Marco Pantani

A couple of weeks back I got to read from Twenty-One Nights in July as part of a double feature at the Golden Age. Much thanks to Kate and Simeon for setting up the evening.  For anyone who missed out and is now lamenting my soliloquy on Pantani, followed by a reading from the book, here’s the former. For the latter, you had to be there I’m afraid:

In about half an hour some of you will be watching The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, which is a film about Marco Pantani, who is an interesting character. After winning the Tour de France in 1998, he got kicked out of the Tour of Italy for doping and then sort of went on a downhill bender and died in 2004 of a cocaine overdose in a hotel room.

Even though he undoubtedly doped, he’s very fondly remembered which is weird when you think about how much everyone hates Lance Armstrong now. You have to remember that this is a sport that comes from the Catholic nations of Spain, France, Belgium and, of course, Italy. Cycling makes a lot out of tragedy, corruption and martyrdom, and Pantani was all of those things.

By contrast, Armstrong was a sort of Puritan neo-liberal icon. He embodied this Reganist ideal that if you just focused hard enough, worked hard enough and believed in yourself you could achieve anything.

In 1996 Armstrong was told he was going to die of cancer, and then he went on to win the Tour seven times. In his autobiography he wrote:

I am very firm in my belief that cancer is not a form of death. I choose to redefine it: it is part of life.

Which is sort of strange. Surviving cancer is not a choice and to imply it is suggests those who die simply weren’t strong enough to choose to live, which is lunacy.

But then it’s also why Armstrong was so popular – he embodied the idea that you could decide your own fate.

Whereas there’s something different with Pantani. The writer Matt Rendell once wrote about him:

Those of us who saw him, and were inspired, were doped, at one remove, by those who doped Marco; and, like all drug-induced forms of euphoria, when the drug that induced it was gone, it existed only as a memory, and as a terrible temptation to self-deceive.

I remember reading that after Armstrong made his come back in my hometown of Adelaide, where the city council gave him the keys to the city and all the FOMILs were spray painting “Go Lance!” on the roads. At that point he was under investigation by the US federal government for doping. The self deception needed to keep believing in Armstrong was pretty intense.

We’d all like to believe we can control our own fate, but deep down we all know that’s nonsense, and I think Pantani embodies those two conflicting ideas. Within him, we can see the desire to be better than we are, but also this sort of Icarus fable of when you try to cheat fate, rather than reconcile yourself with it.

There’s a lot of cycling stars who personify the same Icarus fable. The 1906 winner Rene Pottier hung himself a year after winning the Tour, from the same hook he’d used to store his bike, 1951 winner Hugo Koblet smashed his car into a tree, 1952 winner Fausto Coppi died of malaria after being disowned by the Pope, 1973 winner Luis Ocana shot himself, and then there’s Tom Simpson, who literally rode himself to death in the Tour de France, uttering the famous last words “Put me back on my bike.”

To those who don’t follow cycling, that might just sound like the stupidity of men who didn’t know when to stop and took riding a bike too seriously. But I think it’s more complex than that. Roland Barthes once wrote:

What is sport? What is then that men put into sport? Themselves, their human universe.

I thought I’d do a quick readings that look at that idea on a grand scale, both related to an Italian cyclist called Gino Bartali, who won the Tour de France twice, once just before the Second World War, and in 1948, the same year The Bicycle Thief was made.

(Instead of the reading itself, here’s The Bicycle Thief. Thanks again to everyone who came along!)

Selected Images from the 2009 Format Festival

The 2009 Format Festival started on Friday March 1st, with an exhibit from our long time collaborators ST5K (later to morph into Street Dreams) and James Dodd. James was a lovely guy and built a projector rack for us out of a milk crate. Here’s a picture of his opening night work, in our back gallery.

James DoddThe front room looked like this:

2009 Opening NightNote the absence of a security guard. No one had told us we needed one, so we simply didn’t have one, despite operating on Hindley Street with $4 beers. Within this picture you can see Simon Loffler, who ran the street art stuff, did the design and layout for the program, and was one of the founding members of the Format Collective Inc, when we incorporated a few months later. You can also see, to the left of centre in the khaki shirt, Matt Walker, who designed Format’s logo, behind the bar is Cassie Flanagan who ran that year’s Academy of DIY and worked on the initial programming, and on the lower right is Sophie Green, who had been involved in the original zine fairs, the Academy of DIY and would later marry Joel Catchlove.

Given the venue’s wildly non-compliant status, things actually ran pretty smoothly. I think this was because we were deeply naive as to what could go wrong. Every day I would turn up, clean out the toilets, take out the bins and feel like I was having the time of my life. Here’s a picture of me enthusiastically taking out the bins.

Bins 2009In the background, you can see Format Collective foundational member Sam Rogers. I think his name was on the original lease for Format’s place on Peel Street (mine wasn’t). He was running all the publicity that year. Next to him is Caitlin ‘Bugle Face’ Tyler, who has the single loudest voice of any human I have ever met. She was doing a show about clowns in the back gallery. It was the first Format event to ever sell out.

That year we had four spaces: the front and back galleries, a ‘resource room’ for zine publishers and a courtyard, named after Jillian McKeague. The ‘resource room’ contained a photocopier, which provoked an extensive debate over a sign related to the photocopying of body parts. I forget how this argument started, but I think I ended it by asking people to stop copying their body parts as it left an oily residue on the glass, which I found deeply unnerving.

The McKeague Courtyard hosted Chloe Langford’s first exhibit with Format (the next year she ran the visual art stream), and sections of the Academy of DIY. Here you can see Format co-founder Joel Catchlove (in the baseball cap) with zinester Sophie Green. I have a sneaking suspicion the pair on the far left is Stephanie Lyall, who would end up as one of the directorial team the following year, and Tannon Kew. Tannon would later gain fame for building the steps at The Reading Room and rewiring Electra House prior to its use by Tuxedo Cat.

Joel and Sophie 2009That year’s zine fair was particularly large, hosting visitors from interstate and overseas, including Dave Roche from the US, and Lisa Dempster. Lisa would run the literature stream of Format in 2010, before taking over the Emerging Writers Festival. She now runs the Melbourne Writers Festival. Here’s a picture of her and Dave:

Lisa Dempster 2009 Most of the literature stuff was run on the final weekend. Here’s one of the panels. Note Chloe Langford, sitting next to Connor O’Brien. Connor now runs the Digital Writers Festival. You can also see Luke Sinclair, founder of Melbourne’s Sticky, front and centre here.

Indie publishing forumThen there’s the zine fair itself. Here’s a pixelated image of it:

2009 Zine FairThis was where I launched the very first version of Twenty-One Nights, which inexplicably sold out. I would have been sitting just out of shot.

The zine fair was held in the back room. As we discovered about half way through the festival, this room would occasionally fill itself with the stench of raw sewerage. We couldn’t find the source, and I spent most of the morning the zine fair worrying about it. Fortunately, there were a bunch of people spray painting in there and the air was so thick with aerosol you couldn’t smell anything else.