April 11, 2012

Sitzbook: "Bicycle Diaries" by David Byrne

A boy and his bike and his book.
I read this book quickly (in less than a day) because Andy brought it with him during his visit, and he had mentioned it was good. However, he was borrowing it himself so if I wanted to read it, I'd have to get through it quickly. And I did.

The book is a series of reflections by David Byrne, the lead singer of Talking Heads. He's also a bicycling enthusiast, but he's my kind of bicycling enthusiast, which is to say that he's not really a hardcore, sporty biker but rather a laid-back, "using a bike to discover new places"- type of biker. I'm not much of a biker myself, especially since the mountain town I live in has only one road that's really steep in parts and doesn't lead to anywhere worth going to. But I like Byrne's thoughts and philosophy, which he shares with us as he rides through Berlin (the real one, not the one I live in), Istanbul, New York, San Francisco, and many other cities.

Another good thing about the book is that it's hardly about bicycling. It comes up incidentally in many of the sections, since he comments on how easy or difficult it is to get around by bike in some of these places, but he's more likely to talk about regional culture, history, art, or, probably most commonly, city planning. That's what makes this book such a fast read, since each little section is only a couple of pages. He'll talk about Argentinean music for a few pages, but before you know it, he's exploring Manila and talking about the history of Imelda Marcos.

It's a good book and I'd certainly recommend it, especially if Andy happens to be staying at your house any time soon. Just contact him to schedule a visit and a book-loaning.

Here are some quotes I liked from the book:

Page 44:
"In the New World it is assumed that there will always be more land over the horizon, so sustainable cultivation and conservation are often viewed as namby-pamby. I suppose a lot of Russia and the former Soviet republics are like this too, which might explain a thing or two. Maybe that's why lots of North Americans feel that the whole world has to be tamed and brought under control while Europeans, having more or less achieved that control in their own lands, feel a duty to nurture and manage rather than simply subdue. Industrialization and agricultural subjugation throughout much of Europe is now a thing of the past--its legacy a nasty memory of polluted rivers and blackened skies, many of which are now being cleaned up, sort of."

On page 284, Byrne mentions a presentation by Enrique Peñalosa the former mayor of Bogotá, who helped initiate bike- and pedestrian-friendly projects in the city.  Peñalosa says:

"A place without sidewalks privileges the automobile, and therefore the richer people in cars have more rights; this is undemocratic." 

Byrne continues talking about the former mayor:

"Peñalosa tends to link equality, in all its forms, with democracy--a connection that is anathema to many in the United States. In his own words, 'In developing-world cities, the majority of people don't have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality... If democracy is to prevail, public good must prevail over private interest.'" 

So, that's it for now. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

And thanks to Andy for visiting-- and posing for some pictures!

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AnnaLisa said...

You convinced me. This one's on my list now.

Sitzman said...

If you do read it, tell me what you think!