Before actually buying our car, we checked a lot of classified ads for second-hand cars. In a lot of the ads, you would read about cars being “properly Romanized”. Which was a bit of a weird description, except when you start looking at the cars driving on the streets of Rome. The majority of them are covered in scrapes, scratches and dents. They’re nothing to be ashamed about. More like badges of honour. War wounds.
When people ask me what it’s like, driving in Rome, it’s very difficult to answer, and so I basically give a pithy answer. “It’s like the Wacky Races,” which is actually closer to the truth than people might think.
For one, Romans are extremely skilled drivers. I guess it’s just the culture. F1 is like a national religion (after food, football and, y’know, catholicism), but this doesn’t really explain how they’ve got near-superhuman eye-hand coordination and spatial awareness. And it’s amazing when you can keep up with them. You really do feel like a genuinely good driver.
But then there are two problems that make it less fun to drive on the roads. The first is that they have almost no understanding of the rules of the road, which means that red lights mean nothing, indicators mean nothing (this weekend, on the motorway, I drove for 10km behind a guy who was indicating to turn left – where are you turning, buddy? Into the barrier?). In fact, I have a personal theory that they flaunt things like red lights and road signals to keep the other drivers guessing.
Which brings me to the second problem: Romans drive with an almost heroic disregard for their safety or the safety of other drivers. Another example from this weekend – I was in the left lane, turning left. I had indicated the whole time, slowed down checked ahead of me. There was nothing coming in the opposite lane, so I started my turn, when a maniac whizzed past me on my left-hand side. He must have been doing at least 100km/h. Now, this was a three-lane road, there was almost nothing else on the road with me. He overtook me on the left-hand side, almost completely side-swiping me, just for the thrill of it. Overtaking me on the right-hand side would have been easy. Maybe a little too easy.
For a further example of this, there’s a wonderful section of the GRA (the giant ring-road that surrounds Rome, think of it as a better, more functional version of Dublin’s M50) which was only recently repaved. They haven’t gotten around to painting on any of the lanes or street markers. And, to a bunch of drivers to whom “lanes” are only a suggestion anyway, it’s like complete freedom. You will never see as much dodging and weaving outside of, maybe, Brand’s Hatch.
All of this, though, is definitely making an impression on me. And I’m worried. At Christmas, even though I wasn’t driving in Rome at the time and just sitting in the back of taxis, I still found myself driving much more aggressively than I normally would have. God help us when I do actually go back.
(I’m worried about this blog just turning into another outlet for me to complain about Rome/Italy/Romans/Italians, so I’ll be writing some random, inane bullshit soon, I promise)