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Italian Nights "Con Bici i Bambini"
Bits and stories about World Bike for Breath. A Bulletin for sponsors. Volume 1, June 2003
8:30 p.m. and the sun is glinting slanty-eyed through the rhythmic vertical gaps of cypress trees lining the now quiet evening road west of Bassano del Grappa. The air is an almost pleasant 84 degrees, filled with a soft breeze, and our family is reluctant to let go of the evening, to stop pedaling and to look for a farmer's field in which to pitch our tent.
It has been four weeks now of relentless sun scorching 90 to 110 degree days cycling through Greece and Italy and we have come to love the Italian nights. For as the oppressive suffocating weight of the day's heat lifts, Italian towns-- so silent with doors and windows locked fiercely shut against the sun's attack during the afternoon--suddenly spring to life. Couples stroll arm in arm along the cooling moats meandering past the ancient walled city of Treviso. Laughing groups of young men and women sip wine at tables in the ancient piazza of Marostica, shadowed by a thousand year old palazzo from which, history tells us, a young countess once watched anxiously as her two suitors battled for her hand with a live game of chess played with horses and humans. And children dart shouting with glee up and down the steps of honeysuckle-twined colonnaded Renaissance stoops.
Having personally discovered the reason for the end of all merchantile and social activity between noon and 5:00 p.m.-- our bodies dragging the bicycle pedals through the thick heavy air as if through mud, and our tempers burning with the heat--we too hae changed our day's cycling rhythm. And so, although we had begun the day early, hurrying down a 6:00 a.m. breakfast of cappuccinos, orange juice and panninis (small rolls) spread with nutella, here we were, still pedaling half an hour before sunset. Our early morning sprint up the steep hill to Asolo, a castle perched town peeking over the Po Valley below, had been accompanied by the stream of a brightly colored Sunday morning Italian cycling group. Flowing around our slow and heavily laden "bicis grandis" (tandems) they shouted cheery words of encouragement to our young bambini stokers: "Avanti" and "Bravo" and "Vai, Vai!"
By 1:00, however, even the spectacular vistas of vineyard covered hills, glimpses of medieval castle ruins, and picturesque views of idyllic red tile roofed villages nestled in th foothills of the Alps could not compete with the painful suffocation of the air. Discovering a local wine and harvest fest we succumbed to the Italian siesta, gratefully escaping under the covered tents to eat penne con pisella (macaroni with peas), gnocci (small potato balls) in tomato sauce and to taste the local wine. Two hours later we began a weak effort to pedal a few more miles to Bassano, only to admit our defeat by joining streams of other families jumping into the cooling river waters rippling under the town's famous wooden covered bridge. Humbly I admit that with the air beginning only slightly to cool at 6:00 p.m., instead of hopping back on our "bicis" we were to be found sharing Italian icecream cones and pizza under umbrella covered tables with two new found friends, Jim and Al Esandra.
Now at 8:30, with the sun's heat and light finally waning, we were finally pedaling again, peeking down small country roads for a friendly farm house with a flat field for our two tents. "Agritourismo"-- a sign, announcing the Italian version of a country vacation home, caught my eye and we swerved our tandems down a graveled road, past rows of grape twined arbors to a large whitewashed farmhouse. "Traveling con bici!" the dark haired son of the household exclaimed, "and bambini too! Certamente you can camp here." Surrounded by five bright eyed excited children, he motioned us to a nicely mowed spot near a horse filled stable, to Anya and Yvonne's delight. A free tent spot, however, was too humble for Italian hospitality. We were urged to fill our water bottles by the barn; to take a shower in their downstairs bathroom; and, after our tents were set up, to savor the evening by joining them on the veranda to eat Italian pastries and drink espresso loaded with Bassano's famed liquer: Grappa.
Softly the chirps of crickets heralded the dark peaceful night as we chatted on the veranda to the age old familiar sound of children in the garden, laughing and playing together regardless of their native tongue. For as we have discovered, on a bicycle with two children, the world becomes your family.
Updated: July 2, 2003