In Maremma

In Maremma by David Leavitt Read Free Book Online

Book: In Maremma by David Leavitt Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Leavitt
encountering this sign,
    1. One must decrease speed
2. One must drive with prudence
3. It is forbidden to pass
    One and two are true. Three, however, is false. When driving through a cunetta (dip in the road) it is, in fact, legal to pass, even though, quite obviously, one would be unwise to do so.
    Fortunately, we were not going to have to take the written quiz; a fact that did not in any way mitigate our anxiety. For two months we studied. Both of us, by nature, are studiers, and in fact, it proved to be well worth doing. After years of driving in Italy, we finally learned the meaning of certain enigmatic road signs:
    Obviously it is important to know what signs mean, just as it is important to know the basics of giving first aid after an accident. On the other hand, the many pages of the manual devoted to precedenza (right of way) demonstrated amply why this part of the exam was known as “theory.” After all, a drawing such as the one below, illustrating an intersection of five streets at which there is neither a stop sign, a stop light, nor a yield sign, and requiring the testee to adduce the sequence in which the various cars should give way to one another, has little to do with reality. Intersections of this sort, quite simply, do not exist, and even if they did, in Italy “right of way” belongs to the speediest, the most aggressive.

    Even so, we were determined to master the theory of precedenza, not only because we had to, but because, as theory, it had its own mysterious allure. Likewise we memorized the rules of passing (the most ignored of all on Italian roads), the basic mechanical principles of the car engine, and where it was and wasn’t permissible to park. We learned what the croce di Sant’Andrea means, and what distinguished railroad crossings con barriere from those without.
    At last, the morning of the test arrived. Having spent the night before in Rome, studying furiously in
a hotel lobby, we drove out very early to the Motorizzazione Civile (Motor Vehicles Authority), the offices of which were located far from the center of the city, on the Via Salaria. Like many municipal buildings in Italy, the Motorizzazione was an imposing, ugly structure, its very architecture seemingly designed to bully and offend. The walls were of dirty stone, and there were NO DOGS signs posted everywhere. Inside the light was greasy. There was a distant sound of traffic, a smell of gasoline. The testing room was a large and windowless trapezoid, cluttered with chair-desks of the sort more commonly found in high schools. In a sort of antechamber, a United Nations General Assembly of examinees sat waiting. Most of them were accompanied by instructors from their driving schools, who quizzed them on precendenza even as they waited.
    DL was summoned first to the exam room, along with another American, a language teacher from Chicago who had already failed the test once. They spoke in English while the examiner, a prematurely elderly young man, read through their pratiche. With the language teacher, all appeared to be in order. Then the examiner opened DL’s file, placing his medical certificate alongside his passport. For several minutes he looked from the certificate to the passport, the passport to the certificate. Then he closed both and pushed them across the desk.
    â€œThe medical certificate says that you were born in 1971,” he said. “The passport says you were born in 1961.”
    DL laughed. “Oh, that’s a mistake. I’m not surprised—you see, the doctor who gave me the eye exam was blind.”
    No laughter. Not even a smile.

    â€œAlso your passport says that you were born in Pennsylvania, USA.”
    â€œThat’s true.”
    â€œBut your medical certificate says that you were born in Pittsburgh, USA.”
    â€œThat’s also true. Pittsburgh is the city. Pennsylvania is the state.”
    â€œBut they don’t

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