Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rule #2

Rule #2 Do not drive and avoid walking

If your hearing or reflexes are poor, or you have just had a few Florentine-style cocktails in a donkey mug, do not attempt to drive.

Even on the winding, narrow and disarmingly quaint streets cobwebbing the hills around our house it is not safe. Anyone driving a car or motorcycle considers it their God given right to go as fast as humanly possibly once the ignition key is turned. No self-respecting Italian driver would put on his Fiat one of those bumperstickers that read, “School’s Out, Drive Safely”. Drive WHAT?!! This is Florence, not Larchmont! Might as well put one next to it that says, “I am a fruitcake. Eat me.”

Outside of the city Italians drive at speeds seen only in the states once a year in Indianapolis. Tooling down the AutoStrata with my brother-in-law, who has lived many of his adult years in this country, I asked whether he had ever seen anyone pulled over for speeding, he looked at me blankly. “What do you mean, ‘speeding’?” I pointed to a sign on the side of the road. “Isn’t that a sign indicating the speed limit?” I asked. “No,” Steve explained, “That is the number 35. Even if someone were to be ‘speeding” as you put it in your endearingly American way, who would stop him?”

This struck me as remarkable and I have since made it my business to look for cops whenever we travel out of the city. Never have I seen a cop car on the highway, and rarely do I see one on business in the town. There also are no Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thrus. Coincidence? I think not.

I will admit to hearing their repetitive sirens, particularly in the dead of night. Actually, only in the dead of night when they wake me up out of my beauty rest. My wife hypothesized that the sirens’ monotonous melody may have been lifted from the first four notes of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan wail repeated ad nauseum, and I do mean nauseum. I have discovered that the sirens’ irritatingly atonal drone was, in fact, scored by Phillip Glass. Before Philip Glass came along, cops used to race to any given bank robbery blaring Dean Martin singing, “Volare”, but they put a stop to that when they found that other cars did not get out of the way but rather tried to run the cop cars into telephone poles.

The lack of a visible police presence is triply remarkable as there is not one, not two, but three police forces in Florence. The Vigili Urbani, or municipal police, wear blue uniforms in winter and white in the summer. The Carabinieri dress in red striped slacks and wear shiny black shoes. La Polizia wear powder blue uniforms with fuscia stripes, white belts, and stylish berets. That is what they wear and this being Florence what you wear and how well you wear it is really the most important thing. What they all do remains a mystery.

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