Monday, December 3, 2012

The Art of Renting

An accidental bus trip (the bus went right, not left
at the corner) put us in the town of Fiesole, an old Roman
rival of Florence with an amphitheater still is use. 
Derek and I were discussing how amazingly lucky we are to be able to travel, have enough money though neither of us are rich, and see the world as it is right now, at the pinnacle of human achievement in technology if not in art. 500 years ago the Renaissance flourished here in Florence and vestiges of it are everywhere. We have spent long hours in museums until we almost dread seeing yet another painting of Jesus on the cross, Mary holding Jesus after he's was crucified, or cuddling him as a baby in front of adoring crowds (that surely knew nothing of his birth or potential at the time)....etc. Yet, we keep going because so often there will be something amazing and unexpected, and even those many religious artworks can still amaze in their artistry and by comparison. After seeing the Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, no other pieta by any other artist stands favorably in comparison, it was such perfection. I find myself almost willing to agree with the person who stated, "Why even bother to look at another piece of sculpture after seeing The David by Michelangelo, the most exquisite work of art has now been seen." Yet, at every turn there is some unknown (to us) artist who has created something worth remembering and thinking about, even if it's only a gnarly looking expression on a gargoyle's face.

Florence has a "museum" to da Vinci as well, with many of his inventions built and some actually work. Drawings and art, albeit most of it is reproduced, it's still an impressive collection. Plus the ticket includes lunch: pizza and beer at the museum's restaurant!

So it dawned on me that without engaging in the art of renting, all this travel would not be possible. I am clearly a novice, I don't know every website that features apartments for rent, nor am I all that comfortable renting a room in someone's home and sharing the bathroom with them. Some rental artists get housing for free using sites like CouchSurfing and HomeExchange. Others get deep discounts with the promise of travel articles and other advertising support.

I doubt seriously if I ever get the very best possible deal on airfare. Not purchasing a train ticket online last week meant we paid almost twice as much in person at the train station, much to my horror. Yet, anywhere, at almost anytime, I can rent a place to sleep, or a seat inside a silver tube capable of hurtling through the skies at 30,000 feet and fully expect to land safely. Included in that pittance of a ticket price is plenty of money for maintenance of the aircraft and training for the crew that flies it. Once in a while an edible meal is included!

I can rent a car, a moped, or a Segway if I chose, rather than spend thousands of dollars to buy one and insure it. When I buy a bus pass for $1.50. I get to ride for many miles, in a large vehicle easily seen by people in other vehicles and therefore not as likely to get into an accident! Plus a professional driver is included in the fare. I can rent an apartment for one night, a week, or a month. I can even negotiate lower rent for longer terms.

And all this has come about because of the advances in technology, the product of the collective human  mind: individual human minds building on the minds that came before them and collaborating with the minds around therm. It is possible because of an unspoken agreement amongst humans all over the world that certain things have value, like gold, and therefore money is transferable and usable everywhere. Should some lose faith in those agreements, in those assumptions, it could fall faster than a lead ball. But meanwhile I get to traipse all over the world where I can obtain the local country's currency out of machines, use a credit card to pay larger hotel and airline bills, and find great deals thanks to the technology of computers, printers, and the Internet.

I'm slowly learning the art of renting what I need, when I need it. I'm learning to discern a good deal from a mediocre one. It's taken a while to learn to read maps in such a way that I don't end up living out in the boonies when I would rather be in the middle of a city. Even a complex city bus map is decipherable, where it was not even readable when I first started out. I'm discovering how to think ahead so I don't end up taking an expensive cab to the airport because the plane leaves so bloody early in the morning; how to end up where I want to be at a decent hour, so I don't have to fight jet lag, confusion, and darkness all at the same time. Like any art form, experience counts for much of one's skill. The rest of it depends on thinking and taking risks. When you don't know where you're going, really, it feels a lot like jumping off a cliff in the darkness. The artful renter takes the leap with confidence, lands in a nice bed in a great place, and is ready to see some sites in the morning.

Maybe I need a mentor.

Long vistas seen from Fiesole.

Florence spread out below Fiesole

To-die-for views and an olive orchard
on the hillside of these two old villas.