Dreaming In Italian


Italian Driver’s License – Part 1

Monday, September 16th, 2019

I now have lived in Italy for over a year which means that my California driver’s license is officially no longer valid. I don’t ever want to own another car and since I live in Bologna, and especially since I live in the center, having a car is really unnecessary and expensive. I walk and take buses everywhere. I would however like to occasionally rent a car or drive Laura’s. So I need to get an Italian license (patente). Ah this is where the fun begins.

I have noted that the italian bureaucracy is difficult but the parts that I’ve had contact with are child’s play compared to the process of getting an italian driver’s license. Just as a way of background when I was in back in California for two weeks in August I renewed my California license that was due to expire next year so that I would be assured of being able to drive when I go back sometime next year. I was required to take a test and have an eye test, pay some reasonable sum of money and that was it. The test had something like 50 questions all of which had some relationship to the ability to drive safely. I passed the test with no errors and was out of the DMV (department of motor vehicles) in less than an hour. I didn’t need to retake a driving test.

Now let’s go down the torturous path of getting an Italian patente. First is the test. The test is 40 questions that seem to be selected at random from 7,000 (yes that’s right 3 zeros) potential questions. They cover 25 different categories including the partial list below:

  1. Definition of the parts of the street (sidewalks are considered part of the street for example)
  2. Different types of streets (city, outside the city- 3 types, freeway, autostrade about the same but with tolls, secondary road).
  3. Types of vehicles from mopeds to heavy trucks, also different types of trailers
  4. Different types of signs – a total of 10, yes 10 categories
  5. Types of license – there are 15 different types but you only need to know the details of 6, such things as age requirements types of vehicles you can drive with each
  6. Penalties for breaking the rules
  7. First aid for injured parties (you are legally required to stop and administer first aid to accident victims)

This is obviously only a partial list of the categories.

So you can see that if you start combining these things you can easily come up with 7,000 combinations. Not only that they don’t use common Italian words, oh no, that would be too easy. They must have a team of evil attorneys coming up with tortuous ways of asking questions. Why would they do that? Isn’t the object to be assured that you can know the rules of the road and can drive safely. It seems that their objective is simply to use as many tricks as possible to have you fail the test.

Two books on theory – one has 288 pages and the other has 305

I have two books of theory and neither of them cover everything. In fact between them they don’t cover everything. Fortunately there are websites that have practice tests that you can do over and over again. I probably have done practice tests at this point at least 200 times and still occasionally make errors when they ask an absolutely absurd question. Here are a couple of fun examples. The answers are true of false. (I have translated these from the Italian).

  1. On the autostrada the speed limit for an automobile pulling a horse trailer is 80 kilometers per hour

First of all why do I give a shit about the rules for pulling a horse trailer since I don’t plan to do it and why would it otherwise be important to know that?

  • 2. The traffic cone in the picture can be used at worksite along the street for 10 days.

Who cares? There is road work. There is a traffic cone. Why do I care how long it can be there? The answer is that it is only for 2 days. In practice it seems that absolutely none of the roadwork sites follow this rule. Actually you could make the same statement for a large part of the test content.

And then there is this fun first aid question:

  1. The state of shock could manifest itself with sudden pronouncing of sentences and words without meaning.

I sent Laura a text saying that question pretty much sums up how I sometimes speak Italian.

One thing that is really important to learn here is the right of way. I noticed once before when driving in Italy in a town in Puglia that there were a lot of intersections in the center of town with no signs at all. No stop signs or right of way signs. Then as a passenger in Laura’s car in Torino I noted the same things. So the basic rule is that at an intersection. If there is a car to your right at the intersection they have the right of way and you must stop and let them pass. So far so good but apparently there are lots of CRAZY intersections in the country like the one below. And of course the question is in what order do they proceed through the intersection. See if you can guess.

Ah yes there is also this crazy one that I still don’t understand although I know the correct answer.

Now one would think that given basic rule that if you are to the right of another car at the intersection and no vehicle is at your right that auto N would make a left turn as shown since the other two have a vehicle to their right. Silly me. What he does is start the turn and when he is in the middle of the intersection he has vehicle A to his right so he must stop in the middle. The since R has nobody to his right he goes through the intersection. Then A has nobody to his right so he goes through the intersection and then poor N who has been sitting in the middle of the intersection can complete his turn. This still makes no sense to me but this is, after all, Italy.

Anyway, by now I feel pretty confident that I can pass the test so the next chapter will be more about the process of taking this test and also the driving test. Can it get any weirder? Are you ready for the next absurd chapter?

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Serendipity in Piemonte

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

As any reader of my blog knows I spend a lot of time in Torino these days because my “girlfriend” (seems silly to call a 70 year old woman a girl) lives there. We alternate long weekends between Torino and Bologna. So on a recent weekend we were pondering what to do on a lazy Saturday. Another museum (boring), yet another posh residence of a king (tired of viewing their extravagances), return to a beach in Liguria (to rainy)? So we decided to visit a town near Torino which neither of us knew much about. We discussed Ivrea but settled on Susa.

I knew that there was a porta Susa at Torino and it’s the name of one two major train stations. With a little research I found that Susa is in a little valley at the foot of the alps and has a little river running through it. Plus it has a history that predates the Romans who left their marks there. And it’s only about 50 km from (about 30 miles) from Torino. One interesting thing about the town was a lot of these passageways under buildings like the one shown below. I’m guessing it’s because there’s a lot of snow there in the winter.

It’s really a cute little town of about 6,000 inhabitants with the requisite Roman ruins. After a disappointing lunch we went looking for the Roman amphitheater. They could use some better signage for visitors but we finally found it after asking directions from a couple of locals. It was rather underwhelming but is used for various performances which surely makes it more interesting. From there we could see what looked like a very old fortress. I had read that there was a Roman arch in Susa but had seen nothing about a fortress. While we could see the fortress there were absolutely no signs. Again locals came to our rescue pointing to the road (more like a path) to take. There were actually 2 arches the first was much rougher than the triumphal Arch of Augustus build in 8 BC. I actually liked the big rough one the most.

The Roman amphitheater

This is NOT the path to the arches. It was next to the amphitheater and was the “road not taken”. I’m really curious about where it goes.

My favorite arch. I think that the top of this is the aqueduct so it didn’t need to be particularly pretty.
The Arch of Augustus – pretty nice and beside the wall of the fortress. Not much of the fortress remains except some exterior walls like this one.

As we walked around the town a did a bit of shopping I kept noticing violet and white ribbons bunched together and we seemingly everywhere. When I first saw these in the restaurant I thought that perhaps they were the celebration of a birth of a child but since they were also along the streets I finally asked a guy what they were about. Because of my heavily accented Italian he tried (without much success) to respond in English until I told him that Laura was Italian. So he explained to her (and I understood absolutely everything that he said) that these were the colors of the “borgo” (borough or district). With some research I found that each year there is a contest of medieval skills in, where else, the roman amphitheater. The competition is between the 6 borgi of the city. The violet and white are the colors of the Borgo Storico, which would be the city center – which won this year.

When Laura asked about the “games” he said with a laugh, “it’s not a game it’s WAR”. Anyway it’s held in July and I really want to go next year. I recommend that you follow this link to see some photos and videos of this year’s “war”. Italian language not required.

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Serendipity in Liguria

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Serendipity means an unplanned, fortunate discovery.

The coast of Liguria is not really all that far from Torino – about 85 miles of mostly autostrada and one can arrive here in less than 2 hours. So on August 21st Laura and I headed south to a little known beach that she had been to several times. Of course August is vacation month in Italy and most of the beaches are absolutely packed with people. We had hopes that this wouldn’t be quite as bad a many of them. When we arrived after circling here and there in hopes of finding free parking we finally gave up and paid for a place to park her car. Well, it turns out that this lesser known beach was closed. There had been a little restaurant there with a fairly long stairway down which was now blocked off. It turns out that sometime in the last year there was a big storm with very high surf which totally wiped out the restaurant and so they closed the area. Too bad since the stairway was still there. Some hardy souls had courageously gone around the barrier (was that courage of foolhardiness?) and made their way down to the beach. We decided that it was too risky and found an edge of another beach, less nice but it was a beach. The water was really nice and we both enjoyed swimming. The major problem that rather than sand, most of the beach was made of tiny and sometimes not so tiny pebbles. Still, a little nice sun and tepid water was worth the trouble.

The almost inaccessible beach – except for the risk takers.

You can see the stairs on the left as they descend but the picture doesn’t show how the access is blocked.

The beach we settled for, typical public beach – especially note the view on the right.

Turning for for home I drove since my California license was still valid for a few more days. I wanted to get some coffee to offset the sleep inducing effects of the sun but took a wrong turn and ended up on the autostrada headed for Torino rather than into the city where we would find a bar for coffee. This is where the real serendipity kicked in. The first exit from the autostrada was for the town of Altare which neither of us had ever really heard but there are bars everywhere so we took it. Driving into the town of about 2000 inhabitants we saw a large factory that seemed to have been abandoned quite a while ago. We stopped at a bar for coffee and asked about the factory and they said that it was closed about 20 something years before and it was a factory of glass. Altare is a (or at least was) a “city of glass” where all kinds of glass was manufactured for almost 800 years.

At the cafe’ they directed us to a store where they made and sold art glass where we learned more about the glass industry and I bought a cute little pig. The woman there was the wife of a glass maker, Sandro Bormioli. Several generations of Bormioli made and still make some glass there in Altare, while others moved to other cities and continue to make glass – lots of it – less artistic but of high quality.

The piggie at home in Bologna

We went from there to the Museum of Glass. The glass was fascinating but the real find was the Art Deco mansion that housed it.

The magnificent art deco mansion that now houses the glass museum

Some detail of the interior

Glass panels in some of the doors and an example of some of the glass work

Unfortunately I have no additional pictures – I left my phone in the car. Still, if I hadn’t been driving and I hadn’t wanted a cup of coffee and I hadn’t made a wrong turn….. Sometimes surprising things happen when you just take a random exit from the autostrada.

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Palazzo Reale

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

As you may have guessed even if you know no Italian that this is the Royal Palace. I’ve visited two fantastic residences of the Torino royalty, There is Stupinigi (you can see more here) which was “just” a hunting lodge then the most magnificent of all Reggia di Venaria (more info here) and finally I visited the Palazzo Reale in the very heart of Torino. June 24 is the saint’s day in Torino in this case San Giovanni Battista and the museums were free so Laura suggested a visit to the Palazzo Reale.

Palazzo Reale in Torino

Seems pretty impressive with a grand piazza at the entrance. I was a bit disappointed although I found a lot of things interesting inside. First of all there is a magnificent courtyard paved as a mosaic.

The courtyard of the Palazzo seen from a window

The next spectacular thing was the chapel (Cappella della Sacra Sindone) inside that is actually a part of the palace but also adjoins a church. In 1997 there was a fire in this chapel that did tremendous damage. The restoration was long and difficult and costly ever undertaken.

The reconstructed ceiling of the chapel that was devastated by fire.

Then there were a series of rooms which in general were not as magnificent as in the other royal residences even though they are quite impressive although I found them to be rather dark, dark walls, lots of heavy tapestries but perhaps because I had seen the Veneria, as I said I was a bit disappointed.

One of many large, ornate and relatively dark rooms
The throne room
The ball room
The major dining room

The ceilings as is often the case were quite spectacular

Ah but then came the armory. Maybe it’s just that I’m a guy but armaments always are fascinating. There was lots of armor, swords, daggers, bludgeons and then firearms (which at that point made most of the armor obsolete).

Ah, the armory !!!
Armor for dandies
Lots of ways to kill your enemies – stab them
Whack them with swords or axes
And later as technology developed you can shoot them. They even had a Winchester rifle, old west kind of thing in the later displays.

It is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Torino.

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