Archive for May, 2007

After a May 13 spent geographically bracketing Sorrento between the ruins of Pompeii and the beauty of Positano Susan and I returned to Sorrento to stroll through its old section over to the city’s cliffside overlook where I looked straight down and directly hundreds of feet below found this trio relaxing by the massive pilings at the water’s edge. I couldn’t resist this gull’s-eye perspective (click to enlarge):


So yesterday morning the phone rings and its neither a telemarketer nor some misdialer looking for whatever credit union has a phone number that’s one pesky digit different than mine. This is remarkable enough in its own right. But even more surprising I find the person I’m speaking to is basically The Dude of bicycling and bicycle advocacy in Los Angeles.

“Is this the Will Campbell who wrote the article in the Los Angeles Times?” asked a gravelly voice with an accent and pronunciation that sounded not entirely unlike Henry Kissinger (who was apparently sightseeing at the Pantheon in Rome while we were there May 12… but that’s another story entirely).

“Yes it is,” I answered.

“My name is Alex Baum,” came the reply and I paused, not only wondering if it was the Alex Baum, but how he got my phone number.

“Is this the Alex Baum that the L.A. River Bikeway bridge over Los Feliz Boulevard is named after?”

“Yes it is.”

Whoa. See, at risk of hyperbole Baum is pretty much the granddad of cycling in Los Angeles. Founder of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) developed under Mayor Tom Bradley in 1974 and its current chairman, among other acheivements he’s credited not only with the development of hundreds of miles of bike paths but also for prodding the MTA to fund millions of dollars of bike projects annually. That, and he fought with the French resistance against the nazis in World War II.

In January my councilman Eric Garcetti’s website
pointed readers to a profile in the
of the 84 year old cycling advocate.

In a nutshell, Baum congratulated me on the column and expressed his appreciation for what I had to say and for having the courage to say it. He told me the BAC is in the midst of revisiting the city’s bicycling plan and looking at alternatives such as those I suggested in the Times piece. When I responded that it was an honor to be contacted by someone who’s done so much to promote and expand bicycling across the city’s greater grid he waved off the compliment.
“What’s important,” he said, “is that there are people like you willing to be active in your advocacy and vocal with your ideas.” Then he invited me to attend the next BAC meeting Tuesday June 05 at 7 p.m. on the 15th floor of the LADWP building downtown.

I told him I would make a point to be there.

During our last few minutes in Ajjacio on the island of Corsica Susan and I strolled back along the waterfront to the ship and in doing so passed this monument, which grabbed a hold of my heart and very much to my surprise brought tears to my eyes, moving me unlike any other monument I’ve seen with the exception of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC (click to enlarge):


The plaque at the bottom honors “La Corse a ses enfants morts pour la patrie,” which I believe translates into “The children of Corsica who have died for their fatherland.”

I think what got me so good was that as I approached it from the left all I saw from that angle was the soldier at the moment of his death falling into the arms of the angel. Though powerful in its own right, it wasn’t until I got to this point that I saw the hooded figure of what I’d made to be the soldier’s wife or mother kissing him goodbye and the impact of the sculpture’s statement hit me.

And I just totally choked up right then. And now.

Following up on my post yesterday on the lady who we found tending to the pigeons of San Marco Square in Venice, please allow me to now introduce you to Our Father Of The Sparrows who I found in Tuileries Garden on our way to the Louvre during our first full day in Paris May 17. Though decidedly less selfless than the woman outside St. Mark’s Basilica, he was nonetheless charming (click to enlarge):




Dang but I got suckered into thinking I had it beat. Shoulda known better. I managed to get some sleep last night, about five hours worth. Got up at around 7 a.m. this morning and went about my day unpacking and decompressing and catching up with Survivor and The Sopranos and the animals and such.

And at around 4-5 p.m. I was relatively smug and perky and thinking this jet-lag thing was highly overrated, that I was already adjusted back to Cali time.

Oh hell no.

Not more than an hour later the last thing I exhaustingly mumbled to my loving wife at her desk (whose not only dealing with laggage but also battling the effects of the sinus thing that I gave her that was given to me by someone on the ship before we got to Rome) was “Oh, I’ve hit the wall, baby!” and a few minutes later I was in bed and out like a light.

Six hours later and here we are. W-I-D-E awake. Which is great if I were physically still in Paris because it’s 8:51 a.m. there. But instead it’s midnight:fiftyone here in the City of Angels, a long way from the City of Lights. If I’m lucky I’ll hit a second wall shortly and pull in a few more hours of shuteye. If not I’m up all night — and speaking of W-I-D-E, most likely I’ll be marching toward morning by cruising around in iPhoto and building several panoramas, starting with this one of Susan looking out from our room over Notre Dame Cathedral and our section of Kilometer Zero Paris (click to enlarge):


Amazing how quickly things slip from your memory… at least until one imports the 2,840 3,183 photos taken over the last two weeks in Europe providing refreshment to recall capabilities. Case in point, allow me to introduce you to Our Lady Of The Pigeons Of Saint Mark’s Square who Susan and I had the marvelous good fortune to stumble upon during an early morning walkabout in Venice May 7 before joining the cruise, and who I had completely forgotten about until my images of her (a trio of them below) flashed on the computer screen as they downloaded.

What a wonderful treat it was to find her.

It was after journeying out from our hotel through the labyrinth of side streets and alleys and passages and back that we came alongside St. Mark’s Basilica where a large service door stood wide open. Being me, I of course barely hesitated in walking across to see if entry or at least a peak inside might be an option but as I drew to the threshold a stern looking nun suddenly emerged from the shadows. Though she indicated nothing in regards to recognizing and/or thwarting my intentions she caught me by surprise and did head directly for me and thus forced an about-face and full retreat — one I attempted to make as casual as possible, but threatened to fail at because the nun basically continued to head straight for me as I charted a slow course through a large congregation of pigeons oddly gathered on the ground with no one else around. As I felt the nun bearing down upon me I had to squelch the urge to bolt and it was only afterward that I realized the nun was drafting me because I was basically cutting a path through the birds.

Once through them I cut a sharp left toward Susan and thankfully the nun continued on without so much as a glance in my direction with the pigeons closing ranks behind her.

I stared at the flock wondering why were they there specifically. At such an early hour the vast piazza proper was practically deserted of both the vendors who sell the bags of birdfeed and the tourists who purchase them, but clearly the birds were waiting for something or someone. And in not a minute more the answer appeared in the church’s side door in the form of a tiny, stoop-shouldered elderly woman with short gray hair and a brown quilted jacket. The moment she appeared the birds grew excited and moved en masse to her as she hobbled into the open air saying something in Italian to a man who stood in the doorway and watched her go before disappearing back into the Basilica’s murk.

Pulling a plastic baggie from her large purse incited the birds into an even greater frenzy that crowded close around her and on her and then over the course of the next couple minutes until her food supply had been exhausted and she shuffled off Susan and I were delighted to watch what must be a daily ritual that I can only imagine this aged lady has been doing for years — and bless her I hope she can continue doing for many years to come (click images for larger sizes):




UPDATED (05.21): I’ve gone ahead and posted all 37 images I snapped of her and her flock in a photoset here on Flickr.

Well first off, what a pleasant homecoming gift to arrive back from 15 hours of flights from Paris to Atlanta to L.A. to  find  my urban bicycling editorial gracing the pages of today’s L.A. Times. Much appreciation to the Times’ Robin Rauzi for tapping me for the duty and for honing the piece, and nods of appreciation to those who’ve written in congratulatory response to it. If you’re dropping by for the first time from it, welcome. The brief  and immediate backstory  is that I’m just now returning home with my wife from two weeks in Europe and there’s plenty of catching up to do on sleep, regular mail, email and all that.

When we left the jacarandas were still sleeping. How wonderful it is to return to them wide awake!

Sorry for the even more irregular postings here these last few days since docking in Monte Carlo. Apparently the internet tubes either don’t reach Paris or are exceptionally hard to find (perhaps even moreso being so distracted by everything!). I also apologize for the lack of direct response to those of you kind enough to drop me notes about the Times column, but I am as happy to be home as I am totally freakin’ exhausted and the only thing I’m going to try and do right now is get some zzzz’s  and my body clock hopefully re-synched to local time… right now it’s 6:30 a.m. in France.

I lied: before I go collapse, of the average 225 photos I took per day here’s une snap du Paris in the form of the magnificent view of Quasimodo’s castle and the Seine and the street scenery that Susan and I shared for three nights from our fifth floor corner room in the aptly named Hotel du Notre Dame (click to enlarge):


Until tomorrow!