my love affair with... a Bike
It all started in a small, yet very cultural Italian city called Lecce. Large, wide streets paved with white-creamish blocks of stone ("la pietra leccese"), baroque arhitecture on churches and old manor houses with huge mysterious gardens... and the specific, yet distinct, tranquility of the South of Italy. Mornings were late, afternoons were mellow and the streets were almost free of people, evenings were populated but people were still at leisure, relaxing... not looking for a good time, but letting the good times find them!
I was an Erasmus student on a scholarship there. The Italian lifestyle took some time to get used to, but it rubbed off on me eventually. I was walking the streets, waking up late, the cornetto in the morning, doing the nap thing, the late brunch, the 5 o'clock cappucino, the parties or just the terace cocktails...the sangria...man oh man...did I get used to the sangria ;P
School was easy, it didn't keep me up nights so I decided to make the most of my time there, to try out all there was to try, all that I could never really do back home. I worked as a waitress for extra cash, I worked as a substitute English teacher for highschoolers, I went on trips around the south coast, I swam in the Adriatic sea on the 27 of november and I never missed a party or a social event with the other Erasmus kids. I was too young and the town was too small to rent a car, but I have always wanted to have my own bicycle. To be able to ride my bike through the city was my greatest wish. And that was just the one thing missing...through those small and large streets where traffic was off limits...A bike! I kept looking at people riding their bikes by me...they looked so peaceful and relaxed. It was almost as if they were floating. It was so easy and fun to ride a bike in Lecce... Lecce was such a small town, that a bike was enough to get you anywhere. Even the beach was 1/2 hour bike ride away. A bike would have been exactly what I needed to get to school, to get to the beach, to get anywhere ...and a lovely, non-polutant means of transportation. I would finally be able to say I do my part to protect the enviroment too!
I had seen an add for it in the local newspaper: mountain bike, hardly used. The owner lived in a nearby town. I worked my butt off to save up around 30 euros and a good friend drove me to the town where IT was waiting for me. It was owned by a lady with a huuuge amount of cats. I wasn't sure what she was really into : a homemade petshop or restoring bikes to sell them off. We struck a deal and she even told me I could take a cat as a bonus for my bike...Now that's what I call a bonus!!! 8-)
And what a bike it was!
It was love at first sight and more than a half a year of beautiful coexistance! Me and my bike - a dream come true!!!...Sometimes a ride thorugh town on it, with my walkman on, was all I needed to lift my spirits! We discovered new streets together, the smallest parking places, the coolest shops, the best spots on the beach, the towns best kept secrets. I sometimes burdened the poor thing with lots of shopping bags or clothes...but she didn't mind...she's be ready and willing to help me out with anything. If I was late for school...she'd speed up, if I was worried about going too fast, she'd slow down. She took me to the beach, to my favourite little square with a crouched up statue of a soldier and just silently stood by me as I smoked a cigarette! It was life on the fast line, or a quiet suburban existance...that mountain bike could do wonders or could just be normal. We were inseperable! I even took her even to the shop around the corner...that was a 2 minute walk away!
Time came for me to go back home though...I wanted so much to take her with me, but Bucharest is a big, busy city, full of traffic; it has nothing to do with Lecce. For most people here "la dolce vita" would translate into a 30 minute coffee break at a nearby cafe . There's no time to do more, there's no air to breathe and no driver struck in traffic would ever give my little companion the time of day. They'd start cursing her off the road as soon as she'd start showing her old age. That bike was a part of me in Lecce, it was meant for Lecce, it was meant to make someone happy and give someone the sense of freedom and that fulfilling, superior feeling in a small town. It wasn't an ilusion. It was one of the simple things that life there offered and that you actually had time to enjoy! I had to leave it behind.
I had made a friend in bike shop that would give her ol' tires a pump now and then. He offered me 20 dollars for her. I had to sell it, eventhough it broke my heart. The man in the shop said she still had a few good years in her. That was sooo true. She gave me a really good year!
I would have given her to one of my friends, but all my Italian friends had cars or motorcycles and all my Erasmus friends had left for home already. And besides, she was a valuable piece...I couldn't just give her away. I found myself asking the man in the bike shop to take good care of her as if I was living a kid over, for someone to babysit. I got my money and walked away. It was the very last thing I did in Lecce, just the morning I left for home. I got one more quick at the whole city, creamy white, the beautiful piatra leccese, those funny baroque saints and angels wishing me off. It all become a blur. My eyesight got clouded. I shut my eyes and tried to keep a fresh picture of Lecce and my bike alive inside.
My parents had come to pick me up in a posh, shiny car. I got in the car, and shut the door behind me... and before I knew it, I was travelling in a different way...at a totally different speed. ...we drove all across Italy to get home! Austria, Hungary, then the border...
It's a good thing that car took me out of Italy because Italy is meant to be travelled by bike...and bike only!