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Prelude and Variations on a Theme in G minor

February 17, 2003


It's snowing, snowing, snowing, and snowing. It's awesome. Tonight Max and I are going on a midnight ``punishment'' ride. We're going to put on all the clothes we have and then ride through a foot of snow in a forest somewhere---in darkness. I should consider myself lucky if I come home with only two broken arms.

Added later: ``Snow ride'' story written by Max.

We rode to Lincoln, out mostly along Concord Road and back on Trapelo. Actually, we rode to the intersection of Trapelo and Winter (just across the reservoir).

There, we were threatened with death (literally, getting "hit upside the head with a snowplough") by a macho in a pickup truck with a snowplough. I wanted to try the little off-road section by the reservoir near Winter St, but Thomer was tired, so he waited and I went up the hill on Trapelo, then left on Winter. Winter was basically unploughed---about 15-20"-deep snow, well over my boots at the downstroke---and completely unlit (save for the trusty Schmidt): the most intense snow conditions I've ever ridden in. Then I hit a pothole under the snow: the bike came to a dead stop, and I sailed over the handlebars, landing on my right shoulder and rolling onto my back. My right arm popped out of its socket, which had happened once before when I flipped off my bike. I lay on my back for a few seconds, looking up at the trees and the faintly orange cloud cover and the falling snow, unable to move my right side. Then I got my act together, popped my arm back into its socket with my left arm, got up, and tried to get on the bike. But the powder was too deep to start from a dead stop. So I walked for a while, regained composure, and eventually rode along the side of the reservoir to where Thomer was waiting.

On the way back, we were buzzed by some yahoo doing what seemed like 80 on a snowmobile (!) on Trapelo Road. That was probably the most dangerous moment of the whole ride. It's clear why activists want to ban snowmobiles in national parks. I fully support them.

The rest of the ride was fun but uneventful. I only fell that once; Thomer fell several times (mostly on purpose, I think :-), slightly injuring his thumb once, but otherwise without consequence. On some of the downhills we left awesome parallel slalom tracks, curvy and elegant like those of skiers. The landscape was ravishing, and in certain open areas---the long straightaway near the marsh on Concord Rd, and along reservoir itself---the feeling was one of complete wilderness. In other places, the road was lit by the cozy lights of homes piled high with snow---I pictured myself a Father Christmas on wheels, panniers full, riding from home to home late on a winter's night. All sounds were muted, except for the occasional sound of a gunned engine or the gravelly rasp of a snowplough. The snow never stopped, falling gently but incessantly. It all reminded me of the famous paragraph from Joyce's _The Dead_:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted upon the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly though the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Well, maybe not quite that morbid..

All in all, we had (even with a momentarily dislocated arm) a much better time than all the motorists and snowplough operators. It's hard to really panic when, in the worst case, you can just put your vehicle on your shoulder and walk home.


A few days ago I went out biking with -19 degrees Celsius. It's hilarious. Technically, a body can still function at those temperatures, but, practically, things are a little different. For one, I have to wear tights under my pants to keep my family's future from freezing. In addition, I wear three layers of clothes (t-shirt, shirt, sweater) and two coats on my upper body. Normal socks and thick socks. On my head a scarf, a mask, extra ear-warmers, my helmet, and somewhere, buried under all this, my glasses. My hands: a pair of liners and, on top of that, gloves. Despite of all that, -19 degrees Celsius is insanely COLD. One practical issue, for example, is breathing. My teeth get brittle and start to display cracks after 10 minutes. On the inside of my throat small icicles start to grow that cut the flesh. My eye-fluid freezes so that blinking is no longer possible. (I found that using anti-freeze as eye-drops works really well.) I'm a freakin' Dutch hero.

There's a BLIZZARD going on, the likes of which I have never seen before. THIS is weather! THIS is cool. I am going on a bike ride tonight!


The apartment I live in was built somewhere in the 15th century---around the same time that Columbus solved the problem of how to make an egg stand on one of its sides: you gently push it down until it cracks and keeps standing. (Het ei van Columbus, dus.) Anyway: my apartment was built by blithering idiots. For one, the floor in my study-room is tilted. This means that I can type roughly twenty characters on my keyboard before my chair rolls too far away from the keyboard and my arms are too short. I have called the doctor to get my arms extended because my floor is tilted.

I have called the doctor to get my arms extended because my floor is tilted.

Variation #1.

My point being that my apartment was built by lunatics. Not only did they use asbestos---I vaguely remember telling you about that---by they also failed to put in windows. Well, there's two rectangular-shaped holes in the wall with a piece of glass in it, but that's a poor-man's version of a window. When I wake up in the morning, I have to put on my skates to safely get to the bathroom without breaking my kneecaps.

To keep the American People from freezing to death, they sell these kits. The kit contains, well, cellophane and tape. The idea is to cover your windows with that crap. I did my American duty. (Also very useful against chemical attacks, by the way.) In addition, I burn massive amounts of fuel to heat up the house, and the rest of the universe.

I have called the doctor to get my arms extended because my floor is tilted. I have bought ridiculous cellophane and tape to cover up the underlying problem: flawed windows.

Variation #2.

Let me quickly digress. The dry-cleaners. I had my grandfather's suit dry-cleaned. A few days later I picked it up, took it home, and hung it in the closet. End of story? No. One evening, while eating, I get a call from Zoots (the dry-cleaner). ``Is everything OK with your service?'' Flabbergasted, I didn't know what to say. ``Did the f**king dry-cleaner just call me to ask me whether everything's OK with me?'' I mumbled. Why don't those idiots that forgot to install proper windows call me to ask whether I'm warm?

I have called the doctor to get my arms extended because my floor is tilted. I have bought ridiculous cellophane and tape to cover my flawed windows. The dry-cleaner asks me whether I'm happy with a thing that is TOTALLY TRIVIAL.

Variation #3.

My neighbor has a machine that guzzles fuel. The machine eats snow at the bottom and blows it out at the top. He's been walking around in circles all morning. Not only does he himself blow the snow back on to the porch he is trying to clean, but---it's worse---there's no way he can win this battle as long as this blizzard is raging on.

I have called the doctor to get my arms extended because my floor is tilted. I have bought ridiculous cellophane and tape to cover my flawed windows. The dry-cleaner asks me whether I'm happy with a thing that is TOTALLY TRIVIAL. My neighbor is combusting fuel to blow snow around on his porch---for no other reason than sheer combustion.


Two airplanes crash into the WTC, one into the Pentagon, and one in a field somewhere in Pennsylvania---probably on its way to the White House. The Bush Administration, in all its wisdom, is going to resort to snow blowers, cellophane and tape, and extending its strong arm. Meanwhile, the TRIVIAL omission remains. Where the hell is Al-Mulla Omar and his friends?

I have only conclusion: Zoots, the dry-cleaner, is behind this war.


I've been looking at the US budget for 2004 available at

Defense: $379,898,000,000 (More than $43 MILLION per hour.)
Education: $88,484,000,000
Energy conservation: $1,891,000,000

I rest my case.

I'm doing fine, by the way.


Copyright © 1994-2016 by Thomer M. Gil
Updated: 2004/09/06