It’s no secret Italians love to drive fast. Perhaps this passion for speed fueled the designs of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati. The vehicle doesn’t much seem to matter, though; even a battered Lancia or cruddy Vespa will get an Italian vrooming right along.
The important thing is to not get in the way. This fact is often beyond the understanding of most foreign pedestrians who take crosswalks at face value: bipeds have the right of way, thus cars will stop for you.
Ha! For the average Italian driver a pedestrian is, at best, an object to be swerved around while barreling through the crosswalk. I have long tried to instill this bit of knowledge into visiting friends and family, along with the technique for getting Italian drivers to respect the strisce pedonali, as they are called. News reports appear all too often on “street pirates” (pirati della strada), stories of injuries and deaths caused by hit and runs — many of them on crosswalks.
The problem seems to have worsened considerably.
How much so?
Recently a couple ran over Italy’s first lady Clio Napolitano as she was crossing the street — in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale, Italy’s equivalent of the White House.
I don’t imagine Laura Bush has much occasion to wander off on foot, unescorted, maybe to pop into the bakery for a forgotten loaf of bread or carton of milk.
But this is Rome. And there Clio was, alone, walking across the street when a Fiat Panda driven by an elderly couple took her out. The first lady, 73, sustained some leg and arm injuries but is otherwise fine.
Here’s my vade mecum — just in time for summer visitors — for getting from one part of la strada to another, limbs intact.
1. Go out on a ledge.
There’s no point in standing hopefully on the curb, you must take a few tentative steps out. It’s not that dangerous — there’s likely to be a car parked on or in front of the stripes to use as a shield.
2. Be realistic. (Part I)
If there is a truck careening towards you on an empty street at 90 miles an hour, do not move.
3. Be realistic. (Part II)
If you have one side of the road clear and the other is full of cars that are driving aggressively only to be backed up at a stop light, make a move.
4. Give them the evil eye.
After years of practice, I have honed a Medusa-like gaze capable of penetrating windshields of fast-moving cars and stopping drivers in their tracks. Make eye contact (or just scowl in the right direction) and you have a better chance of getting drivers to slow down. Or at least swerve.
5. Gimme five.
Should an Italian driver allow you to cross the street, put your hand up in kind of a “gimme five” gesture. This will avoid a barrage of insults and the possibility of actual violence in most cases.