Balance Pedaling


Carolina Bergier is a writer, journalist and photographer who left Rio May 5, 2011 in search of many things, most of all herself. Now she´s returned a traveler  in her hometown.

Written, translated and republished courtesy of Carolina Bergier, Finding Balance Pedaling was first published March 13 in Quando o Mar Se Abre.

Last Thursday was the day to check two items on my colourful spreadsheet entitled “To Do once I get home”. Colourful because, facing the variety of things to take care of after being away for 10 months (doctors appointments and dropping things off and picking them up and bank bureaucracies) I felt the need to organize everything in colors. Every color, a different subject.

Thursday was the day to cross out the yellow topics, transportation related: go get my license and fix my bike.

Although I got home three weeks ago, I’m still having trouble organizing my time. Hours in Bali tick by at a different pace and I didn’t have that much to do over there, allowing me to give space to for things to just happen and surrender to them. In Rio, I’m trying so hard to focus on the chores to be done that every synchronicity that presents itself is received with: “I can’t pay attention to you right now, I’m late.”

Poor synchronicities, trying so hard to be noticed…

But on that Friday I couldn’t get away from them.

The doorman from the building I live in (in Rio every building has one) told me about a mechanic who is great with bicycles in Lagoa. There I went, riding and singing a song that, ironically, says “let´s find balance while pedaling,” trying to be one with an abandoned-for-10-months bike. Crooked handlebars and a seat that seemed to be adjusted for someone 8 inches shorter than me (did I grow while traveling?).

Once I got to the place he told me to go, the only person I saw was a weird man in dirty clothes. Yes, there was a bike parked over there, but it was so full of bags of junk that I asked myself if this was not the transportation of a homeless man, while he put an unidentified object on the sidewalk of black and white Portuguese stones. I finally asked him if he was the bike-man.

“Yes I am. Wait a bit and I’ll be right with you,” he answered, while tying a string on that strange object. Then he slipped the string over a tree, forming something that would function as a pulley. He pulled the string and on the top of that thing a human heart made of fabric started to rise up.

I didn’t get it. At all.

Proud, he told me it was part of one of his art installations. “I´m an artist and illustrator, besides being a mechanic. My performances exist in order to alert people. Until when will people cover up everything that is going on?” he asked me with a mixture of outrage and courage.

I replied with another question: “What does the performance represent?”

“It’s a study of faith and love.”

So I decided to hear what synchronicity had to tell me and embarked on an  unusual conversation. All I asked was “why” and got beautiful pearls in response…

Rui Guile – “Rui Guilherme was too long to be my artistic name” – is a former hairy bearded man from the North of Brazil, who has worked at the same spot in Lagoa (our famous lagoon) since 2001, close to the skate park. He recently shaved his head in a performance “about death.” He took advantage of it and used a wig in a self-portrait.  People are still surprised to see him with a bald head. In the hour or so I was there I heard cyclists of all different social classes ride by screaming, “Wow! You´re bald now!”

All this man’s installations and performances have a specific goal: to catch the government’s attention. Rui Guile wants a bike fixing kiosk on that spot.

“The State has to understand that building this kiosk would be an incentive to a healthy lifestyle, but as politicians only care about themselves, they think I also only care about myself and that this request is about a personal interest. But obviously it’s not. It’s for the good of society.”

Rui Guile talked about lots of things I think about, even without me asking anything more than “Why?”.  He’s a babbler, the type who starts a sentence one way and ends in a totally different one, which surprisingly makes total sense.

Questioned about public power and why the population has no voice in Brazil, he justified this as it follows: “Coke, Colgate, those capitalism things are all dogmatic. It’s like religion, that we think we need. For the society to work properly, human beings need to lose the fear of death. ”

“Why, Rui Guile?”

“Cause everything we live is an illusion either way…”

And so, sentence after sentence, he showed me that although my colorful to-do list was important at this point, I was losing the color of life. I was losing the way a tourist sees a new town, the way we let ourselves be amazed by moments like this, without tic-tac, without purpose, without pretension. I was losing the beauty of the moments.

With a fixed bike I rode home. Not without first stopping to admire the blessed sunset reflected in the lagoon. Not before realizing that Rui Guile gave me the opportunity to make cycling more striking, using less strength to move more freely. Centered again, I found balance while pedaling.


Written by Carolina Bergier and originally published in Portuguese at  Quando o Mar Se Abre.  All photography in Finding Balance Pedaling courtesy of Carolina Bergier.

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Read Carolina’s Quando o Mar Se Abre (in Portuguese).