There was a strange high-pitched noise in the engine. Proactive is always better, so I drove down to Sieci where the local autofficina, mechanics shop, is located—tucked in just beneath the residences above. I asked Moreno what he thought about the noise. Moreno knows everything about cars. We trust Moreno.
He always seems glad when we arrive, and treats us as if we are his only customers, except his shop full of cars indicates that certainly is not the case. After a brief description and attentive listening under the hood, I hop in the car with Moreno behind the wheel and off we go. He leans and fiddles and checks things out as we drive along, almost as if the car is on automatic pilot, and he is just along for the ride. Heading out on the main road to Pontassieve, we pick up speed, and I don’t mean just a little speed. He suddenly becomes a race car driver and I become . . . slightly frightened. We were charging up behind huge trucks, weaving around other vehicles, and in general, simply owning the road. It was then that it occurred to me.
Italians have a completely different sense of space, time and distance. There is something about growing up with narrow roads, small shops, 12-inch wide sidewalks, buildings close enough to the road to snag a side mirror. Children, parents and grandparents all living in the same house, and myriad other strange phenomena that causes a person to see the world quite differently. For example, three feet between cars is comfortable for me. For an Italian, that is a ridiculous waste of space. If you don’t get within 2 inches of another car, you just aren’t a serious driver. It’s not until you actually ride as a passenger, that you begin to understand it from their perspective. And, in a strange sort of way, it all starts to make sense.
The fact of the matter is, I just didn’t grow up in a culture like this. It has to be in your blood to really get it. However, I do think I’m making progress. The other day, a friend actually told me that I drive too fast. I looked at him in total astonishment and disbelief (like an Italian), saying “really?” It’s all relative I guess.
Being a true Italian for me doesn’t necessarily mean that I will seriously start tailgating with the best of them, or jokingly accept that my favorite project just isn’t going to happen this year after all, ha ha ha! It also doesn’t mean that I’m going to move in with our kids and my mother next week. But it does mean that I can begin to understand another perspective—appreciate why their particular views deserve serious consideration. Trying to “live as a true Italian” means taking as many steps in their direction as possible without losing my personal balance. My best hope is to become a special kind of Italian—true to myself while living with a certain flare and gusto in a very Italian world.
The car goes into the shop lunedí, Giugno ventotto alle otto nella mattina, Monday, June 28th at 8 AM. It will be finished that afternoon—Moreno said so, and that’s the truth!