Saturday, November 21, 2015

Italian Traffic: Fearing For My Life

The Neapolitans have an old saying, "Vedi Napoli e poi muori!" "See Naples and die!" They mean it in the sense of "once you've seen Naples, then you can die," or "Naples is so beautiful, it can stop your heart." But after seeing the city myself, I wonder if it might be better said: You might actually die trying to see Naples.

In other words, now that we've made it home from Italy in one piece, I can tell my mother how frequently I feared for my life while we were there :)

One very memorable thing I forgot to share in my post about the chaotic atmosphere of Naples was how terrifying it was to cross the street.  It was scary in Rome, too, but not quite so terrifying as Naples.

As I mentioned in a previous post, all the Italian cities we visited had a distinctly different feel from American cities, mainly due to the public spaces. Each was peppered with open piazzas, both large and small--spaces for people to gather and be together.

Piazza del Gesu Nuovo
Piazza del Plebiscito
Piazza del Plebiscito

Each of the cities also had "limited traffic zones," where pedestrians could roam very freely without having to pay attention to cars and motorcycles.
Piazza Trieste e Trento
And this was a tremendous relief, because in all the rest of the city, outside the ZTL...oh my.

Traffic in Italy is something else. Laws seem to be viewed as suggestions. And somehow it just works. Steve had told me stories about riding around in a van in Italy when he went for a business trip last spring; he remarked that he couldn't believe how crazy the traffic was, and yet he felt that their driver was really an excellent driver. He was fully aware of exactly where the boundaries of his vehicle were, and he used every bit of space available to him. It's hard to describe if you haven't seen it, but it's almost like the traffic is some sort of organism all its own. They all drive like maniacs compared to what we are used to, and yet they are all watching out for each other and yielding to each other just enough to avoid a wreck.

So how do pedestrians fit into that mess? They do have crosswalks, and at a few intersections you might get the walk/don't walk light you expect everywhere in a major American city. But most of the time, you are on your own. The traffic will not just all screech to a halt for you. Ever. If you stand and wait until it seems like an appropriate time to cross, you will seriously be waiting all day.

So, you have to just go. You literally walk out in front of oncoming traffic and trust that they will stop. And they do. They pause just long enough for you to get past, and then they zoom by. It. Is. Terrifying.

Every time we had to cross the street, I would grab Steve's hand and hold on for dear life. I just did not have the nerve to step out there. And if you hesitate, it does not work. If you are skittish and slow, you hold up traffic more, and the drivers get annoyed. You really just have to GO, with confidence (and hope and pray you do not get run over). Yay for Steve--he could do it, and he did not get us killed. I seriously have no idea how they do not have daily pedestrian accidents. You would not believe it until you have experienced it firsthand.

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