August 17, 2022
“Tomara que não roubem”, said my husband while staring through the window at our brand-new scooter’s cell phone holder. The English equivalent expression of his words would be “I hope nobody steals it”. Oddly enough this prayer has been our motto for the past weeks.
You might be surprised to learn about one particular flip side of Firenze. Different to what many people would think, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, this open-air museum where realness, visual arts and aesthetic beauty mesmerize our senses has, sadly, little shady zones where personal belongings – specifically related to means of transport – are an easy target.
I assure you this is not paranoia as much as I guarantee that Firenze is not a violent city, by no means. Moreover, I was born and raised in Brazil where criminality is no joke and not even comparable to European environments. Despite things here being way less frightening, they sure leave an insecurity flowing in the air.
I guess it all started months ago when I used to park my beloved blue bicycle on a little square across from my apartment. My baby blue was just too heavy to be carried up the stairs, so I used to leave it there. There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t surprised by all kinds of garbage thrown away in its basket, from banana peels, beer cans to dirty tissues. Sometimes the seat was removed, and I would find it on somebody else’s bike. Really?! Well, many weird things went on constantly. Until the day that not only garbage was left on it but the tires were destroyed. I said “basta!”. After 70 euros spent to repair it, I decided to bring my two-wheel companion home to keep it safe. Until the day it wasn’t.
On a sunny Friday morning I went for a swim at Le Pavoniere, a public pool in the heart of Parco delle Cascine, a long standing cherished florentine park which, unfortunately, has been facing serious turmoils. I locked and attached the bike to the parking bars in front of the venue. Three hours later it was gone. For five years I had that bike: delivered from California to Brazil, where I bought it, then carefully taken by plane to Amsterdam where, for two years, we shared beautiful experiences to be finally transported inside a moving truck to Firenze.
I cried a river; I was devastated; I couldn’t believe somebody could actually break the lock in broad day light in such a busy area. Then I realized that if you haven’t had your bike stolen you are not part of the statistics yet. Believe it or not there’s several communities on Facebook such as Bici rubate a Firenze (“Stolen bikes in Florence”) where you come across all sorts of sorrows. Of all the condolences that I got online, a more straightforward went like “Just forget it, Firenze has it”. Even the carabiniere with whom I filed my complaint expressed regret: “Mi dispiace tantissimo, but this is a recurrent incident in Firenze quindi 98% chances are that you’ll never get your bike back".
Sadly, there’s a pretty grey market in Tuscany’s pristine capital where bike smuggling is part of the routine: of 10 dwellers who I’ve spoken to, at least 11 of them had their bikes stolen! Most of them twice. Even the police can’t help but feel hopeless. Or should I say complacent?
It would be unfair to point out Firenze as an exclusive stolen bike’s hell.
Take Amsterdam, for example, where cycling is a lifestyle and 50,000 to 80,000 bikes are stolen annually. Though for a city like Firenze – three times smaller than the Dutch capital plus where cars are imperative – it’s pretty much astonishing to know that at least 20,000 bikes are taken away from their owners every year.
I confess that all this has shocked me. Maybe I was too naive picturing an immaculate Firenze, idealizing a perfectly civilized city that doesn’t exist anywhere. Well, I wonder whether perhaps in Finland or Japan there is a place where the system is not broken?
However, as long as the easiest way is to turn a blind eye to social and economic inequality, aggravated by poverty and corruption, I don’t see a way out of all this. For now, let’s pray that the ones in charge of the city’s wheels start paying more attention to something that, in the long term, could spoil the allure of such a glamorous place. Tomara que não.