Monday, 30 September 2013

Ladri di biciclette

It’s now 10 days since I arrived in Palermo. Term starts tomorrow. Aspects of the last week have been frustrating, like the hour and a half wait to sign up to use the university swimming pool (only to be told I'll need to wait a week for a doctor's appointment to pay for a note from him to say I don't have any breathing problems before I can swim) or the three unsuccessful attempts to meet my personal tutor, who never seems to be in. My impression of Palermo, however, remains very positive. Even after what happened on Wednesday, probably the low-point thus far.
On Wednesday morning I bought a bike. By Wednesday afternoon, it had been stolen. For a while I walked around, just like the guy in the (excellent) film Ladri di biciclette, looking suspiciously at every bike that went past and hoping that I'd find it for sale in the market here which is notorious for selling stolen bikes. No luck, though. Yet while I was obviously annoyed at the thief/thieves (who I'm amazed manage to take apart what seemed like a fairly robust lock) and the money I'd wasted on the bike, it’s just about the least distressing crime to be the victim of. They hadn’t grabbed it right from me, so I wasn’t shaken or anything. I hadn’t built up an attachment to or reliance on the bike - it wasn’t like losing a laptop or a phone with irretrievable data on. The only thing that I can’t replace is the money it cost (69 Euros), but that’s how much I’m saving per month here on rent compared to cities in the North, so it’s not the end of the world (confusingly, Italians, I've learnt, say ‘la fine del mondo’ –  the end of the world – to describe something good e.g. ‘[insert food item] is la fine del mondo’). It certainly hasn't had the same impact on me as bike theft did on Antonio in the film, who loses his job because he can no longer travel to work and can't afford another bike.

That evening I went to the report it at the police station, which in itself was quite an experience. Thankfully I don’t have much experience of the police in the UK, but I’m sure a police office in any UK city has a very different atmosphere to the questura here. The atmosphere seemed so relaxed that you would hardly have known it’s a police station if not for the guns that every Italian police officer seems to carry everywhere. The commissario looked and behaved like Commissario Montalbano (the Sicilian TV detective), cracking jokes, smoking indoors and sitting back in his chair with feet on the desk at times. They were very friendly in the police station and seemed to like me, I think mainly because – despite my British passport – I didn’t need a translator, which they clearly didn’t have.
I think I timed my arrival pretty well (thanks to my friend Marta, who suggested I book my flight for around the time that I did). Arriving 10 days before term starts has given me time to get my accommodation and timetable sorted, get to know my way around the city and get used to life here, be it the mealtimes, the temperature or the roads (which are still difficult to cross). Or, nearly as importantly, work out when's a good time to turn on the TV and find something on that isn't sexist or the Italian version of Deal or No Deal or X Factor. It's also given me time to buy the things that couldn’t fit into my 20kg easyJet suitcase allowance which has to last me the year, and to go to the beach while it's still warm enough.
Some things here still baffle me. The obsession with cars and the way that pedestrians don't seem to mind having to wait what seems like hours to cross the road at a zebra crossing (personally I get frustrated having to wait that long at the side of the road, though I suppose other pedestrians here tend to own a car and wouldn't want to stop when they're driving). Today my flatmate showed me banners outside a block of flats where residents are protesting because they want green space in front of the block turned into a petrol station. Yes, you read that correctly. They want a green space outside their flats to become a petrol station, not the other way round, even though there’s already a petrol station 100 metres away (on the other side of the dual carriageway). Only in Italy…

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