Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bound for Napoli

Siena -Napoli

With a four and half hour drive ahead of us, I didn't waste any time getting onto the road. After we reached the main A1 autostrada that would take us to Napoli, the cat and mouse games began. The A1 is a two lane road for most of the way to Rome, and so venturing into the faster lane to get around trucks was as unrewarding as on the German autobahns. Even with the road clear, the rear horizon spits out bullets of BMW, Mercedes and Audi travelling at 240kph. In the evening they employ headlights of arc-welding intensity that made me wonder whether they wanted to clear the road ahead or slice my vehicle in two. For these drivers there is no excuse for other vehicles not getting out of their way, not a wall of trucks in the other lane, nor signs to prohibit lane-changing due to tunnels or roadwork. The road speed limit here varies between 90 and 130kph, and even with drivers recklessly going at more than twice the limit, there is not a sign of police to enforce the road rules. It should also be pointed out that the road surface quality is very inferior to that of the autobahns.

A CNN news report that I caught in Siena indicated that Germany wants to impose speed limits on their roads, as this would singlehandedly reduce the country's carbon emissions by 3%. Drivers and domestic auto manufacturers quickly protest.

The speedy drivers in Italy are possibly balanced(?) by the ultra-slow Fiat handlers: Cinquecentos and Pandas ambling down the autostrada, somehow never wholly within a single lane, despite being narrow enough to fit two to a lane. I'm convinced the Panda is named thus because it appears to be lazily grazing for bamboo shoots along the edge of the road.

We reach Napoli about 3pm. I'm startled by the sight of a row of glass office towers, something I've seen little of in Europe. Those are quickly forgotten as I navigate through bumpy brick-cobbled roads to the periphery of the Centro Storico where my B&B is located. PrimoPiano ("First Floor") is a HomeGallery, combined photographic artspace and B&B, very modern in an old mixed residential/commercial building with 6m ceilings. My room, deicated to Diane Arbus, is huuuge, light and airy; a little balcony pokes out over via Foria.

After settling in, hosts Antonio & Massimo invite us to join them for an exhibition opening. Weaving through the narrow vias and vicos of the Centro Storico, I learn to protect Bondi from the "flies", motorbike riders who would drive between Siamese Twins if they could find a gap in the ribs, and cars, just small enough to fit between the high walls that characterise this quarter. I keep him closer to the wall, so I can nudge him into a doorway. Footpaths are rare, and are better characterised as extrusions of grouting into the street. Drivers are unlikely to see him while simultaneously watching for pedestrians, talking on their cellphones, lighting cigarettes, and disciplining children in the back-seat. Those in cars presumably have even more distractions. I watch for the bike pillion-riders who are the most likely to attempt a bag-grab or camera-snatch, but I am more likely to see the pillion passenger as a grandmother holding an infant, demonstrating "shaken baby syndrome" Neapolitan style.

At the exhibition venue, Bondi nearly dominates the scene, diverting attention from the digitised graphics and projected video. Massimo thinks I look like Ornella, a female doctor in a popular Italian soap opera. I narrow my eyes and say I hate him already. Later, I have my Superman t-shirt on, so I am rechristened "super-Ornella". I hate him more. He tells me she is a beautiful doctor. Five more days of mezzogiorno madness.

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