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Tuesday 30 March 2010

Naples: Traffic

For anyone who thought that the cacophony of car horns in The Italian Job (to underscore the idea that an exceptionally bad traffic jam has been created in the northern Italian city of Turin) was something exceptional, I can only conclude that they haven’t spent any time in the country.

That noise is one of the most persuasive reasons why you try and get a room at the back of the hotel if you’re stopping over in any Italian city. That or, as I found to my relief in Naples, you stop somewhere with recently installed double glazing.

Resorting to horn-sounding is the default choice of Italian motorists whenever anything interrupts their progress, be it another car driver picking up or dropping off a passenger, someone trying to access a particularly difficult parking space, not immediately moving at maximum speed when a light turns green, or stopping at a light before it’s shown a red for several seconds.

Given that all of these are in the category of stuff that happens, you’ll understand why there is so much racket from horns in any sizeable Piazza anywhere in Italy, whether it’s outside Stazione Termini in Rome, or Piazza Garibaldi in Naples (which has more traffic, and is therefore noisier).

But what of those that our Highway Code terms “road users on foot”? Ah well. That’s when it becomes proper fun. You see something that looks like a pedestrian crossing, but realise very rapidly that the rule is, not for the first time in Italy, that there are no rules. If you stand there expecting the traffic to stop, then you will tend to remain standing there.

You pick the gaps, see the vehicles moving a little more slowly, eyeball the driver, and out you walk (alternatively, if feeling squeamish about this, shadow a local, for whom it’s second nature). The traffic may not actually stop, but will slow down sufficiently for you to make your ground, but not for so long that everyone behind starts blasting their horns.

Which brings us back to The Italian Job: every time you successfully get across four or five lanes of traffic without incident, you recall the scene where Fred Emney nearly gets flattened by a Fiat 500 and exclaims “Blimey ... bloody Grand Prix”.

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