Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

My Photo
Location: Rome, Italy

16 January 2011

Bicycling in Rome

When you think of bicycle-friendly cities, you probably don't think of Rome—for good reason, it turns out. The city is, in fact, quite bicycle-inimical. To be fair, it isn't easy to adapt the streets of a two thousand-year-old city to accommodate automobiles, buses, trams and, on top of all that, leave a little room for bicycles. When I returned to Rome in 2006, I was actually surprised to discover just how far the city had come in trying to accommodate the needs/desires of bicyclists. Thanks to continuous pressure from an active group of bicycle enthusiasts, more progress is being made every year.

Here for your viewing pleasure is my Roman bicycle travelogue.

Starting from the monastery, I need to ride only a short distance on city streets to reach the entrance to Villa Borghese, one of Rome's largest parks. Once inside the park, I no longer have to worry about traffic. Instead, I have to worry about baby strollers, roller bladers, other bicyclists and entire Italian families strolling arm-in-arm eight abreast at about 2 km per year. Crossing to the other side of the park, I exit near Rome's modern art museum and the Villa Giulia. Here begins a bicycle path that leads to the Tiber River. The good news is that the bicycle path is clearly marked on the sidewalk. The bad news is that pedestrians still block it, and you have to cross several very busy streets before arriving at the Tiber. I cross over Ponte Risorgimento and turn right on the other side. About one hundred meters along this path I have a choice of two paths to take. I can keep following the Tiber going north until the area called Acqua Acetosa. Actually, the bike path should continue farther, but the bridge over a ravine has been inexplicably closed for the past four years. The other choice is to follow the Tiber River south by descending a ramp on the right.

The ramp takes you down from the street level to the river level. For the first few hundred meters, there is a concrete path; not terribly smooth, but passable. Until recently, the concrete eventually gave way to san pietrini, the small cobblestones favored by Romans for paving their streets and sidewalks. If I had written this post a year ago, I would have advised any male who wished eventually to father a child to avoid this path. I rode on it once in 2006; it was so rough that it took me two days to stop shaking.

In late 2010, the city of Rome finally paved over part of the cobblestones to create a bike path. It is now quite pleasant. I'm not sure how long the path will last, however, because the layer of asphalt is so thin that you can already see the outline of the underlying cobblestones. Although there is now a smooth, clearly marked path along this part of the Tiber, it is not perfect. There are makeshift barricades like the one in this photo blocking the path in various locations. It isn't always clear why the barricade is there; sometimes it is because the wall above the bike path is unstable.

The path continues along the Tiber for several kilometers. There are now only two small sections that are not paved. The one shown in this photo is near the Isola Tiburtina. The cobblestones are only a minor nuisance; the bigger problem is that this area is often very crowded, especially in the summer. This is one of the spots where people board the boats that cruise up and down the Tiber during the summer months. It also seems to be a favorite hangout of young people.

Continuing along another kilometer or two, the path comes to an end at a set of stairs near Rome's old gasometer. Actually, the path continues at the top of the stairs; but we won't go there today. It takes me approximately 30 minutes to reach this point so it is a good place to turn around and head home. The makeshift stairs have received a lot of criticism from the bicycling community. They were installed so that the path could be blocked while a new bridge is built over the Tiber. The bridge will allow the bike path to cross over the river and continue south. So the ends are good, but many wonder why the city could not have installed a temporary ramp instead of stairs. Do they not realize that bicycles and stairs do not mix well?

I hope you enjoyed the tour.

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14 January 2011

What's in a name?

There is a marriage preparation course, apparently widely-used among American Catholic marriage ministers, called FOCCUS. Digging into the website, I found that the name is an acronym for "Facilitate Open, Caring Communication, Understanding and Study." Fair enough, but could the program's creators really have been so irony-challenged?

Lines are open for comments.

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13 January 2011

You have to laugh to keep from crying

Several journalists pointed out that the gun used in the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was legally purchased. Commenting on one of these articles, alert reader MyBigToe bristled at the insinuation that easy access to guns might have had some role to play in this tragedy. He wrote, "To all those who say that this gun was legally purchased, you are wrong. The shooter lied on the application form where it asked if he had ever used illegal drugs."

Clearly, you see, the problem is not easy access to guns, but the dishonesty of the criminally insane. While others may wring their hands, I intend to do something about this. Today, I announce to you the formation of: People for Honesty by the Lowlife, Evil Gun-Minded. Please join P.H.L.E.G.M. in putting an end to gun violence by spreading this message to all the criminals and madmen among your friends and acquaintances:
Please be more honest when completing the application form for the purchase of handguns, assault rifles, bazookas, and other sporting goods. This will lead to a safer society, which I know is a concern that all of us share. Thank you for your cooperation.