another world is possible, in fact, it exists…
…and it is being created by a network of bicycle activists working in bicycle workshops across europe. the Cyclocamp set up for the duration of Rome’s 10th Interplanetary Critical Mass (Ciemmona) 2013 was a beautiful expression of mutual aid, idea sharing, and solidarity. Cyclocamp is a yearly forum of bike recycling and community workshops from across Europe.
30 may 2013, arrival in rome for the 10th Critical Mass Interplanetaria/Ciemmona
(you’ve gotta check out this video inviting people to come back to rome for the ciemmona 2013!)
after navigating my entry into rome from the airport in the early morning of 30 may, i made my way from roma termini to the tram that would take me to via prenestina where the Cyclocamp had been set up since the beginning of the week. my friend malaerba told me it would be obvious where it was, and indeed, draped in Critical Mass interplanetaria posters, a huge Critical Mass sign, and various other political graffiti messages, it was clear i had arrived at the right place, an old viscose factory in the pigneto quarter. the company had been called snia, so the social center squatted 18 years ago is known as “ex snia” or just “snia.”
here is they what and why from the organizers:
Rome is a city where mobility is exclusively designed for cars. There are few bicycles, poor public transport, and lack of perception of the streets of the common good. Public spaces in Rome are seen as and often used as car parking spaces, while everything that doesn’t move in a car represents an obstacle. This perception means the daily use of a bicycle in Rome brings along an intrinsic subversive status. Cycling fast between tons of slow and smelly scrap metal naturally leads us to imagine a more equal, just and car-free future. Seen from a bike saddle, cars in our city seem like dinosaurs. In 2002, Critical Mass was born in Rome followed by people’s Bike Kitchens. As soon as these two paths crossed, without any help from the state or municipality, the numbers cycling had exponentially multiplied and the urban biker appeared in the Roman metropolitan landscape.
After ten years of wrenches and ideas, we would like to reflect about the meaning and the evolution of today’s Bike workshops and Bike Culture, the sense of the re-appropriation of the common spaces and encourage knowledge exchange. We feel the need to think about our bike riding direction and about the meaning of our mechanical skills. Starting from these questions we decided to share these thoughts with other Bike workshops who have similar experiences and objectives.
The Ciclofficina (bikeworkshops) of Rome have decided to host a Cyclocamp and a bike kitchen forum, not only for greasing ourselves from head to feet but also for sharing thoughts, ideas, practices and knowledge. We are convinced that the coming together of Bike workshops, we will be able to bring a renewed conscience in our global thinking and local acting.
i dragged my brompton suitcase and rolling bag full of heavy books from the street into the vast space. immediately, my german friend julia, who had come over the pond to the SF CM20 celebration last september, peeked her head around the gate. she directed me around the first seemingly abandoned large building to a scene intense with activity. for others coming from the united states, i think it would be hard to contextualize, but it felt immediately similar to disaster relief base camps i had lived and participated in in haiti and peru, and also in thailand. tents dotting the vast yard, a communal kitchen, bottles of beer everywhere. the difference here was that bicycles were a major point of focus, and were lying or being worked on just everywhere. critical mass prep was going down hard with countless custom made cycles, and small to major fixes happening all over the place. a red and yellow bike with silicone squirts emerging from the frame and handlebars scooted by, a diminutive but substantial four seater was being tested by as many grunting males as they navigated the grass, the raised beds and cactus plants, and the hundred people watching their progress. but to imply that everyone had one focus point in any given moment here would be incorrect.
arriving around midday, i found fiorella, who had also been in SF for CM20 and who, along with her partner malaerba, would be my host/concierge/translator/culture explainer/porter/ally for the rest of my trip in rome. she was helping prepare the communal lunch, washing dishes, and feeling right at home at this social center although she works in a ciclofficina in another squat across town once a week. i sit down with a generously mounded plate of aubergines, pasta, tomatoes, bread, and fennel salad. i lit up as i saw the ciclocuoco i knew from paris, giuso, behind the serving table. andrea, who stayed with me for CM20 after riding to SF from Mexico City, was hanging out around the ciclofficina, and marie was with her french crew. even victor veysey took a trip to see what italian DIY bike kitchens and critical mass have going on. rome is a “new” place for me, not having been here for 22 years, but already i was picking out familiar faces and smiling in awe of this community i would be with for the next few days, hearing german, french, english, italian around me…
the cyclocamp had been making excursions to various roman ciclofficini and this afternoon we were riding to the ex-lavanderia, an hour across town. after rolling my bags to my host’s home near fiorella’s apartment, i unpacked my bicycle, and knowing i had just arrived that morning from an overnight flight from the states, fiorella asked me if i wanted to come with them or stay and rest. i couldn’t imagine not rising to the occasion! so julia, fiorella, and i tried to catch up with the 80 folks already en route.
quickly it was apparent i would be seeing all the roman sites on this one ride, not even having changed out of my airplane clothes! at one point i realized that we were riding by the vatican, emphasized by the song chosen for the bike sound system, “it’s a sin.” not the first time on the ride, i grinned incessantly.
the ex-lavanderia is a building inside an official looking compound, through the gate of which the police directed us. quickly, on this nice night, we populate the grassy hill in front of ex-lavanderia, drinking beer, chatting in our various language groups. i meet joey from adelaide, greet victor veysey from SF who buys me a beer, and fabio and giacomo and others try to start the forum at least ten times before it takes. julia and i wander in to the bar and collapse on two red covered comfy chairs, and the resident cat comes and sets up camp on my lap. i am quickly covered with white cat hair, but she is such a love that i could really care less.
the jet lag is starting to take its toll on me, and when we enter the forum room with projector and presentations from the various bike kitchens and collectives (i couldn’t get it together to speak, and fabio told me i could speak the following night) i have to take notes in order to keep awake. it doesn’t actually work, and though i perk up when a slide showing lars’s photo of me with my “one less car” sweatshirt in the noe valley parking lot appears on screen, i soon have to go outside in order to stay awake. simultaneously there is a women/trans/intersex issues discussion outside on the grass, effectively dividing those at the forum from those separately discussing the issues they have with separation… this happens so often!
i wander over to the silkscreening area, just outside the ciclofficina where there is a band playing, where the various groups have brought screens with them: cyclocamp, marseille velorution 2013, “bratapirata”, and various others. i try to figure out what i’ll screen, since i am not identified with the various “logos” quite yet. i don’t want to do marseille 2013 here, maybe it’ll jinx my trip to be presumptive. so i opt for the italian message of “ciao uomini in scatola” which is a snub at car drivers i think works best for me, and on the back of my CM20 shirt it creates a sort of continuation of the theme. luckily i don’t have to wait a super long time before there is a gathering of people heading home, and we follow giuso back to snia.
31 may 2013
the next day i donned my CM20 shirt – hugh d’andrade’s design looks so professional compared to the silkscreens we did the night before and which everyone is wearing. i ended up wearing it over my wool sweater so my italian message to car drivers showed as i corked and rode on the roman streets. arriving to the cyclocamp from my nearby housing i was in time to help slice some bread… i remarked to marie from paris that i have neglected to bring a costume for this ride, since so many others are in sparkly, shiny, reflective outfits. she said with a smirk, maybe it means i don’t have an ego problem… but it makes things so much more festive with the crazy outfits to match the crazy bikes and spirit floating around!
some impressions of critical mass written down in an incredibly exhausted and jet lagged state:
- an anticipatory start by eager cyclists, a far cry from the scolding one we experience from the aggressive growling and screaming in SF that always puts me off.
- from the cyclocamp we tour through the nearby via del pigneto. it’s a diverse population on quaint streets where gentrifying artisan and hipster shops are alongside bars and shops run by africans. we get lots of encouragement from the sidewalks and i’m happy to be guided through the labyrinthian side streets, having kept mostly only to the main roads through the area.
- we meet up with the gathering crowd at piazza vittorio emanuele. it’s a slow steady stream, and i stand outside the iron fence of the square running into yet more italians who were in SF for CM20, or putting two and two together as to the identity of folks at the cyclocamp.
- we spill out of the square with the help of a sound system bike (!) and on the ride there are lots of stops. it is sometimes unclear as to why, since i am often near the front and cannot see how widely spread out the rest of the ride has become making such regrouping stops necessary. at one stop an italian named marco in a german tricolor wool jersey talks to me about my brompton which is almost identical to his, but today his wife is riding it. he asks my name and it turns out he heard me speaking via Skype at a rome social center a few months ago. amazing, the random stranger next to me on this CM a world away has already heard my voice and remembers my name.
- as it grows dark there are more and more irritated drivers, more arguing at intersections, bicyclists’ tempers also flaring more easily. but for all the roman feistiness and passionate expression, i don’t see the kind of escalation often witnessed in SF. sure one driver gets out of his car and rushes a bike, threatens to hit another, but the bicyclists don’t react physically against him, rather they simply watch him freak out and get back in his car and almost hit several other cars as he backs up and speeds away. but mostly others throw words, lots of them press their hands together and wave them up and down, praying, pleading with the corker in front of them, to do something, anything, against/on behalf of what? the steady stream of cyclists celebrating and meandering past, with no end in sight? it is always funny to imagine the driver could think that one corker would have the power to do anything in that situation, but it is repeated again and again, each day.
- the ride ends four hours later for me and the two australians i’ve stopped with for mini pizzas and ridden with for the last hour or so. we are stopped by a samba band (the anarchists are dancing to it, which amuses me!) and firespinning. i look wistfully at the fire popping out above the crowd, but am in a deep conversation about small scale agriculture and the peasant solidarity and food sovereignty movement.
- the party is at fusolab, a geek/hack space which is quite sterile looking with its white institutional walls and is selling very expensive beer. it’s a contribution to the space, i know. a ukelele player goes through all the standard uke tunes downstairs, and i take advantage of the wifi to update my Facebook page with a photo of the day.