February 21, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Traffic light tales

By |2018-03-21T20:00:53+01:00May 31st, 2016|"In the Sticks"|
At your own risk, to put it mildly...

t all starts with a story. And this story is about how close I came to packing up my stuff and leaving the sticks for good.

I have over the course of the last decade nurtured a very extreme case of road rage. I am not the world’s best driver.

In my very short time behind the wheel, I have ripped off my front bumper twice, swiped several poles and possibly been involved in a hit and run — I’m pretty sure the old man was okay. I just don’t have any witnesses to confirm it. This is infinitely better than my husband’s list of victims, which includes a motorcyclist, a cat, his own laptop and a senior citizen, who he slammed with one of his side Then there was the time I didn’t put the handbrake on and comically watched my car roll into the one in front of it while I was halfway out the door.

But this story is not about my driving abilities, at least not directly. It’s about the arrival of traffic lights in a small town full of residents that consider them a curious novelty.

Long story short, someone is building a poo cleaning factory (a sewage treatment plant to Americans) near my father-in-law’s house and needs to connect all the other houses to it via underground pipes. To do that, the builders have closed one lane at each of the three exits out of town. You cannot enter, exit or get petrol without stopping at a red light — the first light in this Tuscan town’s history.

I, of course, am well versed in traffic lights. We Australians do not follow Italian logic, as in: “why put in a traffic light when you can just build another roundabout?” Not do we take the speed limit as a friendly suggestion to be promptly ignored. And we don’t stop in the middle of the road to carry out a conversation blissfully ignorant of the queue amassing behind us.

I in fact convinced that most Italians have no idea how traffic lights even work, which is ridiculous because I passed the Italian driving exam, and to do that you need to memorize a 40-page book that features every single road rule in this glorious republic. Lights are included. Then again, that same book mentions that seatbelts are compulsory and children should not to be transported around on your lap.

Here is a traffic light story from my town: A man parks his Fiat Punto illegally in front of his local bar (he wants a coffee) and blocks an entire lane of traffic at a light. Finally, a truck beeps. Said man comes out and flips the truck driver off for interrupting his coffee break. I saw all this while running late for work. I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was even funnier when yet another Fiat Punto almost cleaned me up as I tried to cross the green light. That driver flipped me off while driving through a red light. You see, stopping at the red light is for idiots, and foreigners.

Also, please consider the role of the bright sparks on our local town council. They decided this was the perfect time to carry out unrelated road works on the main strip. To do this, they closed the strip for three weeks, tunneling all the town’s cars down the same road and creating an ingorgo longer than the town itself. Don’t ask me the English word for ingorgo. I can, however, personally vouch for the stupidity of my town’s councilors. I’m married to one and, as mentioned, he counts a cat among his victims.

The best part of this entire tale isn’t that we’re only in month three of what promises to be a two-year job. No, the best part is that these bad habits are rubbing off. Now, stopping at the red light is entirely optional regardless of whether the local police chief is watching or not. And parking illegally when only one lane is open is perfectly acceptable. Heck, parking on the pedestrian crossing in front of the primary school is a already a longstanding tradition.

But this foreigner, this idiot, who until now has accepted the rules like a chump, is turning over a new leaf. I mentioned at the start that I have road rage. I do. I can’t sit behind a car doing 30 more than the speed limit when it could be doing double that. I have tailgated so many bike-laden German tourists I know their license plates by heart.

So from now on, I’m going to flagrantly ignore the rules too. After all, when in Rome… It’s either that or start throttling my neighbors.

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.