On the sort of day when a hot cup of coffee actually means something, we return to the Golden Circle…
Right about now, an optimistic soul would review the litany of disaster, disease, heartache and death we’ve tallied off, and remind us that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics–cold hard fact thought it is–shouldn’t elicit existential despair.
To many of a certain philosophical bent, the effects of the Second Law have implications that are monumentally hopeful and even down right religious. Consider that, if indeed we live in a universe that is beholden to measurable, ever-increasing amounts of entropy–if we’re on a downward and inevitable slide into chaos, than we should be able to look backwards up the slide.
The believer can then trace her way backwards up the scale into a prehistory of exponentially-increasing order and harmony. Somewhere up there at the top of the slide is a dewy green morning, a faerie queen, an eden, a gentle bodhisattva–the perfect singularity–the hand of god.
Conversely, a doe-eyed and quite optimistic humanist might entreat us to consider that the Second Law is just a fancy way of measuring impermanence.
And to the optimist, measuring impermanence is just plain silly–there ain’t no getting around it, and why would you want to? Love, laughter and orgasms cannot exist in a vacuum. Wonderful things end, but then so do terrible things.
Like the fella says, “all that meat and no potatoes, just ain’t right, like green tomatoes.”
We here at the Golden Circle tend to see the merit to both sides of this philosophical coin: In the messy scheme of things, dogmatic rigidity and Whitman-esque optimism both have their place. We even see some use in abject despair.
The fact is, this issue of ever-increasing entropy (for our purposes, we’re speaking of the downward spiral of decay awaiting everything in existence throughout all eternity until the universe itself peters out in a mournful heat death) is indeed thorny, but we feel it’s best considered in the light of a story we were told once.
The story concerns our old friends from back east, Spartan Pete and Franzie Louis. They are men of a certain age, belonging to a time now faded. They speak in antique, outer borough accents and seem to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing things like point spreads and cathode ray repair.
They are the sort of men who to this day remember discarded phone numbers in long moth-balled telephone exchanges like ORchard-6 or ELmwood-1, over the names of their children’s spouses. In our sentimental memories of Pete and Franzie, it is always late July, and they spend long humid days at the track sweating through their shirtsleeves–
–and evenings playing endless games of pinochle with their wives on screened-in porches. And yet, when pressed, they seem to have an incalculable quantity of stories that involve them doing all sorts of things, none of which have anything to do with card games or horse-racing.
Like this story, for instance, which begins at a bicycle race in the Alsace Lorraine.
The race in question was a long one: 1970’s 3rd Annual Trans-German/Iberian Championship Tour (TGICT), which wound a meandering route through almost 1,500 miles of scenic European terrain from Germany to Spain.
This being the height of the Cold War, the TGICT had acquired special significance for various activist groups. Known informally as the “Tour De Gauche au Droite,” the tournament organizers had hoped to raise the awareness of modern-day tyranny by beginning the race at the Allied entrance to Checkpoint Charlie, and ending it at Madrid’s Alcalá Gate in the heart of Franco’s Spain. Thusly, along with a ripping bike race, both anti-communists and anti-fascists could use the ensuing press coverage as a makeshift forum to give voice to their political agendas. Times being what they were and people being what they are, this was bound to turn sour rather quickly.
In fact, the previous year’s tour had been marred by tragedy at its outset. East Berliner Hans Pellenbach, a star player in the inaugural run of the tournament (the GDR team came in fourth, but Pellenbach broke several personal speed records and was much admired in the cycling community), found himself denied an exit visa for the following year’s race.
The Stasi, it turned out, had objected to a drunken comment Pellenbach had made to a Der Spiegel reporter, comparing himself to comic book hero Captain America.
On the night before the race, Pellenbach was machine gunned as he attempted to surreptitiously enter West Berlin so that he might race with his team. A photograph of Pellenbach’s corpse, draped across the wall’s barbed wire, his GDR team uniform visible underneath his parka, was printed in western magazines and for some time became the rallying image for legions of anti-Soviet protesters.
Today, Pellenbach’s story is mostly remembered as being the basis for Paul Whittingham’s 1974 hit melodrama, The Cyclist.