Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When In Rome

Just back from Italy. The weather was kind to us. In fact it was blazing sunshine every day, cold at night and first thing in the morning, but warm during the day. Don't tell anybody, but the same applies here at home in the Pyrenees today, and the forecast (one forecast - it's amazing how they vary) is for several days of the same.

We didn't get much walking in, partly because we were there to spend time with our family but also because Italy is not the best place for walking, running or cycling.

Nicola's new home is at Formello, about 20 kms to the north of Rome. I must say that, from many points of view, including exercise, this is much better than the first place she had, an apartment in the very busy suburbs. In those days, nearly 20 years ago, both Gay and I were keen, competition-oriented runners, with a burning need to run 60 kms every week.

In the city, you could take one look at the traffic and forget the whole idea. Every Roman driver is a turbo-charged charioteer. His whole attention is centred on being in charge of one of four cars abreast, three inches behind and another three inches in front of other quartets, all racing towards an arch in an ancient aqueduct, the arch being designed to take two legionnaires marching shoulder to soldier, both having just completed six months of slimming exercises against Vandals and Visigoths. There is no room for modern pedestrians, particularly those of the jogging or walking variety, in this set-up. I am full of admiration for Italian runners because I know it must be so much more difficult for them to fit in their training.

There are a number of other difficulties. The Roman authorities seem to have forgotten about pavements in most of the residential areas, probably because of one of the other problems - parking. If there were any pavements, they would be covered with cars. Roman parking has to be seen to be believed. If you ever wondered why so many Italian cars are small, it is so they can be fitted into any two foot gap you might luckily spot between two other cars. We haven't worked out how they do this, but part of the secret is to go in at right angles to the others, using the pavement if it is there. We think they also breathe in very severely and shut their eyes. They are also very skilful drivers, who ignore insurance and, it would seem, consider a car without a few dents and abrasions to be not worth a Euro.

However, this lack of pavements, or constant obstructions if there is one, forces you onto the road and back to the mercy of the charioteers. These seem to be completely incapable of seeing any other road users, be they in a vehicle, on a bicycle or on foot. All very alarming.

It is not much better out in the country. The planning, Italian driving, the lack of understanding by the population and the attitude of drivers do not help the pedestrian, or give him any confidence in his survival prospects. The roads are somewhat quieter, but although there are less drivers per square inch, they are still Italian - every one a potential Formula 1 driver. Another major problem is the lack of verges and prevalence of high hedges. There may be nowhere to go when Ben Hur and Massala come racing down the road at you, taking up both carriageways. A true Italian pedestrian would probably go between them, as he would while driving, but we are not up to that.

The main road between our bed and breakfast and Nicola's house is a canyon. Just road. No pavement. Sheer grass banks on each side. The road surface awash with speeding commuters. Death Valley. This, and family commitments, meant that our walking was restricted to an amble from the b&b into Formello for breakfast (amazingly cheap in Italy), then back down a side road (which Nicola had kindly found for us) to bypass Death Valley. Then back again at night.

There will be much more action this week, if the weather holds to its promise.

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