All roads lead from Rome, Fiumicino Airport. A perpetual spine of concrete runs down the centre of the autostrada; an essential accessory for a nation of possessed drivers. The driver bringing me from the airport is no stranger to the high jinx of the highway here. With balls of steel, she weaves through traffic at speed, to a chorus of beeping horns and unheard curses mouthed by fellow drivers whizzing by in their Lancias and Fiats, all gesticulating wildly. She flicks her hand at roly poly man in a dusty Alpha. He thumps the air and roars something that doesn’t look romantic. She looks in the mirror at me and says that he has manhood is the size of an infant’s. I smile back. She doesn’t realise I speak Italian.
The carnival of speed and erratic overtaking ensues for an hour until we are turning off the autostrada, near Frosinone. From here begins a more civilized style of driving although at one stage, my pilot overtakes a line of three articulated trucks in what I can only describe, as a suicide manoeuvre. On from there to Sora where the road continues to ribbon across the Camino Valley. We’re surrounded by humps of green mountains on all sides. Tiny hamlets high on the mountains come in and out of view as we snake around bends. Terracotta rooves add splashes of sunned red to the emerald heights. Churches the size of matchboxes are dotted across the valley, if you threw a stone, you’d hit one of the beautiful chiesas or cappellas. They are as vital to Italian landscape, as the pub to urban Ireland.
We pass a dejected looking bar on the outskirts of Sora. Its canopy advertises Peroni beer although the sun drained it of colour long ago. Just the shadow of ‘PERONI’ can be made out from the white canvas sheltering the door. Beneath it, men with leathery faces in white vests sit around a plastic table, clutching palms of playing cards. They all look at the car when we pass. It’s as if we are the first vehicle to travel the road.
Heading towards the village of Casalattico, we pass a bridge that’s splattered with a pornography of election posters. Septuagenarians steeped in hair dye and olive oil look almost stately. They provocate their electorate with coiffure and photoshop, into believing they are the next messiah of the Republic. I spot one who looks like an Irish politician, Jackie Healy Ray, on a diet of sunbeds and five dames a day. He has that twinkle in his eye, that unmistakable glint you see in Italians that confesses sins. Those of the past and those of the future. A compulsion to sin in the present. It’s an obligation in fact. Time doesn’t efface this twinkle, it never will. Ceasar, Di Medici, Berlusconi, they all had the it. Jackie Healy Ray, or Salvatore del Duca as he’s known around these parts, glints at me and I react by questioning what my ‘upper age’ limit is now that I’m in the dying embers of my thirties.
Thankfully, Mad Max wrenches my mind from the gutter with another orgy of overtaking. She led me to within two seconds of meeting my maker. Coming towards us, at a speed probably faster than light, was a black BMW. She didn’t flinch. My heart stopped. Gianni Morandi contiued squaking on the radio.
-Dio! I cried.
-Ah parli italiano? she asked.
As if my lingusitc ability counted for anything now that I was about to wind up splashed on the bonnet of an oncoming car. And with that, she pulls the car back onto the correct side of the road, leaving the BMW with about 10 yards clearance. To the sound of his honking horn as he flies past, I make a pledge to God that if I arrive in the village in one piece, I’ll fill the offertory boxes of any chiesa and cappella I see for the next week. I’ll even canvass for del Duca.
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