Thursday, March 31, 2011

In praise of electronic readers!

This Christmas I was given a KOBO electronic reader. It had about 100 books already pre loaded and decided to take it on my Cuban holiday this year. Normally when I travel to Cuba, I bring with me my Spanish dictionary and other resources as well as a few books. This makes my bag heavy and cumbersome.

I purchased a Spanish book for my Kobo as well as "the Best laid plans" which won the Canada reads competition. The Best laid plans was a sheer delight to read. The Kobo is light, very portable and very readable. I was able to bring my book poolside or enjoy a good read under a palm covered umbrella at the beach. It is also light enough to read when you are in bed. Since I was participating in a bike training camp, I usually was in bed at 930 and asleep by 932!

I collect fountain pens, have leather and canvas bags for my bike and generally enjoy the feel and touch of well made, well crafted items. Hence, I was unsure as to my abilities to enjoy the KOBO.

If you enjoy reading and are in a situation where you are traveling and weight and space are at a premium (I can think of the many times I was on diving holidays and the space in my boat cabin was limited), then the Kobo is a great choice.

A best seller costs about $6.00 which is far less than a paperback and less cumbersome than a hardcover. You can also delete books if you are finished reading them, or purchase additional storage capacity. If you are like me, unless the book is a timeless classic like the Lord of the Rings, it is unlikely that I will ever re-read a book. On the other hand, I find it very difficult to get rid of books in my house. I can give away clothing, electronics, household appliances..everything but in the case of a book there is always a nagging voice that says "what if". Indeed, what if I would ever need my textbooks on advanced calculus or fluid mechanics? One never knows. I have packed these textbooks in boxes and they are piled in my basement. It has been at least two years and I have not opened the boxes...but ...but.

An electronic reader solves this problem as there is no issue with storage. If you don't read a book, delete it.

I realize that my words go against the very fiber of my soul as a historian, which is to keep and preserve for posterity. There is something quite wonderful in finding an old book at a sale and seeing the underlined sections, looking at the dates and the signatures and imagining where that book has been. On the other hand, one can quickly become burdened by wonderful things. I am all too aware that letter writing is vanishing and we are replacing our modes of communication and even our grammar with atrocious text constructs like LOL or ROFL. I am also aware that many people no longer read finding that a luxury. Perhaps the ereaders will appeal to these individuals, who may purchase one to be fashionable, but will soon get hooked.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The long season of Lenten bike training




The Lenten season began in November for me. It has also been a time of a crisis in my faith. Since November, I have been diligently training when it became too cold to enjoy outdoor biking. Since that time, I have been in my basement, or on my weights and even in Cuba. I have grunted and groaned, astonished my dogs and cursed at my training videos. I have learned a lot about technique, nutrition, speed etc but I am eager to leave the basement and hit the road.

The problem is, there is still snow and ice and it is about -10 degrees out there. I know you can layer but riding a performance bike bundled up like the Michelin man is an accident waiting to happen.

I have planned my bike trips for the summer, and am looking forward to time trials and the occasional group ride. Many of my rides will be solitary training rides as I find going at a steady pace for x amount of kilometers does not lead to improvement in my case, just more miles!

I am ready to go outside. My biking outfits are coordinated, my gloves are clean, my socks matching...all is ready with one exception..the weather. I have tried numerous rituals to encourage the temperature to rise. I believe the best way to do this is appease mother nature and be kind to the earth. To wit, I observed earth hour, I wear organic cotton socks, I never waste electricity, I walk or use public transit...I truly want to believe that the warmth will return...but I find myself doubting. Perhaps I am not trying hard enough!

Tomorrow morning My Lent will continue in the basement tomorrow with a grueling 2.5 hour epic workout that will surely be a pleasing sacrifice! The ancient Israelites used to sacrifice bulls but I am offering my exertion and that has to count for something!

Alas, the forecast for Tuesday calls for much of the same, cold, windy and pleasant only to those in the business of selling down parkas and wool underwear.

I am not sure what to believe anymore!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cuba and Pleasantville

A few years ago I watched a movie called Pleasantville, which was about a carefully controlled town that was entirely in black and white. There were no books in the library and everyone lived carefully measured and boring lives. Of course an outsider changed that and infused colour into the town.

Cuba is a modern day Pleasantville. In the past 10 years that I have visited, Cuba remains stuck in the 1950's. Their libraries contain numerous books about the revolution in 1953 but nothing else. The museums are all about the revolution...there is no visible progress. 10 years ago most people use horses for labour and oxen to plough, that still remains.

Of course they have a good system of education and medicine, but like Pleasantville it is only a matter of time until the steady state system known as Cuba will change. It is already happening with the internet. While the newspapers are controlled, food rationed and the way of life unchanged, the internet with its possibilities and information will bring change to the Cuban landscape.

The revolution in 1953 involved gunfire and the ousting of Battista. This revolution will be one of ideas. The life for the average Cuban is worse under Raul Castro than Fidel. The truth is, that the Cuban revolution is static and has failed under its own system. Economically, Cuba is stuck in 1953. Ideologically, Cuba is at a crossroads of change as new ideas are sweeping Cuba through the internet.

In Pleasantville, once the people had tasted colour, they could not go back to their black and white world. Once the Cuban people are exposed to new ideas, the black and white world of Castro's Cuba will be changed forever.

The Happiness Project..blah blah best seller




On the recommendation of a friend I am reading the Happiness Project. It is a best seller about one woman's search for happiness. I can tell you right away why she is having a hard time. She is the most tedious person imaginable as she researches where to find happiness. Is it in interests? (She catalogues this), a tidy closet? Lack of clutter...etc etc. I cant imagine why it is a best seller.

Happiness is not an end in itself. It is a by product of a life that is lived with confidence and contentment. Happiness is not a day on the beach, or a nicely organized sock drawer...it is simply a state of being that comes naturally as one lives. I am happy when I see the snow, or the rain, or the sun. I am happy when I go to my bike shed and look at my bikes, or go on my trainer. Happy when I have breakfast, or see my husband or walk my dogs. I don't do anything to look for happiness nor do I fret about "am I happy"

Happiness, or rather an appreciation of the state of happiness exists more obviously when we are directed towards others. I find that I am most satisfied when I am assisting others in some way or thinking about their well being. A life lived in the pursuit of your own happiness to the exclusion of others is doomed to fail. That is why, although I have not finished reading the book, I am pretty sure the author will never find happiness because her search is all about her. It is akin to reading the diary of a 13 year old girl!

I suppose I find the popularity of this dreary read depressing. Is it the case that most of us can no longer find pleasure in a cup of tea? Or in watching birds at a feeder, or people, or watching snowflakes as they fall and alight on fenceposts? Have we become so joyless and morose that we cannot experience the immense pleasure that physicality gives us? The joy of movement or of music? Is this why Prozac is a best seller as well? Is Prozac our Soma where we try to recapture something of the colour of life?

Happiness is not something we look for, it is the way we live and you don't need a book to find that out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Holguin Training camp in pictures

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Training camp in Cuba

From February 27th- March 6th I was with the velo quebec training camp in Holguin Cuba. Training camp means 4 hours on a bike in Cuba learning different peleton formations. The peleton means you can go much longer and sustain speeds in headwinds.

Holguin has a lot of hills and headwinds. On day one, I made the mistake of wearing a heart rate monitor and scared myself, the combination of heat and hills made me think I was dying so I slowed down. On the second day, I left it in my room and had a wonderful tour. It all was going so well, I was in the pack and paused to have a drink. In a flash, the peleton was gone. No worries, there is a bus to follow. There was no bus, I was convinced I was on the wrong road so turned. The roads in Cuba in this area are well maintained, I rode past houses, and bus stops and fruit sellers until finally I asked a man on a horse who told me indeed the peleton was on another road. I went on that road and saw them coming back to me. I went ahead of the peleton towards the end.

The hotel we stayed at was Costa Verde hotel in Playa Pesquero. It was the standard Cuban hotel with little villas for the tourists, entertainment but this one had fabulous food with argentinian beef. There is nothing like a good meal after a hard and hot ride and a swim in turquoise waters. I was with a French group and noticed stark differences between French and English. The most obvious is that the French relish their meals and their food. It is a passion for them. I can not eat before riding, but they can and enjoyed every morsel of the succulent sausages, or omelettes or crepes with fruit.

While on the bike, we were taught different peleton formations and I learned that the secret is rapid rotation to avoid getting tired. This is done by the team leader whistling. After you ride for about 80-100km in the hills you are tired although you dont feel it. I did yoga in the morning and was never stiff or sore. By 9pm I was in bed however.

The beach is pristine with thick white sand and a beach bar. It was relaxing to sit and watch the ocean waves and swim although the good reef swimming was further afield. Although I had my mask and snorkel and fins, I only used them twice because of the distance required to have access to the reefs. I did try the catamaran and of course swam,

The hotel also had a pool which we used in a spirited game of volleyball. Our ball sailed out of the pool and onto the laps of many surprised guests sunning themselves like beached whales poolside. Our side lost!

I spent a week with what is best described as iron men and women and a few olympic hopefuls. By the end of the week, I could easily keep up but day one was a shock. I was champion of my basement after all and master of my training..but this was another level. As our coach said to improve you must crack and break and push beyond all limits of pain. Hitherto, I had pushed but not as hard as I did for this week. Try as I may there were some passes that were just too difficult and like many, I took the bus, which I called the "room of recovery" to the next section of our route.
There is something very challenging and at the same time inspiring to ride with people who are a LOT better than you. I was also somewhat annoyed that on day one, they did not wait, nor did they on the second day. By the last day I was using my large gears which gives me a lot more power and speed.

This season I will sprint and do interval training, which I am convinced is the secret to improving as a cyclist. We must leave our comfort zones and push.

Karine's Blog

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