by Oreen Scott
If at first you don't succeed, get back up on the scooter and ride again.
|I wanted to visit Italy, Tuscany in particular, and tootle up and down the hills in a Vespa. I’ve been, I’ve returned, and I must go back. I’ve found friends who know how to enjoy life. They eat. They really eat! While they’re eating, they’re drinking wine and chatting into the wee hours of the morning. Mostly, I must return because I’ve left a mission incomplete.
I’d made it to Tuscany, and was temporarily living inside the walls of beautiful, medieval Lucca. I was staying with my friend Alessandra, a young Lucchese woman with a bevy of friends, a zest for life and a heart of gold. The next step, to find a shop that rented scooters.
“How do I find a place to rent a scooter?” I asked.
“Go to the tourist information office” Alessandra said.
“ Where’s that?”
“Easy, just go straight down Fullingo Street through Porta di Santa Maria and into the Piazza, the tourist office will be to your left.”
If I had learned one thing during my stay in Italy, it was that nothing was easy to find. Streets wander into piazzas in mysterious ways. But, it turned out she was right. I had no difficulty finding the tourist office. The person working in the office, like Alessandra and everyone else in Lucca, gave me what she described as simple directions. “Go out the door, turn right, when you get to the road that follows the wall turn left and keep going. You’ll see the scooters.”
Before I came across a lot of scooters, I had arrived at a fork in the road. “Do I take the left road or the right?” I asked myself. I chose the left, and that made all the difference. After three or four blocks, I saw the scooters.
Joe, the proprietor, is an Englishman who’s lived in Lucca for fourteen years. He’s a short, round, cheery guy who was impossible not to like.
“I want to rent a scooter.” I said.
“Do you have something resembling a driver’s license?”
I whipped out my Manitoba Driver’s License in my usual proudly Canadian manner.
“Have you ridden a scooter before?”
“Yes, in Wisconsin.”
All I knew about scooters was that when I’d rented one in Wisconsin the owner of that shop went a little berserk when he discovered I’d never ridden one before. Yet, riding that scooter was a piece of cake and. I thought the Wisconsin shop owner to be anxious and out of sorts for no good reason.
Joe wasn’t the nervous type. After fitting me with a helmet, showing me how to start the bike, use the brake, and put the rest in place when not riding, he sent me on my way.
Simple. I mounted the bike and moseyed along following the wall until I reached a gate. Off I went, into the traffic on my way to the hills, or so I thought. But, I was on my way to nowhere. I crashed, into absolutely nothing. This scooter, as I would eventually realize, was far bigger and had more power than the tiny little moped like scooter in Wisconsin. I had no control. To make matters worse, I’d stalled, forgot all of Joe’s instructions and couldn’t restart the darn thing.
I was holding up traffic and needed to get the scooter and myself off the street. Be that as it may, I didn’t have the strength to lift it up onto the curb. A man and woman strolling along the sidewalk came to my rescue. We managed to get the scooter off the highway. While we stood by the scooter, which was now on a grassy boulevard they chatted in Italian. Through my limited vocabulary, and a great deal of body language I learned neither of them knew anything about scooters. “What, Italians living in Tuscany and they don’t ride scooters?” I kept that thought to myself. As I plotted my next step, a woman riding a scooter came by. I waved her down.
My new acquaintances made a dash for the woman, and the three of them, hands waving, voices raised made plans. I stood alone with the scooter awaiting the verdict. The couple left. The woman on the scooter made a U-turn, drove toward me and stopped.
“Stay here,” she said, as if I could go anywhere. “I need to pick my daughter up from school. I’ll be back in ten minutes.” She continued in almost perfect English.
True to her word, she returned with her daughter-riding shotgun, so to speak. “I’m Gloria. This is Zaria. She’ll be your guide for the afternoon. You’ll come to our house for lunch. No?”
Of course, Gloria was effortlessly able to start the scooter. I’d forgotten that it wouldn’t start unless the brake was engaged.
“I need to find a road without traffic,” I said, while examining the scratches on my rented scooter.
Off we went. Gloria and Zaria in the lead and me somehow keeping up. We found a quiet spot, Gloria went home, and Zaria became my driving instructor. I again fell. “Try my scooter, “ she suggested, because hers was smaller. Down I fell. Then I fell again. Zaria casually pointed out the broken mirror and scratches on her scooter.
“Are you upset?” I enquired.
“No,” was her response. I didn’t believe her. Now I had two scooters that needed repairs.
“Can you ride a bicycle?” she asked.
"Do you have a driver’s license?”
I made it up into the hills that day. Zaria drove. I sat behind her, sometimes clinging for dear life, as she took us along narrow, treacherous, hilly roads that lead to villas and vineyards. It was a lovely day, and Zaria was a charming a guide. Still, I was disappointed because I did not ride solo.
We lunched at Gloria’s house where we ate pasta, meat sauce, salad, cheese, chestnuts, and bread. All washed down with wine. Gloria and her husband Giuseppe have three daughters. Zaria is the oldest. I listened with interested as the two younger girls argued, voices loud, arms flapping and each blaming the other. “My children are, how do you say in English?” “Dramatic.” I said. “Yes, that’s it. “
When I returned the scooter, I confessed my wipe out to Joe. He carefully looked around the bike. “That’s hardly a wipe out. I’m not going to bother fixing this until a real wipe out happens. You’re off the hook. I’m not charging you anything.”
Whew! I felt relief, one scooter down, and one to go. Later in the week, Gloria rolled into Joe’s shop with Zaria’s damaged bike. An old mirror that was lying around the shop, a good cleaning, some paint and presto! The bike looked better than it did before my multiple collisions. My hero Joe charged me a few Euros, and Gloria and I drove off for another dinner with her delightful family. We were anxious to show Zaria her “new” scooter. A delighted Zaria, her sisters and their friends stood for a long while marveling at Joe’s handiwork.
“Two scooters, you damaged two scooters in one day?” Alessandra incredulously sought clarification when I confessed my adventures of a few days before. “So, when you return to Lucca you won’t ride a scooter!” She adamantly proclaimed.
“Yes, I will. I’ll learn how to ride. And I’ll ride up into the hills.”
“You’re crazy,” she said
“I know,“ I responded. And, I had a clear picture in my mind. It would be a beautifully sunny Tuscany day, the hills, a scooter and me. Then, and only then, will it be mission accomplished.