Thursday, January 28, 2016

On The Road Again

The sun removes the mist, the Venetian fog is cleared and I can see clearly the hills just beyond our home.  The view seems more colorful today, but it is not due to the sun or the weather.  The reason can be found in my wallet, a pinkish piece of plastic that has  my name and personal information.  On the reverse side there is a statement that says this person has the right to drive in Italy for 5 years.

While not as easy as an Indian dancing through hoops, I have squeezed through the testing hoops, and now a great weight has dropped from my shoulders.  I feel peace again.  Very important, that feeling of peace, when you are old.

First Hoop
With over 7,000 questions developed the computer randomly chose 40 for me to answer.   Allowed to miss 4 out of the 40, I failed by a question on one test and two questions on another.  I repaid the expensive fee and passed on the third try.  What did I learn?  These motor vehicle employees must really hate their job, and the take it out by creating questions that sometimes have little to do with driving knowledge and seem more like a mine field of logic. You know this kind of question, I am sure.

In the Car
Every person who desires a driver license in Italy must take 6 hours of in car driving instruction with a qualified instructor.  Back in my day, my father took me out in the toolies and let me drive the family car.  My mother in the back seat made scary noises which taught me to be a defensive driver.  Not in Italy.  It must be quite comical for people to see a 68 year old man driving a car with big letters, Driving School, on every side.  Can you see this picture?
More comical…big guy, little car!!

Big Surprise
At the end of my last lesson the school hands me a ten page study guide and they explain that before I will be allowed to drive for the esaminatore I will have to answer questions about the automobile and how it functions.  Included will be questions about where to put the oil, antifreeze, etc. and tire sizes, tread depth, year of tire construction, etc.  I know these things, and can probably explain them, but my biggest problem will be when I am questioned.  I may not be able to process and understand the question.  Italians are not slow speakers.  No one here speaks Italian like a old country boy from Louisiana speaks English.  I like to say they speak the speed of a machine gun.  They also run together words in a sentence, just like we all do, which makes hearing and processing impossible.  Whatrtheadditives  intheantifreezen whysitimportant?  or Youmusexplainwhere tofinthedateof constructiononthe side ofthetireandhowmanyearsis itbeforeyoudispose of it?  
I was not looking forward to this part of the test, nor had I expected it.  All the blogs about taking the test never mentioned this pre drive questioning.  Now I had to make an adjustment in my mind.  More study.  Another hoop!

I studied.  I studied hard, learned the name for the oil stick was astina, hydaullic fluid is liquido freni, radiator fluid is liquido refrigerante and the additive is antigelo.  I memorized, in the order  they expected the 11 dispositive di segnalione visiva e  di illuminazione, (devices for segnaling and lighting)…direzione, posizione,annabaglianti abbagliani, fendenebbia anteriore, fendenebbia posteriore, freno, retromarcia, targa, luci emergenza,and cortesia.  (This is only a small part of possible subjects)  But I learned all!  I was ready.

The test was set for 3:00 and I was told to be at the school at 11:00.  I wondered what would fill that 4 hour span, but then I received a call to come to the office at 1:00.  This was followed by a desperate  call to drop my lunch and get on the tram immediately to arrive before 12:00.  Arriving at the school I find the other students waiting, and we all stood around for an hour.  Is this the  army or…..wait, where am I?  Italy.  Italian time. A starting time in Italy is most always late.  I have given painting workshops and  people arrive more than an hour later than the start time.  So I should know better, as you now do.

Finally we cram ourselves into the school car, did I mention they were all teenagers?  After they satisfied their curiosity over an old guy taking the test they began asking the instructor one question after another about driving during the test.  They were as nervous as I.  Sitting in the front seat, I was cautioned NOT to use the pedals near my feet, placed there to help the instructor keep bad drivers from crashing the car (which by the way has scrape marks and bumps on every corner).

At the motor vehicle office we stand waiting while the instructor makes a call to the  esaminatore who informs him that he has decided to take a leisurely lunch in the bar and we must wait.  Did I mention it is 34 degrees out?   We all get in line to practice in the school car how to back into a parking slot.  Then there is a good going over of all the things inside the car and how to turn them on and off.  This is followed by things under the hood, and the tires,  We are there until 3:00 waiting.  (The original time)

I am pretty good at judging people from how they look.  It is a kind of feeling thing that right sided brained people have, and from the looks of the esaminatore, I think his ancestors must have been high officials during the inquisition.  His face is in need of a shave, hair unkempt, and his smile was non-existent.  With glasses drooping on his nose, he carries his clipboard and grumbled something to our instructor then disappeared into the back seat of the school car.  I backed away from the area so that I would not be chosen first! Nothing like getting into a rattlesnake nest when they are hungry.

From inside the car we hear a name called out, and the Chinese kid steps anxiously forward.  (Lots of Chinese in Italy, another post later)  The car sits, and we all watch and wait.  After five minutes the kids gets out and walks towards us with a face of dejection.  He tells us that he has failed.  The reason was his answer to the question, what is the significance of the hydraulic fluid in the brake line?  His answer, for the pump.  

My immediate thought was, I am gone!  At that point, however, I began to relax, realizing that my fate was sealed already.

Another name is called and a girl about 22 gets in the car.  We wait while she is grilled and suddenly the car starts.  Everyone is told to run and get in the other school car, and we end up following the test car so that we all know the route that will be used.  We will also be able to see the parking part of the test.  15 minutes later, I am feeling a bit more confident, and we arrive back at the DMV building.  The girl exits the car and she is holding high a pink credit card as if she just won a gold medal.  Pats on the back, and complements….then there is no mistake, I hear my name called.  Oh Dio!  Here we go.  

I slowly walk to the car.   I move the seat back in order to cram my  big body inside, and I hear…..”Oh, you are the American guy, yes?”  ……
Why am I hearing English?  
I look and the esaminatore has a smile.  How? …What changed him?  I tell him yes, I was a teacher in a public school in California for 37 years but now am married to an Italian and live outside of Padova.  (In my best Italian.. )  He says, and you drive a car in America?  (In English)
I grab my wallet and pull out my American license.  He laughs and says, that they don’t get many Americans taking the test, and they always have trouble parking backwards… and he laughs…
I settle in, and begin the process of adjusting my seat in the officially expected Italian mandated order, slow and careful.  I turn  and look at him, and he tells me, how do you leave the car?  (Now he speaks in Italian)  Thinking fast, I do not quite understand, but figure he is asking for the mandated order to turn off and exit the car….So I rattle off in pretty good Italian how to do that, complete with opening the door using two hands.
I hear a “good” (in English) and then he asks me how to check the oil.  
Oh, I am so lucky….”Well, you use the dipstick (asta) clean it (pulire) and check minimo massimo…”

“Start the car!”…..I am on my way.
We take an abbreviated route, and within 5 minutes we return.  Either I flunked badly or I passed.  I turn my head and he is handing me my pink driver’s license.  I am finished.  It is finished.  He is handing me my life back (or at least my mornings)  I am giving a big  American bear hug to the instructor, high fives to all the teenagers!  Touchdown!  I want to give a victory dance around the goal posts.
I believe that I was helped greatly by my instructor who prepared the esaminatore and cleared the way for me to pass.  For this I am grateful.  It was time to get a break!
Now  I can move on and return to retired life, my friends will stop hearing about the trials of the test, a relief for them I am sure, and now I will be able to share the driving so we can go to further away places on the weekend.  It has been way over a year of intense work.  
Who would guess that this kid in 63 years would be driving with an Italian license?

Next Stop Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany!  As my uncle used to say as a conductor on the Santa Fe, “All Aboard!”

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Driving Italian Style

Open Spaces of Colorado Rockies
In a few days I will be tested behind the wheel to complete my driving exam.  I will drive for at least 20 nervous minutes in the school car.  I have been informed that at any time the esaminatore (guy with clipboard) can stop the exam and I must exit the car ashamed to have failed the test.  Many do.

The drive will be in the center of Padova, known for its busy one way streets,  lanes where cars are excluded open only to buses, or open only to residents of that area, multiple roundabouts, pedestrian walkways, and street lights that operate separate lanes only.  Because I am a right sided brained thinker and visually see all parts without much distinction (I know that is not a great description, but means my brain gets overloaded with lots of “stuff” in view), I have to really concentrate.  My driving instructor thinks I am very nervous, and he nailed that one on the head!  Also what makes me nervous is that I only get two chances to pass the driving part of the test and if I am sent home in shame I will have to start completely over, kick in another pile of euros, maybe another 400 euros—I don’t even want to know this exact price!!

Colorado Plains east of Rockies from Trinidad
I dream of driving my car on the roads of Colorado and New Mexico, or even the freeways of Los Angeles in comparison to the streets of Padova.  Ah, the big wide lanes, the “out in the open” feeling, and the much less intense driving.  Included in this blog are some fotos of my dreaming…..My Russian buddy, Albert knows this feeling.  He would love to live and drive in America.

Keep in mind that in all my years of driving in the states I have never had an accident and never received a ticket for driving badly- - and that’s a lot of years….since 1963.   My children used to joke that I drive too safe like a grandpa.  I am totally a defensive driver, nothing like the aggressive Italians.

I am pressured by my strong arm instructor’s voice to always move my head 
 (exaggerating a lot) when changing lanes, turning, etc. and to not just look in all the mirrors because  the examinatore will be hunting for this, hoping to catch me not stretching my neck to see out the window.  However, behind me on the left this attempt  is useless as the Opel I am driving has  conveniently placed the bar between the driver door and the back passenger window and my view is blocked.  I am still forced to play the game and look backwards as if I am Superman and can clearly see through everything perfectly. 

During my last practice drive I drove to a crosswalk and stopped for the light located on the right side. It was the only traffic light  I could see  because my big head ,when turning left ,could only see objects at chest level (I am 6 feet tall, shoved into a tiny European quasi-clown car situated at the level of a sports car).  I am waiting for the light to change to green and suddenly the instructor commences with his loud voice urging me to go.  I say, “non posso andare!”… he points to my left and says the light is green. I wonder what he is pointing at, and suddenly realise that there must be a traffic light on my left but way above  my view through the window.   I show him by pointing  that my view is blocked by the roof of the car, etc.  He says some quick fired words in a low voice, probably describing my inabilities, which makes me not just nervous but a bit pissed off as he is a little sucker and he can see out perfectly and I, being an average Americano cannot see out of his cheap-assed squat sized school car.  With our fake smiles we move on.

We continue driving to the street of the auto school (the most busy, two lane one way street in Padova)  and park on the left sidewalk.  The instructor guides me where to stop, and he tells me to turn off the car.  I have a problem with this because just outside my door is a big post, not high enough for him to see.  This would keep me trapped because the door cannot open.  I explain to him several times in my Americanized Italian accent that I am “bloccato” until he  finally gets it.  (My Italian accent is not the Veneto accent… do you want to hear the Veneto accent?  Go sit in a dentist chair with your mouth full of cotton and the sucking hose and the assistant’s hand in your mouth!   Try to speak clearly when dentist asks you how are you doing. Seriously, Veneto sounds like that.  No consonants.  A lotta whaahuahffaeeaho!  (Three words all together)  When people of the Veneto switch to speaking Italian they keep that Veneto accent just like a Texan reading Shakespeare.    Funny that people of the Veneto think that Romans and Tuscans have a thick Italian accent.   When we watch an Italian movie on television my wife (of the Veneto) has some difficulty understanding actors from Sicily…. like I have trouble understanding some British accents.

Today I am practicing at my dinner table how to explain all the items inside the car and how they function, what happens when you push this button, adjust that light, blow the air in different directions, how to make the wipers work, with or without detergente, how to turn on the fog lights, direction lights, and even adjusting the light direction when having a heavy load in the car.  
I will have to do all this with the examinatore before I am allowed to drive the car.  It all begins with explaining how I cram  myself into the car and adjust my seat so that I can drive “correctly” with wrists across the top of the steering wheel when totally adjusted.  Then I will have to open the hood and explain in Italian where to add oil, detergente, brake fluid, explain the reason why we don’t put water in the wiper fluid (limestone blocks the holes), etc.   Then I will have to explain what all those numbers on the tires mean…right down to date of construction.  You know that 225 R17 business that we never think about much, Italians know those numbers and what they mean.

The next to last thing I will be tested on is the carta di circolazione.. which is like the registration paper, but much more detailed.  Size of tires that can only be used, date of sale, number of passengers to be inside, the power in kilowatts (beginner drivers like me here can only drive in a car below 55 kilowatts—they don’t use horsepower here) Yes at my age I will be a beginner for three long years.  Plenty of Rules in Italy!
Hopefully the last thing I will have to demonstrate will be to show the examinatore where all the lights are located outside the car and be able to name them in Italian, clearly if I get to this point it should be the easiest of all things that I must know.  

All the while I am studying for the exam I think of the small manual for driving that I used in Colorado, it must have been about 35 pages of rules, and I studied it for 45 minutes in order to change my license from California to Colorado.  The Italian manual that I had to purchase at the local bookstore is 367 pages in length.  It took a long time to translate all 365 pages, and I am not just talking a few months.  Grazie Dio for the folks at Google Translate! 

If you read this and you hear someone make a negative comment about those Italian drivers, tell them to read my blog.  Italian drivers are well informed and jump through a lot of hoops to have the privilege to drive.  I soon hope to be one of them, as I have been jumping hoops, too.  Older people have more difficulty jumping!
Please feel free to make a comment below by clicking on word “comment”.
Just over those peaks is Aspen, Colorado
This is gold country, near Lake Taylor

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sick Leave Police Are Here!

    ZZzzzzz!!       ZZZZZzzzzzz!  
The buzzer at our gate announces that we either have a visitor or a package waiting.  We buzz the gate open and we hear approaching  footsteps.  An older gentleman looking a bit like an Italian version of Bernie Sanders approaches and discloses that he is a Medico Fiscale, otherwise known here as the Sick Leave Policeman.  

My wife has had a week of bad migraines, she has been to the local hospital, seen by two doctors and one  neurologist and tomorrow she is scheduled for a MRI  to see if they can determine what is the problem.   The owner of the factory, where she works as the IT person,  has sent the sick leave police to check on her.  It is not enough for her boss to see the paperwork from the hospital and doctors.  It is not enough that her  doctor has written and submitted  the paperwork allowing her to take some sick leave.  

The Italian health care system strives to keep people from abusing sick leave.  They make a good attempt at protecting their excellent health coverage and not allowing it to be abused.  The man that showed up today is a medical doctor, not some pencil pusher from the government.  Therefore, sick people will, in fact, be recognized for being really sick, while workers who are not sick will be exposed.  What we found humorous is that after the surprise visit  with my wife, he ended up telling her that she should take more days off and he would write a document to allow this. 

The Italian health system makes sure that every citizen has the right to be well and whatever that person needs, medically, will be utilized.  Poor or rich, each person has an equal chance to get well whether it is the flu or a more serious  hospitalization.  Tests made to help the doctors determine the cause of illnesses are covered.  My wife’s MRI tomorrow will be $40.00 (US conversion).  Every person in Italy, rich or poor, has the right to be healthy.  They do pay more taxes, but they  pay no health insurance premiums.  A long stay in the hospital with an operation would cost zero.  Nothing.  No one here loses their home due to hospital bills.  No one borrows money to pay later.  No one receives a bill to pay the deductable cost.

People want to know the difference between living in Italy and living in America.  This is one of those big differences.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Questions Asked While Back Home

From the Staten Island Ferry
Still recovering from jet lag. I am sitting here mulling over conversations we had with Americans during our two week trip to the states.   The questions discussed were enlightening.
  1. Several people mentioned to us that they know that most all Italians make their own wine, and for that reason don’t they drink a lot of wine?
During my 7 years in Italy I have known only two people who make their own wine, and one of them owns a agritourismo.  Most people do not have the space in their home for winemaking, nor would be interested in trying.

  2.  Isn’t it more crowded over there?   
Evidently these persons have never been to New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.  

  3.  What side of the road do you drive on? 
 This is a fair question from anyone who has never seen a movie involving Italy.  Probably they would also be dumbfounded by the question, what is the capital of Europe.

  4.  Italy and France sit next to each other so you must often jump in the car and  drive over to Paris?  
It’s a two day car trip from Venice to Paris.  Blame Hollywood for making it look a whole lot closer.  

  5.  You can’t get good Mexican food in Italy?  Why not?  
The basic reason is that there are no good corn tortillas to be found here.  The ones in Mexican restaurants taste like cardboard, with no corn flavor at all.  Guacamole servings are two tablespoons of avocado with mayonaise added.  Salsa brought to the table will never be spicy, and in a tiny bowl that after 6 chips is exhausted.  Tamales?  Ha!  

  6.  How long is the plane flight from Denver to Venice?  I don’t think I would want to be up that high, that long.  
My answer is that it is only 3 movies and two meals.

  7.  You can’t get Starbucks in Italy?  I thought Italians are big coffee drinkers.
Starbucks realized that they could not compete within the coffee culture of Italy.  

  8.  Aren’t you afraid of terrorists?  Isn’t it  dangerous there? 
 This was the big question we heard over and over.  My answer is a bit longer….Check out these statistics.

People living in Italy are 78.95 % less likely to be murdered than persons living in the United States.

3,80 in every 100,000  people are murdered in the United States.
0.80 in every 100,000 people are murdered in Italy.

698 in every 100,000 people in the United States are currently imprisoned.
87 in every 100,000 people in Italy are currently imprisoned.

Yes, the terrorists have killed people in Europe, and in Italian cities there are a lot more police and soldiers visible now, but in America, there are movie theatre massacres, and school shootings killing far more innocent people.  
My village is so quiet and crime free that the local police only lately began carrying pistols.  Citizens of Italy, unless they are hunters with a special license, are not allowed to have guns.  

During our two weeks in America it was interesting to discuss similarities and differences between life in Italy and America.  I believe discussion is a good thing for everyone, especially over a plate of hot, spicy Mexican food.
My Selection in Denver, Jan. 2016