The Ugly Side of Cycling
I have spent the last half of August biking around the beautiful city of Toronto with Min. I bought the bike when I was 15, but started taking driving lessons shortly after. This is a little like buying a kite when all you want to do is hang-glide off cliffs.
As a result, I’ve resolved not to buy my son a bike within twelve months of his getting a driver’s license.
What’s interesting is that the speed and power of driving a car obliterated my romance with biking to the point of complete abandonment; funnier still is my trek back to it: Nothing like soaring gas prices, ridiculous transit fares, and the choked arteries of downtown gridlock to rekindle a high school love.
And what a love it is. The sound of crunching rubber as asphalt is pushed back behind me, the wind rushing past my ears, the city suddenly becoming completely accessible in ways Toronto transit’s stylized “U” simply doesn’t accommodate. Little Italy, Greektown, Chinatown, Bloor Street West, Harbourfront all seen in vibrant swatches of colour where the journey connecting the dots are all part of the drawing.
Last weekend, my friend Joe and I explored the Don Valley Trail, heading east to find ourselves in Scarborough, biking up Victoria Park and circling back to our delicious destination “Congee Queen”. Walking into the crowded restaurant — I, a sweaty mess; Joe, hardly a trickle of sweat — Joe surmised that of all the patrons, we were probably the ones that wanted, and worked the hardest, to be here. (Over the din of the diners, I noted the delicate balance in shouting an order for “Fukien fried rice”, as one shouldn’t order this dish with any hint of impatience lest you get only normal fried rice seasoned with a retaliatory spitball.)
I spent some money getting the bike out of early retirement and road-ready. Then I realized I wanted a back rack with saddle bags so a budding hobby could double as a utility vehicle. I ended up biking everywhere. I biked to buy groceries, drop off cupcakes, go to business meetings (a bad idea). I bought a backlight and a headlight and a new helmet. I debated for days about what type of lock to get.
So, yes, I’m obsessed. Min noticed that if I’m quiet for a while, my next sentence will have something to do with my bike. And, no, this isn’t a Grade 2 homework assignment titled “What I did this summer”. (That’s what the homepage is for.) I’m mentioning all this because I passed this guy on Bloor Street who was wearing the most ridiculous get-up ever. Like, Lance Armstrong doing the Tour de France, but he was on Bloor Street with a brief case in a side basket. I’m wondering, in all seriousness, at what exact point does someone decide normal shorts and a shirt are not enough for their cycling and come to the conclusion they would rather wear an all-body, skin-tight spandex wetsuit? Is there a moment where you just make up your mind and say, “I want to sacrifice how I look to publicly demonstrate just how committed I am to this sport”?
Because I don’t want to get there. I would like to stop just one step from ditching my shorts.
So, to my friends, if you hear me start to talk about how I simply need an edge because of a sudden unrealized ideal of efficiency, aerodynamics, and asphyxia, please just… buy me a kite.
Meeting Peteris Vasks
The month of May has snuck on me like a bandit in the night. Tonight, (May 8th) I play a concert at Park Avenue here in New York City that will feature String Quartet No. 4 by Peteris Vasks. This was one of the very first quartet works I played with the Afiara, and it was a treat to meet the composer — an ox of a man who has one of the most gentle hearts. I love meeting a composer whose personality, passion, and beliefs are written so deeply into his music; I felt like I’ve met him already before having met him.We studied the piece back in 2006 shortly after the Afiara formed.
We reached out to David Harrington, Artistic Director of the Kronos Quartet, who, at the time, we didn’t know personally. We know he commissioned Vasks’ String Quartet No. 4 and knew he would be a helpful guide in learning the work. Little did we know David would become one of our greatest supporters and mentors. David came to hear one of the first Afiara concerts and from there on, my colleagues and I have been deeply blessed from this friendship. Through the Vasks, we were introduced to the Kronos Quartet, so having it introduce us to the composer himself seems fitting to me now.
Hearing Peteris’ intensity for the piece spill forth as we played the 4th Quartet for him in our dress rehearsal, I realize that the picture David painted of the piece and of the composer was perfect. But hearing Peteris’ specific advice tailored to our choices and interpretation was like seeing the story in vivid colours. Every moment is one of lapel-grabbing intensity; there is never a sound that is complacent or matter-of-fact.
At dinner with the generous and enabling Artistic Director Paul Vasile, I couldn’t help but notice the humility and kindness of Peteris. Despite the slight barrier in language, Peteris spoke strongly as an advocate for new music, young composers, and the need for international understanding. Anytime the conversation drifted towards the numerous (near weekly) performances of his vast works in Europe, or working with esteemed artists like Gidon Kremer, David Geringas, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, he would become uncomfortable with the praise and search for a way to speak about others.
The performance is tonight and I look forward to sharing his music with a new audience.
The Naked Chef
Like my Twitter account, I’ve decided not to mention this blog to anyone. If people come across this page themselves, that’s fine. But otherwise, it’s just you, me, and those proverbial, intervallic cricket chirps. You know, the ones that punctuate sentences after you’ve said something completely gauche or so insignificant no one can possibly follow you with a saving remark.
One time, several years ago, I was at a party and the loud music stopped just in time for the whole room to hear me say, “I was cooking naked.”
Of course, the first part of my sentence wasn’t heard. The story was that my gas stove was so hot, and I could feel the strength of the heat so acutely, it was as if I was cooking naked. Maybe I shouldn’t have said this anyway. Yes, in retrospect, many of my social gaffs would be averted if I didn’t have that annoying habit of improvising analogies. Specifically visual ones that no one wants to hear. Where there’s a feedback loop monitoring what thoughts I put into spoken words, it seems I lack that mechanism that tells me when I should really take a pass.
Normally, this would have been merely distasteful and an immediate “note-to-self” to decline future dinner invitations from me. But two things: this get-together was potluck and I was new to the neighbourhood. This means that, other than the guy I was talking to, so far the only thing 90% of the people knew about me was that I had brought the chicken stir-fry — and my supposed state of undress when I prepared it.
Pointless story short, I had quite a bit of stir-fry to bring back home with me that night.
I debated whether to just delete the last few paragraphs but I’ve decided to leave it since this has so far met with the philosophical depth of my past blog from ten years ago. It’s nice to put something down with the resolve that you will aim much, much higher. I would agree that setting the bar this low may be overkill, though.
Now you know why I’ve decided not to mention this blog to anyone. (Do I hear crickets chirping?)