h oh. The rain came pelting down on my old Fiat 127 during my one-hour commute home from work in Treviso to Bassano del Grappa. I flipped on the windshield wipers, watched them swish across the windshield once, then slowly grind to a halt.
At that moment, Murphy’s Law kicked in and the rain really started coming down. Lucky for me there was a mechanic just off the road so I quickly pulled in. He seemed to be closing, but I explained my situation in the most helpless-female way possible.
“Sorry, this isn’t a job for me. You need an elettrauto,” I was told.
He was just a mechanic.
“But how will I get home in this rain? Everything’s closed at this hour and I have to go all the way to Bassano,” I pleaded.
I’d learned that, in Italy, if you pause, letting your problem hang in the air in front of them, an Italian will grab it and find you a solution. They’re creative that way.
Mr. Mechanic opened the hood, then looked at me with that blank expression all mechanics have when they know they have you at their mercy. He turned to his assistant — you know, one of those pimply teenage boys that can’t wait to become a Mr. Mechanic too, meanwhile serving as a personal lackey to the boss.
“Get me a potato,” Mr. Mechanic ordered his assistant (who had really nailed that famous blank stare).
“Go on, you heard me…”
And the boy hurried out.
I thought, I’ve lived here 10 years, I know the language, but had he really said that? “Get me a potato!”
I waited in silence for the boy to appear, and sure enough, he came back with a great big spud in his hand.
I started racking my brain to figure out what he was going to do with this potato. Mr. Mechanic must have observed my puzzled expression because, with a slight glint in his eye, he said, rather ceremoniously: “Ma’am, with this potato you will get home to Bassano safely.”
I wondered just where he was going to put it to make my wipers work. Mr. Mechanic proceeded to cut the potato in half and ordered his helper to rub the potato across the windshield. Then he took a bucketful of water and threw it over the glass.
The water sheeted right off.
There must be something in the starch in the potato that causes this phenomenon. Without another word, Mr. Mechanic put the other half of the potato in my hand and waved me off.
“What do I owe you?”
With that I drove home, the rain pouring down, with a perfectly clear view of the road ahead. And for as long as I had that 127 Fiat, a potato was always in my glove compartment.
Just in case.