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Driving, Italian Style

“…he drove as if he were at the wheel of a Ferrari at Monza. Like all drivers, he insisted on showing off his skills.” 

Michele Guittari, A Florentine Death
Narrow Italian Street

Italians drive like they’re auditioning for a race team. Streets that would be pedestrian only zones in most countries are frequented by fast moving cars, and yes—sometimes the drivers are on their cell phones. In crosswalks pedestrians have the right of way, if they dare. Mopeds and motorcycles weave their way in and out of traffic and crowds.

Given this we should have expected to see frequent car wrecks and many outlines of pedestrians drawn on the streets in chalk, by accident investigators. Tow trucks should be prowling the streets like buzzards circling carrion. 

In five weeks and over 400 miles we witnessed a body and accident count of…zero.  Granted we saw the aftermath of accidents when passing wrecking yards. And a fair share of cars had body damage. But on a similar journey in the Seattle area we would see plenty of pileups. 

These Italians know how to drive. 

During our journey two types of Italian vehicles caught our attention. The first, a “Bee.” The second, a tractor.

Ape is the Italian word for bee and we saw many three wheeled Ape vehicles, manufactured by Piaggo—the maker of the Vespa scooter. These light, commercial vehicles seem to be the backbone of industry everywhere; from hauling grapes in the countryside to trash pickup in major towns. They fit nicely in the tight local roads, and parking spaces. They are as busy as bees.

They reminded me of the three wheeled Cushman Truckster ice cream trucks that I drove in high school. Laurie fell in love with them. I guess that’s much better than falling in love with an Alfa Romeo or one of the many other sporty Italian vehicles on the road. They’re small enough that we might be able to get one in our checked baggage when we come home.

The other Italian vehicle that caught our attention was Lamborghini—the farm tractor. We always think of Lamborghini in terms of fancy sports cars. But they originally-and still do—make farm tractors. Ferruccio Lamborghini started manufacturing tractors in 1948. He became rich and started to buy high end sports cars.

Lamborghini Tractor

One of these was a Ferrari, that had clutch problems. Lamborghini replaced it with a better one, and met with Enzo Ferrari. When he suggested that Enzo use better clutches in his cars, Ferrari told him to stick to making tractors. Instead, he started making his own line of sports cars. In this case rejection was the mother of invention. 

An Ape truck in Valencia, advertising skydiving

Trip Update: We’ve moved on to Valencia, Spain, where the drivers are much more sedate, but we still spot the occasional Italian Ape. 

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