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Abadiño – 27 November 2009
Amigo Nando,
Fortunately I am still alive, although I don’t show much sign of
it. You were able to confrm that for yourself, some months ago,
and I very much appreciate your visit. Yesterday I saw that you
had telephoned me. I couldn’t take it at that moment; I was too
busy with those two noisy little devils that I have as children and I
thought I’d call you back later.
And later there was no time, or rather, when there was time it
was at a pretty ungodly hour. ‘I’ll call tomorrow,’ I said to myself.
And the following day, that is today, I was embarrassed to call … I
ought to have given signs of life far sooner.
Here I am, my friend, half a year after the catastrophe. Perhaps I
ought to introduce myself; not because I think you won’t remember
who I am, but because I believe the person now writing to you is a
different person from the one before.
I answer to the same name and surname – that has not changed
– but so many things in my life have changed in so short a time
that luckily – and I have pondered on that a good deal – I am a
quite different person from who I was.
Today I’m not going to go on at much length – now is not the
right time – but I am going to sketch out the reason for my silence.
A silence which, needless to say, I am only too pleased to break …
but I don’t have the time to do so. I hope that will come some day.
I remember that when I was in hospital I asked for my computer,
with the idea of taking advantage of the time I had to do certain
things, one of them being to write, but it proved impossible. What
with the visits from doctors and nurses and from friends, and then
with the tiredness and the pain of my injuries and the emotion of
all that was happening I didn’t fnd the concentration I needed to
start relating certain things. It was still all too recent, and something
inside was telling me that I ought to wait to get a better perspective
on them.
After some weeks they discharged me and I returned home.
There’s no need to talk about that since you saw it with your
own eyes and will already have drawn your own conclusions.
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Then began the lengthy process of rehabilitation, which I am still
immersed in, and the dynamic of getting back to normality. Since
then so many things have happened, so many things to relate
what’s more, and I never have the chance to begin spelling them
out. And the pile keeps on growing and growing, and I am afraid
that much of it is going to get forgotten, so I am anxious to fnd the
peace and quiet, and the time, to set it down in writing, but that
moment is proving hard to get.
I live the life of a house husband. Cooking? I certainly don’t
cook much, but the time left to me after rehabilitation I use mainly
in looking after the children, and that’s a hugely exhausting task,
even if a totally gratifying one.
I have many letters of yours waiting to be answered and I
promise I’ll do so meticulously. The frst dates from 14 April –
what times they were – which you wrote a few days after my last
Roubaix. Little more than half a year has gone by, but it feels like
a lifetime.
I believe I told you something of my experience with morphine
in Bergamo. I hope I can still remember the day I was put on
it, because there are some things there that really shouldn’t be
forgotten.
I will tell you a bit at a time what’s been happening, everything
I’ve experienced in this whirlpool that I fnd I’ve been thrown
into.
The irony is that in spite of my complaining about not having
enough time, I found the necessary strength and time – from
somewhere I don’t know – to write for El País every day throughout
the Tour and the Vuelta a España. When they suggested I did the
Tour my frst reaction was to say no. I didn’t feel up to it and I
thought that I’d never get it done. I set about it without much
conviction, and realised that it wasn’t as painful as I thought
it would be. Furthermore, at times when I didn’t feel at all like
talking about what had happened that day, I could always fall
back on talking about myself. In the end I came to realise that it
was precisely that which was most satisfying.
Later, during the Vuelta, and by then in a better state of health,
I did the same. This time my columns were not published in the
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paper, but on a blog which El País set up for me. It was a marvelous
experience, above all for the feedback, for the chance to see people’s
responses to what I wrote, and for the numerous messages of good
will I received from my readers. Some told me about the ‘tyranny
of the blog’ – having to reply to those who joined in. My problem
once again was that I didn’t have the time I really needed. I began
with the notion that I would reply to the comments, and that’s what
I did, according to the time I had available. But in the fnal week I
found it absolutely impossible, and I still feel bad about not giving
any attention to those who participated in those last days. If any of
them get to read this some day I hope they will understand.
Well, my friend, I’m not going to prolong this any further right
now as I’m depriving myself of hours of rest, and then I have to pay
the price for that. It is one o’clock in the morning of Thursday 26
November, or rather, it is now Friday 27. I hope you’ll be receiving
a lot of my news in the coming days, and that all is well with you.
I shall certainly call you tomorrow to say hello and to tell you to
keep an eye on the post, since I have at last shown signs of life –
but I don’t even know if I will have time to do that, and I assure
you I am not exaggerating in the slightest.
Best wishes from Abadiño, now you know how to fnd it on the
map, and please don’t send me a reply because it really is my turn
now.
I send you a big embrace, now that I can do that, and I hope
you will forgive me for all this delay. In any case, many thanks for
your patience.
Your friend Pedro
Durango, 25 April 2010
Ciao amigo,
We spent the past few days in the Basque Country, the two of us,
and we made a long bike tour, we ate and we drank. In order not to
forget those days together, I wrote a report for you and me. Forgive
me if my writing style is perhaps too journalistic; that’s part of me,
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it’s my way of saying something about the reality we experienced
together. I write: We drink beer in a café owned by a friend of
Pedro’s. We talk for a long time. It’s a year after the crash.
I really hope you like it, amigo, my account of those days. Here
we go:
In the storage room below your apartment in Abadiño, next to the
training bikes and the mountain of old baguettes for the donkeys,
this unopened suitcase had been waiting for months. ‘I wasn’t
afraid to open it,’ you tell me, ‘but still I didn’t want to.’ Somehow
you shied away from looking at the remains of a life before the
crash. You put your bottle of beer back on the cafe table.
You had left the suitcase untouched for four months, but then
one day you clicked open the lid, almost without being aware of it.
‘The smell that came from it reminded me of the race,’ you say.
Memories were coming back, because of the novels you had
taken along to Italy, the newspaper of the day before and the road
book with the route and the stage profles. Everything you had put
in the suitcase on that fateful morning you saw again for the frst
time four months later.
You tell me how you took the objects in your hands again, inhaled
their odour. That indescribable hotel room smell, the aroma wafting
from the clothes you had been wearing in the restaurants where you
had dinner with your team mates after the stage was done.
You had already told me about the book you had been reading
during the Giro. Now you saw it again: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño.
The Spanish soigneur Joseba had later handed it to Lorena. You told
me that you had asked Lorena to bring you that book in hospital.
You had just woken up from your coma. You tell me: ‘I fancied that
book more than the bike.’
You didn’t get very far. You tell me that in the Pamplona hospital
you never got beyond the page where you had stopped reading on
17 May 2009 in Italy. You say: ‘My thoughts always drifted away
after two minutes. On one page, in chapter 3, Bolaño describes the
murder of a woman. Joseba had looked on which page I was. He
was shocked. That woman had also fallen into a ravine.’
Coincidence doesn’t exist when it happens.
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‘You know,’ you say while you put the beer bottle back on the
table, ‘Culmine di San Pietro: Culmine means summit, but it also
refers to the elevation you can achieve in a spiritual sense, the
maximum. But also: the fnish. And Pietro is my name in Italian.’
I ask what you think is the meaning of it all.
You: ‘Do you remember that you told me this story about the
racing driver Niki Lauda last year? That after his near fatal crash
he started smoking marihuana in an attempt to release hidden
memories? Maybe I will do that, too, at some point. Maybe, you
know.’
Lorena doesn’t fnd these stories the least bit entertaining, you
say. She prefers not to talk about the hospital. She still can’t bear to
be reminded of her fear that on arrival in Bergamo they would tell
her that her husband had died. ‘Lorena and I are at a different level
sometimes,’ you say. ‘I’ve changed.’
There’s a big difference from last year, when we met at your
home the day after you had been released from hospital, you in
a wheelchair and your neck and chest immobilised with a corset.
Your movements were shaky. So too was that orthopedic brace
around your neck, and that corset around your back and chest.
People from the village wanted to touch you, the strong athlete
who was in a wheelchair and drank lemonade. Their fngers
touched your shoulders hesitantly, cautiously, feetingly, as if their
village neighbour was in danger of falling to pieces. Earlier that
evening at the dining table with a glass of fzzy water you said:
‘Cheers, to paracetamol.’
Out of boredom you occasionally watched a cycling race in
those days. ‘Cycling is not part of me now,’ you said. ‘I’m trying
to recover, so that I can at least lead a normal life again. After that
comes the time to think about cycling.’
We were standing on the balcony, the children and your wife
were inside, asleep. We talked about the water level in the river,
about the mountain tops we could vaguely discern. The church
bells chimed very loudly, eleven times, the moon was a crescent.
You pointed down and said that the ground foor was also part of
the property. ‘That’s where the bikes are. And my suitcase from
the Giro.’
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You had yet to open that suitcase.
The memories of the crash were actually not that important to
you. You fell silent for a moment. Then: ‘I could have ended up in
a wheelchair for the rest of my life.’
In the ravine you had landed on a slab of rock, 80 metres down.
You told me that the mountaineers who found you after half an
hour could see from the blood trail (you lost two litres) that you
had somersaulted several times. That slab – one metre by two – had
broken your left leg in several places and crushed your knee cap,
but had saved your life. Below the slab there was a drop again: 20
metres deep. You would never have survived yet another tumble.
That visit of mine was in June 2009. Now it’s almost ten months
later.
You continue your story in the bar. There was a time when you
were blown around by the winds of popular opinion, or by what
others thought of you. Now your mental strength has increased:
you care far less about what people think of you, because when
you were hovering between life and death that simply wasn’t
important. You say, paraphrasing a Spanish saying, that you’re
more and more inclined to accept your own circumstances, and
what’s going on around you. ‘Most people don’t fnd themselves
there,’ you say.
Of course you’ve gained an interest in the facts of the crash.
‘I’m curious,’ you say. You feel the need to talk to riders who were
nearby at that near fatal moment. The Cervélo sprinter, Jeremy
Hunt, was also in the group that was left behind by the peloton
near the summit. ‘Hunt saw me crash,’ you say. ‘Jos van Emden,
who couldn’t keep up with me in the climb, thought during the
descent: why, he’s going fast. I also remember that after three
curves I let a Quick Step rider pass me on the inside. An Italian,
Davide Malacarne. I recall that he made a steering error and that
things almost went wrong.’
You learned what the Quick Step riders – from your former
team – talked about that evening at the dinner table. Apparently
you didn’t go into a nosedive like an airplane, but tried desperately
to hold on to the crash barrier, until you were pulled into the deep
by your own weight.
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