Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why am I doing it

One of the reasons why this blog exists is, of course, to make sure I don’t back down. It is all here, visible to the public, and no matter if people read it or not, the fact of having written it somehow seals the pact with myself.

When I tell people about what I intend to do in twenty-one days, I generally get two kinds of reaction. One is a wide mouthed “cool, I so wish I could do that.” The other form of reaction is perplexity: why would you or anybody else do something so tiring/crazy/senseless. Here, I would like to address the second group. And for once I will not talk about pedaling cadence, sweat and electrolyte balance.

First, the difficulty or senselessness of the upcoming event is just a matter of perspective. There are of course several much more tiring enterprises. For instance I have a friend who would like to enter the next Brest-Paris-Brest, an inhumane 1200 km, 90 hours limit randonnée. It is clearly possible, that participants to that event might be amazing athletes, but that's not the point. What rather impresses me is the dream of something bigger, something above one's given possibilities that allows to emerge free from the the bog of everyday life, from routine or from daily frustration. It is shaping one's life, in a process similar to creating something new, even if for just a moment. Something that will brand one's memory with the flame of glorious effort. The outcome might be successful or not, but the real miracle are the energies mobilized in the quest to attain something previously impossible.

We live in the illusion as an ascending parabola, sometimes mistaking our career for our actual life. The contrary is true: the older we get the more we substitute the institutionalized goals of rank and money for real life, often just to fill the void. And not everyone has a meaningful career, or actually any serious perspective to raise in any sort of hierarchy. Some might even have struggled with their physical limits, or had to give up on what they loved to do, their damaged bodies incapable to keep up. But if there is one thing I learned in this country, is to never give up without a fight. This will to continue, to find different avenues of self-assertion is perhaps the only cultural treasure here, the only surviving gem of real or imagined epic times. It is in the eyes of the immigrant worker, blinded by the sun in the fields, or in the powerful arms of the disabled athletes, who sometimes ride alongside me, propelled forward by pure willpower.

And if there is one thing I learned during my otherwise disastrous high school years, is what Machiavelli wrote in "Il Principe":
"A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it. Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach."
-- Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, Chapter 6: Concerning New Principalities Which Are Aquired by One's Own Arms and Ability
And that is, very simply, why I am doing it. I am just aiming high.


  1. What wonderful news, my friend. Keep aiming high!

  2. Paolo, you are an inspiration. I raise my glass to you and to the "flame of glorious effort."

    Leave mundanity at the base of the Tourmalet and never look back.