Friday, June 22, 2007

"Pista motocross NO!" and other words you do not want to hear from the back of a Fiat Panda

Originally written: 6/10/07(ish)
Let's talk for a moment about Fiats.

In my tour of Italy, I spent 2 weeks at a volunteer work camp in the north of the country, near a small city called Asti. When we (the other volunteers and myself) arrived at the work camp, we were told that we had 2 cars at our disposal.

One of them was a 1987 Fiat Panda, with over 100,000 km behind it.

Go, speed racer, go!

It spat smoke. It had no air conditioning, no radio, and no back windows. The transmission had been repaired so frequently, and in such a Frankenstinian fashion that we could hear the ghost of gears past rattle their loose teeth when we went over speed bumps.

I was going to tell you more about the Panda, including the heroic story of how it bore me to and from the hospital, complete with many evocative metaphors that I spent 3 days constructing. However, the Panda abruptly died today. It is no more. It is an ex-Panda.

While it ruined what otherwise might have been my best blog post EVER, I have to admit that the Panda's probably-long-overdue demise has left me with a great sense of relief.

A few days ago, I was riding with one of the camp directors in her new Alfa Romeo. "I love this car!" I said.

"More than the Panda?" she said.

"Of course, more than the Panda," I said. "The Panda has no shocks. It has no seatbelts. The roof is glued on with something that looks like Silly Putty. It has not been painted since 1999. And if you want to hear any music in the car, you have to sing, and frankly, I'm starting to get hoarse."

Now, I didn't say all of those things (although I thought them), but I should have known better. The Panda was a GIFT, and Italy is a country where gifts are not taken or given lightly. If someone offers you something--ANYTHING--and you don't take it, they might never forgive you.

An Italian guy took one of the Americans in our camp out and bought him an entire pizza. The American finished all but 2 pieces. The Italian asked him: "Aren't you going to finish that?" The American said: "I can't, I'm stuffed." He said that the Italian looked like he'd just been punched in the stomach.

Anyway, so here I am, speaking ill of what would be, under normal circumstances, an amazing gift: The gift of a car! I could tell the woman from the camp was shocked, so I tried to backpedal, but it was too late. The Rude America she had heard so much about was real. Arrgh!

Then, of course, the Panda was kind enough to go to the great Parcheggio (parking lot) in the sky, and I felt somewhat vindicated. The Italian woman was less scornful of me, although that probably says more about her than it says about the situation.

She is a woman of great patience, and a large capacity for forgiveness; someone who I should try to emulate, which is why this post commemorates the Panda, instead of detailing what a litterbox-on-wheels it was and how its engine wouldn't power a vaccuum cleaner.

Requiescat in Veloce, beloved friend.

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