In Maremma

In Maremma by David Leavitt Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: In Maremma by David Leavitt Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Leavitt
this conversation in Tuscany, on a hilltop not far from the sea, on that lovely peninsula that was for centuries, quite literally, the mother of invention! After all, Italy gave us Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo, and Marconi. Now most of that energy had been eaten up by the exigencies of contending with bureaucracy—contending with it, or evading it. If there were no longer poets in Italy, it was because bureaucracy had slain or absorbed them.

    One month later.
    To take the “practical” driving exam, we first had to meet someone called “Signor Antonio” in the Olympic Village in Rome. Since we had to be there at eight AM, we left home at five. (How pointless it all seemed, driving to Rome in the dark to take a driving exam!)
    Although we had never been there before, getting to the proper piazza in the Villaggio Olimpico proved to be a piece of cake. Since we arrived at seven thirty, there was time for us to have a coffee before meeting up with Signor Antonio. Light was beginning to creep into the sky, which had an orange cast, later than it seemed it should have. This was the sirocco, that African wind that carries with it the sand of the Sahara, and that would worsen as the morning progressed, so that by the time we took the exam, it would be necessary to use headlights.
    Having had our coffee, and not finding Signor Antonio, we walked around. It was in the summer of 1960 that the XVII Olympic games were held in Rome, and in addition to the dormitories for the athletes, which were now depressing apartments (according to a placard, one had recently been “de-ratted and disinfested”), other reminders of the event included an unmown park strewn with hypodermics; a granite obelisk bearing the five interlocking rings representing the Olympics; and streets named for the participating nations, many of which (Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union) no longer existed. There was also a grimly lit pharmacy with a gigantic sign in its front window announcing a special on “Incontinence Diapers.”
    Presently Signor Antonio arrived, in a white Fiat 600.
We exchanged pleasantries, after which MM drove, then DL. After half an hour, we were through—or so we thought—for we had been given to understand that Signor Antonio was the examiner. But he was not. Instead, he explained, he simply worked for one of the more than five hundred driving schools in Rome; his function was not to conduct the exam but to give us a quick “lesson”—which we thought was the exam—and to provide the car for the real exam. In Italy, one cannot legally take the exam in one’s own car. In Italy, one has to take the exam in a car specially outfitted with two sets of brakes—one for the driver and one for the forward passenger. (In retrospect, we thought of all the questions we should have asked. But then again, when the agente tells you, “Meet Signor Antonio at the Villaggio Olimpico,” why would you think to verify that he was the one who would dispense the license?)
    Then the examiner himself arrived. He was a short, misshapen, corrupt-looking man with hair like a Brillo pad. In his arms he carried a thick briefcase which, we soon learned from Signor Antonio, contained the licenses for all the examinees who were waiting for him. Before beginning his work, though, he first had to be taken to the bar for coffee by Signor Antonio and his cohort of other “instructors.” While they were in the bar, an order for the exams was worked out. There were twelve examinees. We were to go seventh and eighth.
    The long and the short of the exam is that one of us passed, the other failed. The one who failed was the first one of us to go, and the first American of the day as well. (All of the Asians had already failed.) Halfway into the exam, the misshapen examiner began delivering himself of anti-American invective to Signor Antonio, who was
in the car to man the second set of brakes. “Americans

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