A girl and her bike – in Italy

Paola says to me in her adorable accent, “Hoh-ney, Boh-ney!” (that’s supposed to be “honey, bunny” in case you couldn’t tell) “Instead of walking everywhere and taking so long for everything, why don’t you get a bike?”

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We don’t have a car, so it’s true. I walk everywhere. From our house, on the one lane gravel country roads. Along the busy main street into town, with Italian drivers ignoring the automated speed cameras. Up and down the narrow cobbled Corso Italia in the medieval center of town lined with antique stores, cheese and salami shops and high-priced clothing and shoe boutiques. All of this and I’m also usually pushing Lulu in her increasingly rickety passeggino or stroller.

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So, I think I would have to get one of those bikes with a toddler seat attached that you see everywhere. Little cutie Italian kids in tiny helmets strapped in a miniature bike seat in front of the rider or even in the back. Lulu loves to point them out and decidedly tells me she wants to ride like that too.

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But with the traffic and almost 40-pounds extra, I don’t think I’m ready for it. Paola agrees and reminds me that our landlords have parked two 10-speed cruiser bikes at our house.

“After you drop Lulu off at school, you could come back and then use the bike for whatever you need to do. Aww-nehss-lee, Gina, it would be much bayter for you (One of Paola’s favorite exclamations is ‘honestly’ and I find myself using it now, too – and adding the same inflection just for fun).

But, I think she’s right. I imagine myself looking all European — nonchalantly riding around on a bike with my dress and my long hair fluttering in the breeze. I can run all my errands really quickly on the bike. It will be great.

This was so not me.
This was so not me.

The first thing I notice when I get on one of the bikes is that the seat is about a foot too low. I’m 5’9’’ and Antonella and her husband Tiziano are both, at best, about 5’4’’. But it’s the only one in the bike stand right now. Obviously, I don’t have a socket wrench or whatever it takes to raise the seat. Oh well. Shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I’m going to go for it.

I start off onto our gravel road and the first thing I notice is the “breeze” isn’t fluttering my dress, it’s lifting the skirt way up, right about to my tummy. Basically, my panties are showing and everything. I circle back to the house, run inside and pull on some black exercise shorts. That should handle it.

Back on the bike. Hair fluttering, dress – well, dress is taken care of with the added shorts now. Sunglasses on. Good.

I’ve moved off of gravel and onto the busier main road and now the bike’s seat begins to bug me. A lot. My old mountain bike seat back in Colorado was gel-filled. Super comfortable. And now, five years and a baby later, my botto is filled out, but it’s not helping me with this seat. It’s just plain painful to sit.

And at the same time, my knees are literally bumping into my elbows with every pedal motion. I’m way too big for this bike. I’m a clown on one of those teeny tiny little trick circus bikes. Not exactly the pre-conceived image I had in mind.

Now, I’m coming up to my first of three round-abouts. I put out my left hand to try and signal that I’m coming in and

“HONK!”

A blue Fiat taps its horn and passes me. I think, actually, that this practice is to politely let a pedestrian or cyclist know there’s someone behind you, but I flinch and jump and almost teeter off of my clown bike.

I try a mixture of standing and pedaling to give my botto and my elbows a break and finally manage to maneuver through the round-abouts. Suddenly, the two-lane road is diverging into two separate one-way lanes yet the direction of the bank where I would like to go is in the exact opposite way that the large red and blue signs are directing me.

Since I only walk everywhere, I’ve never paid attention to which roads are one way and which way those one ways head, etc. If there’s a sidewalk, and even if there isn’t, I just walk in the direction I’d like to go.

Alora (and so), I have no idea where this one-way I’m finding myself pedaling on is heading.

Turns out I’m going outside of Arezzo’s fortress walls and up a rather sharp incline. This is Tuscany, after all, so we’re talking real hills. I huff and puff. Pedal standing up then sitting back down. I scooch around on my seat searching for a comfy part. The road gets narrower and I’m getting dangerously close to parked cars on the side. I wave a creeping car behind me around.

Naturally, she honks.

This is what I was afraid I would become
This is what I was afraid I would become

I begin to go back down-hill and I’m looking around trying to recognize a landmark. Trying to get reoriented. Finally, the road dumps out near the train station. I’m in a very busy part of Arezzo, but at least I know where the bank is from here. I manage to get to the bank and conduct my business all the while dreading my return ride.

The whole excursion back, I keep thinking about the time when my sister was 14 and I was 17 and she was training for a summer bicycling camp. My buddy, Mike Morris, was her coach. Every day for a month, he would ride with her a little farther until, just a few days before the camp, they were going to set out on their longest ride – about 30 miles. And for some temporarily insane reason, without any preparation, I announced I’d like to go with them.

I only had a stupid red Schwinn girls’ three-speed bike back then. But I convinced Mike and Andrea to let me tag along. Mike made me wear a whistle so when I got too far behind them, which was often, I was to blow the whistle and they’d slow down a bit to let me catch up.

Another clownish moment in my life. Especially when at about mile 25, my legs, which had turned to noodles, gave out. I tumbled into a ditch and pathetically and faintly tooted on the whistle until Mike turned around. I had to hold on to his arm while he dragged me sitting, but no longer pedaling, on my bike. All the rest of the way back home. My sister was annoyed.

This time, I didn’t have a whistle and there wasn’t anyone around to have heard it if I had. I huffed, puffed, scooched and waved at the honking cars until I made it back. Paola called. We’re supposed to go to the opening of some new American bar later this evening. I told her I finally took her advice and used a bike for an errand. And that it didn’t go so well.

She said, “Maybe you should take your clown bike to Scotty’s school and perform your act at their next Cabaret?”

To all of your bicycle enthusiasts out there – Bravi! I, however, will continue to walk – and lug Lulu with me. 

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With Love and bicycle helmets – 

Gina

P.S. Any similar hair-raising stories you’d like to share, please do!

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Breakin’ It Down! Gina’s Better Communications How-to #1

Many of you may know that in my former life, aka “pre-Lulu,” I was a CNN correspondent and anchor.

Yes, that's me back in the day - love the short blonde hair?
Yes, that’s me back in the day – love the short blonde hair?

And since that time, when I’m not sipping espresso or prosecco surrounded by 500-year-old buildings and chain-smoking locals here in Italy, I work as a communications consultant.

Here I am in Jordan working with a group of amazing Iraqi women running for Parliament
Here I am in Jordan working with a group of amazing Iraqi women running for Parliament

I have written on the subject of effective communications for other companies, but never here.  Until now.

Without further ado, I present my new occasional series. Gina’s Better Communications.”  Today’s lesson is drawn straight from a real-life example from  a meeting I had yesterday about what NOT to do when you have a lot of detailed information to present to an audience.

My client is an executive with a large multi-national.  He has advanced degrees.  He speaks three languages. In short, he is smart and accomplished.

But that doesn’t make him a good presenter.

I cannot tell you exactly what he needed to tell his group of regional managers, without tipping who he is or for whom he works, but let’s say it was a quarterly report with tons of data.

I also cannot show you his actual PowerPoint presentation, of course, by way of example – because it would be too hard to redact all the confidential information.

So, here’s my quick rendition.

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It was NINE COLUMNS and TWENTY-TWO ROWS of DATA on a SINGLE SLIDE!! With all the numbers, percentages, color-codes, etc on the original slide, it looked like the cockpit of a 777.

Needless to say nearly every hand in the room shot up with people confused and frustrated about what they were seeing.  The presenter lost control of the audience, lost control of the presentation and, of course, lost an opportunity to deliver whatever message this slide was supposed  to communicate.

This slide is a perfect example of a fundamentally flawed approach to effective communication. 

Simpler, allows your audience to follow where YOU want to lead them.

No matter what level of baseline understanding of the concepts an audience member has – dense slides are dense slides.

Break down information first.

Remember, you are not trying to merely provide information whenever you present something like this, you are trying to motivate or persuade your audience to some action, or some consensus or some point of view.

When you put up a very busy slide, you are inviting your audience to stop listening to you. You may be planning to explain your busy slide – but you will never get the chance.  Because you are no longer controlling the presentation.  Your audience has stopped listening to you and is now squinting their eyes and looking all over the screen.  They are not being led by you.

Break your information down first!

It is better, therefore, to break up the slides into digestible and more memorable chunks.

That way, you, as the presenter, will LEAD the audience  – simple slide, by simple slide – one at a time – down the path of understanding and toward the ultimate action or position that YOU want them to arrive at.

Once the audience has been led to where you need them to be, then if you need to, present the full-dense slide.

But why not just provide such an involved matrix as a take-away handout after the presentation?

Okay, folks, class dismissed!

Baci from Italy and Now Communications Consulting Land, too. 

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Gina

P.S.  Tell me your favorite information over-load or death by Powerpoint story! Would love to hear.  By the way, my client loves the new approach – he took hours making that poor Matrix and now it will be so much easier for him – AND his audience!

 

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

It’s Big. It’s Pink. It’s Barbie’s Dreamhouse Experience!

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This Sunday, our dreary rainy morning in Berlin was suddenly brightened by this fuchsia-colored larger-than-life doll-house – complete with a high-heeled shoe fountain.

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And Ken peering out of a window inexplicably in scuba gear – but no matter.

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Lulu and I were in Germany to visit Scotty who has been there for a month now, working with a theater group .  He had read a couple of weeks ago about the opening of the Berlin Barbie Dreamhouse and since he is a leading contender for the Best-Dad-Ever Award, he naturally told Lulu we would all go.

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After paying about 15 dollars each to get in, it really was quite the experience. Highly interactive – for just an additional 5 Euro (of course), Lulu wore a computer chipped bracelet that allowed her to play with the myriad of touch screen computers placed strategically in each room of the house.

In the bright pink kitchen, Lulu helped Barbie make cupcakes.

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The non-interactive notes on Barbie’s fridge made me roll my eyes, but also laugh.

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In the bright pink study (look, fake pink books!), Lulu wrote a personal note to Barbie.

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Over at the bright pink grand piano, Lulu and Daddy played a duet.

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Barbie’s bedroom suite was the real highlight.

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There was a ginormous music box that Lulu turned to make music.

And there was yet another high-heeled shoe – this one that doubled as a slide.

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The bigger-than-king-sized bed was topped with a video screen. When Lulu activated her bracelet, her name appeared in the clouds circling overhead.

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The small armoire Lulu posed in here —

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was nothing compared with the special room-sized “closets” where Barbie keeps her shoes and array of elegant dresses –

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– A girl can never have too many evening gowns, don’t you know.

There were so many computer screens to touch and buttons to push, that Lulu could’ve spent all day exploring.  The toilet, in Barbie’s bright pink bathroom, even had a button.  Oh my, what will happen when Lulu pushes it?

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A pink dolphin pops out.  Hmm. Okay.

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The final section of the “house” was Barbie’s international workshop, so to speak.  There were tables strewn with design pads so little girls could color and glitter up their own Barbie fashions.

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Other tables had a selection of bows and clips scattered around those blonde body-less heads so little girls could style Barbie’s hair.

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There was a model Eiffel Tower.

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And another photo corner with a mural of an Italian Piazza.  We just had to pose at that one and I laughed thinking that although we live in Tuscany, here at Barbie’s Dreamhouse in Berlin was the first time I actually sat on a Vespa.

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The interminable pink lights everywhere gave us all eerily blushing red faces.

And although, yes, there have been demonstrators in front of Barbie’s house claiming that this shouldn’t be the type of role model we set for our daughters, I don’t mind.

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Lulu, like most little girls, will soon enough grow up and out of Barbie and then we can take her to the model United Nations experience.

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But for now, it was a wonderful way to spend a rainy day living La Vie en Rose.

Ciao, tutti!

Now we’re back in Tuscany remembering what a wonderfully pink time we had.  Any  thing you would like to add or share, please feel free!

Gina