Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Your Bike Signora!

When Christopher Morley, the American poet said “ The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets” , I’m pretty sure he wasn’t including those residing in Rome. The odes of Keats would have contained more references to being shoved into flower stalls than unrequited love, if he had ever chosen to cycle around the centre as I have in the last year. 

Apart from the fact that cycling across the ‘san pietrini’ cobbled streets rythmically shakes your bike to pieces, cyclists are thoroughly unwelcome. Pedestrians glare at you like you really are the proverbial last straw and drivers hurl Shakespearean threats if you dare to stray into their trajectory for more than a second. A classic Roman threat from behind the wheel is “ Mortacci tua” which means “death to your family and all who know you”, enough to have kept Emily Bronte and her sisters off two wheels had they ever come to Rome.

As I push my bike out of my building every morning, the first challenge that awaits me is: how do I actually reach the road?  A row of car bumpers encroaches on the path where I stand amidst scooters chained to trees. More scooters are crammed, tighter than door wedges into spaces between cars.  A zebra crossing won’t ensure my escape as it would in England, where few would risk parking within 10 metres of a crossing, apart from in the early hours, stopping for emergency cash at an ATM.  In Rome, zebra crossing means free long-stay car park as circling traffic wardens are only qualified to issue fines to those whose pay and display tickets have run out. Echelon parking on a zebra provides two comfortable spaces, coins  are then fed into the nearest bar for a quick espresso before work.

 As a new Roman, I accept the situation and head for the nearest restaurant where waiters are busily setting up the roadside outdoor seating area for lunch. I drag my bike through the upturned tables and  “funghi”, (large mushroom-shaped outdoor heaters). Finally, like a thoroughbred about to win the National, I’m up and over the box-hedge boundary of the eating terrace and out into the road, slaloming through the stationary queue of cars and dodging the on-coming nun foot traffic that is rife in Rome. At last I'm romping to work, a ladder in my tights but Anglo-saxon punctuality still firmly within my grasp. 

A note for visitors to Rome:  Don’t trot along behind lost tourists.  Atac Metrebus are now hiring bikes with thunderous bells that propel pedestrians right up into the air. They are a much faster alternative to the incomprehensibly unreliable, even by Roman standards, public transport system Atac traditionally provides in Rome. Alternatively, the “Biciclettara”, a Roman Signora stationed in Piazza del Popolo on white garden furniture, will hire you a bone-shaker by the hour, no questions asked. She has precious little sense of time and is a fan of “ Roman forfait”, which means she will invent a price much lower than anything you might have calculated on return of her bike.  Predictably and shamefully, there are no bike lanes in central Rome so if you don’t possess a fearless heart, the splendid Borghese Gardens are just off Piazza del Popolo.   Otherwise, head towards Campo dei Fiori or Trastevere via the backstreets parallel to Via del Corso but remember, Amsterdam might be cycling heaven but Rome is closer to Dante’s inferno when you are pedalling and I’m willing to bet Dante never got on a bike here either.
TO POSTS VIA FEED. Ice cream's on me in Rome!

No comments:

Post a Comment