While there are much more important things happening in the world as I write this, I do so by way of a few moments of respite from current affairs. A snapshot of a former normality deeply missed. So if inclined please join me in a brief escape on two wheels.
I am fortunate to have a book of great clients to work with. We’ve seen the top of famous mountains and the shores of beautiful lakes together. We’ve hunted for food stops on long road trips visited roadside UFO watch towers and had seemingly endless good soundtracks for excursions and little adventures that always end up simply as a series of moments frozen by a shutter. Except when they end up in an MRI scanner in Verona hospital.
Like many of the photographic assignments I am enlisted to this excursion a few years ago, was to bring together nice people that would become good friends. It would involve a couple of days lying in the boot of a car swinging round corners and play the well meaning but hard to hear instruction…’just one more time like that‘ over and over again.
I hadn’t visited Soave before. I had driven past it between Milan and Venice often enough on the A4 industrial corridor of northern Italy in recent years for work but not stopped there. My father’s whole summer long architectural euro tours of the mid eighties that I was signed up for by proxy as a family member rather than a willing student had always done the same, driven past intending to turn off tomorrow. But we never did. To me Soave had always meant the label on the empty bottle of wine on his desk in the morning that had soundtracked his previous evening’s escape with a parallel motion drawing table and Colman Hawkins, but now I have my own footprints in that sand as a memory to imagine Soave by and likely it remember me by too.
Giordana and I have worked closely and driven far together. Owner Giorgio Andretta and his family and I have seen the Giro in the rain, been snowed in with pro teams at the Vuelta and not made it at all to the Tour de France together on my own patch (more on that later). We’ve hunted in vain for dinner, given up hope of even takeaways, then considered anything edible at all across the midriff of Spain on roads that felt sci-fi empty for hours. We’ve refused the local menu description of puppy burger with… opting for starvation over immorality until the dictionary has corrected the foreigners and remedied the situation the next day. And we’ve photographed together throughout.
Cycling photography excursions have often been a way to revisit my childhood in some ways. An upbringing beneath an interlectual umbrella I found tiresome at the time but I retrospectively see as interesting, even privileged. Northern Europe was often a stamp in my childhood journals. Having an architect, professor and writer for a father meant holidays were often the entire summer and usually abroad. And considering he wouldn’t fly, they were always spent on motorways in the back of a French car because he was also a 70’s Citroen type of architect rather than my preferred cliche of an 80’s Saab one.
Bavaria, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Holland, France and of course Italy, were excursions dependent on the architectural phase he was going through. I am sorry I was too young to remember the brutalist submarine pens phase of Atlantic France and perhaps regret being present at the Bavarian Rococo one, but on the whole these trips enabled a seeing of other ways of life and cultural differences to my native south west London that shaped how I saw things on return each time and have stayed with me for life. They likely shaped my present day comfort zone of long motorway drives across countries to photograph people on bikes and if possible visit some of my treasured memories of a particular place. I’ve intertwined my own pages of these motorway stories with my father’s by re-visiting childhood haunts with a new portfolio – making photographs.
Aside from a rare personal appearance in front of the lens (above) testing the light, in no particular order here are a few thousandths of seconds of those days in and around Soave with the lovely people of Giordana Cycling on their local hills. A recorded passage through hillside woodlands and into quiet towns then on to coffee shops with detours for churches with picturesque walls and even a cameo appearance by a disused concrete factory surprise find a wrong turn uncovered as is often the way when location scouting and road tripping alike. I’ve included the odd out take like the moment waiting for a Pinarello to come into shot full gas only to see a lady pedalling out shopping instead.
And the hospital? Well there’s only one photograph I made at that location.
And the need for the hospital? Well, of all the potentially dangerous situations my cameras have lugged me into, this was my only spill with lenses to date. A low slung chain protecting the historic stepped entrance of an ancient church overlooking a hillside village caught me as I stepped back still looking through a viewfinder at a cyclist and over I went. Head and lenses in different directions but straight into church marble alike. Everything went black, then white then un-blurred into an image of angels above that slowly sharpened into a bunch of concerned looking brightly coloured cyclists peering down at me. A cafe stop with an ice pack and a cup of tea later we started off again. A little fuzzy but this was only a couple of hours into a performance scheduled to play for a few days. Interestingly there isn’t a clear before and after concussion key to the photographs on this post, something I imagine the autofocus revolution of the late eighties brought to situations like this, but looking at them now, I remember which ones I directed cohesively and which have a more muddied memory.
After an afternoon pushing on, I gave in to Giorgio’s insistence of stopping and taking me to Verona hospital for a check up and I was upgraded from the boot to the passenger seat for the last shuttle of the day.
The whole episode is a bit of a blur yet I remember specific detail acutely. The lift door opposite our waiting room seat that rattled open periodically to deliver another survivor and with them the familiar aroma of good Italian food presumably from the canteen on a floor above’s stop. But I remember a feeling of such relief that I had someone with me that both spoke the lingo and was warm, patient and kind.
An hour of MRI scans and x-rays and a bit of old fashioned prodding later and off we went discharged for a cherished pizza with the rest of the cast looking a little relieved I’d survived. Never did garlic bread taste so good as that night with new pals and older friendships held tighter after a unique shared experience. I will never forget how kind and supportive Giordana were to their photographic liability that day. I couldn’t have asked for more and I will never forget it. They are good people that make nice shorts and as I say I am fortunate to work with them but further than that privileged to know them and call them friends. It’s a sign of a good working relationship when even after days of being ordered around by a bloke with a camera, who just knocked himself out, the whole team will pose for a silly pose group photo.
A unique shared experience at the time but a year later, a day before we were due to meet and work together again in my hometown in southern France for a Tour de France rest day with the Orica Scott team, then on to close by Girona for a few days photographing, my wife Sarah had to call Giogio and say I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I was a day into what was to be a two month coma after a RTA along with a dear friend and my beloved Moots’ on the local col that nearly claimed me 10km from home at the end of a 150km long day on the pedals. Of all the people to have to tell. What must he have thought? That’s another story altogether and one that the pages haven’t closed on yet, but to be here at all is a miracle. To be able to make a coffee then sit and type this story after putting in an hour on a static cycle trainer is almost unheard of.
So at some point there will be more pages of a different kind of past adventure to add to this life’s journal. And then perhaps even further ones. Until then there are just previous memories to be uploaded like this.
Thanks for looking. And stay safe out there.