This I Believe

Reno - Bergamo, Italy
Entered on September 20, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I hate driving in Italy. Why?

Remember the chariot races at the Circus Maximus?

Nothing has changed. Especially the circus part.

I learned to drive in America where they have a wondrous invention known as the lane. The minute you back out of your driveway you are assigned one of your own. It guides you safely through hazardous intersections and hairpin turns, and is yours to keep until you reach your destination. Amazing what a can of paint can do for your well-being.

Italy has lanes too. But what’s all the fuss about? Of course you should be in the right lane to turn right. But you can’t miss your turn just because of a mere formality. And if there are two lanes at a stoplight, then naturalmente two lines of cars should form there. But what if there’s room for three? Or more? Share and share alike.

And simple parking? A true oxymoron in this country. Why waste precious time looking for a proper place when I can put on my blinkers, triple park and buy a newspaper, and while I’m at it, dash into the corner market for cat litter and spray starch. And could Maria be home? Here I am, for carpe diem’s sake, right under her window. A quick coffee and I’m off.

On the other hand, bona fide parking requires a vivid imagination. You must invent a space and only an Italian can see it. How many times have I been driving, searching for a place when my passenger will point, “Over there!”

“Where?” I ask, combing through a row of cars that look like they’ve been wedged into place with a giant shoehorn.

“There. On the sidewalk between the tree and that bench.” On the sidewalk. Why didn’t I think of that?

I live on a one-way street with parallel parking on both sides. Not only must you force your car into a painfully small place on a narrow cobblestone street while the line of traffic squeezes by, you must also do it on your left, no small feat for a right-hander. Left-handers have it just as bad on the right side.

Weary motorist, do not delude yourself. You’ll never sail comfortably into a space near the front door like at Home Depot. But you can learn to live with it. I did. And with only 22 years of practice.

One final word to the wise traveller: Under no circumstances should you exceed the three second grace period after a light turns green, or you will be treated to a symphony of horns and a variety of insults involving your family members, living and deceased, and their body parts. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.