Do you want to learn a new skill?

Of course you do, everyone does.

I want to learn the piano, to speak fluent Italian and to get to grips with the ninety percent of my Mac that I never use.

But the skill I really want to acquire is a lot tougher than any of these, and it’s a skill that doesn’t have any online or real world resources to help me. No clubs, no classes, no courses, no manuals or videos.

Lucca is an amazing city in Italy, in Tuscany. It has its share of tourists, but not as many as the hotspots, because there’s nothing spectacular to draw them here. No Ponte Vecchio, no Uffizi, no Palio, no Grand Canal, no Roman arena, no glorious relics of ancient Rome like the Pantheon or the Colosseum.

The beauty and attraction of Lucca is the city itself. It is one of only three cities in Europe that retains a full circumference of walls (the others are Avila in Spain and Carcassonne in France), and it’s packed with charming buildings, including the famous Giungini tower with trees on top.

The walls are immense, and are a linear park – the width of a wide road, lined with trees, with vistas of mountains on one side and the streets of the city on the other. And, amazing in Italy, car free.

But not bicycle free, because the other wonderful thing about Lucca is that it’s a city full of cyclists. Unlike most Italian walled towns, it’s not on a hill top, but flat. And its street pattern reflects the grid of the Roman town it originally was, so no going round in circles.

Lucca residents cycle. Young, old, plump, thin, workers, pensioners – everyone is on a bike. The centro storico is banned to most traffic, so cyclists have the road – and (this is Italy) the one-way signs don’t apply to people on bicycles. It’s not all smooth sailing, however –you need to be savvy, to reckon at which of the many crossroads the other guy has the right of way (or thinks he has) and at night, you need cat’s eyes, because the Lucchesi don’t go in for lights on their cycles.

I kid you not. It’s kind of scary to go out after dark on foot, and even scarier to ride a lampless bike. Here my English half kicks in, and I have LEDs fore and aft on our bikes (in Lucca, we’re a two-bike-no-car family).

So what’s the skill? If we have bikes, I must be able to ride a bike, surely?

Yes, I can ride a bike.

What I can’t do, is ride a bike in the rain while holding an umbrella up. Which is what all the Lucchesi seem born able to do. A drop or two of rain, and click, up goes the umbrella, without missing a beat of the pedals.

More than that, they can ride a bike in the rain, without lights, holding an umbrella and having a conversation on their telefonino (that’s Italian for cell phone).

That’s the skill I’d like to acquire, and I have a feeling I’m going to be playing Bach fugues on the piano before I’m out there on my bike in the dark and the wet with my umbrella in the air and my phone clasped to my ear.


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3 Responses to Do you want to learn a new skill?

  1. Heidi says:

    Is that an amazing image, the man on the bike with his umbrella and the phone, riding around that walled in city? I want an artist to paint it immediately. There’s a little short film in my head now, I love it. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful picture.

  2. I love Lucca and you made a perfect description of it! It really is a unique town in Tuscany and not to be missed. As my husband said, think of it as a mini-Florence.

    And I do remember cyclists whizzing by and nearly pulling me down or knocking me off the last time we were there, idling along the streets…They can be quite as dangerous as Italian car drivers!

    But biking in the rain? Sounds good and fun to learn how to do. Maybe you should first try singing in the rain and then open your umbrella BEFORE you start pedalling…I bet that works, let me know!

  3. Beth Barany says:

    So much fun! I can just see those crazy Italians cycling cell phone umbrella! Just to see that would be a fun adventure! I don’t think I’d be brave enough to try it, though! LOL

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