People painting their faces black. The issue surrounding the Sinterklaas Holiday, specifically the Zwarte Pieten, has caused much controversy and debate in recent weeks. Completely unknown to me, I raised my eyebrow when I first heard about it. Intrigued, I grabbed my bike and headed over to experience my first Sinterklass parade in Amsterdam.
The winter holiday of Sinterklaas celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of children and sailors. Tradition states that he is a Bishop from Turkey that comes to the Netherlands on a steamboat from Spain. He then hops on a horse and accompanied by Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Petes) that have black faces and wear colourful costumes. Entertaining and mischievous in nature, they help him distribute gifts to children on December 5th.
The general consensus and politically correct explanation is Pete’s face is black from ‘soot’ as they climb through chimneys to deliver the gifts. Others say he was a slave and when Sinterklaas bought him his freedom, was so grateful that he stuck around to help him. The origins and facts of these explanations are unclear to me. But what was clear as I squeezed in with the crowd for a better view, were the obvious racial connotations.
This was the first impression looking through a lens of a foreigner without any historical context or knowledge of cultural traditions. As the parade progressed I was soon enamoured by the variety, richness and textures of the Zwarte Pieten. There were marching bands, some rode horses, bikes and tractors. Many were dancing, singing and dabbing flour on people’s noses. Others were handing out Kruidnoten to the kids, tasty little gingerbread cookies that look like kibble. I must admit, I was beginning to love the Zwarte Piet.
As the parade concluded, I came across a small group of a dozen or more people monitored by police, holding up signs protesting racism. This expression of defiance among the tens of thousands of smiling faces and excited children were at such polar opposites that it made me wonder.
Is this having a negative effect on Dutch society? Do these stereotypes take away the ability of a group to define themselves? Should suggestions of replacing face paint with markings of soot be considered? Why not alter tradition and rid any reference to something that is reminiscent of slavery? Perhaps this group of protesters have a point.
But consider a different thought system. One that looks at the purpose of an act. What is the intention? Reducing it to a face value (no pun intended) simply scratches the surface of the meaning and dilutes its purpose. This reductionist approach doesn’t offer the real experience or a sense of adventure and discovery. Whatever happens with Zwarte Pieten, I’ll always remember first parade with youthful jubilance. I only hope I get some Kruidnoten next time.
View the rest of the series here.
When it comes to locking your bike in Toronto, there is one ring that rules them all. The City of Toronto’s Bicycle Locking Ring Program provides over 17,000 parking spots to the public, more than any other city on the continent. However, according to a recent study, a vast majority of cyclists (98%) agree there is a shortage of secure bike parking in the City.
The Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Unit (CIP) of the City of Toronto is developing a new Bike Parking Strategy to accommodate the increased demand for bicycle parking. The Queen Street West Bicycle Parking Study is a part of this program in which cyclists will see a 30% increase of parking infrastructure this year along Queen Street West, between Gladstone Avenue to Markham Street.
This initiative will include multi-bike racks, bike shelters and new bike stands with urban design as an essential part of the coordinated street furniture effort. Forged with an artistic flair that still adheres to ergonomics and functionality, the new stands are a welcome addition to sidewalks and boulevards even if they won’t make your bike invisible.
The number 23 and the Hollywood connection continues. Zooey Deschanel strikes a pose.
The simple task of choosing what to wear can bring on a whole new undertaking when riding a bike. When it comes to urban travel, there is a tiresome quarrel between two groups. Those who advocate wearing protective cycling gear as utter necessity and those who don’t.
While there is nothing wrong with a personal choice to clad oneself in a neon vest or attach a mirror to a helmet. There is something discerning if the decision to do so stems from a convincing presumption born out of fear or is influenced by a marketing ploy. Especially if it leads to dismissing any alternative to what could still be a comfortable and enjoyable ride in the context of ones route.
The cycling industry will continue to cater to these protective needs, but biking in the city will always be dominated by the casual ride. Of course there are variables such as infrastructure that will determine these numbers. Yet in Toronto there is a growing demand being fulfilled by bike shops that reflect this demographic. That is of the average everyday person that rides a bike as an act of living rather than approaching a ride like a shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral.
Curbside Cycle, one of the city’s well known bike stores has a prominent fixture of Levi’s Commuter Collection of jeans and sweaters with the tagline of blending style and performance. Set Me Free in Roncesvalles now exhibits mannequins along with bikes in their window displays. Step inside to discover that nearly half of the floor space is dedicated to what can be best described as a fashion boutique. The Public Butter in Parkdale is a mixed retail emporium of vintage clothing and collectables that features a silk-screen print shop inside yet has one of the largest year-round outdoor displays of beaters in the west end.
Few will argue the choice of what to wear is a personal one. Few will feel the need to justify a reason to make that decision for you. Ultimately what matters is that cycling in the city continues to move towards an infrastructure that allows that genuine choice to be free of clout and legislative mandates. In the meantime, keep an open mind and you might just pass on that fancy reflector for a new leather bracelet.