Starting from the Sausages

The title was given me a few nights ago at the Carroponte Festival by Anita Bacigalupo, who explained it as a metaphor for going to the roots, back to the beginning, stripping away the edifice and assumptions that usually cloud political arguments. We burst into laughter when Chiara Martucci pointed out that it was not really an expression in Italian either! Anita was one of my intrepid companions for the last four days. She joined me for all my four events, sometimes as translator and sometimes as a friend, along with Chiara, who did such a great job of setting up my mini-tour of Milan, and also was a great companion and friend these past days. We will miss each other already! And of course my great friend Giovanni Murat (who I always stay with in Milan) was also part of the fun, along with his pre-pubescent son Rocco (the next time I see Rocco I’m sure he’ll have a new voice and seem much older than he did now at 12). I was laughing as I walked to the train this morning, remembering how Giovanni stood glowering behind me for five minutes before last night’s public talk. I think he was posing as a bodyguard just in case there were some old-style militants who might want to pick a fight with me? Hard to say. It seemed quite comic, as you can see in this photo.

At the Carroponte Festival during the introduction, Giovanni stands guard! (l to r) Anita, Daniela, me, Giovanni, and Lorenzo)

Chiara as we approach the Carroponte site, a former Pirelli rubber and tire factory.

Anita strikes a pose at the bikesharing station.

The audience at the Carroponte talk.

The evening was hosted by Scighera, a cooperative organization who as anarchists have somehow insinuated themselves into the national ARCI organization, which is rooted in the old Communist Party. Go figure”¦ They are experimenting with a different system of compensation among themselves, paying according to need, though no one was paid more than a middling salary, and as an association, they were all precarious and without contracts or guarantees. The event was held at Carroponte in Sesto San Giovanni, a separate municipality on the northern edge of Milan. The space itself was originally a Pirelli tire factory (Pirelli, another name with roots in the violent rubber trade of the 19th century and the early bicycling boom). It’s now a public space and all summer they have this ongoing Festival, mostly music, but with some speakers, booths, food and booze. Later in the night I was treated to some great Noccino, hazelnut liqueur, and a raspberry one too, Lamponi. It’s the season for fancy liqueurs here, maybe being harvest time?
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Typical scene in Bologna, cyclists rolling by an outdoor restaurant seating zone where there might have been parking... very civilized!

I had my first visit to Bologna, staying with Gaia Guiliani, a charming post-colonialist, feminist, radical academic and activist. She and her friend Ghiada, along with some assistance from my Irish friend Alan Toner, provided the simultaneous translation for a Nowtopia reading at the Modo Infoshop in the city center on Monday night. A big crowd of 40+ jammed into a small space, more suitable for about 10-15, and we did a version of my usual presentation, but given the time it takes to translate everything, by the time we were done, it had been 2.5 hours! So even though I’d cut down the main parts of the Talk by half, it still was way too long. Now I’m going to Milan to do another bookshop tonight, Utopia Bookstore, and I’m planning to forego all reading and just do an improvised presentation. Having done the other one so many times, it will be easy enough, but of course I always worry about losing coherence.

Good graffiti in various parts of Bologna's center.

Anyway, there was a good discussion after the Talk, and as often happens, I don’t remember well all the points raised. (Might have something to do with all the wine and grappa we downed until the wee hours following the presentation!) Alan questioned me on two important points: where did I stand on the critique neo-Malthusianism, since the common attitude growing among enviros and others in the U.S. and parts of Europe is to say that China, India and other newly modernizing countries must be restrained from the over-exploitation of resources and the hyper-production of CO2 and a wide range of pollutants. The other issue he brought up dovetailed with comments I received in Stockholm last December, and from some friends and family at home, wondering how the Nowtopian initiatives contribute to a sharper level of political contestation (if they do at all), or if they aren’t a new paradigm of cooptation and integration?

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Saturday September 26 Panel: "Bicycling in a Time of Crisis" l-r David Walthall, myself, Claudio Sabelli Fioretti, Tito Boeri.

Ediciclo Editore is a relatively small Italian publisher focused on bicycling and travel books. They invited me to their 3rd annual “Ciclomundi Festival Nazional  del Viaggio in Bicicletta” (CycleWorld National Festival of Bicycle Travel) Sept. 24-26 in Siena, a fantastically beautiful small city in Tuscany. I had a great time. I had some trepidation before arriving, worrying that I would find myself in a gathering of folks entirely focused on high-end bicycle gear, tourism, etc., but the spirit and tone of the Festival was much broader and quite inclusive. My “gang” from Rome was in the house too, representing a few different DIY bikeshops that have sprung up there in the past few years (ciclofficine is the Italian name). Paolo Rotafixa, with whom I stayed in 2008, shared a Sunday morning panel with me, along with four others, and we were both very impressed by the presentations. He leaned over to me at one point and said it was the best panel he’d ever been on or even heard regarding a bicycle discussion…

The events began on Friday night with a beautiful poetic and musical presentation on the 19th century globe-trotting cyclists who are the direct spiritual ancestors of this Festival’s participants. It was all in Italian which I can only get a small percentage of, but the historic images told a great deal of the story, especially since I wrote about 19th century cycling in San Francisco quite recently. Alberto Fiorin, one of the editors of Ediciclo, was the moderator and conductor who knit together the three eloquent speakers while an accordion, bass, and guitar would strum quietly behind them, occasionally bursting forth into boisterous song to take the lead. (Alberto also met me in Rome and accompanied me to Siena, much to my pleasure and gratitude.)

The Romans had their tallbikes and other zany vehicles, and brought them out throughout the weekend to regale the thousands of tourists gawking at the stunning Duomo from the surrounding piazza. I got to take a spin too, as did Federico, a sharp young journalist with whom I had a stimulating, long interview on Saturday. Here we are taking our turns”¦

Federico Petroni

Touring the Piazza del Duomo in Siena the right way!

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