Monday, February 13, 2017

Driving With Mario

I am not Catholic, and even though there are only Catholic churches here,  I decided to consider attending after last week’s hair raising bus trip.  The new driver, who had replaced my last,  who was a more calm and laid back driver, gave me a bit of the spectacular and unexpected.   Most bus drivers are exceptional and safe drivers.  Yet I began to believe, that Dale Earnhardt must have an Italian relative?  

I usually sit in the first seat so I can enjoy the view when leaving the city and reaching my village.  That was my first mistake!   I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, certainly not screaming and yelling like the passengers in my bus.  I had a front row seat feeling quite imperilled as the bus flew around corners, screeched to stops, and brushed by pedestrians who suddenly decided they should have stayed home.

He Always Got The Girls

I was reminded of the first auto chase movie I had seen as a child, the 1958 movie, Thunder Road, starring Robert Mitchum.  (Yes, I am old!)  Speeding his home-made liquor through the hills in his souped up jalopy, racing away from the authorities, screeching tires, he seemed to escape from the police at every attempt to deliver his hooch and get paid.  But here in Italy there are very few police on the roads, so there is little chance to catch bad drivers who violate rules.  And certainly there are no hooch makers evading the police.

 My ride last week was no donkey derby.  It was more of a hair raising Grand-Prix that started off when I boarded the bus.   When I stepped onto the bus the door hit my in the butt and  I grabbed a railing to hold on.  I struggled to climb the stairs and grab a front seat as the bus left two black stripes on the pavement.  From my seat the driver, hair combed back as if the wind trained it, leaned forward to adjust the his radio as he wheeled into a right turn and entered the city traffic, pushing his way into a circle and bullying the small Italian cars into submission.

One Handed/Half Brained
Every turn was taken too fast, forcing the bus to lean.  We heard tires screeching at every stop, some just in time, barely missing the car in front.  Speed was his object,  this guy lived like Mario Andretti, “If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.”   I realised I had chosen the wrong seat as there was nothing between me and the big windshield.  The guy really had a control issue, and we were all part of it!   We even skipped one stop where 8 angry passengers waved their arms in a useless signal.  You win some, you lose some, you wreck some, this was my driver’s apparent motto, while I just wanted to finish above ground.  

It wasn’t the speed, or the turns that scared me the most.  It was the driving too close, the bullying of the cars in front.  It was the pushing them from the road.   Where were the police when you need them?   Who is going to challenge a huge bus in one of these tiny cars.  This bus would eat this car for breakfast!

Leaving the city only increased our speed.   It was a straight shot to my village.  This guy must have been a stunt driver in the Bourne movies.  He had no fear.  I had it all!  I grabbed my phone, wrote my wife while I invented several text abbreviations.  OMGIMDT, Oh My God I Might Die Today, and RMTHSDGOM, Remind Me To Have Sex,Drink, Goof Off More.   They seem long, but I was desperate!

An old joke came to mind about driving.  “My wife had her driver's test the other day. She got 8 out of 10. The other 2 guys jumped clear.” 

 We not only brushed past pedestrians but an old lady on a bike got a few more grey hairs when she had to stop in the middle of a crossing as our bus swerved to miss her.  (In Italy pedestrians have the  right of way, especially in a painted cross walk.)

I did not complain to the driver as I was afraid he would not stop at my village.  There are few stops outside of Padova, and it would be a long walk if he intentionally missed it.  I did mention to him, when we reached the finish line, that this must have been his personal best.  Then I sent a text to my wife, MNFA, Make No Funeral Arrangements!

You learn to appreciate the calm life of a quiet village in funny ways.


Monday, February 6, 2017

This will be a follow-up fact finding “mission” dedicated to my readers that responded to my earlier blog on Starbuck's invasion of Italy
Ciao Tutti?
It has been some time since I wrote about the Starbuck's corporate decision to invade Italy, first in Milano and later to other cities.  Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks, had originally decided to stay away from competing with the hoard of coffee bars that Italians  frequent daily.  Times change, and placing a Starbucks near the Duomo in Milano  will be a sort of trial balloon, fishing to see if the hard-core coffee drinking Italians will storm the doors of a Starbucks coffee shop, lining up like crazed prisoners making a food raid.  Will they tolerate the long lines like the people of Moscow upon the opening of Moscow McDonalds?   My take on this is that Italians are down to earth people, they never dream  of one hand gripping a cup of exorbitantly priced java with  the other hand holding a cell phone needing free wifi.    Starbucks will be welcomed by the Milanese like a heavy dead wind and a greeting by the people, “come back when you can’t stay so long!”   

As things go here in Italy, it has been a much slower than imagined process for the American company.  In America what takes a few months, in Italy takes much longer.  When I last wrote the official statement to the press was that the big splash would be in February.  February is here and the big day has been slowed by the  usual bureaucratic snafus we all find here in Italy.
 (Go read my blog on obtaining a driver’s licence.)  Now the grand opening date is rumored to be  in September.  Months of profit lost.  I admit I am smiling.  Poor Starbucks!

The young people here are asking questions about possible employment, but they find no answers.  They need jobs, and here people are paid a living wage.  This is a tip off to us all as to really when will be the big day and the crowds will line up.  Starbucks has been in production stocking up on souvenir mugs with “ITALY” and “MILANO” emblazoned on the side.  One can only imagine how the massive Duomo will be presented.  Of course, one year after the opening they will change design to make these coffee mugs highly prized and valuable merchandise on    The furniture for Starbucks is rumored to be stored nearby, complete with their imported toilets they use in all their stores. They are ready!  But the officials of Milano are not!

Mamma Mia!
Oh no!
The newest problem is a matter of landscaping.  How can Starbucks be involved with landscaping you ask?  A councillor, Pierfrancesco Maran, has announced that "Starbucks with its garden will give an exotic touch to the square, while currently present trees will be replanted in other areas of Milan.”   - -an article by— Manuela Messina, journalist in Milano.  What this boils down to is that Starbucks made a plan to change the landscaping to spruce up their coffee quaffing shop.  Green it up, after all, who wants to look at those romantic century old buildings!  So it has been decided to place palm trees while removing the trees and plants that will go to another area of milano.  Palm Trees!  This is so NOT Milano.  Can you imagine the indignation of conservative Italians?  

Another quote from Messina:  "In the west of the square, rows of palm and banana for a spectacular scene with vegetation of large evergreen leaves. Will also be planted shrubs, grasses and perennials with alternating blooms during the seasons in various shades of pink: in spring a carpet of Bergenia, during the summer the big hydrangea flowers in variety Vanille Fraise and hibiscus, in the autumn of inflorescences Chinese giant reeds. A dark gravel carpet finally exalt contrast to the green of the system, which will be powered by an automatic irrigation system. “

Madonna! This is so American!  Gravel carpet and automatic sprinkling systems!  All in front of the former Post Office building in Piazza Cordusio!  To Italians this is much as if Italians planted palm trees at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty complete with expensive gondola rides to Manhattan.   BTW, Some years ago the mayor of San Francisco planted palm trees along the street of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  Many people were not happy about that.  It’s the American way!

Thirty-three years ago, Schultz visited  Milan and Verona, wrote off the trip on his taxes, and began to build his multi million dollar enterprize.  The stage is almost set, and soon the curtain will rise.  I project that the lines will be formed with touristas, and the young.  With only one Starbucks it will be a popular success, but when their strategic approach moves to capitalize on more  shops Starbucks will be less popular.  After 8 years of living here, and my daily experience in my coffee bar, I believe the average Italian will remain loyal to  their old shop and baristas.

Want to know more?  Take a look at:  Potrebbe interessarti:

But you will need a translator, try google translate.