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Still from the 1948 De Sica film “The Bicycle Thief,” courtesy of filmnight.org

You know how sometimes something happens in the wink of an eye, and you’re left with your mouth hanging open and an endless loop of ‘I should haves’ playing in your brain? That’s what happened to us last evening.

We parked at the train station on the way to a friend’s house for dinner. As we approached the section reserved for parked motor scooters I saw a large man who  looked… well, he just looked suspicious. So I stopped and watched him. He was bent over a very expensive bicycle that was chained to the metal railing of the parking lot, next to some old junky old bikes. As I watched he went snick, snick, the chain, which was very thin, fell away from the bike, and he began to turn. Then he saw me watching.

The man I saw was using a much smaller tool. Photo courtesy superstock.com

“E il mio bici! E il mio!” he said, brandishing his chain cutter. This pegged him immediately as a non-Italian. ‘Bici’ (pronounced bee-chee) is feminine because it’s short for ‘bicicleta,’ a feminine noun.

‘ I bet. E la tua adesso,’ I thought to myself as he hopped on and pedaled off. Speedy hadn’t noticed what was going on and had walked ahead a little, but turned back when he sensed my absence. By now the thief, because surely he was a thief, was pedaling out of the parking lot.

I felt so stupidly helpless. There I was with a camera in my purse, but my hands full of umbrealla and a focaccia in tinfoil. If only I had gotten a photo of the ladro! But I didn’t, and it’s been driving me nuts ever since.

When we arrived at the dinner party we told our hostess and the other guests what had happened. “What should we do?” I asked, “Should we call the police?”

“Eh, beh!” said one friend. “What are the police going to do? When the thieves broke through my wall and stole my safe the police didn’t come for three days, even though I called immediately.” So last night, on advice of all present, we did nothing. Besides, I had an ace up my sleeve.

I knew our friend the policeman would be coming by for a visit this afternoon, so I decided to wait and ask him, which I did. He just shrugged. “It happens every day,” he said. “There’s nothing to do.” So there’s an end to it. I’m not sure I could identify the thief if I saw him; everyone says it’s good I didn’t take his photo as he might have become violent (I disagree, but…). It just doesn’t sit right with me, though.

Putting this together with two other incidents that have occurred since we returned has taken a bit of the shine off our joy at being reunited with Rapallo. The first thing we saw when we got home was that someone had destroyed the facing around the sewer pozetta (box) that Speedy had worked hard at making attractive.

Evidently a very large, heavy something was brought down on the heavy, solid metal cover over the box; it has a big rusty dent in the top. All the facing stones popped out of their cement base from the force of the blow. Well, maybe it was an accident (though honestly, it didn’t look like one).

Then we realized that none of our outdoor lights were functioning. Why not? Probably water got into the lines, we surmised, because it has been exceptionally rainy of late. But no. On further examination today I realized that the light bulbs have been stolen. Three lightbulbs.  How lame is that??!  And note that in order to take them someone had to go to the trouble of unscrewing and removing the glass globes.  We were lucky, I think, that they replaced them – yet more work!

It all got me thinking about how different some things are in the States.  What I sometimes don’t feel so much here is a sense of all of us in a community looking out for each other’s welfare. The police evidently have so much to do that something like a stolen bicycle just doesn’t register on their crime-meters. (I’m not being sarcastic, there’s an enormous amount of crime here it seems, and the police have to jump through hoops to follow correct procedure. Read about it here.) If we don’t look out for our fellow citizens, who will? I was guilty last night for not doing something, anything; the police are guilty for not caring about petty crime; the thieves are guilty for breaking the social contract, and we’re all guilty for looking the other way when we see something wrong.  It’s all  disturbing, and I hate that I’m part of the problem. I’m not in favor of armed vigilantes prowling neighborhoods (ahem), but I certainly think we should all take an interest in looking out for each other.*

Am I crazy?

*Disclaimer.  Having had a good rant, I have to say that our neighbors are very kind about keeping an eye on our house when we’re not at home, and even when we are.  I’m sure they’ve saved us no end of problems with their watchfulness.  Are they the exception that proves the rule?