Ahhh. Tourist season in Italy is upon us again.
This time of year, people from other countries flock to Italy like fat kids running to a candy store. They arrive awkwardly, tugging at their luggage and perspiring a little too much; bursting with sincere intent and the urgent desire to spend money and see everything as quickly as possible in order to return home with thousands of envy-inducing photos.
Don’t get me wrong. I love tourists. I used to be one. But it’s easy enough now for me to tell the tourists apart from we lucky few expats who actually live here.
Resident expats speak ‘Itanglish’ while relaxing in the cool shade of a local cafe. If it’s morning, they might enjoy their second cappuccino while glossing over the English-language edition of The Herald Tribune. Tourists, on the other hand, stand in the sun wearing hats, short pants and a pained look of perpetual surprise as they frantically check their various devices for access to free Wi-Fi. They are driven by a desperate need to Tweet and Like even while taking what should be a relaxing break from their daily lives. Tourists think it quaint that, despite all the ‘progress’ made in the last 50 years, so many Italian people still speak their cute foreign language. Exactly 10 minutes after claiming their very expensive rental car, they are amazed that all the traffic signs in Italy are written in #!%&* Italian!
It might be due to the murder and mayhem of U.S. television dramas, but American tourists in particular seem eager to emulate the way Italians drive. With fire in their eyes and garlic on their breath, they set out to spar with the natives on the highways, byways and goat trails comprising the Italian Motorway System. Since the U.S. and Italy nominally share a convention of driving on the right side of the road, it would seem to be a plausible endeavor, but in reality, it sets up a classic ‘approach-avoidance conflict’. Americans feel perfectly justified to slander Italian road etiquette, (or lack thereof) but still seem to admire the Italians’ grace, speed and insouciant bravado behind the wheel. Ironically, these very same qualities cause American hearts to palpitate when they actually have to share the Autostrada or just as often, the sidewalk, with Italian drivers.
English travelers have a different sort of angst when driving in Italy. The enduring stiffness of their upper lips compels them to compensate for the high-spirited antics of Italian drivers through the use of courtesy, politeness and good manners. They remain rigidly fixed in the unaccustomed right lane behind any slow moving farm trucks, bicyclists, and wandering sheep. They are usually the last to arrive.
The French show no unease whatsoever and will obligingly drive right into the hotel lobby to unload their Louis Vuitton bags.
Now normally, I do not give advice. That is because I never follow it myself. But on this occasion I will tell you that even Europeans refer to Italy as “God’s Race Track”. I’ll ask you to remember that this is the country which gave the world Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and huge, nap-inducing, carbohydrate-based meals. So, if narrow streets, two-way travel on one-way roads, fast-moving traffic, manual transmissions, winding mountain roads, extreme tailgating, and indecipherable road signs (one of which seems to warn against playing your trumpet as you drive), tend to make you a wee bit nervous, then I gently suggest that your driving be contained to the relative safety of the back seat of a taxi... piloted by a seasoned Italian professional.
Or, take the train.
And, before you say it, I know what you are thinking. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO (did I say NO?) do NOT rent a motor scooter. I don’t care how much you loved Audrey Hepburn in that move. It was a movie... not the real-life streets of Rome!
So come to Italy as a tourist, and have a wonderful adventure. Who knows?
You may decide to stay forever as I did. In which case the following guidelines should prove helpful. Get out of the sun; wear long pants; don’t spend too much time online; and be certain to get a car with the three elements absolutely essential to driving in Italy, (in descending order of importance): 1. A really, really loud horn 2. Excellent high beams for flashing 3.As a last resort, if you must show weakness, some sort of braking system.
Then go ahead, drive yourself crazy... millions of Italians and even a few tourists do it every day.
Frank is an award-winning advertising professional, now retired, from Denver, Colorado who is living the sweet life in southern Italy. In addition to a successful career in advertising, he had stints as the owner of an old west saloon, a film and stage character actor, a certified Santa Claus and a university professor... all of which, he says, are 'remarkably similar'.
He now focuses on traveling, honing his skills as an Italian chef, and writing about Italy as he and his charming wife, the ever lovely Ora, renovate their home in beautiful Basilicata.
Their journey back to Italy started 100 years ago when their ancestors first arrived in the United States. Frank and his wife had dreamed of completing the circle of immigration by returning to their ancestral roots in southern Italy.
Their collective memories of the traditions, values and Italian lifestyle drew Frank and his wife back many, many times until they finally bought their house in Italy and moved there permanently.
In honor of the past, and in anticipation of the future, their lovely home is named, 'La Casa Cent'anni', (The Hundred Years House). 'Cent'anni' is also a celebratory toast of goodwill.
So, "Cent'anni" to you, and to us, and to the next 100 years!