Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I have been in Europe for just over a week now. Italy for five days with my dad and sister, Emily, and now Austria for three (and two more to go!) with just Emily. The family bonding has been wonderful. Emily is on spring break from her study-abroad program in Aix-en-Provence so spending ten whole days with her has been a treat. Of course, this 'vacation' is hardly the Eurotrip most American teens salivate for given the volume of training I have to keep up on as well as the anticipation for my upcoming races. It was a rest week though and I am legitimately proud to admit that I have seen more works of art in the past week than I have ridden miles on my bike... and that is a lot of art. Emily is an art history major at Williams College, my dad has a soft spot for culture, and Italy is the epicenter of the Renaissance, so put them all together and we logged some serious museum hours. A self-proclaimed art skeptic, I was surprised that with the helpful insights and explanations from my two family art historians, I developed an eye for what makes a painting emotional, beautiful, and unique. Paintings are like good songs: the first impression is always just OK, but the more one listens to the song or analyzes the painting, the more one can identify the artistic genius.
But there are a few very good reasons why a cyclist like me – and for that matter 99.99% of cyclists in the world – has little taste for art history and paintings. All those reasons, however, stem from what I imagine to be a cyclist's least favorite place in the world: a museum. Think about it: if a cyclist is not on the bike then he or she is probably eating, sleeping, or watching some form of video entertainment with his or her legs up in the air. Museums offer none of those things. In fact my legs were more uncomfortable shuffling through the maze of the Vatican museum in Rome through hordes of tourists than they were after completing the Redlands Stage Race a few weeks ago. Physiologically, standing and shuffling require stabilization muscles that cyclists notoriously lack, plus the legs pool with all the lactic junk produced during training. All bad.
Psychologically, however, I found it a nice relief from the monotony of sleep, eat, train, repeat. Museums have their own monotony – after the millionth painting or statue of an emaciated Jesus Christ, I found myself wondering what the world would be like if he had been a cyclist – but the opportunity to learn and experience something new was welcomed. Time will tell what secret psychological advantage knowing a Caravaggio from a Giotto will give me. My scholarly sister believes that it is all about the powers of observation, and she is usually right. Watch out ZLM Tour*! I might have some intellectually stimulating observational tricks up my sleeve...
*ZLM Tour is my next race


  1. This is good. You're racing U23 in Europe and another friend I'm following is bicycling from Anacortes, WA to Maine. What a contrast! If I ever get back to the States, you'll have to let me follow your wheel on some rides around Nonquitt like out to Sakonnet Point.

  2. i have to comment because i took a northern renaissance art class last semester, and it completely changed the way i think about 15th/16th century art. there's this very ingrained idea that you can't really appreciate the renaissance without italy, but, the fact of the matter is, italy is only so famous for this period of time because it's one of the only countries that didn't experience the protestant reformation and all the associated iconoclasm (i.e., less destruction means more stuff survived).

    netherlandish/northern renaissance art is actually ridiculously interesting because it really was the foundation for the movement toward secular and (eventually) modern art. italian art was, although great, basically a dead end. it's kind of like, italy was so obsessed with perfection and ideal beauty that they completely left out any of the dark stuff (aka, the best?). i mean, you can't look at works by bosch or bruegel or durer and NOT be like "woah, intense." and even artists like van eyck or van der weyden in the earlier parts were still spectacular in their aesthetic sensibilities.

    so yeah. i dunno. i like the complexity of northern art a bit more. or the occasional creepiness (there's this holbein piece that has an anamorphic skull you can only see from a certain angle). there's something a bit more real about it. probably because the italians were all quite happy and rich.