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Last Tango in Zagarolo!

After my whirlwind tour of Italy (with a day in Switzerland too), I made it back to Rome on Friday, Oct. 8, in time to help Rossella Ottaviani (aka Santa Graziella) celebrate her birthday. Her husband Livio, another stalwart of the local cycling and Nowtopian scene, met me at the Termini station and after an interminable walk across a seemingly endless expanse we made it to a far corner where we took a tram loaded to the gills in the hot Roman evening. We disembarked in their neighborhood, which looks mostly like this:

Typical apartments in the Rome neighborhood where I stayed, not far from the ExSNIA social center and ciclofficine.

After an hour of decompression it was time to head to the bar for the birthday. There were dozens of people spilling onto the sidewalks, and of course, there is no problem with drinking in public there. Free wine was flowing and everyone was getting pretty drunk. Rossella and a guy who seemed to be the folk music specialist of Rome broke out guitars and started singing classic songs, and while I couldn’t understand much of the lyrics (well, none really!), I did enjoy immensely the energy and humor they brought to their impromptu performance.

Rosella and friend sing classic Italian folk songs...

I spoke with a lot of friends, mostly people I’d met when I was there in 2008, and had a great evening. The next morning we rose earlier than anyone wanted to, headed a few blocks over to the ExSnia ciclofficine (an abandoned factory, social center squat, with a DIY bikeshop in it that I visited before and is still going strong).

The garden at exSnia...

Gathering in front of exSnia, most of us pretty hung over from Rossella's birthday the night before... That's her in the foreground in orange speaking with Carlo, who later moderated my Nowtopia Talk in Zagarolo.

By 11 we were riding about two dozen strong towards Zagarolo and the Good Bike Festival, one of my co-sponsors for this lovely Italian trip. It’s about 30 kilometers east-southeast of the city, and getting there was mostly on narrow two lane roads that were clogged with cars as often as not. A lot of angry honking and swerving accompanied us the whole way, but the locals were used to it and I too was soon oblivious to the incessant bad vibes.

A consultative pause on the road to Zagarolo.

I had a great ride on a fancy Italian racing bike (thanks Nunzio!) and got to catch up a bit with Ilaria en Bici, my pal from 2008, a grad student in urban planning and economics. Later I turned to a greeting and met another Ilaria, this one a cognitive neuroscientist, cyclist, squatter, and a graduate of Boston University where she spent a couple of years doing post-doc work. We had a great time for more than an hour riding along talking about her work, my book, the squatting and housing activist scene in the U.S. (she knew way more than I did actually), the gay marriage story in California, and whatever else occurred to us. It was very fun to have such a stimulating conversationalist to ride with for this journey. We finally arrived at Zagarolo and had to climb the hill into the very old historic center.

Me and Ilaria the cognitive neuroscientist after arriving in Zagarolo.

This is the piazza where we first stopped for pizza and champagne on arrival.

Ilaria en Bici, Luciano, and me, later in the weekend.

A typical small residential piazza in the historic center of Zagarolo.

Tiny alleys called vicolos are off the main piazzas and pedestrian streets in the center.

Back in the car zone, people still walk down the middle of the street.

My luggage preceded me to Zagarolo and I found it at the Wiki Hostel where the band Tetes de Bois, my hosts, booked me for the weekend. What a nice surprise that was! Turns out it’s an experiment of a bunch of young radicals from the social center in Milan called Cantiere. They took over this abandoned mental clinic on the outskirts of the historic center and fixed it all up and now it’s a very comfy and beautiful hostel. Ulia and the others working there treated me like royalty and I really enjoyed hanging out with them and learning about their project.

Bamboo line the entry to Wiki Hostel.

Wiki Hostel grounds from the roof.

I was invited to share the staff lunch, along with Claudia and Giulia (at right) who first fed me pasta before the rest of the meal arrived.

Back into town on one of the hostel’s bikes, I wandered around prior to my own appearance at 9:30 that night, taking in the small piazzas with discussions and performances.

Piazza San Pietro where I did my bicycling talk a few hours later.

I did my Nowtopia talk on Sunday night in this small piazza.

Clown act audience in the main piazza.

Carlo cruises through on a tallbike while kids race around the piazza.

My translator for the two appearances in Zagarolo was Silvia Baraldini, a woman who sounds like she’s from New York when she speaks English, and turns out to be a famous radical who spent 19 years in federal prison in the U.S. She was convicted of being an accessory to the jailbreak of Assata Shakur in 1982, who is still living in Cuban exile at this time. Here’s a trailer from a documentary about her:

I got her to talk about it a little bit but not much. She did tell me that she is good friends with Rita “Bo” Brown, with whom she was in jail for a number of years, and by coincidence Bo was just speaking at CounterPULSE in our first Talk of the season on Incarcerated Women”¦ small world!

from right: Andrea Satta of Tetes de Bois, Silvia Baraldini, myself, and a guitarist whose name I don't know.

Me and Silvia Baraldini.

When we went out for a glass of wine after our bicycle/Critical Mass talk, she really wanted to talk about sports, especially NBA basketball and NFL football! Turns out she survived all those years in jail, including a couple of years in an unimaginable underground solitary confinement in Lexington, KY, by doing 3-4 hours of sports a day, and avidly watching all the games she could. Luckily I’m a bit of a sports nut so I could roll with that, but it was a funny surprise. Silvia is great. She’s quite relaxed and funny, and it was great to meet her.

Ciclofficine crew (Mark, Carlo, Cristian, Livio) at their mini-repair shop in the piazza during the Good Bike Festival in Zagarolo.

On Sunday, it was the day of Removing Training Wheels for the children of Zagarolo. Dozens of them crowded the piazza where the Romans had their crazy cycles and mini-repair zone. It was a beautiful site and you had to wonder what the long-term impact of the weekend’s Good Bike Festival would be on them. Maybe it started a bunch on a life of bicycle mayhem!?!

Ilaria with one of her five successes, new bicyclists!

Ilaria was particularly good at teaching kids to ride without training wheels, getting five different kids rolling on their own in the course of a few hours.

A father teaches his daughter to ride without training wheels.

Giulia watches while some kids go to work on a bike.

Later as a kind of reward for all the kids there was a ride down the main street from piazza to piazza that turned into a Pamplona-like running of the bulls where the kids on bikes played the bulls! They were led by a Giro d’Italia racer whose name I never heard.

Kids get to race with a real life racer!

I had a great time at the festival. I really enjoyed how they did my speaking events. In both cases I didn’t have to present anything like a lecture, but instead, they posed questions to me. The first night Andrea Satta had some questions ready on bicycling, Critical Mass, etc., and the second night Carlo posed questions after the guy who was “my voice” on the Tetes de Bois CD “Good Bike” read some excerpts from the Italian edition of Nowtopia (Now Utopia in the Italian edition). He has a great voice so it was fun to hear him read and then all I had to do was roll with the questions… a very nice way to do an author event, much better in some respects than the occasionally tedious lecture style. It was a particularly nice way to end the trip and the dozen public talks I gave while in Italy.

Thanks to everyone who hosted me and made it such a great trip! Ciao tutti! I hope you’ll all come and visit San Francisco…

At the Move-up Ciclofficine table in town, staffed by the same folks running the Wiki Hostel with whom I'd lunch a couple of hours earlier.

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