Cycling New England: 6

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I should have studied the maps better, but I was preoccupied with my overpriced coffee and Donuts. As a result I got lost (went 30 miles out of my way) in a remote area of upstate New York. It is genuinely rural, not exurban.  It was late into the night when I crossed the state line into Massachusetts, later still when I checked into my hotel on an ugly strip on Route 7 in the unhistoric not classy part of Lenox, Massachusetts. I must have cycled 35 miles in the dark. Don’t try it at home.

Cycling New England: 2

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I finally arrive in New Paltz at 6:30 PM. That means I’very been on the road for 14 hours.  If 101 miles in 14 hours is pathetically slow, two things hurt my time. I had only slept for an hour the night before. I had no clue how to get there so I had to stop at any place that had wireless to check Google Maps.

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New Paltz was founded by French Protestants. I have no idea what significance that has.

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New Paltz is a hipster island in a vast sea of Trump. Hillary will be the next President. Trump will win the Central Hudson Valley (note: perhaps I should have realized that with as many Trump/Pence signs as I noticed just south of New Paltz, Trump would probably win in November. 1/28/2017)

Cycling New England

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Because I am an old man with one foot in the grave, more interested in the location of the bathroom than in the attentions of the fairer sex, I have decided to spend a week or two trying to deny the effects of my advanced age on my body. I will cycle New England. To be more specific, I will cycle the Hudson Valley, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and the North Shore of Long Island, about 600 miles in all. There’s nothing particularly challenging about the course for a good cyclist. One of the earliest bike races, the Paris–Brest–Paris, involved cycling 1200 kilometers in under 90 hours. I have the luxury of taking all the time I want, the main constraint being the amount of money I can, or cannot, spend on hotels. The weather will be close to perfect, in the 60s and 70s with a hint of drizzle. I have a new bike, which has been newly tuned up, and a new set of tires, both of which should help me avoid annoying inconveniences like flats or broken spokes. Unlike the cyclists in the Paris–Brest–Paris I will not be riding at night and I will be sleeping at regular intervals. So my trip will be something between a “tour” (where you pack heavily and camp out) and a “brevet”  (where the goal is basically to see how long and how far you can ride until you drop). For me the goal is mainly to take photos and enjoy the Autumn weather. That about “denying my advanced age” was mainly a joke to get your attention, although if I fade away and die like Tom Joad’s grandfather in The Grapes of Wrath, please bury me on the side of the road, write a quick note to let people know I died of natural causes, and find an eloquent preacher like Jim Casy to say a few words over my body.

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Because I am staying in motels and buying food from local supermarkets, I will be traveling as light as possible. Weight not only means more difficulty getting over steep hills, it means broken spokes, and there are only three things I fear more than broken spokes, creepy clowns, distracted soccer moms in SUVs, and bears with hand grenades. Flat tires are a pain in the ass, but easily fixed. Broken chains are fairly rare. Clunks, squeaks, rattles, and other odd sounds are annoying, but easily ignored until you can get to a bike shop. Broken spokes are very common, difficult to fix, and stop you cold. Please Lord if you must torment on this trip, send creepy clowns and bears with hand grenades, but spare me the horror of broken spokes. I have a spoke wrench but fuck me if I’ve ever learned how to true a wheel. So I will be going light, bringing only the following.

1.) An entry-level road bike, a Giant Contend 1. Weight about 20 pounds. Cost, $810 dollars plus tax.

2.) Myself. Height about 6 feet. Weight about 180 pounds. Price? Part of the “unnecessariat” so basically free to any salvage company that can haul me away to the scrap heap.

3.) A folding tire, 4 CO2 cartridges, a CO2 pump, a pair of Pedro’s tire levers, 3 spare tubes, a Topeak Road Morph Frame Pump, 4 “Grease Monkey Wipes,” 4 spare batteries for my light set, a Topeak multi tool, a pair of Shimano SPD clipless (or clip in) pedals, and a 6mm Allen Wrench.  I’m running Continental Ultra Gatorskins, which are heavy tires even in the 700 x 23 version, but they are remarkably resistant to flats. Flats can be fixed, still suck. With any luck, the tool kit will just sit in my saddle bag, unused. Total weight, about 5 pounds.

4.) Two changes of clothes, two pairs of “jogging trousers” purchased at an Aeropostale going out of business sale, two T-shirts, two pairs of briefs, two pair wool socks, two cycling hats, a Giro Foray road helmet, a pair of Shimano SPD cycling shoes, and a flannel shirt purchased at Walmart (I know I know but it was only 8 bucks). Total weight about 4 pounds.

5.) A Sony RX-100 point and shoot camera. Weight. About 12 ounces.

6.) A Samsung Tab E 9.6 Inch Android tablet with a 32 Gigabyte MicroSD card added on. I almost wish I had purchased the 7 inch version instead. The 9.6 tablet is light, but I would have been able to keep the 7 inch tablet in my handlebar bag and not my backpack. Weight, less than a pound.

7.) A 10-Liter Deuter Speedlite backpack. Weight, almost nothing.

8.) A water bottle, a liter of water, 5 granola bars, and a very light cable lock (don’t get your hopes up thieves. My bike will rarely be out out sight.

I believe that brings everything, myself and all my gear, in at under 200 pounds. My bike is a happy accident. I bought it mainly because it was cheap and because they were selling it at the local bike store (the store you buy your bike from is more important than the bike itself, trust me) but it turned out to be a rare stroke of good luck. Most road bikes have an 11-27 cassette with a compact 50/34 crank. The Giant Contend 1 has a 50/34 compact crank but an 11-32 cassette. That means the lower gears are almost as good for climbing hills as the lower gears on a hybrid or a mountain bike, but the higher gears still have the speed of a road bike. It’s a tricky combination to keep in tune. I had to go back to my bike mechanic the day after I bought it and have him adjust the gearing in between repeated test rides. But it’s the perfect combination for long distance rides with a lot of steep hills. Professional racing bikes have 54/30 cranks and 11-24 cassettes, both of which let you go incredibly fast, but are also overkill if you’re not riding in the Tour de France. The Sora groupset on the Giant Contend 1 is fairly modest and wouldn’t satisfy many gear heads, but it’s robust, cheap, and ubiquitous. Every bike store has spare parts.

So that’s about it. With any luck the long ride will keep me out of trouble and off of Twitter for a few weeks. Updates will be frequent but will consist mainly of photos. Off I go. Next Stop, New Paltz New York and the Walkway over the Hudson.

 

MOVIE REVIEW | The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

A film I’ve been aiming to see but haven’t gotten around to watching yet. It’s fairly obscure, even for a Cassevetes film, so it’s interesting to find a review on one of the blogs I follow.

Bored and Dangerous

Bookie 1.jpg“That jerk Karl Marx said opium was the… religion of people. I got news for him, it’s money.”

John Cassevetes is a cinema name I’ve heard a lot.  But I think until a few years ago, I assumed he was just some stone faced, hard ass actor, in the vein of Lee Marvin, or Clint Eastwood, or Burt Lancaster.  Then, I somehow found out that he was a director as well as actor.  Even better, he was the kind of rogue director who acted in mainstream movies, just so he could spend his pay cheque on making his own little indies.  That’s the kind of rebel Hollywood story I love.  So I knew I had to see some of his work as a director.  Starting with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazara) owns and runs a small time strip club.  It’s nothing amazing…

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The Lobster (2015)

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I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

T.S. Eliot

The Lobster is basically an extended Monty Python skit blown up into a feature length movie. Initially amusing, it falls apart in the second half. While it benefits from Rachel Weisz’s narration, which somehow combines deadpan comic timing with utter sincerity, and while it does, as Daniel Levine points out, accurately dramatize the contemporary west’s political and cultural malaise, it never quite overcomes being straight jacketed into its high-concept premise.

David, Colin Farrell sporting a “dad bod,” lives in a dystopian society where all adults are required, not only to be married, but to fall in love. Singles are transported to a posh resort in the Irish countryside where they are given forty five days either to find a partner, or to be surgically transformed into the animal of their choice. The title of the film is the animal specifies that he’d like to be should he fail the test. He loves the ocean. And lobsters can live to one hundred years old. Personally, I would have chosen to become a bear. The film never points out the minimum age for a first marriage – the “guests” seem to range in age from eighteen or nineteen to their forties and fifties – but I got the overall impression of a lot of relatively young people transported prematurely to a retirement community.

“Love” in the world of The Lobster seems to depend mostly on having some kind of physical or emotional flaw in common with a member of the opposite sex. A young man with a limp hooks up with a young woman with a nose bleed. He bangs his head on the table until he draws blood from his nostrils. David attempts to find his match with a woman who “has no feelings” – she’s actually a sadist – but the prospective marriage fails when she kicks his brother – who’s already been transformed into a border collie – to death, and he shows too much anger and grief. Another young woman, who’s vain about her long blond hair, ends up as a Shetland Pony. When David escapes the resort with the help of a sympathetic maid and joins a band of “loners” in the woods, he sincerely falls in love a character played by Rachel Weisz, not because she looks like Rachel Weisz, but because they’re both near sighted. Why Collin Farrell gets to look like a high-school history teacher with a cheesy mustache and Rachel Weisz looks as hot as she always does is a question I’ll leave to feminists.

The leader of the “loners,” a stone cold tyrant played by the French actress Léa Seydoux, rules over a guerrilla movement where no sex or romantic attachments are allowed. If “love” is pretty near impossible when it’s required, then it’s pretty much inevitable when it’s forbidden. There seems to be some kind of lesbian attachment between “the leader” and the maid who helps David escape and who’s a double agent between the hotel and the loners – if only because they both speak French – but that possible narrative arc is never quite fleshed out. I’ll leave that question to the feminists as well. In any event, when “the leader,” either consciously or not, senses the chemistry between Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, she begins to take them on trips to “the city” – the straight world of the happily married – on surveillance missions.

The Lobster is actually a film that might have worked better had it had a happy ending. Since Farrell and Weisz are required to act like a happily married couple in love they soon begin to have the genuine feelings of a happily married couple in love. It’s a convincing insight. People rarely fall in love at first sight. They hook up with someone they can tolerate and learn to fall in love with him, or her. But after “the leader” figures out that Weisz and Farrell are “breaking the rules” she takes Weisz to the city alone and has her blinded. Weisz thinks she’s going to receive some kind of Lasik surgery to cure her nearsightedness, so she puts up little or no resistance, but it’s so unconvincing that I had to check a summary of the film on the Internet to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood the plot. “The leader” is such a stone cold bitch it’s impossible to believe anybody capable of falling in love would trust her. Farrell proves his love by blinding himself, another unconvincing narrative arc. Part of the reason Weisz fell in love with him in the first place was that he helped find her extra food. Surely she’d resist her lover’s voluntarily making himself as helpless as she is as much as she’d resist being taken to the city to get blinded. It makes perfectly sense ideologically. As Daniel Levine convincing argues, The Lobster is a high concept satire about a civilization too imaginatively bankrupt not only to resist tyranny but even to imagine what freedom would look like. It doesn’t work dramatically. The Lobster’s final scene, Colin Farrell in the restroom trying to work up the courage to gouge out both is eyes with a knife, comes off as forced, as the writer trying to wrestle both his characters into a high-concept straight jacket.

The dramatization of the idea of “compulsory love,” however, works quite well. Olivia Colman, who won the British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the hotel manager convincingly plays a dictator with the power of life and death as a cheerful hospitality professional. The idea of compulsory marriage, or sex, is nothing new, especially for women. Juliet fakes her death to escape being coerced by her father into an arranged marriage with Paris, but Juliet knows what true love is, and Shakespeare knows that love and rebellion are almost always entwined. Love and conformism, however, true love as a requirement enforced by a virtue signaling tyrant, is a kind of totalitarianism that seems particularly relevant in the age of positive consent laws, safe spaces, speech codes, and political correctness.

There is state coercion in The Lobster. During a trip to the city, the cops question Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, ask them for their “papers,” and don’t even say “please.” The hotel mounts daily hunting expedition where the “guests” have an extra day tacked onto their forty-five day time limit for every “loner” they shoot with a tranquilizer gun, but we never get the sense that any of the “guests” at the hotel had to be brought there at gunpoint. One of the best scenes in film, for example, is the interview David undergoes when he checks into the hotel. He’s treated, not as a prisoner, but as a loyal customer. The hotel is depicted as a luxury resort, not a concentration camp. The “guests” submit to their imprisonment largely because they seem to agree with the idea that being a “loner” is wrong, that it’s somehow in their interest to be forced into a happy marriage under threat of becoming the animal of their choice. The threat of violence is always present – the scene where the “heartless woman” kicks David’s brother to death is remarkably vivid and terrifying — but this is hardly Pasolini’s Salo or even Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. If the threat of violence is always there it’s also rarely needed. It never seems to occur to any of the guests that they have guns provided to them by their jailers, whom they also seem to outnumber twenty or thirty to one. They’re in prison, not because they have to be, or even because they want to be, but because they can’t imagine anything else.

Reading the Landscape: 49

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Back in the 1950s, when planes taking off from Newark International Airport developed a bad habit of falling out of the sky onto downtown Elizabeth, NJ, there was talk of opening a new airport 20 miles west in Morris County. Environmentalists quickly mobilized, and not only blocked the project, but eventually managed to turn most of the land into the “Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,” the very first of what would be hundreds all across the United States. Did their success have something to do with the way the new airport’s flight paths would have crossed over some of the wealthiest towns in the state? Undoubtedly, but it was a victory for everybody (including broke cyclists like me) who love the the wilderness.