The photo above is a favorite -- taken in New Orleans -- post-Katrina, on a trip to JazzFest 2006. I love the picture for the rusted downspout, the cracked pavement, the moss on the door, the seatless bike and the promise of the musty old stacks of books beyond the windows.
Beckham’s Books. Never did pass through the doors. I grabbed the shot hastily following my husband down the street early on a Saturday morning. He was the one carrying the “real camera” -- the Canon EOS 10D with 28-135mm lens -- a lovely digital camera that I have since inherited with his latest upgrade, the EOS 40D. The camera is immaterial. It’s the viewpoint that interests me here
You see, the photo is a portrait of my husband Malcolm’s obsession with cycling, juxtaposed to mine: collecting books. I can’t fully explain how is it that we have reached a point in our “middle years” (whatever those may be) where we have amassed a collection of 7 bikes hanging like bats in the basement. And upstairs in almost every room in the house there are the glass-doored bookcases, filled to brimming with acetate-covered novels. I can’t speculate how many books exactly, more than 600, mostly modern fiction, many of which are signed first editions. (Catalogued on www.librarything.com)
As for the bikes, two were purchased for me, the first as a birthday gift, at my husband’s insistence that the old mountain bike in the basement needed replacement with a lighter “hybrid” and the second, with the assurance that a road bike would be so much faster and easier to handle. It is. Truth be told: I’m skittish pedaling on two wheels with a ton of glass and steel whizzing by on four. I find the noise, the cross-traffice, the light-changes and fumes of the road disquieting, even on an idyllic Sunday morning. While I dutifully ride a respectable 25 to 30 miles through the park, it’s only because it’s good, healthy exercise, effective in burning calories, and a means of at least “sharing” (albeit at an ever-increasing distance) what has become my husband’s passion. On a bike my husband leaves me in the dust, zooming down hills at speeds up to 30 mph on his shiny Italian Cervelo, dazzling in his latex riding habit, and perfectly calibrated and tuned to cadence and mileage with his new Garmin computer on board. I ride, slow and steady, dreadfully (that’s full of dread) like an old lady -- thankful to remain upright, and thrilled upon my return in one piece, with the prospect of refreshment, food and drink, and the pleasure of sitting down to a good book.
As for the book collection, a harmless obession -- no better or worse than cycling. But one certainly might ask: why? I confess that I buy books as objects of desire, aspirational purchases, knowing full well, deep down that I will never read them, that is, unless I seriously pick up the pace from 25 to 75 books a year. And really, how many years do I have to book? Do I believe that if I surround myself with books - hoarding words -- that I will live more fully, write better, or think better? Not consciously. But there must be something to that. Unintentionally, I have created that all too familiar nightmare-- the mortality dream -- that it’s the night before the exam, I haven’t been to class, and there are stacks of books I haven’t opened. Creative angst is what some might call it.
I think about this, as well as other “deep thoughts” exploring the “mysteries” of life -- curiously -- while riding a bicycle. (!) Ever mindful of the road, with its variant signs and hazards, I often find myself in a reflective, mind-spinning mode. Problem solving. Painting mental pictures. Taking note. Married to one obsession or another, here I find myself creating while recreating. . . on a bicycle. Oh, go figure.