Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Madonna di Ghisallo Portland-style

Winding down through the park behind the Zoo, above the Rose Garden, the road is being tinted lemon and golden amber with a thin layer of fallen big leaf maple leaves. The sky above crisp and deep blue. Our little version of the "Race of the Falling Leaves". The big difference - the speed. It was the last descending kilometer of the Thursday lunch ride - we were all seriously backing off the gas, enjoying the exceptionally gorgeous color of fall, and extremely cautious of the banana peel-like mat of leaves. It's fall days like these that make you pray you stay upright and remember it for all the right reasons.

Last fall when we began cycling in Italy Jenn handed Todd and I a small medallion - La Madonna del Ghisallo - none of us are Catholic, we are cyclists, Cycloterians maybe, but we were about to begin racing about, up and down narrow mountain roads on a couple square inches of rubber, so we thought why not take every blessing available - heck, what was good enough for Fausto Coppi is definitely good enough for me. It was also a lovely gesture as Todd and I were about to climb up from Bellagio, on the shore of Lake Como, to the sanctuary of cycling - Madonna di Ghisallo.

Todd made it through Italy safely, the little MdG medallion, fastened to his stem, did its job. My medallion popped off a week later while descending the twisty upper sections of the Mortirolo. I like to think it is there along some extra nasty 11% curve, where it belongs - it saw me through that section and now will shepherd safely the fate of others - I guess that's the Cycloterian conviction in me.

Portland's cycling culture has now made the next leap in it's full conversion to becoming a Cycloterian community - the Madonna has arrived - but does this mean we're no longer
non-denominational Cycloterians? Inside Portland's St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish Rev. Dennis Parker bless the nation's first known church shrine honoring the Madonna del Ghisallo – patron saint of cyclists (originally any old travelers - but since 1949 she has been ours). A portion of the 83 year old wood and stone sanctuary now awaits cyclists. Like in Italy the sanctuary is a place for those who have been blessed in their bicycle journeys and those who have died while cycling.

Portland is pedaling everyday a bit closer to that community of cycling citizenry that we read about in Copenhagen and Stockholm, the acceptance of bikes one sees in the streets of Milan and Amsterdam. Maybe it is time for us to welcome the Madonna to Portland to keep safe all the travelers of our streets, wheeled and otherwise.

More about the Madonna di Portlandia from Oregonian writer Joseph Rose: St. Stephen's Parish dedicates first bike shrine in Portland

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