Lorenzo & his humble friends

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

Tag: switzerland

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.

Cross country skiing

I have promised my father I will complete two traditional classic cross country skiing competitions with him: the Diagonela and the Marcialonga. The Diagonela takes place on January 19 with starts and finish in Zuoz, Engadina Valley, Switzerland. It is 65-kilometre long. The Marcialonga takes place on January 27 with start in Moena and finish in Cavalese, Dolomites of Trentino, Italy. It is 70-kilometre long.

I have never done classic cross country skiing before. My previous experience with cross country skiing is limited to skating, with one participation to the regional championship of junior students when I was 17. On that occasion, I inadvertently took a huge shortcut of about one third of the race and yet ended up only 8th out of 16 participants.

Training:

November 7: Trento-Lavis, 10 km roller skis
December 5: Martignano-Montevaccino, 10 km, roller skis
December 23: Lavazé, 18 km, skis
December 25: Passo Coe, 10 km, skis
December 28: Viote, 27 km, skis
December 29: Lavazé, 24 km, skis
January 12: La Tourne, 22 km, skating skis
January 13: La Sagne, 15 km, skating skis
January 15: La Vue des Alps, 20 km, skating skis
January 19: La Diagonela, 65 km, skis
January 20: Morteratsch, 6 km, skis
January 23: Moonlight Classic, Alpe di Siusi, 15 km, skis
January 25: Predazzo – Lago di Tesero, 12 km, skis
January 26: Marcialonga, 70 km, skis
February 2: Petit Martel, 15 km, skating skis
February 5: Les Rochats, 17 km, skating skis

 

Direction Istanbul à vélo

François came to Neuchâtel in the 1990s. He worked here and moved back and forth to Montpellier, although he likes Aix-en-Provence better. In 2016 he started looking for a new apartment and in the end he took the room I was about to leave.

When I came back, one year ago, we became part-time flatmates. He, like Jean Thomas, was away most of the time; but the few days we spent together were good. He is calm, thoughtful, youthful, curious, careful. When I think of him I think of expensive mattresses, verbena, sheeps, maps, and big white afro hair on a white man.

François left Neuchâtel in June last year. He has now embarked on new projects. One of these is a long ride from Montpellier to Istanbul. It began already a week ago and you can follow his steps on his new blog. Daje François.

 

Post scriptum. Before publishing this blogpost I asked him consent: Si il y a que des gentils comme Elie, Marco, Jean-Thomas, les filles allemandes, alors ça va!

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.

Books I have read, 2017

January. Cold, grey, busy Torino. After celebrating NYE with my dear Canadian friends, I fall sick. Marco, Leila and Etta come to my rescue. On Sunday January 6 I move into my new apartment where I will soon be rejoined by Niels. The place is full of books and I profit from it. I read The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, To the heart of the storm by Will Eisner, The hundred-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, and Novecento by Alessandro Baricco. The first is the subtly humorous story of concierge Renée Michel and her strategies to conceal her intelligence. I am not really fond of it; and I am not hooked by Jonasson’s book either. In the end, I drag along with the former and I leave the latter unfinished. Of these four, I would therefore highly recommend only Will Eisner’s comic novel on 1920s Germany and Alessandro Baricco’s short piece on Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novecento. Good stuff.

In February I am often on the move. There are two books, in particular, whose memory remains inescapably linked to the rail-tracks. The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian tells the story of the individuals behind the commercialisation of citizenship by a global business elite. I spend most of my time writing about citizenship as part of my research, so it is not a surprise that I find this story a compelling read. However, it is probably the other book I read while train-spotting that I would recommend to you, my friends: The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart. What an amazing story this is! When I read a manuscript, I have the habit of underlining the sentences that strike a chord with me; but with this book it does not make sense, for I find myself underlining everything. It is a bit of a heavy story to read, but it talks about philosophy through the virtues, vices and ideas of two opposite characters.

In the rare moments I am in Torino with some spare time away from my monstrous Ph.D. thesis, I volunteer to read at the Mauriziano Public Hospital. This is possible thanks to a fantastic association. Initially I am a bit lost: I stopped reading short novels when I was a child. So in the first week I only include in my repertoire two books by Stefano Benni: Baol and La Grammatica di Dio. The following week I add a series of books that I collect through life’s best strategy for survival: asking around. Our coordinator Sara puts me on the right track with Francesco Piccolo’s Momenti di trascurabile felicità; the unconventional librarian of the café where I go to write together with Teresa sells me Andrej Longo’s Dieci; and the infallible librarians of my favourite place in the city give me Julio Cortazar’s Historias de cronopios y de famas and Daniil Kharms’s I am a Phenomenon Quite out of the Ordinary. All these books are extraordinary, in their own way.

Already quite a bit of reading, eh? Keep in mind that I am finishing my Ph.D. thesis and I am lonely. Reading is a way to keep my brain going.

In March I leave the apartment. I am officially homeless. In the mountains of Trento I read Martina’s present: Le otto montagne by Paolo Cognetti. This is a simple, fetching book about silence, loneliness, and wilderness. In the same period I read another book that was given to me as a present from Dani, although it had arrived to me through the outlandish hands of Giallu: Tim Krabbé’s The rider. Here again, my friends, what an amazing book this is! If you want to understand how I felt when I was racing my bike back in 2016 you have to read this story. Let me transcribe the incipit here.

Meyrueis, Lozère, June 26, 1977. Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafés. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.

In April I hail to Spain for a series of interviews that are part of my Ph.D. thesis in Madrid and Andalusia. In those pre-depression day I read another book courtesy of Martina: Joshua Foer’s L’arte di ricordare tutto. I finish it, but, for once, I would rather have not.

In May I fall into a depressive anxiety. June, too, is a ghastly month. Giallu, who sacrifices much of his well-being to stay close to me, lends me Cormac McCarthy’s All the pretty horses. I dig into it. I read the book sitting on Ponte Santa Trinita unbothered by the gallivant tourists wandering around me. If you do not care about getting this book, try at least to listen Calexico’s homonymous song.

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In July, again, I am unable to read. But August is the month when I rebound. During some of the most beautiful days of my life high on the mountains I read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Back home, I read another book from Martina (La casa, written by an old acquaintance of this blog: Paco Roca). She, and he, nail it. Then, on the shores of the lake of Caldonazzo I read a book that will have important consequences my way of living. Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History. The reason why I read this book is that during the last few months I have visited two Magnum exhibitions: one in Torino, together with Guillaume, upon my very last day before moving out (a sunny day, dawn of Spring time, an yet a feeling of twilight as I bid farewell to the place); and another in Cremona, alone, after interviewing a doctor in the historical city centre. These were remarkable exhibitions that made me think of how photography can be an extraordinary tool to decipher certain customs and conducts that we take for granted. So I read this book and now I just cannot stop. (Note: since August 2017 I visited more than ten photo exhibitions and read countless photography works).

September. I move to Neuchâtel. Fall is coming and I find it fitting to read another book from Martina (You & a Bike & a Road, a comic book by Eleanor Davis), one from J.H.H. Weiler (Un’Europa cristiana), and, as I said, many classics of photography. In my trips to Paris I read Astérix chez les HelvètesAstérix en Hispanie, and Concita de Gregorio’s Cosa pensano le ragazze. I am rushing through now: I realise this post is already too long. Mercifully the best books of the year are already behind us.

In December I spend a few days in London with Francesca, Marco, Camilla and Isabella. In the occasional breaks from baby-sitting I read Darina al Joundi’s Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter. Wonderful present from Giulia. If you want to read about undaunted women in Lebanon, this story would make. I also read 101 Things to Learn in Art School, finally succumbing to a book I have seen in all the bookshops of the exhibitions I visited during the year. (This was The Photography Gallery‘s one: I spent three  hours reading in their cafeteria). Not amazing.

My year comes to an end with an eclectic dab, combining Banksy’s Wall and Piece and Hergé’s Tintin in Tibet. Okay, this is really it. You might have expected a grand finale for this post, but I have used all my creativity and spare time to write it. Let us wrap it up and go.

… but in case you are still looking for something good, pore over my ‘books I have read‘ posts from 2016, 2015, 2014., 2013.

Update, March 2 2018.

Grazie Lore, un gustoso viaggio nel passato recente.

Ecco qui un simpatico aneddoto:
Il libro del Krabbé non era inteso al principio come un regalo, ma come un prestito.
Tuttavia, io sono ancora in possesso del “cavalli selvaggi” di gianlu che considero ormai come un ostaggio.
Si tratta quindi di un chiaro caso di stallo alla messicana letterario.

Un abbraccio

Daniele

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.

 

Stray ashes

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Settembre/Ottobre

Carrera Bikes, Arvier, Aosta, Lucio Dalla, Konstanz, Flaked, sophrologie, gruyer, Neuchatel Xamax, qualche posizione yoga qua e là, Giovanni Allevi, Radio France Culture, NIP Radio, Saint Ouen, soldatini di piombo dipinti a mano, Gore Vidal and William Buckley Junior.

Xamax

At the beginning of September I moved back to Neuchâtel to work on a postdoc project with Jean Thomas and the rest of the crew that I had met in the Spring of 2016. I must admit was skeptical about the place – never had I been in such a small and lonely community before. But life unravels in unexpected ways: the first weeks of September have been a real springtime in autumn, as Thomoose used to say.

Back in March. I remember a cold, rainy morning in Torino. Niels was about to leave. We had breakfast together and he gave me one piece of advice: hit the ground running. During my first days in Neuchatel I signed up for pretty much anything one could think of. And to be honest with you, the place has been treating me really well these weeks. Much of it, of course, has to do with the people: not only Jean Thomas, but also the other colleagues whom I knew already, and those who arrived after I left.

A couple of stories about my inburgering. When moving to any Swiss town you have to register with the commune – it really reminds one of 1984. In exchange, you are given a permit, an introduction to the life in the local community, and a voucher to buy some medicines in the pharmacy. True that: since Neuchâtel is next to a nuclear production site the government has decided that all inhabitants must have in their houses a box of pills that will save us in the event of a nuclear holocaust. And until that happens, we distract ourselves with football. Last Wednesday I went to watch the match of the local team, the Neuchâtel Xamas, playing against the Geneva bunch, Servette FC. Those of you who have my age will know both teams, since they played against some Italian sides in the UEFA European Cup during the 1990s. Now they are on top of the Swiss second division. Good match, everything considered. Neuchâtel Xamas won 3-2 with a winner at minute 92’. On the same day, Djanni got a humanitarian permit to stay in Italy, so we celebrated.

All my aces are on the floor

I have always liked to have people around, but the circumstances of life are such that I find myself more lonely than I used to be. Fai di necessità virtù, they say. I still dislike loneliness; but there is one specific instance when I can appreciate living on my own (Dee do de de dee do de de I don’t have no time for no monkey business) and that is when I am on a bike.

So here we go again. At the crossroads of Valais and Ticino, the Granfondo San Gottardo is one of the hardest cycling sportive events of the year. For me, this race had a special gist for three additional reasons: (i) it takes place in Switzerland, where I have been living for a few months this year; (ii) it is harder than the other races I have done before, with 110 km and three mountain passes to climb for a total of more than 3000 m of elevation; (iii) Nicco and Giallu had decided to come with me, so we could be together just like last year in Trentino. To this, it must be added that I am in the middle of a tumultuous process of moving out from my home: I was relieved to have such distraction.

Onto our road trip with Nicco and Giallu then! We drove from Florence to Ambrì and we planted our tent in the airport. After a very wet and sleepless night we got up at 6AM, had a heavy breakfast and started our race at 8AM. Up to San Gottardo, Furka, and Novena. This is how my race went on Strava; and this is how it went in pictures.

 

 

It went pretty much as we expected. San Gottardo is smooth and pleasant; Furka is long and steady; Novena is consuming and never-ending. But we finished! Even Nicco, who got a flat tyre on the descent from Furka and spent about 45 minutes looking for a pump. I rode my bike for 4 hours and 42 minutes, with two long breaks at the feeding points, crossing the finish line at 2:40PM.

In the evening we drove to Neuchatel and the next day we visited Montreux and cruised through the San Bernardo pass, Aosta and Genova. We arrived in Florence in the middle of the night and I have been packing up my belongings ever since.

 

Racing a Gran Fondo was one of my resolutions for 2016; I have now raced three. This is it: all my aces are on the floor. In the coming months I won’t have time to train properly and I won’t have the determination to do all the sacrifices that the preparation for a Gran Fondo requires. So farewell to my bike and all of that: what a ride it was.