So last week my host counselor finally called me and we met up again. He has been terribly busy, which means that I don’t really get to see him much. However, he did invite me to a Rotary meeting during which they were helping inaugurate a new self defense school, the first one in Florence to date. First things first, the story of the bicicletta (“bee-chee-clay-tah” = bicycle):
So there I was, hurrying over to Piazza della Liberta, late by German standards but perfectly on Italian time. I met Nicola and his lovely American-turned-Italian wife, Simonetta. Simonetta is beautiful, tall, thin, and blond, and is a delightfully refreshing fusion of the best of both worlds. She is always well-dressed and well-groomed, even at her most casual, yet has a natural grace that is often forced in Italian women. Having lived here for the better part of her life, she has fully embraced the spirit of Italy. You will see where this comes into play. So Nic, Sim, and I step into their favorite bar for a pastry and a coffee before going to the garage to find the bike. I chose a specialty of the house, a pastry filled with sweetened ricotta, and grab a caffe macchiato (literally, “stained coffee”– it is basically a shot of espresso “stained” with a dash of milk, and then topped with some foam… always my drink of choice no matter the hour) at the bar. Sim, on the other hand, chooses a smaller pastry, but takes two cappuccini– the Italian breakfast of champions– at the bar. I take mental notes so next time I can blend more. The bar is abuzz with frantic, zombie-like locals who woke up late on this gorgeous Saturday morning and need their caffeine-boost PRONTO! I am awkward and unsure of whether to squeeze in somewhere or take my cup and pastry and make room for others. I stay at the bar, finish my coffee quickly, and then try to reconnect with Nic and Sim amidst all the confusion. Everyone finishes, Nic pays, and we leave. They have brought their dog, who I find instantly adorable so I give him a sweet little pat on the head. Sim warns me not to get too close with my face, as he has been known to bite. I decide I don’t like him anymore. They got him from Nic’s uncle, who passed away a few years ago. No one else in the family would take him, so instead of putting him in a shelter Nic and Sim agreed. He is old and extremely stubborn, and goes where he pleases in spite of the tuggings and beggings and yellings of his mistress. Nic decides to have a soft spot for him when on a whim he jumps up onto a wall to sniff around a little, even though he almost pulls Sim along with him. This soft spot will not last long, however. So we enter the garage where this bike has been sitting for ages. It belongs to a lady who works for Nic, but she has taken ill and is no longer able to ride it. At long last we find it, after doing a few detours with the dog who drags Sim wherever he wants, and to and fro she follows as if she were staring in some brilliant comedic performance. I keep my laughs to myself, but Nic is completely unaware of the confusion because he is on a mission! So we find the bike, call the lady to confirm that it is indeed the right one, and Nic proceeds to unlock it. The key doesn’t fit the first time, so he tries again and again and again, as if sheer strength of will could make the too-small key grow to fit perfectly in the grooves of the lock. Meanwhile Sim is yelling and flaring her arms at the latest atrocious thing the dog has attempted to do, but he just regards her with total apathy. She mutters to me that he is going both deaf and blind, but I think to myself that he is simply going apathetic. She is yelling at Nic to hurry up and he is yelling that the key won’t fit, so she goes over and snatches the keys to try it herself. Of course they still don’t fit, and after another 3-4 attempts she gets her phone out and calls the owner. Meanwhile Nic is re-attempting, and Sim is chattering away in flawless Italian, all the while trying to control this beast of a dog. I am grinning ear-to-ear, confident that they are both too engrossed in their labors to regard me. 10 minutes of confusion pass, and finally Nic decides to take it to a bicycle shop to get the lock cut off. We agree that this is a reasonable course of action, only there is a problem: the kickstand is positioned in such a way that the pedal cannot turn. If the pedal cannot turn, neither can the rear wheel, which means either dragging a bicycle (did I mention that it is pink??) 1/4 mile to the nearest shop, or carrying it. Sim and Nic chatter at each other while she tries to keep the dog from laying down in the middle of all the bikes (and thus knocking them all over), and meanwhile he is growing red in the face trying to force the bike against its will (and the will of the universe) to function. The tension is rising between the two of them, escalates into a minor outburst of complete frustration, and at last Nic decides to try dragging it. He makes it to the stairs of the garage, picks it up to carry it, and we all follow. Only the dog refuses to go up the stairs, so Sim drags him with all her might until he stumbles and thus ascends to the first platform. However, he decides that he has had ENOUGH, and lays down. So here I am, in between a very well-dressed, middle-aged man dragging a little pink bike up the stairs and an elegant woman tugging with both hands and all her strength and might at the leash of a dog who absolutely refuses to budge. More than a few curse words were flying, and as you can well imagine, it was one of the more hilarious moments of my life.
So Sim takes the dog back downstairs, takes the elevator, and meets us again outside. Nic is still trying to drag the bike, and finally decides that he can lift it up from the seat and roll it on the front wheel. So there we are, crossing the piazza with a “stolen” bike and a triumphant hound, and who do we meet but the police. Bike thefts are extremely common in Florence, so they decide to give Nic a hard time. It is all in jest, because from the look of him he is not a bicycle thief, but the entire scene was just so ridiculous that they felt the need to add to the comedy. We finally make it to the bike shop, get the chain cut off, raise the seat, and then off I go!
I love to walk because I am an extremely curious person. I was not sure how I would feel about having a bike because I didn’t want to miss anything. However, I think I had more fun that Saturday in Florence than I have had thusfar. In an instant a thousand possibilites were opened to me once I could reach the other end of the city in 10 minutes verses an hour on foot. I can go to parts of the city that I never would have gone to before, and then be back in the center or back at home in an instant if I so choose. I feel like a Florentine now, and absolutly could not be more delighted. It is slightly dangerous, however, because instead of taking a 20-minute walk to get ice cream and then walking another 20 minutes back home, I can now make a circle around the city, stopping at every ice cream shop I please. Point-in-fact: I put on a favorite pair of jeans this morning only to discover that they were already getting tight. Even though I was already running late, I decided to leave the bike at home today, put on tennis shoes, and walk to school. I am going to have to re-think this ice-cream tour thing!