I'll give you an example of what I mean: our neighbour on the first floor can barely bring himself to say buon giorno and tends to hustle the children along if he sees us coming - now that may be a combination of us being stranieri and omosessuale. Yet the other evening when we had a power failure and discovered that there was no way to open the front gates he patiently explained about the key for the back gate, was indignant that we didn't have one - this was not right the Embassy should have given us one, what would we do if there was an accident we could be trapped in the compound - and trotted down the long back lane way to open it for us. This morning it was back to a curt nod and a muttered greeting!
But then as Beppe Severgnini explains in La Bella Figura in an emergency Italians come through! Severgnini's explanation of the Italian character is highly recommended reading for anyone visiting Italy and mandatory for anyone planning to live here. He addresses many of those questions that have been puzzling us stranieri since the first Gaul gawked in wonder at the Colesseo.
Take traffic and parking! Though he's talking specifically about the parking situation in Napoli, he could be addressing the Sunday morning circling for a spot near the door at IKEA here at Porta di Roma.
Italian motorists must - not "like to," not "want to," not "beg to," but absolutely must - park right next to their destination, with no thought for the consequences. It's true all over the country, but here in Naples, under pressure from the lack of space, stimulated by uphill gradients, and excited by the descents, drivers seem particularly creative.And I think he may have come up with an explanation for that Mercedes that has been parked on a nearby street for the past six months. You may recall I wrote about it in September. Yes its still sitting there but that sticky mess of figs has dried up and is now covered by a lovely autumnal arrangement of dead leaves.
Anyone arriving by car expects to park outside the front door. A couple of hundred meters away there may be a huge free parking lot, but that's irrelevant. Leaving the car there would be an admission of defeat. Our car user circles like a shark awaiting the moment to strike. If the individual concerned thinks he or she is important - a title that many in Naples like to acquire in the course of a brief, solitary award ceremonies - then irritation increases. Status is inversely proportional to the distance between destination and parking space. The closer the car the more important the driver.
Severgnini's possible explanation? Again he's talking about Napoli but it could be Roma and it could be that Mercedes owner.
There's another category of motorists that deserve examination here in Naples. I'm taking about the Potential Driver, who has found a parking space - improbable, improvised or just plain impermissible - and has not intention of giving it up. This driver gets around on foot, on a scooter, or on public transport, defying the ticket inspectors and muggers. But the car stays where it is. Every so often, he dusts the vehicle off. Why should he move it? A car is a form of reassurance, proof of prosperity, and a place to listen to the radio or store wine. No one around here has ever parked so close to home before. The neighbours know this, and observe in admiration.La Bella Figura
Beppe SevergniniThe Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group
Well of course, why didn't I think of that: once you've got a good spot why give it up? Makes sense doesn't it?
Okay even Severgnini can't always give reasons that make sense to us Huns - hey we are in Italy - but he makes a good stab at it. And its entertaining reading!
26 novembre - Sant'Umile da Bisignano