Thursday, June 07, 2007

Riding a Bike in Rome

(Thought this was a fitting topic coming off of yesterday's post featuring The Fat Cyclist!)

Have you ever seen the movie Bicycle Thieves (also translated as The Bicycle Thief)? A classic of neorealism from the late 1940s, many of the key scenes were filmed in Porta Portese. You may know Porta Portese for its famous Sunday flea market, but its true heart and soul are the back-alley bicycle and scooter helmet/accessory stalls that are there day in, day out.

Alessandro and I each have a bike, but for over a year they've been sitting idle in our entry hallway on their poor little "gomme bucate" (tires with holes in them). When I worked in an office here I used to ride my bike to work, and frankly I was missing the convenience of tooling around the center and running errands on my bike. So one Saturday a couple weekends ago, we decided to wheel our tired biciclette over to Porta Portese and see what could be done about the situation.

Now, Porta Portese on Sunday is a crazy place, and one of these days I'll get a post up about it. But please don't underestimate Porta Portese on a regular old day. You're coming up against the cream of the crop of "Romani di Roma" (real Romans). The accent is thick and the salesmanship is... man, those guys are good. You like to barter and bargain? Perfect. You'll get a good workout here.

We wheeled our bikes up to "Box" 3, Bicycle Repairs, and told the man we needed our tires repaired. He rattled off the figure of €60 to replace the inner tubes and tires on Ale's bike, and the inner tubes on mine (tires still good). Ale tried for €50 but since I'm an impatient wuss when it comes to bargaining down, I made the mistake of opening my big mouth too soon and saying that €60 was fine. I was completely unprepared for what we were coming up against. Maybe the actual value/cost is around €40, but so be it. The owner was beaming, a neon sign on his forehead practically flashing in hot pink: "My lucky day, a naive foreigner!" Because once I had said it was ok... well, how do you recover from that?

Sighing, I explained to the man that I'm no good at bargaining (this confession being the first, most obvious proof of such). He said that an American woman had come by just the other day by herself, and he spent "mezza giornata" (half the day) bargaining with her, as she kept telling him her "marito" (husband) would only allow her to spend X and she wasn't leaving until that was the price. He smiled wistfully. You could see that he had truly enjoyed the "battle."

Bravissima! But that's not me.

Anyhoo, our bikes were quickly repaired and ready for the road. While we were waiting we saw these electric scooters at the stall next door:

We asked the guy how much they cost and he told us €200, and when we asked if he sold those too, he said, "Ma no, siamo ciclisti noi... quelli sono solo gioccattoli." (No way, we're cyclists here, those are just toys.) Fatty would have surely appreciated the "we're serious cyclists" comment, seeing as how this man had a belly to rival that of Santa Claus. Then we all agreed that something like that parked on a Rome street wouldn't last long in the hands of the owner anyway, so it wasn't worth it whatever the price.

Now, back on the road. You can tell me what you think, but sometimes I feel that riding a bike in Rome is more dangerous than a scooter. The problem is that with all the tourists, staying on the sidewalks isn't usually an option, and without mirrors or turn signals, it's hard to keep an eye on the traffic around you or keep others aware of you. Then there's the fact that no matter how fast you pedal, you're probably not going to keep up with even the saddest-looking example of a moped, even if it happens to be an old Piaggio Ciao from the 70s (which itself has pedals, strangely enough---I guess in case you needed to help it along).

So that's why I'm the girl with the red helmet.

Yes, yes, I wear a helmet here. I stick out like a sore thumb. The first day I rode my bike around my neighborhood, I felt like a proud 5-year old, with all the Trasteverini in front of their shops making funny comments like "Ehi, bella, mi piace il casco!" Hey cutey, love the helmet! Etc., etc. I just smiled and waved. I am OK with looking like a dork here in Rome. I've accepted by now the fact that I'm never going to blend in completely, so I figure the helmet only adds to my overall charm, my "foreign mystique," if you will.

Tourists can rent bikes to take a spin, but that's more in the areas like the Spanish Steps. In fact, the other day walking down Via del Tritone I saw this contraption:

But, Porta Portese? Custom-designed for locals. If you're not from around here, be sure to bring your bargaining hat, because you'll need it!

Here's my bike at home sweet home, my front door (yes, the people eating at the restaurant look at me funny too).


Anonymous said...

ciao shelly sono emanuele quando puoi fammi un squillo..
un abbraccio grande da teleradiostereo

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

The Bicycle Thief is one of my favorite movies.

I went to the Sunday market during my first trip to Rome and was so overwhelmed. The market is huge.

Valerie said...

Shelley, I am absolutely hopeless at bargaining, too. But I'm afraid you were suckered good! We just replaced the inner tube and tire on my bici and it cost a whopping 15 euro!!

The bicycle built for 4 looks like fun, though!

FinnyKnits said...

Dude, I'd never make it. I suck ass at bargaining. I just want to get in and get out. I definitely don't see the "fun" in it. Oh well.

Meanwhile, I love your embracing of Foreign Mystique. And it IS quite charming. I think about my Roman friend living here in CA who still dresses in his "euro-wear" (as he calls it) and it makes him all the more lovable.

BTW: We have those electric scooters at work to ride from building to building. I have only taken it once, and they're FAST.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

AHO'!! A'Manuè! N'do c***o sei annato?? ;-) Quest'è la versione romana di me, si chiama Shellina, o forse meglio Shellaccia. Ho appena buttato i marshmallows xchè pensavo eri sparito per sempre, mi dispiace... lacrima...sta scendendo lentamente...violino...oddiodio...

NYC: I know! I remember you commenting on that once. I love it too. Definitely DID shed a tear on that one, but worth it. Plus I LOVED seeing all the local places and going "I know where that is" or "it still looks just like that!"

Val: I knew I got taken. But oh well. I'm prepared for next time, if there is one... usually in Rome that's the way it goes, learning your lessons can be expensive. But did you change the stuff yourself? I would pay at least €20 per bike just to not have to go through the hassle of doing that. I know, I am a sissy!!! Capital S!

Fin: See, now this is something new about you. I would have figured you were the QUEEN of bargaining. (New word for you in Italian: "trattare") Ah, such relief. And I remember those scooters, remember how we wanted to ride one but I think there weren't helmets, so, we couldn't, or something? Next time!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I'm glad you wear your helmet... I truly appreciate your brain and what it produces and I'd be very sorry if you weren't lucid enough to continue writing for us all.

What the heck is that contraption the girls are riding/driving/operating? Does something like that need to be licensed? Do they rent them? It looks like the frame to a Model A... kind of, with no skin. And bicycle tires. Whahuh? ...just a little bit weird. What were they looking at?

I love that you give us so many tips and inside scoops... it'll be good to kind of know the ropes when I get there, thanks almost completely to you.


avery said...

I love that movie The Bicycle Theif! And the vintage scenes of Porta Portese are great. I have debated this one back and forth for quite some time and I think I have to agree motorinos are safer than bikes in Rome. Rome isn't Amsterdam and motorists really are in too much of a hurry- they could care less if they pass within one centimeter of you. And riding on the sidewalks really isn't an option. You have to be super cautious and brava for the helmet. We should go riding together sometime!

Anonymous said...

Brava for wearing a helmet! i wouldn't face the mean roman streets without one. better safe than sorry, right? i was told it's illegal to ride bikes on sidewalks...

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Scarlett: Grazie! I know, I feel the same way... also, I had a friend who had a bad head injury in a bike accident in a very cyclist-friendly town (Flagstaff, AZ) and he was in the hospital for like 2 months, and the first thing he said when I went to visit is: "Don't ever ride your bike without a helmet." I haven't forgotten that!

Avery: I will take you up on your offer any time, just let me know!

Anon: Yep, it probably is illegal, who really knows for sure around here... most of what drivers are doing on the road is probably illegal, no? LOL - or RAV (Ridendo ad alta voce... why not have this acryonym in Italian? ;-))

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Scarlett: I forgot to answer your question... first, I have no idea what that four-person contraption is. That was the first time I'd ever seen it, and I had to laugh because that does NOT belong on Roman streets. And, as to what they are looking at... I have no idea.. in fact, I didn't even notice that til I downloaded the photo. And I'm 99% sure they didn't see me taking the photo (I know, I shouldn't be so sneaky, oh well). Maybe they were watching the traffic light? BOH!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Thanks Shelley!

That was just too weird not to have a million questions. Very gracious of you to answer them!


jessica said...

your helmet is a nice sleek one, protecting your sweet little head.
i was also looking at that picture of the tourists looking at something...but what? maybe there was a sound?