Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: My 29er and Spontaneous Itinerant Marketplaces

October 30, 2013

My 29er and Spontaneous Itinerant Marketplaces

Biking enthusiasts will recognize the term 29er as referring to a super-duper, maxed-out, extra-large, off-road bicycle, the main difference of which is the larger rim tires. I am a proud owner of a 29er that was custom-fitted to my body. The pedals, the seat, the handlebars are all positioned so that my back, my arms, my knees are all where they are supposed to be.

The difference between riding my 29er and riding a simpler, smaller, non-customized bicycle (which I did until my 29er arrived) to me is like the difference between going to a dentist who gives you anesthetic and going to one who doesn’t (yes, it’s that painful).

So it was with tremendous joy that I lovingly retrieved my 29er from our lift. It was with great anticipation that I had the gears oiled, the tires re-inflated, the handlebar aligned. I was at one with my 29er. Man and machine together. Me, the engine, the drive, the direction. It, the sophisticated, well-designed extension. Simple, powerful, efficient engineering. And then I hit the road. Freedom!

To feel the wind across your face. To fly on the large boulevards as the humans in their shiny metal boxes (2 points for correct reference) move zombie-like in the infernal struggle called traffic. Pure happiness.

The best is riding on the Rambla. It is a long, well paved, uninterrupted boardwalk, with only pedestrians and other bikers, right by the coast. On a particularly windy day waves crash over the boardwalk and it is refreshing to get sprayed by the salty water (though I worry a bit about their effect on the 29er gears).

To go from my house to my office, all I need to do is step outside my door, turn left and then go straight for a couple of miles. That’s what I did Rosh Hashana, which took about 45 minutes of walking. Driving is a bit more complicated as at various points the road is crossed by other major roads, merges with other roads and changes direction of traffic. Bicycles, being a hybrid form of transportation between pedestrian and motorized, present its unique challenges of getting from A to B.

A few times I tried the straight route, and while it wasn’t too bad riding across the major thoroughfares, going against traffic is a bit unnerving. On one hand, there is a great logic to it. I can see the cars coming and they generally see me (perhaps with some alarm). When I ride with traffic, I have little sense of what’s coming behind me and have to pray that I will be seen and avoided.

Two things made me abandon the ridding-into-traffic style. One was the glaring looks I received from some drivers. The second was that as fate would have it the municipality of Montevideo created about a month ago a biking lane/street that is somewhat helpful, though a bit longer in getting me from A to B.

It’s a less-traveled street and they’ve placed speed bumps on all the side streets leading to this particular street, giving the rider confidence that any drivers will have to slow down at the intersection. However, perhaps for this very logic, I found my way blocked by a farmer’s market in the middle of my bike route. While not as harrowing as avoiding cars, I found myself dodging tomato stands, old ladies with their grocery carts, apple vendors, fishmongers, inconveniently parked bicycles, and dogs (you have never seen a city with so many dogs!).

It is an interesting phenomenon of Montevideo. You can be driving around town and suddenly, out of nowhere, you will encounter one of these markets. I am discovering that they are quite common throughout the city and that there is actually an orderly pattern to the appearance of these markets. They will station themselves on one street on Monday, a different one a few blocks away on Tuesday, a different neighborhood on Wednesday, and so on and so forth, to be repeated again the following week. However, to a newcomer unfamiliar with their schedule it seems like spontaneous markets, there one day, gone the next. One of the first such places we discovered was the market two blocks away from our house which convenes on Thursday and is an excellent source of fruits and vegetables for our Shabbat preparations.

In any case, it is wonderful to be reunited with my 29er and now I know to avoid the market part of the biking route on Wednesdays, as I dare not risk a chance encounter with dangerous potatoes or their ilk.

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