Scooters and Grit: Vespa’s Unlikely Triumph in the 1951 Sei Giorni Internazionale di Varese

In the early 1950s, the world was on the mend from the tumult of World War II. The United Nations had been established, and nations were busy rebuilding their cities and economies. In Italy, this period, known as the “miracolo economico italiano,” was marked by rapid industrial growth and an explosion of cultural expression. It was a time when the legendary filmmaker Federico Fellini was beginning to shape Italian cinema with his distinctive style, and actors like Gina Lollobrigida and Marcello Mastroianni were becoming household names.

Gina Lollobrigida, riding a Vespa, became a symbol of Italian beauty and elegance, as shown here when she attended the Great Film Garden Party at Morden Hall Park in Surrey in 1952, arriving on a Vespa to promote an Italian Film Festival.

Amid this vibrant backdrop, an unassuming hero emerged from the Piaggio factory: the Vespa scooter. Born out of the necessity for affordable transportation in post-war Italy, the Vespa quickly became a symbol of libertà (freedom) and modernity. Its sleek design and practicality won the hearts of many, but it was about to prove it was more than just a bella faccia (pretty face).

The original Vespa 98 produced in 1946.

In 1951, the small town of Varese in Northern Italy played host to the Sei Giorni Internazionale di Varese, also known as the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE). This grueling event, often referred to as the “Olympics of motorcycling,” tested the endurance of riders and the durability of their machines over six long days of off-road racing. Motorcycles designed for rugged terrains were the usual contenders. However, Vespa decided to crash the party with its unlikely entrant: a scooter.

This was no ordinary Vespa. The Vespa 125 Sei Giorni was a specially modified version of the classic scooter. Engineers at Piaggio equipped it with larger fuel tanks for extended range, reinforced suspensions to handle the rough terrains, and a few other tweaks to ensure it could endure the harsh conditions of the race. The team of riders, handpicked for their skill and tenacity, were ready to sfidare (challenge) the status quo.

As the race began, spectators and competitors alike watched in meraviglia (amazement) as the Vespa scooters tackled the rugged trails with surprising agility. The sight of these sleek scooters, usually seen zipping through cobblestone streets and piazzas, climbing rocky hills and splashing through muddy paths was both bewildering and inspiring. The Vespa riders, with their characteristic Italian flair, approached the race with a mix of determinazione (determination) and nonchalance, embodying the spirit of post-war Italy—resilient, innovative, and stylish.

Meanwhile, in the world of Italian cinema, Federico Fellini was captivating audiences with his debut feature film, Luci del Varietà (Variety Lights), co-directed with Alberto Lattuada. Fellini’s work began to reflect the complexities and contradictions of Italian society, much like the Vespa in the Sei Giorni race—an elegant solution navigating a landscape of challenge and unpredictability.

Carla Del Poggio in Luci del varietà (1950)

Back in Varese, the Vespa team’s performance was nothing short of remarkable. Against all odds, they secured nine gold medals, a feat that stunned the motorcycling world. The successo (success) of the Vespa 125 Sei Giorni was a testament to Italian ingenuity and the spirit of innovation. It wasn’t just a victory for Vespa; it was a victory for Italy, showcasing the nation’s ability to blend stile (style) with sostanza (substance), and sophistication with resilience.

This event cemented the Vespa’s reputation, not only as an urban icon but as a machine capable of much more. It inspired future models and even modern iterations like the Vespa Sei Giorni 300, which pays homage to the original’s daring spirit and classic design.

As the 1950s continued, Italy’s cultural renaissance blossomed further. Directors like Fellini, with his groundbreaking films like La Strada and La Dolce Vita, and actors like Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, helped to define Italian cinema and project Italy’s newfound vibrancy and creativity to the world. The Vespa, with its roots in this same era, became an enduring symbol of that golden age.

In the end, the 1951 Sei Giorni Internazionale di Varese was more than just a race. It was a celebration of resilience, innovation, and the sheer gioia (joy) of overcoming the odds. It reminded the world that even in the face of daunting challenges, a little bit of style and a lot of determination can lead to extraordinary achievements. Just as Italy was rebuilding and reimagining itself in the post-war era, the Vespa scooter raced into history, proving that even the most unexpected contenders could become campioni (champions).

Harlan Ellison vs the Radar Angels

Gandalf’s Den in the Atrium Building hosted an autograph party for Harlan Ellison today, ahead of his Thursday evening speaking engagement at the EMU Ballroom, an event sponsored by the Eugene chapter of the campaign to elect John Anderson for President. I joined the campaign as a volunteer because I’m a sixteen year old sci-fi freak and I wanted to meet the dark prince of American letters. I was surprised to see that Ellison was several inches shorter than me and my hope to befriend him died the minute I realized he’d probabaly dismiss me as just a kid teenager with a pedestrian taste in literature.

Ellison had a carry-on luggage bag on rollers filled with numbered editions of his new book, “Shatterday,” which was a collection of sixteen short stories due to be published at the end of the month. The book features his Hugo and Nebula award-winning story, “Jeffty Is Five,” which I’d read in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Mike Stamm, who worked at Gandalf’s Den, was tasked with the job of interviewing Ellison for the Oregon Daily Emerald, but the curmudgeon who said that Star Wars was a halfwit Wild West adventure in outer space couldn’t be corralled long enough for a one-on-one sit-down, so Mike had to cobble together an article from Ellison’s bookstore appearance.

I wish I could say that I was enamored by Ellison’s brilliance and wit, but to me he came off as a conceited jerk and a grumpy nitpicker, dumping on science fiction readers for using the term “sci-fi” and saying the genre was mostly junk. The more he spoke, the more I was left with the same feeling I had when I met R. Crumb and he criticized me for reading Spider-Man comics. Suddenly, a group of women marched into the shop like an angry mob of Transylvanian villagers chanting, “Fee Fi Fo Fum, we want the blood of an Ellison!” It was the Radar Angels.

~ Eugene, Oregon – October 17, 1980

Rumble at the chalk-in

My best guess is this photo was snapped in 1966, the year the Beach Boys played at McArthur Court. Most likely in front of the New World Coffee House near the university campus.

Brandy Feldman, the girl who doesn’t dig Mike and Carl’s music, made the local news the following year when she participated with other college students in an unsanctioned afternoon of making street art.

What happened was a group of so-called beatniks and hippies, armed with colored chalk, wrote slogans and drew flowers and other symbols of peace and love on the sidewalk in front of the student union. The backlash from the football-fraternity mentality for this “chalk-in” was swift, as members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity (already notorious on campus for their sport of hippie baiting) responded first with threats of violence against the group, and then with spitting, shoving, kicking, and pulling hair.

By the end of the fracas, the ATO frat-bros dumped buckets of water on the sidewalk to erase the hippie graffiti that had so offended them.

The New World Coffee House opened in 1964 at 1249 Alder St.

The chalk-in kerfuffle at the EMU was on April 12, 1967.

Generation Me

British punk rock guitarist William Broad was twenty-one years old in 1976 when he took on the roles of frontman and lead singer for his band, Generation X. The band drew inspiration for their name from the book “Generation X” by British journalists Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett, which delved into the experiences of teenagers involved in the Mod subculture. Published in 1964, the book emerged during a time when the future punk icon known as Billy Idol, was still a few years away from being a teenager but old enough to begin identifying with and emulating the older kids he grew up with in the 1960s.

The original “Generation X

Canadian author Douglas Coupland was almost thirty years old when he entered the literary scene with his book “Generation X” in 1991. Coupland’s choice of title was in turn influenced by Billy Idol’s fledgling band, as he sought to capture the perspectives and frustrations of individuals born between between 1954 and 1964, a group he believed was wrongly classified as Baby Boomers. Coupland wanted to express the thoughts and challenges faced by his cohort. He felt they were a generation that was often overlooked and misunderstood. When he was interviewed by the press the year his book came out, he made it very clear. “I just want to show society what people born after 1960 think about things,” he told the Boston Globe. “We’re sick of stupid labels. We’re sick of being marginalized in lousy jobs, and we’re tired of hearing about ourselves from others.” Famous first words.

The next wave Generation X

In the 1990s and well into the 21st century, Generation X was typically considered by the mainstream in English speaking countries to include individuals born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s. Flash forward to the year 2024, as I write this, and the general consensus is that Generation X spans from around 1965 to 1980. Those dates kick Billy Idol and Douglas Coupland out of the club in which they both claimed to belong and demotes them to Boomers.

~ 2 ~

There are typically five generational cohorts that are commonly recognized in the study of demographics and consumer behavior. Generational cohorts are groups of individuals who were born around the same time that share similar characteristics. The Silent Generation (1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X, (1965-1980), Millennials (1981-1996), and Generation Z (1997-2012), are labels for generations that have their own unique characteristics and experiences based on the historical events and societal trends that shaped their formative years.

I was born in 1964, which places me in the last year of the Baby Boom era. However, I don’t identify with Boomers, and neither does my mother’s sister, born in 1958. In those days, my aunt might have been called a Sputnik baby, because she was born the year after the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth was launched by the Soviet Union. When I entered the world six years later, in the same month the US declared war with Vietnam, the country was in the midst of an unprecedented exceleration of knowledge due to all the technological advances from the space race, especially in computers.

My formative years really began in the 1970s, at the tail end of Vietnam during Watergate and the oil crisis, which places me in a generational limbo filled with “cuspers”—people who fall on the border or overlap between two generational cohorts. My mother is also a cusper, born in the last Silent Generation year, and she doesn’t identify with that cohort either; instead embracing the hippie counterculture shortly after I was born, which gave me a very different perspective on mainstream cultural narratives.

As a member of a generational cohort in America born between 1956 to 1970, individuals like myself (approximately 57.5 million of us) have witnessed remarkable cultural shifts and historical events, extraordinary progress in the Civil Rights Movement, and the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll music. These experiences have shaped my perspective in unique ways, offering a different lens through which I view the world compared to preceding generations.

~ 3 ~

Stupid

I met Stupid in the spring of 1977 while he was selling socialist newspapers at the Eugene Saturday Market and I was working as a sandwich board man to advertise for the venue.

One of my earliest gigs at the market was working as a human billboard, or a “sandwich board boy,” in my case, which earned me a dollar an hour plus a food voucher for a meal from any food vendor. It was quick cash for a twelve-year-old on a Saturday morning. All I had to do was wear a canvas sandwich board, like a 19th-century ad man from London or New York, and leisurely stroll around downtown Eugene for a few hours, luring other pedestrians to visit the top of the butterfly parking lot where the market was located.

So, naturally, my labor drew the attention of a man named Stupid, who was an old Wobbly. The Wobblies, a nickname for members of the Industrial Workers of the World, were a labor union founded in 1905. Their aim was to unite all workers into one big union to advocate for better working conditions and workers’ rights through militant tactics and a commitment to social and economic justice. I soon learned that Stupid was also something of a local celebrity who peddled handwritten photocopied pamphlets brimming with verse and meandering musings on street corners near the University of Oregon.

Stupid was a confirmed leftist and fervent advocate for societal change with a larger-than-life backstory. He was born in a Michigan logging camp in 1899 as Russell Dell, an heir to the Dell Publishing Company—an accident of birth that might have given him a life of wealth and privilege had he not been the black sheep of the family. He claimed to have worked as a logger, sailor, machinist, writer, and printer, among other professions, and he had old-duffer bushy eyebrows. Sometime before he moved to Eugene in 1973, he legally changed his name to Stupid to amaze his friends and confuse his enemies.

Uncle Ray

On a Wednesday afternoon, in Eugene, Oregon, Uncle Ray was discovered by a woman searching for her missing cat, his dead body wrapped in a carpet that lay rolled up in a garage. Officer Slim Carter, a familiar face in the police force with a history of run-ins with Ray, was called to the neighborhood, and he surveyed the scene and reckoned the old derelict had been lying there for days. The air was heavy with the weight of unanswered questions, and the mystery of Ray’s demise lingered in the air, mingling with the whispers of those who knew him. At the same time, many people in town marveled that he had defied the odds to reach such an age, surviving on a diet of booze, cigarettes, and rambling tales that blurred the line between truth and fiction.

My own encounter with Uncle Ray dates back to when I was a boy of twelve in the summer of 1976, a chance meeting that left an indelible mark on my memory.

Uncle Ray at the Kiva in Scarborough Faire (1971)

He seemed like a cliche of the town drunk from a television western, or an old derelict one might find in the margins of a Bukowski novel; a grizzled drifter with a harmonica in hand, perched on the curb next to a shopping cart stuffed with clothing and other artifacts of unspeakable origin. His presence seemed to defy time, a relic of a bygone era brought to life in the gritty streets of Eugene. Despite his weathered appearance, I later learned that Ray was a mere fifty-six years old on that day.

When the rest of the cops arrived at the corner of Lawrence and Broadway they unrolled Ray’s cocoon and noted he was dressed in two pairs of pants, two shirts, a sweater, and a jacket. In his pockets were two wallets, three pens, a corn cob pipe, a tire gauge, and a hole punch. A silver ring adorned Ray’s withered finger, and a harmonica was clenched in his hand. Only some knew his biography.

Ray

The story of Raymond Greig’s origins can be traced back to the heartland of Bottineau, North Dakota, where he was born in the midst of Prohibition on July 18, 1920. The details of Ray’s early years are sketchy, but they paint a picture of a typical farm boy turned soldier, serving in the South Pacific during World War II. However, before Ray enlisted in the Army in 1942, he married a woman named Meryl and they had a child. He was discharged in 1946 and returned home a war hero.

Yet, beneath the layers of truth lay a tapestry of tall tales and half-truths, woven by Ray’s own tobacco-stained fingers. Like the time he said he served under the command of Eleanor Roosevelt when she led the charge at Okinawa, sending her men into battle with bayonets fixed to their rifles, crying, “Follow me to victory!” One thing is certain about his time overseas: Ray received a “Dear John” letter from his wife, and he returned to the states a bitter and heartbroken man.

After his stint in the army, Ray stashed away the medals that Eleanor Roosevelt had pinned to his chest, and he drifted through post-war America, riding the rails and living the life of an itinerant worker. The iron tracks eventually led him to the rugged terrain of Oregon, where he found himself settling in Vanport, a city of transient laborers north of Portland that was built to house workers at the Kaiser Shipyards during wartime.

It was in Vanport that Ray witnessed a merciless force of nature that swept through the city like a vengeful god, leaving destruction and despair in its wake. It was a flood that swept through the city on the afternoon of May 30, 1948. In its wake, fifteen people were lost to the unforgiving waters, and by nightfall, the city lay submerged, its streets silent and its buildings swallowed by the murky depths, casting 17,500 souls adrift in a sea of despair, leaving them destitute and homeless.

3.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, Ray found himself grappling with the harsh reality of a world that could change in the blink of an eye, a world where even the strongest foundations could be washed away in an instant. I imagine Ray wandering the streets of Portland like a ghostly vagabond, haunted by his own past. He was only twenty-eight years old, his face aged beyond his years, and marked by war and a life filled with loss and tragedy that shattered his world and washed away his hopes.

High Street Coffee Gallery (1978)

A review of a new coffeehouse recently opened in Eugene, circa November 1978, written by *Lamont Cranston, a Lenny’s Nosh Bar regular and journalist for various underground zines in Eugene from 1976-1985.

———

Hoping to attract a more intellectual crowd of conversationalists instead of drawing a mob of rabble rousers plotting to overthrow mainstream culture, Ann Blandin and Josephine Cole have opened a new cofffeehouse and art gallery in a cozy house built at the start of the Mexican Revolution that features a fireplace, high-ceiling rooms, large windows, and creaky floorboards.

Not to say that nouveau beatniks in Eugene aren’t welcome, but the proprietors of the place between East 12th and East 13th avenues are striving to create a more European-style esthetic instead of a beat vibe. A place for people to hang out, sip coffee, and exchange ideas. In fact, the sign in front of High Street Coffee Gallery seems to set the stage for high culture, by illustrating the picture of a dapper-looking Dickensian gent facing a lady in Renaissance Faire drag, as he pours her a cup of jamoke by tipping his gooseneck coffee pot top hat into her coffee cup bonnet.

Even richer culture can be had in your belly from the pastries served with your coffee, especially a fancy French pastry called Paris-Brest; a delectable almond-encrusted bicycle-wheel-shaped pâte à choux filled with praline cream.

Best of all, Lenny Nathan is the in-house chef, and one of his specialties is chocolate rum cheesecake (as well as strawberry, eggnog, and plain cheesecakes) which he’s been making and selling at the Eugene Saturday Market since he moved to town to open a restaurant this year with his son, Nano. That restaurant fell through, but Lenny is treating it like a temporary setback and he’s making the best of things by cooking for the coffeehouse—preparing daily soups, served with locally made French bread, as well as whipping up Saturday brunch omelettes and Sunday brunch crêpes.

The background music in the gallery is either classical or jazz, the art on the walls is locally sourced, and a brick patio is available for seating when the weather is nice.

Chess players are welcome and boards are provided. Smoking is prohibited.

High Street Coffee Gallery is located at 1243 High Street.

Open 7:00am-12:00am Weekdays
9:00am-1:00am Saturday & 11:00am-2:00pm Sunday

———

*Lamont Cranston is not the same man as the alter-ego of The Shadow but he is definitely a pseudonym and may also be a fictional character.

Resolution #1 • Make Memorable Impressions

I want to get out more often and meet strangers at parties, without the usual excuses that most people have when contemplating attending a social gathering.

I’m not a hardcore introvert that revels in being reserved and I don’t need a lot of solitude. Social anxiety doesn’t paralyze me to the point of panicking at the thought of speaking to strangers in public spaces. My social awkwardness feels normal and pedestrian. A bit of insecurity, a dash of shyness and fear of saying something inappropriate—the usual glitches in self-esteem that most people feel around others to some degree.

And so, before going to a holiday party and gift exchange the other night, at a house in a town in a state where the only people I knew were the two people that invited me, I decided, without forethought of acting in a certain way or saying something specific, to bring something that has usually eased my discomfort when navigating unfamiliar social situations.

I brought my sense of humor. It’s my superpower, release valve, and security blanket.

My ability to think quickly, improvise, and play with words, is my greatest asset. And, the trick for me is to not be too flashy or loud, or try too hard or too much; but wait for the right moment, in a pause in conversation, and the right context—to say the one thing that will be memorable to the strangers in my midst.

To make an impression by saying something provocative and funny.

So, when I went to select my gift at the Christmas tree, I stepped up boldly and asked the group to raise their hands if I should open it. The masses spoke so I did.

It was a large plastic jar of mayonnaise.

Appalled by the incredible lameness of the present, I dared not show on my face the crushing disappointment I felt. Instead, I said with an exaggerated smile of delight:

“This is exactly what I wanted! I’m saving it for the orgy later.”

New Year’s Resolutions.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these end-of-the-year desperate attempts to decide firmly on a course of action to either do, or not do, something (most commonly to change habits, patterns, and behaviors) will be made every year by billions of people all over the world. Even though many of us know from past experience that, for most people, these resolutions have a low probability of being honored and a high probability of being broken or ignored or forgotten.

So, why do we proclaim our intentions to better ourselves at the beginning of a “New Year” instead of just making incremental positive changes over the course of 365 days — or even more generally, over the course of a lifetime?

Why do temporal landmarks—like birthdays and holidays, and the start of a week, a month, or a year—motivate aspirational behavior?

What makes us think that a calendar date has any relevance whatsoever to the success of making profound changes in our lives?

The key to answering those questions about resolutions can be found by understanding the connection between the root causes of procrastination, temporal landmarks, and something called “the fresh start effect.”

Even though a temporal landmark, such as a birthday or a new year, is a social construct, it is perceived by most people to be the beginning of a distinctly new cycle—analogous to the transition of winter into spring, with all the expectant metaphors of death and rebirth. This seems like the perfect time and opportunity for many people to jettison bad habits and set positive goals that will create the best version of the person they see when they look in a mirror.

And, when a person pairs their life changing goals with a temporal landmark, they are essentially wishing and willing their past and present self to die and begin the process of distancing themselves from those selves by creating a list of ingredients [resolutions] that will give them a fresh start to become a newly reborn better future self.

And what is the number one obstacle to change? It’s procrastination, of course.

You can say you want to start losing weight tomorrow, or quit smoking a pack of cigarettes a day starting on Monday, or stop drinking a bottle of wine every night starting on January 1, but it ain’t gonna happen if you keep procrastinating and postponing yours goals for another day.

Procrastination is the enemy of self-growth and evolution. It’s the invisible golem on your shoulder that will give you a dozen or more reasons why you shouldn’t even attempt to do something that, deep down to your core being, you know you should do to survive and thrive. “Why bother,” the golem says. “You will probably fail.” And if that’s not enough to discourage you: “You’re a perfectionist and results may vary so what’s the point. You’re depressed and depressed people lack motivation. You’re indecisive, you have poor time management skills, you don’t prioritize, you’re full of anxiety, you have health issues, you have ADHD, and blah blah blah.”

Do not listen to the procrastination golem. It is a Frankenstein’s monster of your own creation. You brought it into existence and you can take it out. Visualize it, slap a piece of duct tape over its mouth, and destroy it. Go nuclear, if that’s what it takes to annihilate your inner critic and primary obstacle to positive self-change and growth.

By the way, when most people proclaim their resolutions, they are not simply stating their intentions to a broader audience—it is actually a cry for help. These people are asking others for accountability because they are self-aware enough to know they lack the willpower or motivation to ignore the negative nattering of their personal procrastination golems and keep their promises to themselves, if they keep their resolutions to themselves.

So, my advice to you, my friends, is to set your goals and make your resolutions and proclaim them for others to read — and forget about using calendar dates as temporal landmarks.

Our lives are not measured in birthdays and “new” years, they’re measured in heartbeats. And the average number of heartbeats we have is approximately sixty to a hundred beats every minute, a hundred thousand beats every day, and about thirty-five million beats in a year.

Resolve to make each one of those heartbeats a beat shift in the through line of your life and a step forward in the exact direction you want to take yourself.

We’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty.

One would think the range of a telemarketer’s reach would have a limit, but 336 Journal has received a report from the other side that dispels this notion, according to one irate spirit.

Most of us have received the notorious robocall regarding an extended warranty on our car. This scam has been around since 2007, and memes about it have been shared online in social media spaces since 2016. But, until recently, only living people have been targeted.

“These people are relentless,” the spirit (whom I contacted via Ouija board) tells me. “And now it seems they can reach you anywhere—even in Hell.”

His claim seems farfetched, and I say so, but he bangs his fists on the table with fury.

“I have friend—a demon who shall remain nameless because naming her will summon her to Earth—that is routinely interrupted by telemarketers while she’s torturing damned souls! This is a real problem for everyone.”

The spirit apologizes for his outburst.

“Look, I was a confused and angry spirit when I first crossed over. A real poltergeist. The kind that would knock books off shelves and shake beds. But, I’ve mellowed over the decades and I’ve finally accepted my demise. I just want to enjoy my afterlife without being dragged back into petty issues that plague the living.”

I ask the spirit if he even owned a car when he was alive. Judging by his appearance and clothing, I’d guess he expired sometime at the end of the 19th century.

“Oh yes, I had one of the earliest models built by Karl Benz,” he says, perking up with the memory. “I bought it with my life’s savings in the late 1800s.”

“Did you purchase an extended warranty?”

The spirit laughs bitterly and tells me there was no such thing in his day. And, besides, he says, “That car was a death trap!”

I ask if he died in his car.

“Are you kidding? I died of pneumonia, like almost everyone else in those days.”