Southern Italy in spandex: Something new to talk about

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 55 , No. 9 , November 2013 , Pages 408 Editorials

As I pedal my bike into another spectacular hill town in the Italian countryside, I am reminded of the saying, “Beauty often stems from madness.” 

My lifelong friend and I decided we would do something special for our 50th birthdays, so we signed up with the tour group, Ciclismo Classico, for a 12-day bicycle tour across southern Italy. Many of these breathtaking towns are built on the most rugged and hilly of locations, likely for defensive purposes. The buildings appear to defy gravity as they cling to the surrounding hillsides. The streets in the towns are narrow and steep. I’m not sure where the children learn to ride their bikes, because if you pointed them uphill they would just fall over, and if you pointed them downhill you wouldn’t see your kid again for a week. Same with learning to drive—you might as well take a sledgehammer to the family car, considering the dangers presented by the tight, inclined hairpin turns. Speaking of driving, apparently if you put your flashers on you can park anywhere. It doesn’t seem to matter if you partially block the only street in town while you pop in for a quick café. 

Every town has a central palazzo filled with old men smoking and talking. I’m not exactly sure what they said to each other as my Italian is a little rusty, but I think it went something like, “I had nothing to say to you yesterday and I’ve got nothing to say to you today. Nothing has changed except for those two guys in spandex over there. Are you going to be here tomorrow? Because I will have nothing to say to you then either.” 

One Sunday afternoon we sat on one of the benches in the palazzo and had a beer. The number of men gradually increased as the afternoon siesta hour receded and their wives kicked them out while they prepared Sunday dinner. It dawned on us that, judging by the looks we were getting, we were probably on someone’s bench. Sure enough, when we stood up to leave three old men immediately took our place. At least we gave them something new to talk about.

Life was simple on this trip—we would cycle during the day while admiring the amazing scenery. Challenging switchback climbs would segue into fast, flowing descents as we competed in our own Giro d’Italia (albeit one for middle-aged men with hairy legs). This was punctuated by stops for espresso, pastries, or gelato, and of course time was allotted for delicious lunches of pasta, fish, meats, and other delicacies. Nights were spent sampling fabulous southern Italian cuisine while sipping amazing Italian wines until we would either pass out or fall into a peaceful slumber. The rhythm of the country gradually replaced our North American impatience, allowing us to take the time to savor the experience. 

My advice? Slow down and enjoy life, and remember the importance of good friends.

David R. Richardson, MD. Southern Italy in spandex: Something new to talk about. BCMJ, Vol. 55, No. 9, November, 2013, Page(s) 408 - Editorials.

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