Heading home from a morning outing, we decided to take the back way, the short cut through the country roads. One particular road is especially curious. Who thought this up? Not only is it the skinniest of all roads, but it makes two 90 degree turns at the narrowest stretch, which happens to be at the top of a very steep hill paved with old stones worn smooth over the centuries. Oh yeah . . . and there are 10 foot high stone walls on both sides to make driving it even more absurd. The good news—it’s only one way!
We enjoy the challenge of it—picking up speed on the downhill slope to make it up the steep incline; jockeying around the first turn in just the right way to set the perfect angle of entry into the great squeeze; and of course, the grand finale of inching through the stone opening with only a finger’s clearance on each side of the car. It takes two people to successfully negotiate the final curve (except for the most proficient of Italian drivers), with lots of assurances called out at each centimeter of movement forward. “Okay?? Okay??” “Yes, slowly. Ah, perfect!!” It’s a real Tuscan double dare!
So as usual, we went charging down the approach road, but rather than pick up speed in anticipation of the steep climb, we quickly saw that something was different. Very different! To our surprise, there was a line of cars stopped at the bottom of the incline with engines off. Falling into place behind the last car, we got out to ask about the problem. We both suspected what had happened—someone panicked as they got to that final squeeze, somehow stuck in the last turn. There are numerous scrapes and gouges in the stone walls memorializing unfortunate past encounters. Sure enough, we were right—there was an impasse at the top. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a panicked driver. It wasn’t even an oversize car. It was worse. Through trees and brush we saw the unimaginable: a truck. Not a van. A truck—and a rather large one at that!
Our small European-size car barely makes it through, so what on earth would cause someone to think they could take a grande camion, big truck, past the pinch. Crazy! There was nothing to do. Cars had collected in the little valley like a bunch of grapes that had rolled together in a bowl. Someone suggested that we begin backing out. But more cars were arriving by the minute. It became a spectacle. We all watched and waited as the truck began its arduous journey backward down the steep hill. Slowly, slowly he retraced his ill-conceived attempt leading up to the big surprise.
Some of the cars stacked up behind us began backing out of the trap, thinking it was faster, easier and safer than to watch the precarious happenings ahead. Also, they seriously doubted the driver’s ability to pull off quite a stunt. But, after about 20 minutes, he finally made it down to a slightly wider spot in the road. Then, he had to suffer the humiliation of the taunting onlookers as we filed by to get a closer look at the doofus who did such a stupid thing. Caught being a bad driver in the land of race cars is about the worst fate imaginable.
We threaded our way through the needle at the crest of the road scrape-free, even without our customary running start. With great pride and a feeling of deep satisfaction, we motored home as if nothing unusual had happened. It was just another day on the Tuscan byways where challenge and surprise lurk around every turn. The ancient roads continue to serve as major thoroughfares, even though they are often ridiculously dangerous and really quite uncivilized by most modern standards. But, that’s just one of the quirky things about our beloved Tuscany that makes it so memorable and charming.