What follows may offend Italians. It will almost certainly offend some Italian-Americans, who tend to be more aggressively Italian than Italians in the Old Country. Even so, I thought it best to explain why Italy is not covered.
On the first day of our first (and only) trip into Italy on a motorcycle, we were rear-ended. We had stopped at road works. The driver behind us came around the bend far too fast, and didn't stop in time. Frances was thrown high enough in the air that she landed on her head: if she hadn't been wearing a good helmet (a Bell), she'd probably be dead. I was thrown off; the panniers were smashed; and the damage to the motorcycle was over $3000, even in the early 1990s. Frances has had trouble with her hip (the second part to hit the ground) ever since.
All right, you say: this could have happened anywhere. You're right. It could. But even before the accident, I had already formed the opinion that Italian drivers are the worst in the world. Or at least, the worst I have ever seen -- and I've ridden or driven in many places that are notorious for bad driving, such as Mexico, India, Greece and Malta. In none of those have I been so consistently scared as in Italy. Unlike Mexicans, Indians, Greeks and Maltese, Italians are not merely bad drivers: they are aggressively bad drivers.
Their problem is that so many of them are constantly trying to go faster than their underpowered cars allow: there's a big macho thing about being the fastest driver on the road, even when you're driving a Fiat 500. Even the middle-aged men drive like teen-age boys. When they run out of power, or adhesion, or brakes, or skill, as they frequently do, they have no safety margin, so they hit each other.
In the three days were were stuck in Italy -- it took that long before Frances could easily walk again, and for me to stick the 'bike back together enough to limp back to France -- I saw nothing to alter my opinion of Italian driving. Nor have I ever seen as many dented cars. We idly counted them in a car-park once. Almost three-quarters were dented and dinged. Not scratches and scrapes, but real bumps.
Nor am I the only one to form a low opinion of Italian driving skills. A year or two later, my father went touring (by car) in Italy. Not only did he notice the dents, but as he put it, "You go up a hill, and you pass almost everything. But then you come down the other side, and if you are anywhere near the speed limit, all these tiny cars buzz past you like a swarm of bees."
I should add that immediately after the accident, we managed to get to a nearby BMW dealer: the bike was (just) ridable. Not only was he completely indifferent to our predicament: he refused to let Frances use his toilet. As she says, she must have been in shock, or she'd have dropped her jeans and peed on his floor. And I must have been in shock too, or I'd have decked the bastard.
Of course he wasn't a typical Italian. But he was the first one we dealt with, after the one who hit us and the police. The ones we met afterwards, the great majority of whom were kind and helpful, couldn't quite erase the damage he had done to his country's image.
As I said, I apologize if this offends people, and I fully accept that it might be a good idea to go back. There is a lot that is good in Italy, after all. Maybe I'll try it in the Land Rover, after I've had the rock sliders fitted, and if that goes well, maybe I'll go back on the bike. Or if this site is a success, I'll get someone else to write the Italy section.
You may think I'm a coward, and that's your privilege: though if it had been I who was injured, rather than the person I love most in all the world, I don't think it would have affected me quite so badly. As it is, even the proudest Italian will, I think, understand why I am reluctant to go back, and why I thought it more honest to write this than to make up an entry.
This information has been verified as far as possible but should not be taken as definitive. You alone are responsible for your safety on a motorcycle (or elsewhere) and should always ride and behave accordingly. Click here for the Official Health Warning.
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last updated: 30/10/03
© 2003 Roger W. Hicks