A driving day. Highways in Puglia are a bumpy strip of speedsters for whom the limit is entirely advisory despite the regular warnings of velocità elettronica for which, unless they are using drones, there is no technology of enforcement.

On the right, inner lane is a regular stream of old Pintos, Pandas and Cinquecentos, often driven at moderate speed by the elderly, and on one alarming case a tiny 3-wheeler Piaggio van listing sharply to the left, driven by a Death’s Head with a farmer’s hat at a snail’s pace, hugging the concrete side wall but still blocking the traffic.

In the middle lane were all the newer, larger Pintos, Pandas and Cinquecentos (me) overtaking their forebears and generally driven by younger people (I’m guessing) before pulling in to let the Kings of the Road past. These were the Alfa Romeos and Fiats, only slightly larger than their cheaper cousins.

If they caught you in the fast lane overtaking something else, they loom into your rear view mirror, like the close-up of a film star, and brake just before they nudge you. They SCARE you into the slower lane. Their drivers are usually younger men with ever broadening chests (because of the looming) who tower over their steering wheels like Mephistopheles peering into the Gates of Hell. How dare you be in their way!

All of this is automatic and unthinking driving behaviour, or what Kate Hale calls ‘pre-conscious cognition.’ As the young and the rich overtake the poor and the hungry, it becomes an allegory of life itself. (There is an early oil wash and crayon drawing by Picasso of two streams of traffic snaking towards a single gate. It’s called The End of the Road. One road is full of elegant carriages, the other full of maimed pedestrians, but both streams converge on the Portal of Death. SEE BELOW.)

The fatal vice that sends me to that portal is Pride. My punishment is to end up doing the macho thing to myself. It is not widely known that I greatly admire the ginger hair on my driving arm when it ripples in the wind over sunbrowned skin that ends in fingers steering the very wheel I hold. You call it vanity. I call it Loveliness. But once, while I was scratching the back of my neck with the other hand, I misperceived my elbow in the rear-view mirror as a terrifying mouthless albino snakehead growing from some sea monster, coming at me from the back seat where it had been waiting.1

Driving in Southern Italy is Apocalyptic.

1 Try it yourself! Scratch the back of your neck and watch the rear-view mirror.


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