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No. 332: Vespas

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vespa_pink_france.jpgWe have now made our way to Italy, so it seems appropriate to write about their beloved and iconic Vespas. I have actually been collecting photos of these lovable shiny scooters in Paris and around France over the years, and now that I am in their homeland, I am thinking that it is time do a little poetic waxing on the subject.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never driven a Vespa, never taken a ride on one, and never even sat on one. I guess I am just plain chicken when it comes to anything with only two wheels, except for my beloved vélo. Still, in my mind’s eye, I see myself on one of these snappy, multihued machines, tooling through the French (or Italian) countryside or zipping between cars on the Paris streets, harmonizing helmet protecting my noggin. I have a couple of girlfriends in Paris who brave the wacky French drivers, and scoot about on their Vespas, and I must say, they look quite marvelous, and save a lot of money on petrol to boot.

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The Vespa came about as a response to the realities of post-WWII Italy. It was a cheap and reliable mode of transport for struggling Italians who needed to get around the bombed out country. However, had it been only a form of transportation, I doubt we would still be talking about them; but a fashion statement, now that is another story.

original 1946 Vespa…source: www.businessweek.com

original 1946 Vespa…source: http://www.businessweek.com

The original prototype designed by the Piaggio Company was based on the small motorcycles made for parachutists and nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck) because of its strange shape. Not quite right, the head of the company ask for a redesign. Using their technological and design know-how gleaned from designing rail carriages, luxury coaches, seaplanes and of course, airplanes, propellers and engines for the war, and “unfettered by any preconceptions about what a motorcycle or scooter should look like”, the slick, sporty Vespa was born. Equally important to function and drivability was comfort and style. The Vespa was designed to keep its driver looking smart, not disheveled, but perfectly intact for any photo-finish. Piaggio decided to call its creation the wasp (vespa) based on the sound of its engine, its aerodynamic form, and its lean, but curvy, and sexy shape. Once he introduced the snazzy and sleek colors, we were all goners.

vespa_montepulciano_italy.jpgNowadays the Vespa is an intrinsic part of Italian (and French) social history. Riding one today, I imagine you still feel a kinship to the “Dolce Vita” years. Maybe someday I will have the guts to jump on one and ride through the splendid countryside or romantic cities of Italy and live my own “Roman Holiday”…I can picture that…

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Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday

Viva la Vespa!

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have a small Vespa-like scooter – easier and free to park in the city of Nice and fun to drive!

    August 4, 2014
  2. Lusting after one and like you Nancy, I’ve never even sat on one. But oh so stylish !

    August 4, 2014
    • I’m thinking we should at least snap some pictures of us sitting on a pair before I depart? We could get up early and roam the 7eme. You can always find some beauties parked on l’avenue de La Bourdonnais. x

      August 5, 2014
  3. I also love Vespas and all things scooter, just for the chic of it. And I admire those who zip around town on them. But you’ll never catch me riding one – that would way too dangerous for this conservative soul!

    August 4, 2014
    • I am exactly the same way. The dream of riding one seems more fabulous than the reality…it is already scary enough riding my bike through Paris. Still I would like to at least sit on one before I leave this lovely land!

      August 5, 2014
  4. Such a classic design, it’s hardly changed in my lifetime. As a Parisienne I thought you’d be after one of those three wheeled Piaggios that are all the rage or at least appeared to be when we passed through Paris earlier this year. On the other hand I seem to remember a picture of President Hollands on one whilst off on his “naughties”!

    August 4, 2014
    • No, I am a chicken when it comes to these two (or three) wheelers. I still hear my mom (bless her), “No child of mine will be riding a motorcycle while they are living under my roof!”. (There were, tragically, a series of deadly motorcycle accidents in our childhood.) Plus, best not to be associated with M. President and his “naughties”.🙂

      August 5, 2014
      • Ah Moms (and Dads for that matter), I seem to recall a very similar conversation.

        August 5, 2014
  5. I almost bought a Vespa. But here in India, it would just look nondescript among the dirt and filth and mayhem of other vehicles on the road. Plus it’s just too expensive! Lovely post🙂

    August 7, 2014
    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I have always wanted to go to India. I’m not sure I could live there. I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia (in an Indonesian neighborhood surrounded by shanty towns in the early 1990s.The poverty was hard to handle. How do you like living in India?

      August 7, 2014
  6. Great posts and photos! I’ve always wanted a Vespa- they’re so adorable!!

    August 7, 2014

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