Drove down to Latiano this morning to pick up a brass bell to go on our gate and realised as I drove that I had not mentioned the delights of driving in Italy. I guess I am quite lucky that I cut my teeth driving as a Sales Representative in London. Reps have a deservedly terrible reputation for driving indeed one London cabby told me that buses and sales reps in Ford motor cars were the only two things he worried about when driving everything else got out of his way. I drove a blue Ford Cortina and the company paid for all repairs and collision damage. Driving here is a little like those days in London. Most if not all Italian cars carry the scars of war and my own has it’s own fair share of scrapes and dents though mine have so far come in car parks and when left in a narrow street . The principle of driving though is the same as it was in London give no quarter on the road even when driving through Stop signs or on to roundabouts and every spare piece of open pavement is made to park on and not to have wretched pedestrians walk on. Italians love their cars
They also love driving them and seemingly go everywhere in them how ever short the distance may be.I have lost count of the times I see people squeeze out of one parking place and drive 25 yards down the road to squeeze into another parking space to shop next door. In most towns here in the south the once famous passeggiata has been replaced by a traffic jam as people drive around the town in the early evening. They love to be seen in their cars as they once wanted to be seen walking. There are no rules I can offer to help driving here as there are no rules. But some words of advice. Flashing ones headlights does not mean I am letting you out it means I am coming through don’t you even think of pulling out. A winking indicator does not mean that I am turning left or right It means my sunglasses were to heavy for the stalk and have set them blinking, in fact it is very dangerous because now the driver is scrabbling around under the steering wheel trying to find them and no longer looking at the road. Wing mirrors are a cunning devise to show if the car will fit down a centro storico narrow alley and certainly not for use in looking back never ever. Why look back I am going forward. Whilst the give way to the right rule disappeared years ago when lines were painted on roads it is still invoked when driving through a giveway sign on to a main road from the right.
Autostrade driving is fun as most of them are now governed by a system called Tutor which monitors your average speed with a series of cameras hanging from gantries. So the game everyone here plays is to vary your speed to end up with an average under the speed limit of 130 clicks an hour. So you wind your machine up and hurtle along at breakneck speed then slap the anchors on and crawl along for a time. The plodding foreigner is therefore treated to a flash of headlights and a swirl of wind as a meteor races by and then further down the road passes the self same car doing 25 clicks an hour, It is of course better where the Tutor cameras are placed to allow a race and then a stop at a roadside service station for a coffee then another race and there seems to be plenty of those. Being an ex sales rep I have of course joined the Italians in this eccentric behavior .
There are no parking meters in Martina Franca nor are there any traffic wardens nor indeed does there seems to be any planning requirement when building 10 storey apartment blocks to provide any form of off road parking. So parking is as exciting as driving in fact more of a challenge because there is only a finite number of places to park and don’t forget the local wants to park outside his favourite bar or shop or apartment block not 25 yards away right outside. You quickly learn that you have to join in this or you will drive aimlessly around town all day looking for a spot. Any piece of parkland or pavement indeed any space that you can get any small section of your car into, no matter how much is sticking out into the road, is considered a parking spot and is to be used for as long as you wish to remain. If no spot is immediately available or is more than 25 yards from your destination then double or triple park , Lock the car and walk away. Listen if you have time on occasions to the sound of a very prolonged hand on a horn .This is the Italian signal that the owner of one of the 6 or 7 cars you have blocked in has returned and wants out. Do not rush, finish your coffee , pay, say farewell to everyone in the bar, saunter at a measured pace back to your vehicle , acknowledge the said driver with a casual nod, find your keys and then go through all your usual cockpit checks at least three times readying the car for departure . Then with another nod leave the spot in a squeal of tyres and leave loads of rubber on the road.
Greatest car chase of all time ?