they bring in so much money that the police does not dare stopping them. I ask about the odd plastic policy. It is the government’s strategy to reduce pollution. Seems radical; it is certainly easier for the government to proceed this way than organising large recycling structures.

Bizarre: everybody seems to wear a Manchester United t-shirt. I ask why: nobody is able to explain. While it remains a mystery to me I can promise you half of the youth in this country has a Manchester United t-shirt.

I visit the National Museum and the Nairobi Snake Park. Fact: Nairobi was built only in 1899 when the British authorities decided to connect Mombasa, then the biggest city of the country, to Kampala in Uganda by rail. Thousands of Indians died in the construction of the railway. (Today it is the Chinese, back then the main foreign work force was them). Nairobi, an uninhabited swamp, was selected as the site of a store depot, shunting ground and camping ground. A hundred years later it is one of Africa’s biggest cities.

I feel guilty about it, but on the second day I take a safari in the early morning. We go to Nairobi National Park, only 7 kilometres south of the centre of the city. Though I did not take the picture myself, I swear this is how it looks like.

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I take my first walking tour of Nairobi on Thursday, courtesy of Joshua from Machako Country. He is a crack. The first tour he gave, one year ago, ended up in a disaster. He was unable to speak to his three clients, blonde Swiss girls, because they were too beautiful and he was too embarrassed. He then got arrested by armed guards because he did not see one of them taking pictures in front of a government building. He was released after a few hours and was reprimanded by one of the girls, who noticed he had peed on himself during the arrest. Things are better now: I promise him I won’t take any picture without his permission.

We start from the ancient site of the American Embassy, which was bombed in 1998 by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Qaeda. Joshua tells me the terrorists came from Somalia and goes on explaining, like many others will do in the following days, that the main problem of Kenya are the porous frontiers that make it easy for bad guys to come in.

We walk to Wakulima Market, where he defends me from several snatchers. All the food there comes from Tanzania: such a rich country resource-wise. In Uhru Park Joshua tells me several stories about his and his father’s polygamy and the various problems that come with it. He is not good at sex, though, because he is not a Masai. The Masai are known to excel in bed, didn’t I know it? In Jivanshee Park I notice a large assembly. Who are they? Students, they come here every day to talk about politics, in circles. Hundreds of them. This is something we do not do in Europe any more.

Joshua brings me to eat chapati and uguali at the university, where we float amid thousands of students who eat a simple meal in temporary wooden barracks. I want to remember the rustic bowls where the meals are cooked. When we are walking out of the campus I am approached by some ten-year old kids who are begging. One of them cannot stop laughing and asks me to take her with me to America. She is high on glue.

I bid farewell to Joshua in a coffee. He does not want me to go into one of the Java shops that are mushrooming around the city. They are owned by the Somali entrepreneurs. The Somali are smart but they are evil. I will remember Joshua. He is what we call a genuinely good guy. I like how he kept saying “trust to me” when telling his stories.

 
I take my second walking tour on Saturday, the day of my departure. Though invented only one year ago, this activity has huge popularity and you can read more about it here, watch the special on the Swiss television, or the trailer they produced. My three guides, Donga, Kissmart and Cheddar, have a thick skin. I remember their “buah buah buah” to greet their buddies on the street.

After leaving them, I take a long walk by myself. Near the mosque I see a child running happily into a shop. Someone is calling her from behind the corner. I turn and I see her mum – or so I suppose – crawling on the floor. She has her shoes under the hands and drags her legs behind the body, unable to stand. She is chasing her daughter. A part of me wants to take a picture but I refrain from doing so.

There is a special atmosphere around the mosque. It reminds me of the mosque of Sarajevo. I like it.

I leave on Saturday night. The guard at the airport jokes with me saying I should give him 10$ to pass the gate. I am not sure he is joking after all. In any case, I have no cash left with me. He does not mind and lets me go. I am leaving this place. Nairobi is full of opportunities. There is extreme poverty, sure, but also a rising middle class. Most of the people I met I really liked. I am surprised by the students, who are eager to study, travel. They know what they want. This has been such a different journey when compared to Cuba. The contrast between the two places I had the privilege to visit this year could not be starker.

Un uomo di grande virtù ebbe certamente dei buoni amici

Neuchâtel, Bern, Brigg, Milan, Firenze, Piombino, Piombino Marittima, Riomarina, Cavo: 16 ore.

Nelsina, Einlaufbier, Flieger grüss mir die Sonne, Sanzionami questo, Secret Hitler, Porto Azzurro, le miniere di Capolivieri, Lacona, Salivoli, bella sgnacchera.

Like a Karius pass

Okay, time to confess: between May and June I went to Cuba with Thomas. It was the first time we spent time together since our Tuscan farewell in 2015. Apart from the rain that escorted us for the first seventeen days, these are the words that I will remember from this experience: Casa particular, tabacco con miel, Malecón, Capitolio, El Nacional, arroz con frijoles, ron collins, mojito, daiquiri, cubanito, Floridita, finca la vigìa, coco, bucanero, montecristo, robusto, cochiba, Rom de Santiago. Comisión, yuma, jinetero, hustlers, scam, campesinos, todo está fresa, 26 julio, 1958, José Marti, Camilo Cienfuegos, René Portocarrero, realismo sucio, bloqueo, yoruba.

In bold characters the things I liked about my three-week vacations in Cuba. All the rest, we highly disliked. I do not feel like explaining why right now right here.

If only I could read the signs: I should have known better.

Swissmaking, one year later

Jean Thomas and François, Rue de la Côte, the mattress. Unine, SUN. Escrime on Tuesday and Wednesday, tennis with Salomon on Thursday. Gruyere and freshly baked baguette at the Saturday market. Xamax with Elie and Raffaele. Genève. Giulia. Les Bains des Pâquis. Pasta fresca with Marco. The morning breakfast with le dinosaure at the Boulangerie de la Côte. Football with Michael and the ‘Savoir Faire a Manger‘ team. Santiago. Salsa, tango. Johanna. Mail. Dinner chez Maria, Damaso, Guido. Come si chiamano le tartarughe? Basel with Annique, carnival. Valais, Zinal. The lights of Zurich. Chasseron, alpine skying. La Fée verte ou absinthe du Val-de-Travers. Chasseral. La tartare a Yverdon. The Italian Consulate in Bern. Gaetan, Fribourg. Interlaken. The Aar from Thun to Bern. The Black Office and Cyclop. La Case à Chocs in Fall, le Chauffage Compris in Winter, Univers in Spring.

Peyragudes

The Tour arrives on the Pyrenees today and one year ago I was there to watch it together with Giallu en route from Marseilles.

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We did not know what to expect there. We found a colourful and enormous circus that cuts across national origin and social class. This was stage 12 of the Tour with the peloton arriving in Peyragudes at 1,590 m (5,217 ft) and below you will find my photos of the day.

Lagom

Ho trascorso sette giornate corte e tutto sommato non troppo fredde tra Stoccolma e Kiruna. In Svezia ho ritrovato il cuore del gruppo canadese con cui ho celebrato sei degli ultimi sette capodanni dal 2011 a oggi, sempre in una località differente: Utrecht, Innsbruck, Firenze, l’Aja, Berlino (non c’ero), Torino e Stoccolma, per l’appunto.

Gennaio in Svezia: le giornate durano poco più di sei ore. In questa stagione dell’anno la capitale è vivibile, ma poco appariscente. L’unica eccezione è la metropolitana, colorata e allegra. Due aggettivi piuttosto inusuali per una realtà sotterranea.

La sera del primo gennaio ho preso il treno per Kiruna assieme a Jasper, Giallu e Nicolas. Dopo quindici ore siamo arrivati in Lapponia. Neve e buio: siamo nel periodo dell’anno in cui, da quelle parti, il sole non sorge mai. C’è, tuttavia, una bella luce crepuscolare tra le nove della mattina e le tre del pomeriggio. La provincia di Kiruna è grande quanto la metà dei Paesi Bassi ed è stata costruita all’inizio del Novecento attorno a un insediamento minerario scavato nel cuore di una montagna. Sfortunatamente per i loro discendenti, i primi abitanti di Kiruna hanno costruito le case proprio sopra la vena mineraria. E così adesso il centro cittadino rischia di collassare nel sottosuolo. Il governo ha da poco cominciato imponenti lavori per trasportare la città e la sua bellissima chiesa in legno costruita in tradizionale stile sami venti chilometri più a valle entro il 2025.

La vista di Kiruna al mattino è memorabile. Una montagna tozza e larga, costellata di luci sfocate nel buio e nella neve. Abbiamo alloggiato in una piccola casetta nella foresta, parte di un insediamento gestito da un uomo finlandese e sua moglie spagnola. Abbigliamento largo e caldo affittato da Patrick – big is warm. Il primo giorno ci siamo regalati una gita con la motoslitta per oltre quindici chilometri fino all’albergo ghiacciato di Jukkasjärvi. Posticino suggestivo: in ogni stanza dell’albergo è alloggiata un’opera d’arte in ghiaccio realizzata da artisti con una formazione molto diversa tra loro: interior designer, scultori, fumettisti, pittori… Ogni stagione, in tarda primavera, l’albergo si scioglie e viene poi ricostruito l’inverno successivo in maniera differente. Apparentemente, la sua struttura è purissima: l’acqua del fiume da cui viene preso scorre alla velocità giusta per permettere al ghiaccio di essere privo di gas.

La sera abbiamo passato alcune ore nella sauna e poi davanti al fuoco. Il giorno successivo abbiamo fatto sci da fondo, poi siamo ripartiti. Altre quindici ore di treno. A Stoccolma abbiamo ritrovato Niels e abbiamo visitato Fotografska: un grande spazio fotografico con esibizioni francamente mediocri.

Vi aspettavate un colpo di scena finale? Peccato.

Black Office

When I arrived in Neuchâtel last year I was going through a big cycling mania: I had just finished the Strade Bianche and I was preparing for the Gran Fondo di Fiesole. The Black Office, or the atelier libre for fixing and setting up bikes, looked like the ideal place to hang out.

One big problem, though, is that I did not speak French at the time. This was a significant obstacle. People at the Black Office would speak English to me, but then I was unavoidably excluded from all the group conversations. It was frustrating. I left Switzerland in July 2016.

Then I moved back in September this year. I went back to the Black Office only last week – not sure why it took me so long. It was a casual Saturday afternoon, but I found there Romain, Cyril, and Cyril. They recognised me. I then met some new guys who were not there last year – Ralph and Gaetan. I like the place. This is a little jewel of anarchist creativity in conservative Switzerland.