Saturday, May 12, 2012

Things I have learned in Italy: How to be zen in the face of road terrors

This will likely surprise absolutely nobody who has had me as a (perpetually nervous) passenger in his or her car but I am a terrible passenger. I worry about whether the driver has seen that cyclist up ahead. I fret that the driver seems too preoccupied with changing CDs to notice the car up ahead that is about to attempt an ill-advised u-turn. I eye the speedo and decry the existence of this "parallax error" my Dad keeps trying to tell me about.

I trace my backseat driver wussiness way back to when I was a very little kid and my Mum rolled our Toyota en route to swimming lessons. It wasn't Mum's fault and it all happened so quickly that Dad probably got the biggest scare (by a freakish coincidence the van rolled right outside my parents' doctors surgery, where Dad was sitting in the front room with a patient) but it scared ten types of shit out of me and for months after I couldn't be driven anywhere without asking Mum or Dad to "please slow down" approximately every two minutes.

So faced with the prospect of being driven around Italy for nearly a month (there's some confusion about whether I'm listed as a driver under the insurance so, to date, I've not got behind the wheel although this may actually be because Partner Andy thinks I'm a terrible driver doomed to kill us both) should leave me in a state of unrelenting terror. Well... it has and it hasn't. Because the thing is that Italian drivers are nuts. Yes, all the stereotypes are true. I mean: what the FUCK Italy? Indicators? You have them. Staying in your lane? Look into it. Also, the weird intersections where all the traffic lights are flashing orange and everybody is just going all over the place? I genuinely don't know if it's just the lights indicating (as they would at home in Australia) that they're out of order or if that's just a thing that Italy does sometimes. Because the latter seems very very possible.

In the face of all this madness, and a handful of rather long drives, it's useless to remain hypervigilant and try to point out to the driver that the car coming towards you is in the wrong lane, doesn't have his lights on and may or may not be driven by a 12-year-old child with a dog on his lap. At a certain point all one can do is sit quietly in the seat, turn one's head to admire the beautiful rolling hills and thank fuck for a day's worth of wine tastings, which have put you into a near coma so that, should death come at a particularly hazardous intersection, at the least you'll go peacefully.

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