May 2008

Rotatoria, Dumb Ass!

Roberto was trying again to find a chink in my armor, a hiccough in my system, a fragile link in my chain. He has been doing it for years and I usually find it entertaining to confound him. How could it be that an American woman can be living, so contentedly and without apparent worries, in two countries? It is not because he wants to find problems. He is just a man of order and is worried that my happiness might be found out and some kind of bubble might burst. He calls me a “concentration of contradictions.”

“What about your driver’s license? What are you using?”

“Roberto, I have already explained this. Every summer I get a new international license when I go back to California. It takes ten minutes and costs ten bucks. Easy.”

“But now you have an Italian residence card.”

“So? I have had that for three years now”

“Serena, you can only use an international license for one year. You cannot have residence in Italy
and show an international drivers license. Ha! I have found your weakness!”

Well, he didn’t really say that last part, but he didn’t need to. Later I called Luciano to verify. He said he would check it out, sounding as surprised as I. He had not thought of it either. Also a man of order, Luciano is sometimes mortified to be living with a woman who has such a lackadaisical regard for the law.

When I got home, he was grim.

“It is true. You must get an Italian drivers license and to do that, you have to sign up for classes. I have contacted the driving school in Conegliano. You have to go.

So I went, admittedly with a very bad attitude, to my first lesson which took place in a small drab room populated with a Russian woman, two men from Croatia, and a young Italian man. The Italian seemed happy to be there. One Croat was missing two fingers from his left hand The Russian woman was keeping her head down, trying to become invisible. The teacher entered, gathered us around the table and opened a large book filled with illustrations of road signs. His shirt wasn’t properly buttoned and he had a milky right eye.

“What’s this?” he snapped at me. He tapped a symbol with a short little pointer.


I knew this one and without hesitation answered, “A rotonda.”

“No! You silly bitch, it is a rotatoria!”

He did not actually say the silly bitch part, but heard it in his voice. I had never heard anyone in my five years in Italy utter the word “rotatoria.” In fact, since this lesson I have carried out an informal survey and have yet to find an Italian to answer the question correctly.

I glared at him as he smiled triumphantly. He then turned to the Russian woman who cowered behind her book.

“What’s this symbol?” He tapped the book, hard. She looked at him, mute.

Autostrada! Do you understand autostrada?” She shook her head, causing me to wonder just how much she was getting out of this class. He turned to a new victim.

While the teacher was busy berating the Croat with the missing fingers, my eyes wandered about the room. On the wall in the corner there was a large set of hinged posters, like a book with illustrations of hydraulic brakes schematics or the inside of a carburetor. I idly wondered if I was supposed to know this stuff when I noticed a calendar hanging behind the teacher’s head, right next to the carburetor. In it a stiletto clad woman was leaning against a Fiat roadster, her bosom barely contained in a sheer negligee. I suddenly lost all remaining respect for the teacher with the milky eye behind whose head hung soft porn as he turned to me.

“And to pay for parking?” He barked, tapping his tiny little pointer.

“I put money in the parking machine and then place the ticket on the windshield.”

“No, dumb ass,
when do you pay?”

“Oh. Always, except at night, during lunch and on Sunday.” I got him.

“And holidays? What about holidays? Hah!”

I had had enough of this colossal waste of my time and at the end of the hour I consulted the director. I wanted to know how to get out of there.

“I would like to know how quickly I can take this test.”

“As soon as we issue you the learner’s permit, the procedure can begin.”

“Learner’s permit? Then I can drive with that?”

“But only with another driver in the car who has had a license for at least ten years.”

Ok, that was useless. “How soon can I take the driving test? And what procedure?”

“You must wait a month and one day after you are issued the permit. We will decide when to set up a practice road lesson and when to make an appointment for your test.”

A month and one day? Is this a cooling off period, as if I wanted to purchase a gun? As in, are you sure you want to get that license, Missy? Or perhaps as in fairytale “she-will-prick-her-finger-and-fall-asleep-for-a-month-and-one-day” pause in time? What is clear is that one day I, a driving veteran in two countries, was capable of driving in Italy. The next I was not and I now need to relearn everything I already know.

And so far, I have discovered that there are over four hundred traffic signs that I must memorize. I need to know the speed limit for a loaded bus on the highway, the weight limit indicated in the logbook of a 3.5 ton trucks when driving at night, and how to interpret the test questions which read like convoluted legal documents designed to confound and confuse.

I know it is a free-for-all out there and that those rule makers/license dispensers are clearly living on another planet where everyone follows the speed limit, passes only when legal and safe to do so and stops carefully and completely at all stop signs.

Yet, I sit hostage in a classroom with doomed future drivers and study for a test that reflects the laws of that orderly distant planet, in preparation to drive in a land where there seems to be no speed limit, cars pass each other willy-nilly…and stop signs are only a suggestion.

For a month and one day.

segnali stradali