Car Watching in Italian Lands
One of the more uncanny parts of the adventures in world travel happens when one sees something terribly familiar, yet terribly different. There are plenty of essays and observations about toilets, toothpaste tubes, and milk containers in other parts of the world. Variations in what one knows as an every day object creates a certain sense of not-at-home-ness that can be entirely delightful or terribly alienating, depending on one’s frame of mind. Traveling for short periods is often a series of surprises, and the experience is over before anything has even begun to digest. But when traveling for longer periods of time, there are almost always moments when the new or unfamiliar becomes too much.
Because so much depends on perception, there are things a traveler can do to make their own experience go more smoothly. Going to places where there is a sense of familiarity can be very helpful, or to focus on the things that a particular country is known for. Traveling in Italy means great food and great design. And people watching and car watching are free. Most travelers are probably not looking to pick up a new set of niche wheels to take back home, so the usual preoccupations with car maintenance can take a back seat to the aesthetic appreciation. With Fiats and Ferraris, Alfa Romeros and Maseratis, it’s impossible not to feel that unusual pleasure that comes from having one’s imagination sparked by the combination of beauty and utility. It’s also a very easy way to avoid any kind of homesick blues that might be coming along.
There is a familiarity about some of the cars, certainly, because most observant people have noticed Italian cars in their home country at one point or another. But when there is a critical mass, the sense of design is almost overwhelming, and it becomes something else. Car fanatics might start calculating the maintenance of a foreign car, realizing that the cost of toyo tires makes it very tempting. But even die-hard pedestrians will probably be struck by the unusual taste in the vehicles. Beauty is important in all things, and cars are no different. And although there is a certain kind of fanaticism in Italian futurism, where love of speed and technology can override other concerns, this has by and large receded into the past as a design element. Today’s cars match speed with comfort, and the vehicles are simply pleasing to look at. So while they may not make the homesick traveler feel surrounded by the familiar, the cars can open up a space for understanding a culture where art is a core value, and that’s when Italy just might start to feel like home.