Ten pm, January 2. 2013… oh my god.. when did my life get to be so exhilarating ??? Adrenaline coursing through my veins, my whole body twitching, steaming sweat, exuding endorphins from every pore. So wired I can scarce write this piece: just got back from my first velorution ride.. Two hours non-stop energetic cylcing alongside a posse of young guys, one with loudhailer strung on his back, pumping out rock music, whooping and wailing like a police siren. A band of bicycling bozos zooming round the streets, blocking the roads, generally causing confusion and mayhem. Five circuits of the roundabout and all the cars get blocked, and drivers go crazy. What a rush. The power of the pack. The buzz factor: totally anarchic.. a chance to team up with a crazy Sardinian to lead the pack and zoom up one-way streets the wrong direction, down back alleys, up curbs, over pavements. Even with only eight to ten riders the power of the pack meant we could simply ride across main streets and stop the traffic… no argument. Such a powerful sensation… all it takes is the political will.. and a sense of agency. Velo-rution like revolution. All about creating critical mass. .. Of course, in Tunisia the whole thing takes on the added allure of the current political context: how to operate without leadership? If three political parties can’t manage an economy, can a bunch of cyclists get from A to Z by the most indirect route? Fantastic ‘headless chickens’ milling about moments as some shouted ‘left’ .. others ‘right’ and the rest ‘straight on’.. Not helped by fact that Enrico (having successfully navigated himself round Tunisia in three weeks) revealed that, for him, ‘left’ meant ‘straight on’ … Then there’s the false friends (and who needs THEM on a critical mass style ride?) ‘right on’ and ‘right’ .. tout droit / a droite … For those who prefer to talk like an Egyptian, then ‘dughri dughri’ gets you nowhere and even alatool becomes dimatool. But dialect doesn’t matter because no-one takes any notice. Anarchy on the streets of La Marsa. Love it.
In the west, the joy of critical mass rides is to fight against the machine, challenge blind faith in the future of four wheels and to act against the rules of the road that favour large vehicles over small people. Hell here, most drivers ignore the rules of the road anyway. You could even argue in favour of Critical Manners Meetings with riders encouraged to be outrageous and obey all traffic laws such as stopping at red lights, signaling, enforcing one way systems, halting at pedestrian crossings. Steady… Tunisia may have launched the Arab Spring and ousted a dictator… but a mass movement to impose motorway manners?! Mustakhil walla yomken… Are you crazy? THAT would be dangerous: if everyone suddenly started obeying traffic codes, no-one could predict what’s going to happen. So, much safer to join the crazy system, and make its madness apparent. Plus… it’s wildly exciting.
We are a motley crew, mainly male .. well actually all male apart from me. Mainly young .. well again all young apart from me. Some feisty young dudes on whippy little thin-tyred racers executing spins on the rain-slicked tarmac, and generally causing traffic mayhem. And all with that communal style that keeps it civil and engaging, hello, welcome, state name, shake hands. Oh apart from the guy who made the ‘hand-on-heart’ polite refusal (which is fine by me). It made me smile: seemed kind of incongruous from a biker. So much for my prejudices. .. here’s a nice photo to challenge my world view.
In fact, the guy was rather cool, with an extraordinary helmet that made him look like a piratical Darth Vader. At the end of the night, he was on escort duty, a break-away group taking me safely from La Marsa across the ill-lit by-pass behind Carthage, alongside the Punic Port and down to the beach at Salambo. Real life ‘dialogue between civilizations’: diverse voices united by common vision: (yes.. I used to write stuff like that in grant proposals).
Four wheels bad… two wheels good.