In elementary school, I had a girls Schwinn bike. It was blue with faux leather saddle bags and rubber hand grips with hanging white fringe. It had a silver metal bell mounted on the handle bar that rang when I pushed the lever with my right thumb, and it had a big red reflector on the back fender. I clipped playing cards to my spokes with wooden clothes pins and rode until I got dizzy just to hear the ti-tit-ti-tit-ti tit-ti-tit of the paper king and queen as the wheels rolled and rolled, while I peddled round and round, circling the street light in the center of our cul-d-sac. Other than that, I have never considered myself a bicycle person.
When I see bicycles, I think of Roy Tatman, even though I have never seen him ride a bike. He is an artist and has curated four art shows with bicycle themes. On the streets of Florence, and other towns in Tuscany, bicycles are common. I believe they’re used for transportation more than recreation as I’ve seen many more leaning against buildings, in wait for their owners to get off of work, than actually ridden. I have seen quite a few being walked, almost as if to get attention just as a single person walks his or her dog in areas known to be frequented by other single people walking dogs. Many of the photography students at Santa Reparata International School of Art gravitate to photographing bicycles, so I feel obligated to snap a few bike photos myself. The bikes that attract me are neither the coolest or the most expensive, I reserve my selection to those Roy might find interesting, bicycles with personalities or oddities, bicycles of “bicycle show” worthiness.
Marcello has a bicycle. He leaves it in the downstairs hallway of Ricasoli. I’ve seen him walk it several times, and it often leans against the outside wall of our building near our front door, but I’ve never seen him ride it. Sometimes in the late afternoon, his bike rests against the downstairs hallway wall. The smell from the warm rubber tires fills the hollow with a pungent odor, indicating he has recently returned from the sun burned streets of Florence. I imagine myself walking up the 53 steps to our floor, resting a moment, composing myself, and then going the next 17 steps farther up to his door. I stand erect, toss my pony tail back over my left shoulder, and lick my lips wet while simultaneously using the back of my hand to wipe away the beads of liquid dancing on the stage beneath my nose. I knock cautiously, but directly. He opens the door, still wearing clothes stained wet with the sweat of the day, and looks at me with wonder.
“Marcello,” I say casually, yet matter of factly, while my heart races, “Marcello sorry to bother you, but I noticed that your hot bicycle tires are sticking to the marble floor.” He looks instinctively back to the interior of his apartment and then back at me.
“Who es ita ata the doora?” his wife Sophia, in the kitchen chopping fresh vegetables and peeling garlic for dinner, calls out to him.
“Itsa no one,” he replies, “Justa the bata lady froma downstairs.”
“Whada bada lady froma downstairs?” she questions.
“Noa noa, the bata lady,” he says again.
“Oha, the bata lady thata flapa her armsa lika birda?” she says referencing the night we made a ruckus, Barbra chasing a displaced flying bat with a broom and me opening wide the shaft window, visible from their apartment, and waving my arms to chase it outside.
“Yeah. The bata lady,” he responds to her and then turns to me and says, “Soa whada you saya abouta mya hota…whata hota?
I want to say… “You Marcello, you are-a hota,” my shoulders releasing their tension, but instead I say, “Youra rubbera isa,” and then I stop, realizing I am starting to speak make believe Italian. “Marcello,” I say, changing back to proper English, “Your rubber is so hot it stuck to the floor.”
At that point he just shakes his head, passes by me on the landing, and jogs down the stairs. Before I make it to the bottom floor, he lifts his still-warm bike, carries it through the hallway, and out to the street. By the time I reach the front door and look his direction, I see a man in colored pants by the bikes, but it’s not my Marcello. The only thing I can ever manage to say, “Ciao Marcello,” I whisper into the wind, confident he’ll return by nightfall. Maybe he’s going to the singles bike walk, or to the restaurant where you park your bike inside the dining room, or to the graffiti corner, or to the wall where leaflets are posted. There are countless bike subjects lying in wait for Roy to consider … next stop … Bicycle Show Five, Florence.
One day I noticed a still life on a doorstep. It was a composition of three apricots with, you guessed it, bikes leaned against a nearby wall. “Sidewalk Still Life” was selected to be in a juried show at PlacerArts, Gallery 808 in The Arts Building (808 Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn, CA). The show opens for Art Walk on Thursday evening, October 13 and will be up until November 15, 2011. Stop by – take a look. For more information, contact PlacerArts at (530) 885-5670 or www.placerarts.org