Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's a Guzzi Thing

One of the most magical items in the childhood arsenal was the package of small clamshells, labeled “Japan.” Into a glass of water they went, and the waiting began. Rarely did persistent watching yield the prize; this was shy magic, the kind that wants to happen in the night, while no one sees.

In the morning, though, the glass revealed all: wonderment. The shells had burst open, and paper flowers of every color now waved slowly in the glass. It was always an unexpected blessing, a world that had bloomed for your eyes alone.

My grown-up version of the sneaky gift recently arrived through our latterday portal of magic, the listserve.

It is both with pleasant anticipation and a shaky dread that I confront the multiple switches that animate the computer every morning, as with coffee mug in hand I watch a tower of bold-faced notifications construct itself in the in-box. I’ve joined so many groups, each with such necessary information, that all I lack is sufficient time to read them all and still conduct such secondary business as providing sustenance for the household, or making money enough to be able to do so. Lately, more and more of those chatty lists are motorcycle-related: for project research, the LDRiders list; for current bike concerns, KBMW; for old times’ sake, NE Moto Guzzi. With the volume of yammering on most of them one wonders when, if ever, these people actually ride; they’re writing disquisitions, sometimes witty, sometimes lacerating, on minutiae that makes you redden with the knowledge that you didn’t even know you were supposed to worry about such things, much less the 24 steps it would take to remedy them.

The New England Guzzi list, though, was different. And so I always read promptly through: even though I no longer had a Guzzi, it was impossible to say Guzzis no longer had me. Plus, the exchanges were refreshingly free of attitude or folderol. Because these people actually knew one another, they were civil. And they were about the business at hand—where to meet on Sunday and at what time; who had a part and was volunteering to come help install it; the occasional in-joke about previous mishaps or the primacy of duct tape—carrying with them the immediacy of real motorcycles, real rides, real friendships. Some of the people I too had met and could put a face to (as well as a yankee accent); the others I felt I knew, or could imagine easily enough: they were genuine, kind, smart, unpretentious, but still daunting to me, in all their knowledge of Mandello’s great, glorious, occasionally misguided history.

So that’s what I usually clicked on first, a gentle envoy to the day. But one day last week the theme of the messages took a turn that, in as short a time as it took shells to open and release their hidden blooms, would change the world.

Their voices began to speak, not to me, but about me. I listened, frozen, because I could not believe what I was hearing.

At first I thought it must be another of those humorous volleys that keep these lists engaging. But then the thread “Lario for sale in NH” was quickly renamed “Lario for Melissa?” And that’s when something clutched at my gut: a million things, actually, a carousel of emotions going around and around at the same time they went up and down. The bike I had loved and lost, the thought of which struck me with the same chill trembling as did the prospect of catching a glimpse through a crowd of a lover last seen decades before. Joy at the idea. Fear at the idea.

Disbelief at the idea. Because it was soon apparent this had become a spontaneous uprising, more and more participants piling on--and what was this?, evincing something very much like joy as they did so. I watched from behind the screen as the velocity of joiners increased, a recruiter’s office on the day after war has been declared. “I’m in for $100”; “I don’t have much since I’m unemployed, but put me down for $50”; “I can help with transportation too”; “I’m good for $200 but only if I don’t have to work on it.” (The wag is a staple of the Guzzi club, and who indeed could last long, or want to, riding thirty-year-old machines without a cool drink of humor?) Finally I was forced to realize the impossible, which they thought very possible indeed: this congregation of near-strangers was uniting to buy me a motorcycle. They had in fact been thinking of doing so for a while. When at last this incredible truth forced itself into my head, the tears started. And would not stop for days. I couldn’t speak, or even think, of this unprecedented event without being overwhelmed by what felt mysteriously like both grief and startling happiness made into one wholly new emotion. It was like a force massing on the other side of a sturdy locked door, pushing, pushing. It would break it in splinters, and then what had been shut tight would never be closed again.

What caused the tears had to be bigger, far bigger, than the gift of a motorcycle. Huge though that was; who gives someone a motorcycle? Someone not related to them, I mean. Such an enormous, gorgeous thing could be conceived only in Guzzi land (sort of like Oz but with Italian food).

The next thing I felt was the impossibility of ever accepting such a thing.

Then, after three days of crying, it came to me at once: Whether they knew it or not, and I believe they did—crack diagnosticians that they are—what they were giving me was not just a shapely silver motorcycle with only 8,500 miles (and hopefully new valve springs). They were giving to someone who had recently found herself in a lightless place nothing less than the sunrise. They were using the perfect vehicle to send me the kind of news that would change everything, if I was wise enough to simply accept:

I am not alone, though I thought I was.

Love is possible, though I thought it was not.

What kind of people band together to give such a gift? Guzzi people. What kind of people then give more, the work of setting to rights an example of one of Mandello’s “experimental prototypes”? Guzzi people.

Lest too much cloying sentiment arise from this profound generosity and gum up the carbs, however, the breed’s native dryness quickly acted as emotional solvent. In an ungainly effort to show how moved I was, I wrote effusively of how one night I had dreamt of the Lario. You don’t get more ethereally excited than that, do you? "I dream of riding every night!” came the response. Calm down, lady.

And it is true, Guzzi people get to live a dream every day. They have figured out how to do life right, just as they know how to party, an important skill set for rallies, particularly those where a Teutonic spirit prevails. And, it turns out, they are as good at fixing a broken heart as they are at pouring wine, phrasing wry opinion, or sourcing parts.

Togetherness is a fundament of motorcycling, but these people have brought it to the level of high art. I do not know whether there is something about foreign V-twins that draws a certain type of person to them, or whether the sound of valve clatter and the smell of Italian sausage finally changes them into what they become, earthy angels of the road. I only know that I want to be among them. And now that they have brought me back, I will never, ever leave again.

Because what am I, crazy?

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for one of the most amazing episodes of my life, to John C., Tom H., Bud C., Sean R., Allen C., Jay D.,

Chris E., John G., Dave K., Tim F.,

Dave C., Peter K., Mark B.,

IMOC Rally,

Leslie A., Grace F.,

Adam M., Doug and Jacquie R., Peter Kj., John S.,

Pierre D., Anonymous, and anyone inadvertently left off

the list of those who supported

this cause. You better believe it: Guzzi people ROCK.


Steve said...

I returned to my first love, motorcycles, during the darkest time of my life; I understand how comforting they can be.

I am happy for you that you are reunited with an old flame. You have wonderful friends!

Moz said...

great story

ren said...

good friends are worth more than anything else in the world. and those who give you want you really need are the best of the best.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

I'm not entirely sure where the greater curative properties of the motorcycle lie: the pure ride, the complex simplicity of that; or the people who surround you in true "kind"-ness--being relatives of the spirit, sometimes closer than blood.

Yes, it's a great story. Unprecedented and, dare I use this word, breakthrough for me. Couldn't have happened at a better time. Which is, probably, exactly why it happened now.

Thanks, all of you too.

Katitude said...

This story makes me happy.

Kevin G. said...

Che la bella famiglia!!

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Happiness = good. It's fleeting enough.

Kevin, you speak in many languages. Including the most important and beautiful one, obviously.

Kevin G. said...

When not in Rome, the on-line translator will do.In any language though, that narrative and your friends are incredible.

saltyvic said...

i knew you would have to get back on a guzzi, by hook or by crook.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, it seems that me & Guzzi together is something of a foregone conclusion. In explanation, my charmed circle of enablers said something about the universe not spinning right till there was a goose in my garage . . .

Matt said...

Just came across your blog and this is the first thing I read. Wonderful gift! I bought my first motorcycle years ago when suffering depression; they're like goodness itself - so simple and mysterious at the same time, you can never define it, only find words to colour in the edges...

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Thanks, Matt, for this: you are perfectly right about the profundities of motorcycles. If I try to find the words to describe them, the words will always elude me--because the real meaning is held tight in the experience, which comprises a million things (both exceedingly simple and as infernally complex as the machines themselves . . .).

And finally that's why we go out and ride. To be blissfully beyond words.

Then (damn me!) I come home and search for the words again. I'm a slow learner.

ryusuke said...

Influenced by your first book, I rode down to the Guzzi factory last month. Over (not under)the Gotthard pass, a ferry across the lake at Menaggio and down to Mandello for a peek around.

Back home, I came across this blog for the first time last night. Words may not not do justice to the experience but they certainly motivate others to their own quests and encounters.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Now I'm jealous, Ryusuke. Especially since the factory may not be there much longer. It's a charmed place redolent of history, the specters of Guzzis past. Sad, if it happens (against the groundswell of Guzzi fans' protest worldwide).

Thanks for reading. I am really looking forward to writing a post here the day after I take possession of the new/old Lario. Back to the future.