October 2011
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Month October 2011

Mangio la Bicicletta

Looking for a used bicycle online in Florence was useless. I found a few new bike shops walking the city but they were more for fancy road bikes. A friend suggested looking for a sign-less bike shop walking up Via dei Serragli in the afternoon. I did and sure enough there was a tidy corner shop lined with old bikes. The man at the bike stand in the middle of the room was working patiently at a derailer hanging off a beat up frame.

Not knowing the language makes beginning any interaction very awkward. I had learned just a few days ago that I had been greeting everyone at all times of day with a hearty, “good morning!” So after standing in the doorway gawking at the bikes,  at least I knew to greet the bike mechanic with a time appropriate, “buonasera.”

I pointed to a bike on the wall, an old Campagnolo branded one, and thanks to a short Italian lesson from Chris was able to grunt, “quanto costa?”  The guy raised an eyebrow and said something while gesturing with four fingers. Only forty Euro!? I thought, a great price!

“Sì, sì,” I said, taking out my wallet and patting myself on the chest like a fool, “I’ll buy it, yes.”

The man smirked, shook his head and said four something and “originale,” while gesturing four and then wrote on a small piece of paper, 4-0-0.  Ah.

Then I pinched the air like I was squeezing something (like the price) down to be smaller and looked around pointing at other bikes. He showed me some newer looking ones, but there was one ratty red one in the shop that I liked the look of. Lugged frame, flat tires, probably too tall for me, perfect.

I quanto accosted him again and was pretty sure he said sixty euro, which sounded like a fair price. Again I patted my chest and took out my wallet. He looked at me over his glasses. This is the universal response to dealing with an idiot who does not know what is going on. If some one looks over their glasses  at you it communicates the doubt that person holds for your ability to make it in the world.  He then left the shop and walked out into the street.

He called out to a younger man walking past who then came over laughing at me. They had a brief conversation and the younger man turned to me and explained in English, “It’s sixty euro for that bike, but the tires are flat. It’s late and he doesn’t want to work on it today, but come back tomorrow at 11 and it’ll be ready.” I agreed, thanked them both, and felt equally proud  and embarrassed for myself. But I can live with that, because today I’m riding around the streets of Firenze on my new bike with a foolish grin on my face.

Road Trip to Saturnia

Maybe you’re waiting in a tiny laundromat for your clothes to dry and you strike up a conversation with the couple of people in there with you. That might lead to a lunch at il Raddi a delicious little hole in the wall restaurant that serves a plate of pasta al pomodoro for €2.50. That conversation may stretch out for two hours. Maybe you’ll be told of a beautiful hot spring in south Tuscany called Saturnia. Maybe that leads you and three co-conspirators to rent a car and drive down for a night.

Travelers make friends fast.

It took us much longer to get down to the hot spring than we had planned.  A Helikoser from San Francisco, Ramshackle Nikolas, drove while fellow American Chelsea, Aussie Izzy and I contributed by being terrible navigators. We took the scenic route, a road that is equally winding and beautiful so we stopped a lot along the way. That meant we got to scramble around on the stone walls of San Quirico d’Orcia, picking figs and peeking past garden gates.

We found ourselves a spot on the top of a hill to see the sunset over a misty valley and stargazed at the entrance to an electric candle lit graveyard. We knew we were on the right road to the hot spring and followed the a sign but somehow missed it and had to perform a 10 point turn under a bridge at a golf course. We retraced our route and asked a man at the restaurant at the edge of town. “Just down the road there, you can’t miss it,” he said.

It was something like nine o’clock when we finally found it. Jupiter and the full moon lit the natural mineral pools, already moon white, in a beautiful pale light. Before we dipped in Nicolas and I made some very ugly sandwiches—without the modern convenience of a knife—and we all devoured them before lugging our bottiglia di vino down to the edge and slipped into the water.

It was a really charming spot. I’d definitely go again, though the water was about ten degrees cooler that I had expected and my clothes all smell like Yellowstone now. We cruised back to Firenze on the fast road through Siena and got back to the car rental place with a half hour to spare.

More photos here.

Florence is a Dream

One night after class, a few of us walked through the narrow flagstone streets to the Piazza della Signoria where one of the David statues stands. It’s a clichéd sentiment but totally true: I felt like I was walking through a picture book or a movie set. It was so overwhelmingly beautiful and romantic and perfect the city seemed unreal. I imagined the buildings as giant painted flats and that I might find myself behind the scene, able to kick out their wooden supports and see them fall with a whoosh and a puff of dust. But nope, they’re made of impossible stone.


Buongiorno Firenze

More here!

And Angers

Oh yeah! We made it to Angers just fine, but I didn’t have internet except for a frantic half hour to book my train ticket to Florence.

Alyx’s host family is a very friendly and supremely helpful. They didn’t bat an eye at my being here and let me stay on a surprisingly restful pull out couch for two nights. They’ve been hosting foreign students for four years and have everything pretty well sorted.

Meeting their two sets of twins (boys 8, and girls 10) brought me right back to elementary school aged me, equally shy and curious, meeting Marco and our other exchange students. Being ignorant, I shook their little hands, but the kids insisted on greeting Alyx in the French way with two little kisses.