I have, historically, a very tumultuous relationship with bicycles. I had an accident on one at school, destroying my friend’s bicycle. I had several accidents at university. Newsweek sent me to Mallorca last year to see if I would have any accidents there; I met their expectations with a couple of small ones. Yesterday I bought a bicycle in Paris. And yesterday I also had a bicycle accident. On the way back to my flat. From buying the bicycle.
I had arranged to buy the bike from someone called Camille who had advertised it on Leboncoin, the French version of Gumtree, and who turned out to be a man. This was the first of two surprises. It was a fixie bicycle, which I thought just meant a very basic bicycle that is easy to use, but which in fact means a very dangerous bicycle that it is almost impossible to use.
Needless to say, though, given all the lessons I had learned about my capabilities from previous bicycling endeavours, I decided to be Extremely Careful. Realising that the front brake was rather inadequate (there was only one very weak brake on this machine) I had to find, I decided, a safe method of stopping. Near Bastille I experimented with touching my sneaker to the front wheel like a brake – in theory to slow it down.
I can confirm that this is an excellent method of stopping the bicycle. What happens is that your foot gets caught in the metal spokes of the front wheel, breaking two of them across your toes and bending the entire hoop, as the bike instantaneously stops. You, however, keep going for a little while without the bike. It is almost, in fact, too effective a method that I discovered – but it is very attention-grabbing, especially if you do it on a busy street like Rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine. It seems to result in a crowd of ten or fifteen French people gathering around you and bombarding you with care, questions, chastisement, unsolicited advice, or simply standing there regarding you slack-jawed in disbelief.
It is also good for socialising, and my most solicitous onlooker, Peggie, came out to dinner with me and two of my friends that evening. She was convinced that my fall was a Sign to her that she should refrain from bicycling any further, since her health insurance had expired the day before. I thought this was rather self-centred. Another female onlooker told me it was a Sign I should be wearing a helmet. I thought it made more sense as a Sign that I shouldn’t wear a helmet, since obviously I didn’t need one, as whilst one of my toes turned out to be broken my head was absolutely fine. Yet I decided that she wouldn’t understand so I shouldn’t tell her, and since I don’t believe in Signs I may get one anyway. Or abandon bicycling. Perhaps Oscar Wilde was right that “each man kills the things he loves”. Perhaps I was not born to be a bicyclist.
The life and art of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was another such violent crash that made onlookers stop and stare, and crowds gather to criticise and cheer. Some of those watchers went off to imitate him and found they couldn’t destroy themselves with nearly as much grace and bloody beauty, as Dr Jaspreet Singh Boparai discovers in his review of Beyond Caravaggio. Dasha Varvarina investigates the work of other artists who, as Caravaggio did, are serving time in prison, reviewing the astonishing Koestler Awards at the Southbank Centre; prizes given to art by inmates. Philippa Dunjay visits a spectacle of naked madness at the Donna Huanca show in the Zabludowicz Collection, as J L Blarney watches a similarly wild performance; Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Read carefully – helmets recommended.