Sunday, June 21, 2009

Caberet, Unicycles and Tissue Paper


Driving in Rome is a well documented experience. Its like entering a parallel universe where the tentative suggestions on the sign posts such as 'Stop', or 'Give Way' are merely there to host sellotaped adverts for English lessons or Small Household Removal Services. A 'hands free' set means a phone wedged under the strap of your crash helmet if you are on a scooter which you can shout into whilst lighting a cigarette with your free hands, or if you have the luxury of a car, you could also read the newspaper, knit and check your email without it hindering arguments with other drivers and probably your passenger.

However, in the 18 months that I have lived in Rome, the art of traffic light commerce is one that has grown in intensity and diversity. I live near a large dual carriageway called Cristoforo Colombo which has on it probably 10 sets of traffic lights at main intersections halting traffic for approximately 60 seconds. In this pause, an array of commercial offers will be made to you through the convienient porthole of your car window - like a drive through, but stopped.

From an international crowd of sellers, you may purchase umbrellas in spring, sun blinds in summer, tissues in the autumn and socks in the winter. You can have your window washed, whether you want it to be washed or not. And the latest craze - you can watch juggling, unicycling, or even enjoy some opera, a complete show in a traffic light interval. What you cannot do is escape, and ten stops later, the novelty starts to wear a little thin.

Luckily the Italian drivers suffer no qualms about watching an act sat at the front of the queue, thoroughly enjoying it, or chatting with the seller, and then driving off with the light still on red almost killing the person without even throwing so much as a euro.

Not so the Brits. We spend all the time the light is on red in an embarrassed avoidance of eye contact which will oblige us to buy something. There is nothing worse than being rude even if we did not encourage the seller or want the item or service on offer.

To date in my car, there are three newly purchased sun screens, a squeaky dog toy, at least six packets of tissues and a man from Albania. Off to the beach now to see if I can sell them to the tourists....

http://www.samanthacollinsrome.blogspot.com/

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