Friday, April 22, 2011


Friends: Finally, after 6,000 miles over three tours in the past eight months since acquiring my Surly touring bike I had a one hundred mile day, 120 miles to be exact, on my final stretch to Chicago. It was a long day of biking mostly into a breeze from the north from eight a.m. until nearly nine p.m. I hit Chicago's magnificent Lake Front Bicycle Path at it southern extremity in the waning hours of light for a glorious ten-mile entry into the city. If Chicago was nestled along the eastern tip of Lake Michigan rather than its western side, I could have had a sunset to watch.

Instead, I could feast my eyes on the dazzlingly lit skyline of the city of Big Shoulders, taking special satisfaction knowing that I had been in every single one of those downtown buildings as a messenger and considered each a friend. I knew all their lobbies and elevators and special features. It made for a grand finale to another wonderful three weeks and 1,350 miles on the bike. Small-town America makes for as fine cycling as anywhere.

I made the ride to visit a few friends and also to condition myself for next week's six hundred mile ride from Paris to Cannes. A century finale proved that not only are my legs ready for it, but for The Tour de France as well, as 120 miles is the average length of most of its twenty-one stages. I'll lose a bit of my conditioning watching movies all day for twelve days, with my only biking being the three mile ride in from the campground I'll be staying at and back and the occasional dash about town to a distant theater, but I'll have five weeks to fully recharge them once I'm done with the cinema extravaganza before the start of The Tour the first week of July.

France was well on my mind as I cycled. I began prepping my tongue for France by asking librarians for the "toilet," as the French call it, rather than the American euphemism "bathroom" or "restroom," despite the sometimes startled looks I would get for using the somewhat gauche term Americans like to avoid.

I also brought along two books on France to read. One was Lonely Planet's 500-page cycling guide to France, the initial 2001 edition with all the prices still listed in francs. It was the second cycling guide Lonely Planet published, after New Zealand, and just one of several in its vast library of travel guides. I wasn't in search of roads to ride, rather interesting and odd sites that have escaped me during my past seven summers of biking all over France.

I succeeded in finding a handful. One is a giant sculpture of a cyclops at Fontainebleau just south of Paris. Another is the cemetery where Van Gogh and his brother are buried north of Paris. And I'll search out Le Sportsman, a sports book store in Paris with a huge cycling section. I'll also have a wealth of museums to check out.

The back cover of the book promised to explain the Tour de France. It devotes eight pages to it early on and scatters mentions of it and its heroes throughout the book. It is fairly well-versed in its machinations but doesn't get everything right. It says Van Impe was the King of the Mountains ten times (p346). It was six. It says Anquetil beat Poulidor on the Puy de Dome (p336). Poulidor prevailed by forty seconds, though Anquetil kept the yellow jersey. It says there is a statute of Bobet and Coppi at the top of the Col d'Izoard (p346). There is a plaque to the two of them a couple miles from the summit. These are all storied, significant events in the lore of The Tour, that any true fan of the sport knows as well as his parent's birthdays.

And there are the usual index oversights. It includes the book's mentions of Anquetil and Poulidor and Merckx and Hinault and DesGrange, but not the mentions of Armstrong, LeMond, Bobet, Fignon, Indurain and Pantani. Index inconsistency is one of my favorite pet peeves. At least it does acknowledge Mont Ventoux and the Col de Galibier and L'Alpe d'Huez.

France is famous for its museums, not only in Paris, but all over the country. They can pop up in the smallest of towns and be devoted to any odd topic--berets, the postal service, the Resistance, postcards, wine, corkscrews, skiing, perfume, cartoons and the usual museums of art and those devoted to a famous individual. There are hundreds of them. Unfortunately, it didn't reveal any bicycle museums I hadn't visited. In fact, I knew of several the book didn't mention. It did mention a couple of plaques to The Tour de France that were new to me, though it failed to include quite a few I knew of. It had the usual faux pas concerning The Tour, but was more race savvy than many books.

I also brought along a book on the French Revolution. There are hundreds. I try to read at least one a year. This was the classic "The Sans-Culottes," by Albert Soboul. I was so busy visiting Carnegies and reading local literature, I wasn't able to complete it or get to the third book I brought along, one of Jan Morris's many travel books.

My final day included four Carnegies. I've already reported on those in Rennselarr and Monon. The final two were in Hebron and Crown Point. The Hebron head librarian, Pam Ferber, was the first true Carnegie devotee I met on this trip. When I asked her that question I ask at each library, "How was your community lucky enough to get a Carnegie?" she lit up and said, "It's a wonderful story. The local woman's group at the time put great effort into raising the money, getting the necessary subscriptions from people in the area to meet Carnegie's requirement of being able to maintain the library once he provided the funds for its construction. One man mortgaged his house to be able to buy this property for the Carnegie. There was a house on it that had to be torn down. The Carnegie Corporation approved their request in 1917, but with war-time shortages, the library wasn't completed until 1922. It was one of the last built in Indiana."

I told her I had visited the last one built in Linden and also the first in Clarksville. She was delighted to meet someone who'd been to so many Carnegies and asked, "Are you a professor?" She said she'd love to go on such a quest as I've been on, but never had. She took me around the library and proudly pointed out two original desks and an original magazine rack and checkout table. As the library in Brookstone, when Hebron expanded in 1995 it totally sealed up its former entrance and tried to hide it with landscaping. Above its arch was "PVBLIC LIBRARY." The new entry retained the same spelling of "public." In the lawn in front of the old entrance was a rock with a plaque that stated, "This tablet placed in recognition of donations received from the Carnegie Corporation." The Carnegie portrait in the new entry was one I hadn't seen, a formal corporate-looking Carnegie without the standard book of the usual portrait.

The Carnegie in Crown Point was overwhelmed by its huge addition in 1973 behind it that made no attempt whatsoever to blend in with the original building. The original building is now the administrative office for the library and is off limits to the public. It is a quite gallant red brick building most worthy of the National Historic Registry of Buildings if it isn't already on it. It dates to 1908. A vinyl banner beside the new entrance celebrated the 2008 centennial of the library.

This was my third bicycle tour of searching out Carnegies in the Midwest. This fall after my month in Telluride working for the film festival I'll search out as many as I can in the west on my ride home via a visit to friends in Seattle. Rather than finding four or five a day, as I could in Indiana, it may be just a Carnegie every three or four days. But that will be fine. I'll be riding my bike in the great outdoors and seeing all sorts of delights and visiting libraries unique in their own way. Our libraries are a national treasure. Few countries can compare.

Later, George


JeffOYB said...

Hi George... Thanks for the reporting! Your Carnegie quest is a dandy. Say, thinking of places in France, have you visited the Chateau du Prieuré at Fontainebleau? It's famous for being Gurdjieff's hangout -- a wild Sufi-esque teacher of yore and an amazing character.

Julie Hochstadter said...

george- i did my first solo multi state tour today (maybe 60 miles). I totally thought of you..