Monday, June 18, 2007

The Middle East (and a lost bi-continental opportunity)

I haven't been a bike in over a month. But that doesn't mean I haven't been looking.

First, the bad news. Zora and I just passed up a chance to join a bike ride from Greece to Turkey: "Greece-Turkey: 2 Peoples-- One Nature.” I strongly suspect I will regret this. The perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bike across the Turkey/Greece border seems much better than going back to a beach we know to well (albeit a very nice beach). But the overnight bus ride from Istanbul has been taken, our ferry tickets are bought, and a taxi will be waiting for us tonight at the port of Mytiline. We received some information a bit too late. And through we're still in Turkey, we're about to take a ferry to Greece.

But of course if we were cool we could have made it so. We probably still could. But we're not.

I hope the reason we're not biking isn't simply because getting the gear together from scratch in a country where you don't speak the language seems daunting and expensive. And it's hot. Perhaps it is best to ponder this wasted chance while cooling off in the Aegean Sea.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo a few weeks ago, I was happy to discover a "spoke bell," AKA an "egyptian bell." This ingenous bell, used by men biking with big trays of bread on the head, is activated by a (brake-like) lever. It pulls the attached-to-a-spring clapper of a bell into the spoke of the turning front wheel. This then hits the bell with a glorious sound as long as the bike keeps moving.

Alas, we couldn't find one for sale. After many days and many bike stores and much "try-the-store-of-my-uncles," we finally came a across a store that said, yes, we do carry such bells! But they were out. And the replacements hadn't yet arrived... from France. And by then, after weeks in Cairo, we were leaving the next. day. We went back the next day, but they still haven't arrived. Enshaallah, they're there now, and we may have to send our Cairo friends over to this bike store to pick me up a few.

Meanwhile, in Aleppo, Syria (the best city to vacation in, in the middle east... really... great food, friendly and not-pushy people, cheap as hell, and you can drink the water. Sure Bashar's picture is everywhere, but who's better? Especially for religous freedom.)

So we're in Aleppo still kind of hunting for this bell. Bikes in Syria tend to be new cheap made in China jobs. And hopes are low for the bell because we haven't seen one in Syrian. But we stop in a bike store anyway because I like bike stores and the friendly bike man, in his store big enough so that four people can crouch, says, "sure, you have bought this bell... if you were here 50 years ago!"

Then we notice the pile of beautifully hand-made beaded handlebar grips, cable covers, and brake-handle cables. Some even have beaded tassles! They are the coolest pimp-your-bike accesssory... ever. We bought a bunch. They will make great presents. A few may be sold on e-bay. Hopefully they arrive in a mailed box in two months. These could revolutionize bike decoration in Amsterdam, New Orleans, or any place that appreciates a good bit of bike decoration.

Then the man put newspapers on his desk, and a lunch appeared for all of us with a delicious tomato meat stew, bread, hot peppers, salt, and water and tea. He was very sweet. And even offered to give us a bike when we have a child. Pink for a girl and blue for a boy. We didn't have the heart to tell we have no plans to ever have one. But then we made these plans before we knew that a free bike comes with every kid.