Friday, April 26, 2013

A Final Training Ride for France

I very much wanted to squeeze in another 400-mile training ride before my departure for France next week, but I could only find the time for a two-day 160-mile ride.   Rather than riding up to Appleton, Wisconsin for a bicycling book, I had to content myself with a ride of picking off three stray Carnegie libraries that have eluded me. The first was in Belvidere, Illinois, 72 miles northwest of Chicago. The next was 25 miles south in Sycamore, and the final in Glenn Ellyn, a distant suburb on my return route.

Not only was this ride a test for my legs, it was also a test of the many features of an Apple mini-iPad.  Not only is it a mini-computer, it is a camera, a GPS device, a telephone and more. It was a gift from Janina so we could stay in closer touch. We had no idea of the range of its capabilities. Not only will it make my travels considerably easier not having to search out the Internet, but also finding my way out of labyrinths.  Its highly detailed maps will enable me to pinpoint my location in any city and figure out which roads to take to escape.  It will keep me fully informed of the weather, my altitude and just about anything I need to know. My chief challenge will be keeping it charged.

I have a lot to learn to take full advantage of all it can do. One of the first lessons I had to learn on this test ride was to remember that I now have a digital camera at my disposal. I didn't think to take a photo of the first Carnegie I passed in Park Ridge, eleven miles into my ride, partially because I had already paid it a visit, but mostly because it was as nondescript of a Carnegie as I have come across and hardly warranted a photograph.  Unlike most Carnegies, it had no distinguishing features other than being at a prime location at the corner of Northwest Highway and Touhy, across from the Pickwick Theater and the new much larger glitzy library.  This former Carnegie now houses an Allstate Insurance agency and a hair and skin care business.

The Carnegie in Belvidere was much more worthy of being the first my iPad photographed, though I couldn't photograph its front since I would have been shooting directly into the late afternoon sun. Instead I had to settle on a side shot with its 1987 addition to its right along with its new glassy entrance. Like many Carnegies the original entrance around the corner facing the main street was now closed.

My bike has the bike rack all to itself.  The tall windows in the old building to the left are all topped by a layer of stained glass.

A weathered plaque by the old entrance largely goes unnoticed and unmaintained.

The Belvidere library is simply called the Ida Public Library, named for the daughter of its chief local benefactor.  Her portrait hangs in the Carnegie portion of the library across from a portrait of Carnegie.

The standard Carnegie portrait that was made available to any library that wanted one in 1935, sixteen years after his death in 1919.

Belvidere calls itself "City of Murals."  I had yet to acquire enough of a photographer's consciousness to think to take a photo of any of them, and also because none of them demanded it, not even the one of a Belvidere beauty queen, Judith Ford, who not only earned the title of Miss Illinois in 1969, but went on to capture the Miss America crown later that year.  I felt more inclined to photograph a small sign on the outskirts of the city that announced it was a sister city to Vaux-le-Penil in France, a city about the size of Belvidere fifty miles south of Paris and just a bit north of Fontainebleau. My route south to Cannes next week could well take me through it.  Many French towns are sistered to towns in Germany and England, but only once have I seen a town in France advertise itself as having a sister in the United States.  That was Chamonix with its fellow ski town, Aspen. It is almost equally rare to see a sign in America announcing a town has partnered itself with a foreign town.

On my route south to Sycamore I passed a farmstead that had a soft drink machine by its barn, evidently to serve its hired hands. It was too far off the road to cater to the passing public. It hearkened me back to Japan, the Land of Vending Machines.  If I had had any thirst, I would have swung into the farm to give it a closer look.  But the temperature remained unseasonably cold.  I had not removed a single layer from what I had started out with when I set out that morning with the temperature just above freezing.

Sycamore's Carnegie had an even larger addition than that of Belvidere.  It was accomplished in 1995 and was desperately needed as the town had grown considerably since the original was built in 1903.  It too was fairly seamless, matching the original Lake Superior Red Sandstone.  I had been passing so many silos in the surrounding farm country, the library's dome seemed to be a tribute to them. The reference librarian said that was not intended. The architect of the library, Paul O. Moratz of Bloomington, Illinois,  had earlier designed the Carnegie in Paxton, Illinois with a more conventional dome and he wanted this to be more distinctive.  Time has accorded the Paxton library the honor of being the most notable of the 111 Carnegies built in Illinois.  It is featured on the cover of the book detailing them all, "The Carnegie Library in Illinois" by Raymond Bial.  The Paxton library has the advantage of being one of the few without an addition.

The rotunda is now known as the "Teen Zone."  It has been painted a bright blue and had comfortable chairs for lounging.  The librarian said the Carnegie portrait used to hang over its fire place, but that no longer seemed to be the appropriate place for it.  They had yet to find a new home for it.

I couldn't linger long in the library as the sun was nearing the horizon.  I wasn't particularly weary, even though I was nearing one hundred miles for the day, and most of them into the wind.  I had been riding steadily hoping to reach Sycamore before dark, otherwise I might not have the opportunity to see the inside of the library.  About the only rest stops I had taken all day were to stop at McDonald's to test their free Wifi and attempt a Skype call to Janina while I sat outside eating my own provisions.  We were able to connect several times, but could never hold the line for more than a minute, often cutting out after twenty seconds.  That is something we need to work on. I had no complaints whatsoever though about the iPads mapping feature.  I didn't even need to be connected to the internet for the blue dot to appear on the maps showing my location.  They easily showed me a short cut out of Belvidere and helped me find my turn onto highway 176 in Crystal Lake.  Its only disadvantage is being so much fun to look at it may cut into my reading time.

I brought along a book on a woman's search for the  full story behind the nude model with a strong, almost defiant gaze that caused quite a stir in Manet's masterpiece, Olympia, a book my fellow French devotee Craig had recently read after happening upon it at the Brown Elephant. It was a subject unknown to me, even though it is so significant that Janina devotes a lecture to it in one of her women's studies courses.

I had already made my annual transition from bike books to books about France with Hilary Mantel's novel on the French Revolution "A Place of Greater Safety," written in 1992, seventeen years before she won her first of two Bookers.  It took me nearly a month to wade through its 750 pages.  It paid more attention to the wives and girl friends and mistresses of the principles of the Revolution (Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins, Marat) than most such books do, even though they were all pretty much accessories to the story, which was her point.  This book would have been no threat to win a Booker.  I did learn a few shreds of information on the Revolution, but I would have been much happier if the book had only been a third of its length.

I wouldn't have minded at all though if the book on the model Victorine Meurent, "Alias Olympia, A Woman's Search for Manet's Notorious Model and Her Own Desire," by Eunice Lipton had been longer than its 181 pages.  I was able to read ten pages or so on each of my stops and then a good hunk more in my tent at the end of the day. It was a fascinating biography, not only of Meurent, but of the book's author.

I camped several miles east of Sycamore, almost half a mile down a side road in a forest that wasn't too boggy from all the rain of the week before.  There was standing water in most of the unplanted fields and all the rivers I passed were greatly swollen and fast flowing.  From Sycamore I could have followed route 64, which turns into North Avenue as it nears Chicago's metropolis, to within a block of my apartment, but I had to make a two mile detour south of it when I came to Glen Ellyn to find its Carnegie.  On the way I passed the Carnegie in St. Charles, also on 64 as was the one in Sycamore, that I visited earlier in the month on my ride to Rock Island.  I had no camera then, so I stopped for a photo this time.

Even though it would have been easy to put in a ramp to make the original entrance to this Carnegie handicapped accessible, it had been sealed off.  No inscription remains on this part of the building identifying it as a library or tempting anyone to enter here as they once did.

The Carnegie in Glen Ellyn had long ago been converted to an administration building for Glenbard West High School just down the street.  It was a flat one story building with a rather blunt glass addition in front.  It was even more mundane and unappealing than the Carnegie in Park Ridge.  They are easily the two least distinctive Carnegies of the nearly two hundred that I have so far visited.

The former Glenn Ellyn Carnegie hardly warrants a photo, but here it is.

Several miles further back on North Avenue I passed Maywood Race Track.  The day before I had passed another of Chicago's horse racing tracks in Arlington Heights on my way out of town. Though they were magnificent structures, I can't ever imagine such tracks becoming something I would search out.

I reached home early in the afternoon thanks to a hearty tailwind, my legs feeling no effect from the day's previous effort. I had no concerns now of being able to meet up with Yvon in France, three days after my arrival, near the center of France at the post office in Bruere Ailichamp at 5:30 in the afternoon.  Usually we meet at a town's cathedral, but Yvon chose a post office this time for our rendezvous.  We have never missed connections.  The most difficulty we had was last year when I struggled to find the road to the home of his girl friend who he was visiting.  If I'd had an iPad, I would have easily found my way.  I have already located the bed and breakfast Yvon will be staying at and where I can pitch my tent in a small nearby village.  Nothing but happy times lay ahead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Glad to see that you are still chasing Carnegies. Glad to see some images as well!

Lael and I will be in France this summer, flying into Amsterdam May 8th, then headed mostly south for a bit. Perhaps we will cross paths again.