I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.
As The Berkshire Review has grown, we have developed certain international centers, where our writers either live or often return. Our coverage in these locations will continue to grow and become more comprehensive with time, and others will be added to them. But these are not all, you will find reports from Chicago, Madison, Wisconsin, Virginia, Turkey, and Poland. If you are travelling or looking for a place to settle, you will find this list of our local “portals” helpful.
A successful public space, they say, is one where the citizens block the steps. So suggested urbanologist Lewis Mumford nearly a hundred years ago. I’m not certain he would have had San Francisco’s busy Union Square in mind, but he may have, even then. What Mumford never envisaged, surely, was the odd and telling assemblage of human beings who make the Square the center of their lives and a Rorschach test for the character of one of America’s great cities. I am one of them. For those of us living downtown, it is the front yard.
Le Tour de France, comme un voyage à la lune ou une mission de la navette spatiale, est une espèce d’art performatif. Le parcours est dessinée, mais un scénario imprévisible se déroule toujours sur les routes de France. La plupart des Tours de France depuis j’ai commencé à faire attention en 1989 étaient dominés par les grands champions comme Miguel Indurain (cinq maillots jaunes) et Lance Armstrong (sept), avec les brefs interrègnes. Le Tour de 2011, possiblement le meilleur, est peut-être le Tour qui rompra cette modèle de “star-système.” C’est le premier Tour vraiment post-Armstrong, post-Armstrongiste.
Grace peut-être au dessin supérieur des routes français, le parcours du Tour n’est pas le plus difficile des trois grands tours (de la France, l’Italie et l’Espagne). Si le Giro d’Italia, incroyablement dur dans les années recentes (deux ascensions de Mt. Etna dans une journée!?) est une sorte de free jazz, le Tour de France est peut-être un big band de Glenn Miller: structuré, populaire, avec ses conventions familières et ses variations subtils entre les éditions qui se produit des énormes différences de scénario. Le parcours et les ambitions des 198 coureurs créent des histoires grands, petits et insolites, surtout cette année.
The Tour de France, like a moon landing or shuttle mission, is a kind of performance art. The route is predetermined, but the scenario which plays out on the roads of France is always unpredictable. The majority of the Tours since I started paying attention in 1989 have been dominated by the likes of five time winner Miguel Indurain and seven time winner Lance Armstrong, interspersed with brief interregnums. If we are lucky, the 2011 edition, the greatest I have seen without a doubt, will be remembered as the Tour which broke this “star-system.” It is certainly the first truly post-Armstrong, and post-Armstrongian, race.
Three weeks after deposing Kevin Rudd, as though ticking off another item on her to-do list, Julia Gillard called a federal election (one of only three winter federal elections in Australian history). I can’t summon the heart to give much of an account of the five week campaign which followed, especially since the twist in the story only came once the votes began to be counted. You really had to be here. The campaign was truly godawful, a complete extinguishing of the hope which had seen Kevin07 elected three years before. Both major parties pandered to the same focus groups in the same few marginal electorates. They peddled small bore middle class welfare and indulged trumped-up fear; they blandly appealed to the most disgracefully narrow-minded tendencies in the darkest marginal corners of the Australian electorate, the people who fear their leaf blowers will not be powerful enough to defend their McMansions against Taliban invasion. It was easy to to believe that the entire country had become, as one correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, a Boganocracy.
For a White House in need of a few moment’s levity, recent events in Australian politics might have provided an opportunity for a bit of fun. A meeting was planned between the Australian prime minister and President Obama after the G20 meeting in Canada next week. A supreme prank could have been devised whereby the president’s aides agreed not to mention Australia and somehow deprived their boss of any news thereof, surely not too difficult with more pressing business at hand. On the day of the meeting, the Oval Office door would have opened and instead of his good mate Kevin Rudd, in would walk a smiling redhead, Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Alas this prank will never come to pass. Obama thankfully seeks out his own news, and in any case after this week of extraordinary upheaval in Australian politics, the newly sworn in Prime Minister Gillard is far too busy to travel overseas.
Barangaroo developer Lend Lease has released a revised plan for the site. The fact that it is an improvement on their previous proposal is like saying Burger King is better than McDonalds, perhaps true, but surely there are better hamburgers in the world. Sydney city councilor John McInerney is probably right to suggest that Lend Lease has pulled an inverted bait-and-switch of the ‘propose something outrageous and the less outrageous thing you planned all along will seem reasonable’ variety. Ironically, by improving some of the original design’s worst excesses — for example, the “exclamation mark” hotel has been reduced in height and does not project as far into the harbour — its fundamental flaws are more glaring than ever.