Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Republic of San Marino

Friends: After my climb up to the tiny republic of San Marino this morning I've completed the unlikely and unplanned trifecta this past month of bicycling through the three smallest independent states in Europe--The Vatican and Monaco the others. Though The Vatican and Monaco may be smaller, San Marino prides itself in being the smallest republic in the world. It is governed by a president, elected every five years, rather than a Pope or Prince. The sticker for San Marino cars to indicate their country is RSM rather than a simple SM to emphasize that it is a republic.

It sits 2,000 feet high atop a huge rock bluff. It has a population of 31,000 with another 10,000 citizens living abroad, though in World War II its population was bloated with over 100,000 refugees. It was a steep seven-mile climb to its labyrinth of narrow streets lined with shops selling trinkets and expensive watches and electronics and ice cream cones. A strong scent of leather wafted out of many of the shops. The tourist office would stamp passports for five euros.

There was an odd assortment of museums--one devoted to torture, another to armaments and one simply to curious facts. A surprising number of cyclists trickled up the steep road getting in some serious training. It is a road that Marco Pantani, the last Italian to win the Tour de France, would have cycled many times, as he grew up in the city of Cesenatico, less than 20 miles away on the coast.

The evening before I cycled past the hotel in Rimini where Pantani committed suicide five years ago binging on cocaine, depressed over all the accusations of drug use piling up against him. He was only 34. The hotel was just a couple blocks south of Parc Federico Fellini along the Adriatic Sea. Fellini is as synonymous with cinema as Eddy Merckx is with bicycle racing. His home town has honored him not only with naming a prominent park after him, but also its International airport.

In the heart of Rimini, a city of 150,000 residents, is a Museo Fellini. Its walls are adorned with frescoes of scenes from his films, though not of Anita Ekberg frolicking in Rome's Trevi Fountain from "La Dolce Vita." Like most cities in Italy, at least one street in Rimini bears the name of one of his films--"Roma." The museum was packed with books about Fellini and some from his personal library. He was an early and prolific reader. His first favorite book and inspiration was "Pinocchio," written by an Italian. There is a Pinocchio Park in Tuscany, west of Florence full of statues and mosaics recounting the puppet's life, first serialized as a newspaper cartoon strip.

Rimini is a most Felliniesque city--a city of great excess. For miles its beach front is wall-to-wall with hotels overlooking the wide beach. The beach side of the road is lined with restaurants and bars, each claiming the beach in front of it with a forest of chaise lounges lined up in military precision, each with its own umbrella and little table, making tanning look like a huge production line. Most of the beaches on the Mediterranean, in contrast, come in bays. The Adriatic side runs straight for miles and miles.

It has been pleasantly flat along the coast after quite a bit of climbing to get there. The World Heritage city of Urbino was similar to Assisi with narrow car-less streets. It wouldn't take much to imagine the city as it was centuries ago--removing post card stands and side walk cafes. It was most tranquil without the rumble of gas-guzzlers. Only when one is fully freed of such beasts does one realize how much they intrude.

I'm headed up the coast 30 miles to Ravenna and its World Heritage sites. Half way there I'll stop by Pantani's grave.

Later, George

1 comment:

T.C. O'Rourke said...

I worked at On The Route bike shop in the late nineties. We sold loads of Bianchi's and had advertising posters of Pantani up in the shop.

I never really new much about him until today, after your blog prompted some research.

Tragic figure.