Driving in Italy can mean great
It can mean hugging the cliffs as
you corkscrew round the wedding-cake
tiers of the Amalfi Coast, the sea
placid and blue below; seeing the
cool Renaissance green of the Tuscan
countryside drift past windows;
marveling at the might and jut of
the Alps as you gain on Switzerland.
Italian driving can also mean
The postcard dignity of Italy
vanishes during rush hour,
particularly in the south. For every
Ferrari, you come across millions of
Road-Warrior wrecks. The more dents,
the more care you should exercise
when encountering a car and its
driver ó because that guy has
nothing to lose, and heís been
Italian driving is a contact
sport. Often traffic lights are only
Letís start with the scooter.
Scooter pilots know a secret
those of us anchored by four wheels
do not. Roads are not linear. When
traffic stops, the liberated Vespa
can not only still pass, it can do
so between lanes or by buzzing
laterally between bumpers. This
results in body fractures and the
loss of sideview mirrors, but keeps
There are some stunts a Vespa
cannot perform that a Fiat can.
Fiats can execute the mole maneuver.
A driver wants into the next lane.
There is no blinker to indicate
this. Instead the driver drifts into
your lane, and then into you,
assuming that once pressure is
applied you will surely surrender
your spot. The mole noses into the
muck and the insects scatter.
The mole maneuver is akin to the
get-the-heck-outta-my way method,
employed when a driver doesnít
want to pass you, but instead wants
your car to sprout helicopter rotors
and fly. You recognize this tactic
when your rearview mirror reflects
only the image of a growling grille,
just inches from your suction-cup
Garfield. You are driving 90 mph.
There is also a stratagem called
the super-speed-diagonal zip. This
is used when cars enter a highway.
Basically a car will be in the
entrance lane but its driver desires
the fast lane. Instead of gradually
merging, the driver simply plots a
diagonal course and punches it.
Again, no blinker. Mathematically,
itís very efficient.
Italian highways have two speeds:
Slow and Turbo. The angst of Slow
mode creeps up during commute time.
Itís not due to the amount of
traffic per se, but because the
traffic is interacting with toll
booths and drivers attempting and
failing at the super-speed-diagonal
zip, then resorting to the mole
The resulting anarchy turns the
three lanes into six. One evening
before a Naples soccer game, cars
were so backed up that scalpers
stood right in the middle of the
highway, waving their wares
Turbo time is another thing
altogether. That happens during the
wee morning hours, usually after
youíve breathed a sigh of relief
because there are no other cars
around. When you do encounter
another driver, however, he will be
so overjoyed with all this free
space that he must occupy as much of
it as possible. Heíll swerve from
lane-to-lane at 100 mph or more,
nearly clipping you and rocking you
in his air wake, as he executes a
flawless super-speed-diagonal zip.
If you try Turbo yourself, beware
of the reverse gravitational curve.
The reverse gravitational curve
comes into play when your car meets
a turn that is banked the wrong way.
Instead of being banked in a way
that uses G-force to adhere you to
the road, it is banked in a way that
will flip you over. I once asked a
cop about this. He shrugged:
"Drainage." Curves are
banked in whatever direction will
send rainwater to the sea.
There is also a polar opposite of
the speedy zipper. The ambler. The
ambler, well, ambles at
approximately 15 mph while gesturing
and yelling at children, a spouse or
a mobile phone. Often ambling is
accompanied by gawking, typically at
roadside wreckage. An ambler is also
very likely a straddler, one who
prefers to drive atop lane lines
rather than inside them.
This probably all sounds
terrible. It is.
But some foreigners master the
art, going bananas like everyone
I remember riding in a friendís
rusting Alfa Romeo hatchback during
Slow mode. Weíre making a go at
the mole maneuver but having no
luck. So this guy, Chad, honks the
horn. Suddenly thereís a symphony,
tubas from the trucks and clarinets
from the Citroens. Everyone, but
everyone, now honks along.
I look at Chad. He is beating on
the horn, grinning with evil glee.
Why? I wonder. Why did you start all
this honking when none of us can
"You gotta get in the game,
man," Chad says. "You
gotta get in the game."