Grand Theft Bicycle: A Florentine Tradition – By Andy Shepherd

It only takes a few minutes walking the city of Florence to realise just how important bikes are to the people who live here.  For those of us who own bikes this relatively small city is made even smaller, and even a quick trip to the supermarket can be transformed from a slow, sweltering trudge to a moderately exciting, substantially quicker comute, especially when traditional Italian road laws are observed (i.e. ignoring the legally prescribed direction of the traffic).

The advantages of owning a bike are not limted to mere practicality: the world outside and on the periphery of the city are also opened up, with local gardens, rivers, beaches and trails being substantially easier to reach.  So what do you have to lose?  Go out and buy a bike!

Or don’t…  The truth is you probably won’t have it for more than a few weeks before some ne’re do well with a well equiped tool box rides off into the night with it.

With bike thefts at near comical levels, even serial victims will rarely meet their latest misfortune with anything more than a shrug and a possible, “Oh shit.  My bike got stolen again!”  Then will walk off reluctantly content in the fact that their bike is gone forever, never to be seen again.  Of course, it won’t be that last time the bike hits the streets of the city.  Within a few days it’ll be back with a new owner (and new lock), happily ignorant of the fact that they’re riding a stolen bike, and of the fact that they themselves probably won’t be its last owner.

Having borrowed one of the shiny new bikes we have in our office for a couple of hours last week I felt confident that it wasn’t at risk.  How could it be?  I’m only leaving it locked up here for an hour!  On via dei Benci too, and it’s only 10pm!  Yeah, it’ll be fiiiiinnnneee…  I won’t put any more effort into setting the scene, you know where I’m going with it.

Having lived here for nearly three years, I’ve seen countless instances of friends having their bikes stolen and invariably greeting their discovery with the usual casual acceptance.  However, this was my first personal experience of such a theft.  I returned to the place I locked the bike (in amongst twenty or thirty other bikes, most in various states of disrepair or decomposition) to the (sort of ) shock that the spot I had taken before was now occupied by a completely different bike.  This being my first experience of such an incident, I looked around the area, double checking that I hadn’t made a mistake.  However, I could never muster the confusion and anger that a similar theft in my own country would have caused.  Not that England is any safer you understand, but simply because whether you are a regular victim or not, it is a generally accepted risk of being a bike owner in Florence.

The moral of the story… Don’t get a nice bike!  Crap bikes live longer!  Now I’m going to the hardware store to buy me some bolt cutters… I’m clearly in the wrong business.

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Top Ten: Ways to Be Italian – By Zoe Eager

  1. Always drink your coffee sitting down. Distain Starbucks and American taste in coffee. Loudly.
  2. Remember that traffic lights, stop signs and crosswalks are suggestions only. Obey if you feel like it, but never after 11:00 PM. This is a sign of weakness.
  3. Believe that air conditioning is detrimental to one’s health (unlike, somehow, smoking). It should be avoided at all costs, and foreigners who do not know any better should be educated. Loudly.
  4. Un-gelled hair is naked hair.
  5. The top three buttons of a button-up shirt are for decoration only; no one cool actually buttons them.
  6. Obsessively clean things. Clean things that are already clean. If you’re bored, clean something; if you’re busy and need to procrastinate, clean something.
  7. Eye contact is a non-verbal come on, that, even when accidental, is irrevocable.
  8. The best way to get a date is to stop women in the street with declarations of their beauty. When combined with rule #4 and #5, this method has a zero-fail rate.
  9. Saying “ciao” fewer than four times when saying goodbye to someone does not constitute a proper goodbye.
  10. Never question the discrepancy between meal sizes in Italy: a cappuccino is a complete breakfast in and of itself, whereas a single-course dinner is not a dinner at all.

Apartments and Roomies: A Hunting Guide – By Zoe Eager

I haven’t spent more than a few months at home since I was thirteen years old. Having first gone to boarding school, and then straight to college in Boston before transferring to a university in Scotland, I have been living with at least one other person for the past nine years and believe me, I’ve had far more than my fair share of insane roommates and prison-like living conditions.

Going to boarding school and living communally in a dorm is excellent preparation for college and even better preparation for later life, because not only do you learn normal stuff like how to do your own laundry and how to make yourself study, you learn what you can live with and what you can’t deal with.

Knowing how to differentiate between what you think you want and what you actually want is important. For example, two girls came into the office the other day looking for an apartment, but they kept shooting down every apartment they were shown, no matter how centrally located or affordable, because they had grand visions of a flat where they could throw the kind of amazing parties that they had seen on reruns of The OC. Only one of the properties we had met this criteria, but of course, it wasn’t going for the kind of rate they could afford.

In my experience, you have to go by the 2/3 Rule when apartment hunting as a student like me, or are in a state of similar perma-brokeness. The three main qualities that people look for when hunting for a place to crash are:

Of course there are others, but for students and similar ilk, these come to the fore. You don’t want to be in a place so far from everything you want access to that it’s other benefits aren’t worth the commute; you don’t want a place so hideous that its a horrible place to be, or too broken down to be functional; you don’t want to be so high maintenance that the only places that satisfy you, bankrupt you. My 2/3 Rule is that it’s so rare to find an extremely cheap, extremely beautiful apartment in a great location, that it’s better to either pick the two qualities that you care about the most and focus on those, or go for a mediocre compromise between all three. For example, you can have a cheap apartment in a good location that wont be beautiful or have all the bells and whistles that you’re used to (air conditioning or fast, if any internet access, for example), or you can have a beautiful apartment overlooking the Arno that will cost a mint.

This probably explains why I was living in welfare housing throughout my second year of university in the UK.

But the fact that my flatmate and I were technically living in welfare housing didn’t matter to us; we made it our own in other ways. Sure, the place was so cheaply built that it was more like a large dollhouse than a real apartment and was out in the boondocks of St Andrews, and sure our landlord got unreasonably upset over some things (I can’t tell you the amount of drama that went down over getting her 10-dollar polyester Ikea couch covers cleaned when she realized I had spilled curry sauce on one of them wasn’t happy with their state at the end of the year). But it was ours.

Who you live with really does make all the difference, and the qualities that I thought mattered in a roommate when I first started boarding school at age thirteen (similar music tastes, hobbies, personalities) were not at all what actually mattered when living with someone.

I had thought I would switch to being a day student during my senior year of high school, but backed out and decided to keep living at school at the last minute, a choice that stuck me in the smallest room on the top floor of the dorm, and only one option for my roommate, a girl I had had a few classes with, but never really gotten to know. It could have been a disaster: we hadn’t even really ever spoken to one another besides confirming the problem sets we had to do for math class on occasion, and had next to nothing in common, or so I thought.

It was the roommate equivalent of buying a car, any car, just because you need one, without test driving it first. It was reckless; it was, in all likelihood, stupid.

It was the best year of my life in high school. We had a similar sense of humor, similar slight OCD tendencies, the same work ethic, and the same all-consuming obsession with getting into college. But our differences were what made us perfect for each other. She was a talker, I was a listener; she could pump me up, I could calm her down. And most of the time, we were one ‘thats-what-she-said’ joke away from cracking up laughing.

More importantly, we were both night owls, who studied the most productively between around eleven at night to around two in the morning. Neither of us were possessive people; we didn’t care if the other borrowed clothes without asking, or ate the other’s food, or used the other’s straightener or shampoo or whatever – things, I learned from unhappier roommate pairs in the dorm, that actually do bother a lot of other people.

So when you’re vetting a potential roommate, you have to bear these things in mind.
Do you mind sharing? Do you need your personal space clearly defined and respected? Do you usually stay up late, or wake up early? Do you smoke, or mind others smoking? On a scale from unaffected to forced into a blind rage, how angry would you be if someone ate food you had bought? How uncomfortable would you be if your roommate brought a guest to the house that you didn’t know? Can you work/study if the other person is being noisy? Is the other person noisy?

Et cetera.

All of these guidelines are, obviously, if you’re looking for an apartment together, and aren’t just going off on a some short term jaunt together, in which case you’re probably so excited that you’d be happy to live with Snookie or The Situation (no offense to any die-hard Jersey Shore fans, of course).

Actually, that’s how excited I still am about living in Florence, but you get my meaning; if you’re staying anywhere for an extended period of time, it’s definitely worth while to spend some time thinking about the things that actually matter to you and your quality of life. Think about what will impact it, and what you can live with; think about your ideal scenario, and then make sacrifices to accommodate as close a match to your ideal as you can find or afford.

Don’t sweat the small stuff; I mean, you’re in Italy, right?

Day Trips: Chianti – By Zoe Eager

Tour of a Chianti vineyard

Two Saturdays ago I visited the stunning Chianti wine region for a tour of a vineyard to be followed by a wine and olive oil tasting. I’m only getting around to writing about it now because my legs were still in recovery from the “little walk” that our guides proposed we take through the vineyard.

It was brutal.

But it was completely worth it in terms of the high-quality touristy photos I got to take, and as a workout that, to my mind, gave me free reign to eat as much as I wanted at the gorgeous lunch hosted by the vineyard owner (not to mention the glasses of different wines at the accompanying wine tasting). After a hike through the vineyard itself, my friends and I were led into the wine cellar where we saw how the Chianti blends are made and aged, before getting to actually guzzle taste some for ourselves.

Wine tasting in Chianti. Casual.