Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spring Bike Ride

Even though the weather was a bit mixed on Sunday morning, I hopped on my bike and headed to the Main River.  From there, I rode along the Main River bike trail to Höchst and took a short break at the ferry dock across from town.  It only took me about 40 minutes to get to the ferry dock from my place.

The ferry was not running yet, so I headed down to the Leuna Bridge and crossed over.  Just below the bridge you can see the Frankfurt skyline.

Frankfurt Skyline from the Base of the Leunabrücke

From Höchst I rode another 45 minutes along the Nidda River to the Niddapark and took another short break.

View towards Frankfurt from the Niddapark

As you can see from the pictures above, it is high springtime in Frankfurt, and everything is a lush shade of green, with just the first hints of summer starting to appear.  The Niddapark has huge fields that are cut at irregular intervals.  The pictures were taken from my favorite bench beneath a shade tree overlooking the largest field in the park.

I then hopped on my bike and headed home through the park and neighboring areas.  It only takes me about thirty minutes to get home from my perch in the park.  I get home from this standard tour after less than 2.5 hours, slightly winded but totally refreshed.  Normally, I do the route in the reverse direction, heading to the Niddapark first, but I wanted to take advantage of the early hour along the Main to avoid the heavy traffic, including car traffic near part of the Main Rive bike trail.

I've noticed that the Germans keep getting up earlier on weekends.  In past years, had I left my apartment before 8:30 on a Sunday morning, as I did today, there would have been very few people out and about.  Indeed, I had the left side of the Main pretty mucht to myself this morning as well.  By ten a.m., however, there were numerous walkers, joggers, and bike riders on the paths, forcing me to slow down a bit, zig zag, and occasionally squeeze the brakes.

I'm hoping to take a tour from Basel to Strasbourg along the French side of the Rhine one weekend later this year, about a two-day ride.  I covered the stretch from Strasbourg to Ludwigshafen back in October over 1.5 days and really enjoyed it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Slouching Towards Spirit Lake

Last night 3Sat aired the documentary film Beyond this Place by Kaleo LaBelle, a son’s attempt to come to terms with his dysfunctional relationship with his father, a charismatic enigma from the Sixties who has been stoned for 40 years.  Some men suffer because their fathers are incapable of saying the words “I love you”.  Kaleo suffers in spite of the fact that his father repeatedly writes that he loves him, because the words are empty.  The father never actively tried to involve the son in his life and never supported his family, choosing instead the path of self-realization, first in a commune in Hawaii, and later, living in a makeshift shelter behind his mother’s house in Portland, Oregon, a house that he inherited and rented out to support his major passions in life: drugs and bicycle riding. The father was born Gordon La Belle.  He renamed himself Cloud Rock.  If you believe his friends, he was a hippie before the term came into use.  He meditated in volcano tubes, fasted, took psychedelic drugs, and had open relationships with women in the commune.  He fled to avoid service in Vietnam.  Cloud Rock, now 67, has two sons from two different women.  Kaleo's half-brother, Starbuck, whom Kaleo stumbles across on a trip to Maui,  looks a lot like Cloud and Kaleo, but his mind has been destroyed by [fill in the blank:  drugs from the father’s commune or, if you prefer to believe the father, a fever caught in Asia].   Starbuck wanders around Maui in a daze and sleeps in a cemetery with nothing to his name but the clothes on his back.  Cloud Rock says that Starbuck is “fucked up” and that he never wanted him and that he is more like his mother, not a true La Belle.  What a bummer.  Watching Starbuck's blank gaze, I was reminded of the dysfunctional brothers in the classic documentary, R. Crumb.  Both films deal with the destructive power of the father.  Both films are evidence of the creative power of pain experienced.

Here we are at the film’s central theme: responsibility.  Father Cloud no more acknowledges responsibility for how Starbuck turned out than he does for the shattered relationship with Kaleo, whose birth name, picked by Cloud, was Ganja.  Cloud suggests a bike tour with Kaleo across the Northwest, and Kaleo sees this as a means of taking a close look at his father and, yes, confronting him in a gentle way with his criticisms.  How do you forgive a father who refuses to ask for forgiveness?  How do you love a father who dismisses his responsibility to you with the claim that children pick their parents – it’s karma?  But for his children and, presumably, his relationships with women, never explored in the film, it would be hard to find anything reprehensible about Cloud Rock.  Even at 67 he seems much younger than his age -- vital and charismatic.  Left to his own, he would surround you with good vibes all day long.  You might grow tired, or not feel up to his challenge, but how could you be offended?  Cloud’s daily use of drugs, however, makes him seem less heroic.  Is he really pursuing spiritual enlightenment with his multiple hash pipes a day plus homemade mushroom chocolate, or is he anesthetizing himself?  For him, drugs are a religion.  The film does not have an opinion, but I don't think it is a coincidence that Kaleo does not do drugs.  Cloud's decision to use the income from his inherited house solely for his own purposes and to not support his two sons, well, that might be typical for prior generations, but it certainly does not pass muster with our modern sensibilities.  More demanding mothers might have put a major crimp in his lifestyle. 

Kaleo interviews another victim of the communes, a woman about his age who now lives in a large suburban home with a young daughter.  When the woman was three, she accidentally ate a bowl of LSD-laced sugar left out at the commune where she lived and spent three days coming down.  As one of Cloud’s friends points out, some communes were less careful than others about keeping the drug consumption out of sight of the children.  This woman felt abandoned by her parents and swore to do a better job as a parent and to always make her daughter her top priority.  The young daughter jokingly starts referring to her mother as a neighbor, and the mother laughs at being abandoned again.  This interview is documentary evidence of what Joan Didion wrote about many years ago in her essay Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a severe take-down of the hippie communes in San Francisco and their dissembling failure to look self-critically at themselves.    In particular, Didion criticized their abuse of language to hide what they were doing and their neglect of children.  Cloud Rock fits well into this paradigm.  His (smoke)clouds of spiritual invocation ring hollow in the viewer’s ears.  It is hard writing these words, because I, too, was influenced by the beatniks and the hippies, and I found their rejection of materialism compelling.
An additional treat of this simple documentary film is the scenery of the Pacific Northwest from a cycler’s perspective.  Mount St. Helens serves as a symbol for the destruction and potential rebirth of Kaleo's and Cloud Rock’s relationship.  At the end of the film they stand above Spirit Lake for a final portrait.  New growth appears all around.  In spite of himself, Kaleo grudgingly admits to loving his father.   Perhaps the love is mutual.  Perhaps it will nurture Kaleo.  Perhaps not.  Cloud Rock’s grin is vacuous.  Starbuck wanders alone through Maui.  This is not a happy ending.  Kaleo LaBelle created a powerful documentary film on a tight budget, and I was still thinking about it when I woke up this morning.  The music is quite good, too.  Fathers!  How appropriate that yesterday was father's day in Germany.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let the Games Begin

Cannes with Palais

Carlton Cannes

Also on my bucket list:  a screening pass to the Cannes Film Festival.