Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Tag: nyt

A painful beauty

OK – I finished my previous post, which is completely unrelated to this, with a reference to the importance of asking the right questions. Now, in the last three days many people asked me whether the race I attended on Sunday was fun and whether I won. “No” I said “It was not fun, and I did not win“. But I was somehow struggling to find a better answer to that. It is true: I did not have fun. Yet, I was incredibly glad I attended the race. Only now I realize they were asking me the wrong questions. And today I found the words I was looking for in a reportage of the New York Times on the race that is the twin sister of the one I attended on Sunday. “For cyclists in Tuscany, winning isn’t the point”, is the title, and “Cycling was never fun,” the article makes clear “because it is literally painfully beautiful” or, as an even better Italian translation goes, “Il ciclismo non è mai stato divertimento, ma una bellezza ricca di sofferenza”.

Let me tell you how I got to this article. I first stumbled upon an essay in Italian on “the most southern classic of the north of Europe”, or “la classica del nord più a sud d’Europa” – for those who are not cycling fans: these are the classics of the north, or the monument races of Europe. This is how the article describes the race – my translation, sic: “Several kilometers in dirt and rough roads, reminiscent of the famous cobblestones of the French classic, and terrible uphills – with peaks up to 20% – which remind Belgians walls. A tough race, not comparable to the most demanding classics such as the Milan-Sanremo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but still able to make a selection, putting a strain on the strength of the riders, trying them also from a psychological point of view. In this sense, it should not be underestimated the punctures-factor in a race that is run on dirt roads for over 50 km“. It is a good article.

OK – starting from here the article takes us to the twin race, l’Eroica, which is organized in October on the same roads but a completely different concept. It is a non-competitive race, in which the only requirements are a vintage bike, vintage clothing and, it would appear, a healthy appetite. Because there are no time trials, stopping for a sandwich and a glass of Chianti is perfectly acceptable.


L’Eroica did not start off merely to pay homage to the glorious past, but also as a way to promote and protect the Tuscan heritage of white gravel roads, where riding is breathtakingly beautiful. I keep trying to explain my friends why cycling has such a strong appeal on me since I was a child. No, it’s not about the fun: it is about fatigue, nostalgia, and beauty. A painful beauty, indeed.

Good manners and elegance

David Brooks, not exactly the ideal type supporter of the current American president, has written a marvellous, short article on the Obama presidency praising its ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance – something we all will, or should, miss at least a little bit.

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The realist’s morning prayer

Tomorrow The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times, becomes The International New York Times. Rebranding and changing the name is a remarkably progressive move for newspapers, which are notorious habit-forming products of consumption. Loyal readers will fiercely resist any alteration of their daily fix, a lot of them will lament the change, but eventually everybody will forget the old name and move onto a new routine. If only it were that easy to win over reactionary forces in other areas of society.

The Barkley Marathon

In 2014 Stefania and I are going to participate to the Barkley marathon, that has been elegantly described by a recent article published on the New York Times. But do not tell her: she still doesn’t know.

On Friday night, in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Tennessee, 28 men and 7 women will lie in tents half asleep in anticipation of hearing a conch shell being blown at Big Cove Campground in Frozen Head State Park. When they hear the call, which will arrive sometime between 11 p.m. that night and 11 a.m. Saturday, they will know they are 60 minutes from the start of an ordeal once referred to as a “satanic running adventure.” Enlarge This Image Geoffrey S. Baker Runners in 2012 heading up an incline called Rat Jaw. Runners are required to complete a bizarre entry form with questions like, “What is the most important vegetable group?” It is a 100-mile footrace that some say is actually 130 miles or more, through unmarked trails that have names like Meth Lab Hill, Bad Thing and Leonard’s Buttslide and that are choked with prickly saw briers. Temperatures often range from freezing to blistering on the same day, and there is a cumulative elevation gain of more than 60,000 feet, or the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice from sea level. A 60-hour time limit forces competitors to run, climb and bushwhack for three days with little or no sleep. They endure taunts from the race director, who deliberately keeps the competition’s entry procedure a mystery. It is a race in which there are no comfort stations, and runners cannot use a GPS device or a cellphone. Read the rest on the New York Times

We needed beer

Lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization. To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did. We needed beer. Luckily, from time to time, our ancestors, like other animals, would run across fermented fruit or grain and sample it. How this accidental discovery evolved into the first keg party, of course, is still unknown. But evolve it did, perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago. … Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds. But the alcohol would have had more far-ranging effects, too, reducing the strong herd instincts to maintain a rigid social structure. In time, humans became more expansive in their thinking, as well as more collaborative and creative. A night of modest tippling may have ushered in these feelings of freedom — though, the morning after, instincts to conform and submit would have kicked back in to restore the social order.

Read the entire article on The New York Times.

For sale

I am very sorry to hear that New York Times Co. (NYT) is formally exploring a sale of the Boston Globe, its only remaining business outside the core New York Times media brand. Boston Globe is a quality newspaper, and the main provider of stunning pictures that I regularly admire on the Big Picture section of the website. I hope that won’t change with the future ownership.