Driving Italian

My sister and I were having a mutual mid-life crisis, so together we headed off to Italy to recuperate. We had booked into a remote Tuscan hotel. This necessitated hiring a vehicle and my sister, who has always held the majority vote, nominated me the designated driver.

On arrival at Pisa airport, we collected our rental car. As I had never driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road before, we had requested an automatic to reduce the number of pedals and levers I would have to deal with. We located the vehicle and transferred our luggage. I then found myself unable to start the car. After a fruitless ten minutes, we called on two rather gorgeous passing Italian men. They gave us a pitying look, put the gear stick into neutral and turned the ignition key. The engine roared to life.

The next step was to get out of the airport through the haphazard expanse of illegally parked cars. I was trying to come to terms with the automatic gearbox and the fact that I was seated on the left hand side of the vehicle when, more by chance than design, I found myself on the narrow single lane exit road. Ahead lay a traffic circle and beyond it, the freedom of the freeway.

I was still mentally negotiating the traffic circle anti-clockwise when suddenly my view was obliterated by the looming spectre of a rapidly approaching bus. My single lane exit road was in fact intended to
accommodate two-way traffic.

Regrettably, the drivers who had unlawfully parked their cars along the yellow line on the right hand side of the road had not factored in me versus bus. Faced with the option of tackling a stationary line of cars or the bus, I swerved right. Unfortunately, still not completely at home in the left hand side of the car, I overdid it somewhat. With a resounding crack, I neatly annihilated the wing mirror of one of the parked cars.

Having visions of spending the holiday in an Italian prison, I negotiated my way around the circle, past the shattered remains of the mirror and back to the airport. I eventually managed to locate someone
official with sufficient grasp of the English language and relayed my sorry tale. He waved his hand dismissively. “In Italy, we do not worry for these things, “he said.

After that dismal start, I drove very slowly and cautiously. Luckily, before leaving home, I had the foresight to make an oversized bilingual sign reading “DANGER-WOMAN DRIVER FROM AFRICA: ATTENZIONE- L’ AUTISTA E LA DONNA DALL AFRICA” which I stuck up in the back window of the rental car. Even if the grammar wasn't perfect, I think the Italian drivers got the message. Despite all the warnings we had been given, we were amazed at how considerate they were, going out of their way to evade or oblige us on our random wanderings through the Tuscan countryside.

D Le Roux

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