March 22, 2009 at 12:26 PM
Signs of spring are arriving. First, setting the clocks ahead at a truly unnatural time of year. Finally, the snow is almost gone. What this means: time to start riding my bike to work.
The last time I rode my bike to work was last November, a little before Thanksgiving. Then one of the multiple big snowstorms of the winter hit and that was it for me. My husband soldiered on, wearing his funny hat, riding on days when the roads were clear. I had a good excuse, though, especially on lesson days: I have my violin (or viola). I can't schlep that on my bike in this weather. Are you nuts?!
Teacher out of town. Sunny. Enough daylight left in the afternoon that I won't be riding home in the dark. Hmm. Out of excuses. So, last Monday, I started riding again. The distance is about 6 miles (give or take, depending on the route), from my house in Belmont to the Kendall Square area of Cambridge, pretty much ground zero for the Massachussetts hi-tech sector. Going to work, it's mostly downhill. That means that going home, it's, well, it's not pretty.
This is not wholly unlike starting to play the violin again after a break. Rewarding in the abstract, in the medium-to-long term. In the short term, well, it's not pretty either.
The biggest hill on my way home is on Trapelo Rd. It is not that steep, but it goes on and on, for more than half a mile. It's also not avoidable. My house is just at higher elevation than my workplace. In November I had gotten to the point where I took it in stride. It was taking me 45 minutes to get home, or sometimes even less (relative to 35 on my way in). But it was my first time this year and I was fast reaching this mind space where I just didn't feel like I could take it any more. But getting off the bike and walking?
I often think about music when I ride. Sometimes it helps me keep rhythm, sometimes, as when I'm driving or riding the subway, I just work on fingerings or bowings in my head. This time I was thinking about the Beethoven violin concerto, because my daughter had a 2-line simplified excerpt to play in school. Surprisingly (to me anyway), she hadn't been very impressed by the 2-line excerpt. I got out the whole recording on a CD and played that for her. Still not impressed. Weird. I'm panting, riding up this stupid hill, puzzling over my daughter's reaction, and then I think about Pei-Wen Liao, our concerto soloist last year with the Arlington Phil. She played the first movement of the Beethoven violin concerto. And she played a cadenza that I'd never heard before, that was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen.
I noted at the time, that "When she plays the cadenza, at one point it's as if there are two violins playing. Double-stop trills, two soaring melody lines. And she has a little smile of concentration on her face, setting it all in motion. She's in the cockpit of a high-performance jet, or maybe the Starship Enterprise, flying." I had tried to capture the impression I'd had, that she was skillfully and somewhat mysteriously operating a very complicated piece of machinery. That somehow she was able to delegate certain details to her fingers so that she could be present in the moment for the music itself.
I didn't have that much more hill to go, but I was hurting. I was present in the moment for the pain and panting. Not for the nice sunset in front of me in the Western sky. Not even for Pei-Wen and her beautiful Beethoven, playing in memory. I thought, well, I can't do this, but maybe my legs can. My legs can go faster. Delegate the details like Pei-Wen does. So I made my legs pedal faster. And it wasn't that bad. They were a little sore, but nothing serious. They just kept pedaling faster, and I even gained enough momentum to shift into a higher gear. I crested the hill. Nothing else between me and home but a traffic light. It turned green.
I am glad to hear spring is finally arriving and you can bike again. But Trapelo Rd.? Yikes. They would have to call an ambulance for me if I tried that hill. You will undoubtedly live to play violin and viola to a ripe old age!
Oh, I think you'd get it eventually. The first time I rode my bike home it took me over an hour and I had to walk it up most of the hill. I looked for a side street that would be better, but there was just nothing.
I said my husband "soldiered on" riding his bike through the winter, and that's true. Except that he drives to the bottom of the hill with his foldable bike in the back of the car, parks in an area of Cambridge that doesn't need a permit, and then rides the rest of the way, so when he comes back at the end of the day, he can drive up the hill. It's better than not riding at all . . .
I didn't ride today. Violin/viola teacher is back and we had an extra-long lesson, with two instruments.
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