Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ortolan and Being There

This is a comment I made at The Path Less Pedaled... In D is for Displacement, Russ was talking about how he and Laura are pursuing their dream of riding the country, yet often, while actually spending the day pedalling, they aren't really present in the moment and with the aching and fatigue, but have displaced their thinking into other places... they aren't really present in their dream riding. And I remembered a This American Life piece where one of the conclusions was that we were not really capable of being present in the moment all the time...

This reminds me of the Ortolan story on This American Life (it’s on episode 343) where writer Michael Paterniti describes eating Ortolan (where you eat the entire bird, which has been drowned in cognac, while holding a napkin over your head).

This is from his written account in Esquire:

“Here’s what I taste: Yes, quidbits of meat and organs; the succulent, tiny strands of flesh between the ribs and tail. I put inside myself the last flowered bit of air and Armagnac in its lungs, the body of rainwater and berries. In there, too, is the ocean and Africa and the dip and plunge in a high wind. And the heart that bursts between my teeth. It takes time. I’m forced to chew and chew again and again, for what seems like three days. And what happens after chewing for this long–as the mouth full of taste buds and glands does its work—is that I fall into a trance. I don’t taste anything anymore, cease to exist as anything but taste itself.
And that’s where I want to stay–but then can’t because the sweetness of the bird is turning slightly bitter and the bones have announced themselves. When I think about forcing them down my throat, a wave of nausea passes through me. And that’s when, with great difficulty, I swallow everything.”
On the This American Life segment, he talks about how hard it is to eat regular meals after this (my transcription):

Michael Paterniti: it takes a lot of energy and concentration when you really taste a meal. it takes concentration, and silence…

Ira Glass: it’s almost as if you are saying if we were really awake to what the world was giving us in a given meal, it would be hard to eat the meal every single time.

Paterniti: Yeah, I think we would, I feel we would age really quickly.

Glass: But you’re saying that we have to deaden ourselves in order to live.

Paterniti: I think we do; I don’t think we make enough time to eat, and if we haven’t made enough time to eat, then it’s better not to taste what we are eating. It’s easier.
So yeah. I think it’s just part of our biology that, in order to be totally present at any one time, we have to be totally displaced, mostly NOT there, most of the rest of the time.

Focus on Riding, not Bicycle

This is basically my response to this piece on the Bike Portland blog... Bernadette posted a link on the Long Beach Cyclists page...

My personal goal is to help usher in the day when Long Beach is truly the most bike-friendly city in the USA and folks in Portland read the blog for inspiration. And one area where I hope we can take a different path is with what I think is a misplaced focus — where the focus is on the bicycle itself, rather than on the things you can do on ANY bicycle.

Portland seems to have stalled at around 10 % ‘bike mode share.’ I’ve seen Portland folks speculate that there’s a certain percentage of residents who look at cycling as a legitimate mode of transport, and that percentage is apparently around 10%. Right now, the Portland bloggers speculate, pretty much all the folks who WANT to cycle ARE cycling. If Portland wants to get their percentages significantly higher, they have to do things that will convince people to take another look at cycling and give it a try.

One way to ensure that this DOESN’T happen is to make people think that they need to spend thousands of dollars on their bicycles. While Marion’s article references others who found affordable solutions, when SHE elects to spend $700, it sends a strong signal — this is the optimal solution, and refurbishing a used bike or modifying a more affordable bike are less optimal solutions.

Now, I GET that yes, $700 is a GOOD DEAL for a bike that’s fully equipped, and that will last and last, and that will be passed down to the younger kids, and still have resale value at the end. But most Americans won’t spend that much on their OWN bike, let alone their kid’s bike.

And the other issue is the crazy idea that you NEED a bike with tons of features to ride around town. Marion wants a rack, fenders, hub generator, and lots of other features so her kid can get around the city. But while there are cool reasons why all these features are good for city riding, NONE of them is required. By spending too much effort and energy finding the perfect bike for city commuting, you necessarily send the message that city commuting is a specialized activity requiring specialized equipment that you can’t just attempt on any old bike. That’s not the way to significant bike mode share.

I think we need to be careful to de-emphasize the differences between different kinds of bikes in favor of embracing ANY bike as a perfectly good tool to do most tasks. Just get your bike, whichever kind it is, however much you spent on it, and get on it, and ride! Whichever city’s citizens take that message to heart is the city that gets a truly significant percentage of its commuters on bikes.