Wikipedia defines "Stockholm syndrome" as "an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them." I can certainly see how this can happen under circumstances of extreme duress. For example, on Thursday night I was here:
And then a few hours later I woke up on an airplane to see this:
After which the plane landed and I found myself in a van looking at this:
This was Mesagne, in the Italian region of Puglia, and my captor was a man named Vincenzo of the Associazone Culturale Aeneis 2000, who had "invited" me to speak at their "Full Bike Day" festival. And no sooner had I wrapped my head around my whereabouts then I was escorted back into the van and taken to Brindisi:
Where I was marched up a drab staircase:
And ushered into the offices of Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno. Here, they took my photograph, which ultimately appeared in the paper the following day. Also in that same paper was the happy news that authorities had finally arrested Fancesco "Lalla" Margherito:
I don't read Italian, but I'm guessing he was probably the head of another "associazone culturale," and that they had run afoul of the authorities by organizing some kind of "Full Drugs Day."
Then, after the photograph, I was forced to look at olive tree porn:
Apparently the Puglia region produces much of Italy's olive oil, though most of it is consumed by Mario Cipollini, who uses it to lubricate his hair, face, and body:
Then came a tour of a nature preserve:
I might have enjoyed the tour more if I hadn't been operating on something like nine minutes of sleep, and it didn't help that the already exhaustive tour effectively took twice as long as it normally would since everything had to be translated into English for me. Still, it was a beautiful place, and here are the long early evening shadows that fell as the tour guide, the interpreter, and I walked towards the seashore:
And here's the van, in which Vincenzo followed us at a distance that hovered somewhere between "polite" and "menacing:"
(Few things are more disconcerting than being followed by a van.)
Here's the Torre Guaceto, for which the nature preserve is named, and from which the townspeople used to watch the coast for invading Turks many centuries ago:
We kept walking and walking towards it, but it never seemed to get any closer, sort of like that scene in "The Holy Grail." Finally, though, we were upon it:
And then in it:
Scanning the horizon for approaching marauders:
Between my profound exhaustion and the solemn march backwards into time, I began to enter into what you might call a "weird headspace," and by the time we got back into the van and started through the gnarled and twisted olive trees again I sat there in a state of hallucinatory half-sleep as their trunks took the shape of demons and skulls. It was like I had been sucked into the cover of some old death metal album:
(Mmm, death olives.)
By this point you'd think my captor would take mercy on me and put me to bed, but instead he took me to a really busy bike shop in San Vito dei Normanni for reasons I could not discern. Here's the apprentice mechanic diagnosing a minor shifting problem on an impressive crabon Fred chariot in the fading evening light:
And here's the shop's third-generation owner working on a Cinelli something-or-other:
When I say the shop was busy, I mean it, and scores of people stood inside and outside where they had been waiting for hours for their turn with the maestro. Here's a shot of the work area, which should be sufficient to put any tidy mechanics among you into cardiac arrest:
Here's a classic mountain bike which I guessed had been waiting for service since way back when it was cutting-edge technology:
A suspicion which was confirmed when I spotted the owner still waiting nearby:
And here's a gentleman in a sweatsuit doing what appears to be the equivalent of the Crabon Bike Parking Lot Test Ride:
Presumably he'll buy the bike, come back a month later for that first service, wait 20 years, and end up as another skeleton. And so goeth the cycle of Italian bicycle retail.
On the second day I awoke rejuvenated by sleep and blissfully free from hallucinations, and my captor took me to visit the Longo Bikes factory. Here's Signore Longo himself:
The frames are made right there in the factory (as the name "factory" would imply) though of course the crabon frames are made elsewhere. In any case, you have to feel sorry for him, because while he could have had a visit from a media professional like James Huang he instead got some wiseass bike blogger with a smartphone. I did my best though, and here's a somewhat Huangian disembodied-hand-displaying-a-crabon-wheel shot:
By the way, that's my abductor Vincenzo in the background with the camera. I realize he looks a bit sinister, but that's only because he is.
Longo Bikes is located in the city of Ostuni, which hosted the World Championships in 1976:
Here's some more amateur smartphone bike porn, complete with bottom bracket crotch shot:
And here's a crabon frame and, of course, my ever-present abductor:
This is pretty much exactly what I saw any time I turned my head, opened a door, or pulled back the shower curtain.
In addition to making race bikes, Longo also supplies folding bikes which are being presented to local university students in a program to promote cycling in the region, and here is Signore Longo and my abductor posing awkwardly with my book:
By the way, here's Longo back in his racing days:
This photo harkens back to a simpler time when bike racers wore yarmulkes, and when middle-aged men could still wear paisley and get away with it.
After we visited the Longo factory my captor then took me to a high school in San Vito dei Normanni, where apparently I was to address the students. Like most of what happened during the course of the visit, my captor sort of just sprung this on me, and I would have pulled the fire alarm and escaped were there evidence of any fire safety equipment whatsoever besides the tiny lone fire extinguisher:
To my horror, the students circled me and I desperately pleaded for my life lest they devour me:
Amazingly I survived, and was then returned to my gilded prison:
Though with the aid of my interpreter I did manage to slip away to Ostuni for some shopping:
As well as a little sunset porn:
The next morning, the sun rose again, and it shone brightly upon Full Bike Day:
I was genuinely moved to see the families of San Vito dei Normanni all gather for a ride to the nature preserve:
Where we admired student driftwood art:
And where the headmaster from the high school, still resplendent in his purple sweater, regarded me with unbridled nonplussitude:
Then we rode back to the piazza:
Where we were greeted warmly by the townspeople:
And coldly by this guy:
Though it won't do to express any sort of exuberance when you're the Coolest Guy in San Vito dei Normanno:
Of course, it wouldn't be a Full Bike Day without a bike-themed photo exibit:
And this one was my favorite:
Then came the ribbon-cutting ceremony:
After which we assembled in an ancient room:
Followed by a live interview with a semi-professional New York City bike blogger:
I don't want to speak for everybody, but I can safely say the headmaster was nonplussed:
It was a strange journey, but it was also a heartwarming one, and I don't think I've met a warmer and more welcoming group of people anywhere--though that may just be the Stockholm syndrome talking.