Italian driver

Don’t get in the car with him

Warning: If you’re on your way to visit Rome, don’t read this.

Our Italian driver is not of the Armani suit tribe. Carlo wears comfy jeans, has long shaggy hair and an unkempt beard. He also has the fabulous Roman nose of his ancestors as made immortal in ancient statues and sculptures. He looks like a scruffy Roman god. Seems like a good beginning for an Italian vacation, don’t you think? We just got off the plane and he’s driving us to our B&B in Rome.

(Note: I wrote this story a while ago. I am at this moment not in Rome, but remembering this still gives me heart palpitations.)

No sooner has Carlo plunked himself into the driver’s seat, than he takes off like a rocket to Mars while talking on a cell phone and driving with one hand. My limited Italian only serves me to understand that he’s in a hurry and has another pickup somewhere. It’s raining lightly but his right windshield wiper is groaning in a death struggle and the one in front of him is going through rigor mortis and is not doing any wiping at all.

Cool Carlo puts the phone down on the seat next to him and I realize it’s one of a collection of four. Four cell phones, I kid you not. In front of him on the dashboard are two untidy piles of paper and file folders. The place looks like the office of a homeless bureaucrat.

We steam out of the general airport area and find ourselves on the main highway leading from the town of Fiumicino (where the airport is) to Rome proper. It’s three lanes of traffic each way, and a goat track this road is not, let me assure you. It’s raining, and the wipers are not working, or did I mention that already?

Our Roman god reaches for one of the piles of paper and puts it on his lap. He ruffles through it and takes out a sheet of paper full of indecipherable scribbles. He starts to write, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel. Minutes go by. The car is slowly drifting to the left into the other lane. I’m speechless with terror.

He rips off a small scrap of paper, opens the window a crack and pushes it out into the great wet yonder. He takes the opportunity to look at the road by leaning over to the right and glancing out of the window in front of the passenger’s seat, the part in front of him being un-look-throughable. He steers the wandering car back into its own lane and hits the accelerator.

We are tearing down the road at suicidal speed. Thank the gods there is not a lot of traffic because Kamikaze Carlo reaches for another pile of paper and goes at it again: reading, writing, tossing another piece of paper out the window, and talking enthusiastic Italian on one of the four phones. The conversation concluded, he continues scribbling some more, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel.

I am now duly impressed by his skill in multitasking. Also I am frozen in terror as I look ahead through the window, seeing nothing because it has all fogged up on the inside and he has not noticed because he is studying for his doctoral degree in nuclear science. Looking out of the side window I see we are drifting off into the other lane again. Fortunately it has stopped raining.

He rips off another piece of paper, opens the window again, pushes it out and now leaves the window open a bit to clear the fogged-up windshield (I assume). He does not wipe it. One of the phones rings. Another discussion ensues, which gives him another opportunity to steer the car back into its own lane of traffic once he notices it’s meandering.

I did not come to Italy to die with my prince in a car crash right before Valentine’s Day. What an unromantic death! No, I came to Rome to live! To eat and drink! To gawk at old buildings! To watch Rome’s finest strutting their stuff in front of the United Colors of Benetton!

Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton

Living in Rome

I want to live here

Carlo shuffles more paper, pushes the pile back onto the dashboard and grabs the other stack of files, all the while talking on one of his four phones. Then he’s back to work — writing, reading, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel.

This goes on for twenty days minutes until we enter Rome proper and then he stops reading and writing and seems to pay more attention to the traffic. However, he still talks on two of his four phones, but really, I’m not complaining. I’m too busy trying to breathe again.

Italian elevator

Safer than Carlo

We arrive at the palazzo (old apartment building) that houses our Bed & Breakfast. We’re physically unscarred but emotionally traumatized. Crazy Carlo helps carry our luggage into the poorly lit, ancient building.

I’ve never been happier to see an elevator dating from Caesar’s time.

My man hands the guy his fee of fifty euros. Carlo wishes us a good time in Italy and turns away. A moment later he turns back, waving the money in the air. “Signor! I need euros!”

Well, yes, of course. He hands over the banknote and I take it and see that it’s some mystery money I do not recognize.

My spouse offers up his sincere apologies, digs into his wallet for the real deal euro note and hands it over. Our Roman god bolts out of the building.

And what was that mystery banknote of fifty, you ask?

Ukrainian money, left over from a recent business trip.

The value? About 4 euros, 4.5 dollars.

There would have been a certain karmic justice in it if Kamikaze Carlo wouldn’t have noticed, don’t you think?

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Do you have a story about a crazy driver?  Please hit the comment button and tell me. I’m holding my breath!

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Did I get scammed? Because I’m an expat, a foreigner? I’m not sure. It was a sparkling spring day in Armenia, where once upon a time I sojourned for a good number of years as an expat.

How exotic is life in Armenia? Well, you tell me. It was an ordinary day and I was running ordinary errands, one of which was going to the post office. Just like you might do in Centerville, Virginia or Paris, France. Here’s the tale I wrote about that adventure:

Urgently Needed: Smiles and Excitement

Today I have a card to send off to America. Since the goddess of sunshine is shimmering her blessings over the town of Yerevan this spring day I decide to take a walk and avail myself of the services of the little post office in my neighborhood. My few words of Armenian should be enough, especially since the card is a simple piece of mail with the USA part of the address also written in Armenian. By me, yes. Here it is: ԱՄՆ. Interesting alphabet, right? It has 38 letters and to give you an idea what it looks like, here is the translation of “The Armenian Alphabet”:  Հայկական այբուբենը. So there you have it. And in case you are interested, this alphabet was invented by Mesrop Mashtots in around 405 AD. Here a statue of the famous man:

But I digress! It is so easy to do when talking about alphabets, don’t you agree? So, onward!

The post office is a drab little store front room, but the women behind the small counter offer a bit of color. One is a matron with pitch black hair and neon orange lips, the other a younger type with bleached blonde hair and big lips outlined in dark red and painted in with a pale pink. They look at me soberly. I offer them a cheery barev dzez and they return it with unrelenting seriousness.

I slide the card in its square envelope toward them. “Amerika,” I say for good measure. I might as well just say it for the sake of making a sound. The older lady—the one in charge, I think—picks it up and studies it for a few moments, frowning in deep concentration. Then she shows it to the bleached chick who also studies it.

“Amerika,” I say again. They nod, acknowledging they understand. Then they study the envelope some more, talking to each other in grave, concerned tones. What could possibly be wrong? Have they never seen an envelope with an American address on it? I am mystified by their behavior. Fortunately there is no one else in the post office waiting to be served. Maybe I am the only one who’s been here all morning and they are making the most of it. Maybe this is the most excitement they’ve had today. It must be very boring sitting here all day with nothing to do but boil little cups of muddy coffee on a hot plate and stare at the sunny streets beyond the grimy window where everybody else is frolicking in the sunshine, or so it must seem.

Finally, after much pointing and discussing, the boss lady turns to me and struggles out a few words in English while pointing at the envelope. “Address here,”  she says, pointing to the lower right hand side of the envelope. “Your address here.” She indicates my return address in the top left corner. I have no clue what she means. My return address is sitting nicely right where she is pointing. I nod, and point to it.

“My address, here in Armenia.”

She nods her approval, points at my friend’s address neatly printed in the middle of the envelope and then indicates the far lower right corner. “Here,” she says.

Aha, now we are getting somewhere. I, Miss Footloose, who has addressed thousands of cards in her lifetime—Christmas cards and birthday cards and Mother’s Day cards—and sent them from and to all corners of the planet without ever any complaint or problem…..

I have somehow failed to satisfy the Armenian postal lady behind the counter in this tiny post office.

What to do? I can refuse. I can snarl my discontent. I can jump up and down in anger and make a scene. Yeah, well, life is too short. And my card would never make it to Amerika if I do. So I smile. There is a shortage of smiles in this room, and I have plenty. Then I offer up a helpless look, putting myself on their mercy. Do I have to go home and find another envelope and then come back again?

But no! Boss lady hands me a new envelope, conveniently available, points to the exact location for the two addresses and indicates a table behind me where I can fix the problem. Fortunately I do not have a plane to catch. Like a good girl I write the recipient’s address all the way in the lower right hand corner, as instructed. It looks quite silly, but who am I to make fun of this? I am a guest in their country. I’ll write the envelope the way they want it if that makes them happy. Happiness is nice. I’ve got lots of it and I’m willing to share.

I show the finished product. They both study it briefly and nod. They are satisfied. The boss lady tells me what I owe for the postage. And for the envelope—she taps it to indicate I have to pay for it.

I have to pay for the envelope. I feel a tickle of suspicion, shame on me. Have they just craftily scammed me by saying I hadn’t addressed my own correctly? Or were they just messing with me to have some fun? Nah.

I pay. I smile. They smile, which is not nothing.

I walk out into the sunny spring morning, walk down the street, laughing out loud to myself. People are staring at me. I’m a crazy lady.

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I love ‘little’ stories about minor incidents in expat life. Not all adventures are major crises or calamities. Tell me one of yours!

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