Thursday, May 26, 2011

How Did You Get this Job?

The question comes up almost every day, serving as a constant reminder of destiny's power and how fortunately life brought me here.  Usually while I am leading a starry eyed group.  They are riding behind me.  As the Tuscan landscape opens up in front of us there is a sudden silence behind me, followed by oohs and aahs.  And then the did you get this job?  They have read and heard of fairy tale tuscany,  and for most of them, this is the first time they are seeing it.

There isn't a day that goes by that I am not asked this question, by bewildered people of every age and walk of life.  Students, honeymooners, mothers, grandmothers, people who have had fleeting visions of Tuscany provoked by a book or a movie.  They all wonder how did I get here, how did I get this job. 

Shall I tell them that being a senior executive in America's largest financial institution for 27 years was a prerequisite?  Ironic, but true.  And impossible to explain.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Riding up to Monte Senario on My Day Off

Today on my day off, I pedaled north to my my favorite place, Monte Senario. A completely traffic-free ride to a peaceful, spiritual place that feels like a ride to heaven. Rolling hills lead to a steep climb that ends up in a pine forest, and then like a spectacle, the monastery appears in front of you, peacefully detached from the world. The photos show the ride as it develops from Florence, through Fiesole, Bvigliano and then Monte Senario. The Lamborghini was right in front of me as I arrived back in Florence, welcoming me back to reality!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Betting on the Giro d'Italia

The Giro d'Italia has begun and this is the first time in 14 years that I am not able to spend hours glued to my T.V. watching the race or planning a road trip to follow it live in Italy.  Boo-hoo!  Instead, I am working guiding bike tours for I Bike Italy while the Giro d'Italia is in progress.  Ironic that I am so close and yet so far from the all the action!

Andrea, Steven and Jacobo are Vespa tour guides who have taught me how to "bet Italian style".  They work for the same tour operator, so I see them every day at lunch, since their tours eat at the same winery.  At lunchtime, while our clients are taking a tour of the villa, the four of us jump in the van and drive to the betting agency in San Casciano, where they bet on soccer and I bet on the day's Giro stage! 

Sports betting is a big business in Italy, it's completely legal (of course the government takes most of the profits) and it's administered through a chain of agencies that are set up in local neighborhoods. People gather there to watch the games, read and talk about the odds, and place their bets.  They are similar to the Off Track Betting agencies that operate in a few of the United States.  While most people go to bet on soccer, you can bet on any sport that is current, such as horse racing, car racing and the Giro d'Italia!

Although I have been missing it on T.V., I've been keeping up with it on-line and today I downloaded the IPhone Giro application which I can follow while on the road. Yesterday I bet on Nibali winning the Mt. Etna stage, and so far, I haven't won a Euro yet! 

The Giro has really changed in the last couple of years.  It has become more commercial in it's televised presentation.  I enjoyed it better in the old days and I miss the old champions who made it so exciting.  Well, betting on the Giro is one way to get myself involved and to learn more about the new rising stars who will be tomorrow's great legends. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Did You Get This Job?


The year is flying and the tourist season is in full swing.  Today I guided my 40th bike tour of the year.  You would think that doing the same thing on the same course every day would become monotonous, but quite the contrary. I am sitting in the best office chair, in the world's most spectacular office. Sharing my elation and appreciation of intoxicating Tuscany, its history, its flora, its secrets and its bounty with fascinating clients from all over the world is a heady experience.

Spring in Tuscany is phenomenal. Experiencing it and seeing it evolve from a bike is incredible. I'm getting attached to the land more and feel like a permanent part of the environment. The people are endlessly interesting. On my route I've made friends with cyclists and people from the towns I pass through every day. My route feels like my kingdom. I watch Tuscany change daily....every day there is something new sprouting out of the ground. Today lilacs, the next day buttercups, artichokes, finocchio, and then the red and orange poppies appear, and later in the season capers, lavender, rosemary and sage. I have never seen so many varieties of wildflowers.

Spring is at its height.  Tuscany is now covered by a lush carpet of flowers.  The swallows are back singing out my window at home. Young birds tweet all over the place. I pass little old ladies picking wildflowers on a country lane, I watch the grapevines going from dead to sprouting new leaves every day. The perfume of flowers in the air is exhilirating, first the lilacs, then the honeysuckle.  The tiglio flowers, my favorites, are starting to bud on the trees and I cannot wait for them to burst and share their fragrance. The olive trees look like people to me, every one of them is different.  They look like they are dancing, with their arms gracefully swaying in the air, and the color of their leaves changing from blue to silver, to green, depending on the sun and clouds.

After a day of "work", I get shuttled into Florence where I get on my city bike and ride back home over the Ponte Vecchio, through Piazza Signoria and I always thank God. I know that this could all end tomorrow and I never forget that. One year ago my future was in question because I experienced a major illness.  I am thankful to be alive. I have lived my dream. If it lasts longer than this, I am blessed. Life has taken me here. Home in heaven.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My New Old Bike

Well, I knew it would happen sooner or later. My pretty little blue bike, (photo left) which was probably stolen many times before it became mine, was stolen a few days ago. I was fortunate to have kept it for so long, almost a year, beating the average by 6 months. I knew that my days were numbered, but it was my fault. I always attach my bike to a pole in my piazza, which is lit up at night. But this time I locked it up outside my apartment, neglecting to wrap the chain around a pole. I live in a pedestrian zone where cars are not permitted on the streets, so someone actually carried the bike away, chain lock and all. When I woke up it was gone.

It reminded me of the brand new beautiful three-speed Raleigh English racer that I received for my 12th birthday. It was stolen in front of my school in Brooklyn where I left it unattended for less than a few minutes. Since then I have been overly protective of my bikes to the point that I have a tent large enough to fit me and my bike when I go on bike/camping tours. I guess I have become lax. I like to think that's because I am more relaxed, as I become more and more Italian.

Turning over bikes is quite a business racket in Florence. I wonder how much money changes hands. You need a chain that weighs several pounds and a gigantic lock. Thieves are all over the place at this time of year because every tourist wants a bike, even if for just a few days, and there are swarms of tourists everywhere in the past few weeks, it is like a gallactic invasion. Unfortunately it is the tourists who ride their bikes wrecklessly through the streets, rudely ringing their bells to warn people to get out of their way, disrespecting the peace and tranquility of those who live here.

When I realized my bike was gone, I hurried down the block to see Franco, the neighborhood bike mechanic who buys and sells used (ahem..stolen?) bikes. He "put his order in" so to speak, and I had another old bike, (photo left) within 3 days. It's not as cute as my old blue one, but it serves the purpose. No matter how careful I am to lock it up, it too, will disappear. I wonder how long this one will last.