Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Weekend of Riding

Great turnout for yesterday’s ride….now that many have returned from their August vacations. We enjoyed a splendid climb up to Vinci and San Baronto and got some good paceline speed going on the way back on the flats. It was a long ride, which got us home later than usual, so we had a chance to ride in Saturday traffic, which is more fun in Italy than in New York City!

It’s taken a while for me to “understand” the traffic flows and driving behaviors of the Italians, but once you get the hang of the non-rules of the road and get to trust their exceptional skills, it becomes one clockwork machine that just works like organized chaos. Italian drivers might appear a riotous cult, but on the contrary, they are fast and noisy, but sharp, synched and adept, making cycling a pleasure here. Italian motorists are accustomed to and respectful of sharing the road with cyclists, it has never been an issue. Well, maybe in Napoli. It is such a pleasurable feeling of freedom that adds to the joy of cycling here.

That was yesterday and today is Sunday. Today I was supposed to join my team again for an encore ride, but despite being the hopeless groupie that I am, this morning I couldn’t resist the urge to ride solo up to my favorite place, Monte Senario. So close in distance but so far away from anything of the physical world. Sacred, serene, lots of climbing, first up the steep ascent to Fiesole and finally from Bvigliano up the steep (last kilometer reaches 17%) road to the most heavenly sanctuary in the northern hills of Florence. It is so special because it is so unreachable to anybody who isn’t either insane or athletically inclined. No wonder the 13th century monks settled here, but they must have existed on nothing but berries, pine nuts and chestnuts. Riding to Monte Senario makes me high for a week. Past wildflowers, vineyards, under cypress and chestnut trees, cool and breezy at the higher elevations, a pre-Alpine feel. Like ascending into heaven.

Today my legs were on fire. I paced myself up to Fiesole but then exploded like a stallion breaking loose at the Palio. The stunning scenery looks different every single time I see it. The colors were exceptionally sharp and clear today, the dimension profound. The intense perfume of pine permeated the air. Wild flowers cascaded from the cracks of century old stone walls and raspberries overflowed on the sides of the roads. The first chestnuts were beginning to fall, with their spiny green skins intact, not yet mature, but definitely a sign that autumn is arriving.

One of the reasons why I wanted to ride to Monte Senario today was because I recently learned that this was also the temporary home of Pietro Annigoni, a renowned 20th century Florentine artist who lived right here in my apartment during the height of his career. In fact, the very bedroom where I sleep was his art studio in which he painted his famous portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Pope John XXIII. When he lived with the monks on Monte Senario, he painted frescos in its church. Although I have visited the church many times before, I only discovered recently that he painted frescos here. I wanted to make a special trip not only because I love riding up there, but to see the frescoes that he painted in 1985. They were a little too "Caravaggio" for my liking. He did a better job painting his queens and popes.

After visiting the church, studying the frescos and getting lost in the mountain vistas, I wanted to climb some more rather than coasting back to Florence. I was feeling too good to allow the day to end. So instead, I downed a panino in Bvigliano and took an undulating backroad to Polcanto before climbing back up towards Vaglia. By then I was ready for the thrilling descent back to Florence, where I stopped in one of my favorite churches, right near my apartment to say a prayer of thanks. Gazing above the altar, two cherubs were waving down at me, as if to cheer me on.