Sunday, 4 December 2016

On European cyclists

For the second time this fall, I have hauled Floria up the stairs to my bike storage area in anticipation of snow. Who knows if the forecast snow will stick, but I getting the point where I tend towards the preemptive.

I am in the process of watching the Suzuki Diaries featuring David Suzuki and his daughter travel around Europe by train and observing various ecofriendly features such as Copenhagen's bike culture. This made me think on an incident (possibly exaggerated) from my youth. As I was growing up, there was a Dutch family up the road with which my family was friends. (Olivier, with whom I stayed in Corner Brook, is a member of said family.)  The mother of the family, Pauline, died recently, which partly explains the "why" of this post.

At some point in the early 1980s, the one set of the family's grandparents (i.e. the grandparents' of "my" generation of the family) came over for a visit. I believe they were Pauline's parents, but I can't be sure.  In any case, the story came out that the Opa (Dutch for Grandfather) borrowed Johan's (the father) bicycle and rode downtown.  As many of my readers may know, North Hatley is in a valley and the slopes are significant. Opa zoomed down the hill to centre of the village and is said to have said: "What a wonderful country for biking!" He struggled back up the hill, whereupon he is said to have said: "Canada is no country for bikes!"  From what little I know of him, I gather he would have been saying so facetiously. In any event, the story was related to me as such.

However, on much later reflection, I am intrigued by the fact that he would have borrowed a bike in the first place. The distance between the house and downtown is less than a kilometre and easy walking distance. Yet he casually chose to bike it. Looking back, none of my grandparents would have chosen to ride a bike around North Hatley, even Granny M., who was very active and with whom I biked around Stanley Park when I was 10. (I once skied to church (in North Hatley) and back with her on a particularly snowy Christmas morning in the late 1970s.)  My point is that Opa riding the bike was, in its own way, quietly remarkable for North America in the early 1980s, but probably utterly unremarkble for the Netherlands. And yet, as a child, I didn't think it remarkable aside from the funny comment on Canadian hills coming from a Dutchman.

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