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Many years ago I passed both written and practical exams for a driver’s license in the US.  It was easy.  Of course I was only 16 years old, and things that went in my brain actually took root there rather than drifting away on the air currents like a dandelion seed puff, which seems to be what happens now.  As I recall the written exam had a lot to do with the safe distance to be behind the car in front of you (1 car length for every 10 mph you are traveling – see??  I still remember!) and how far away from a fire engine you could park (75 feet? Well, okay, I don’t remember everything).  The driving test was also easy.  Obey the speed limit, signal before a turn, parallel park and there you go.

A group of us were in the class of a man who was either very stupid, very brave, or both; he not only ushered us through the theoretical aspects of driving, he also took us out on the road to learn how to move an actual vehicle in actual traffic.  I don’t remember his name – I guess we could call him Mr. Silly.  He instructed us to ‘hug the center line’, the theory being that this would give us the greatest amount of space to maneuver should we have a problem.  Of course it also scared the bejesus out of anyone coming in the opposite direction.  Mr. Silly had two verbal quirks.  One was that in his lexicon ‘curb’ became ‘curban,’ as in “Watch out for the curban!!” usually delivered at full voice just moments before he snatched the wheel from one of us.  He also had a great deal to say about “historical women drivers,” by whom I think he did not mean Betsy Ross and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eventually the Big Day came; we all passed our written exams, we all passed our practical exams and we were given Driving Licenses and set loose.  It was huge.  Freedom!  The open road and our parents’ car!  And gas that cost less than .50 a gallon.  A lot less.  Then came the part when we really learned how to drive – which was harder on some of us than others, unfortunately.  My own lessons were relatively gentle, the worst being the Driving on Ice Lesson which fortunately resulted in only minor damage to car, tree and girl.  I got to go to court (‘driving too fast for existing conditions’) and if memory serves my license was suspended for two weeks.

Quick forward about 30 years.  The Captain became an avid amateur race driver after a three day school at the Skip Barber Racing School.  Being a kind soul he decided to give me the one-day Better Driving class so I could share the fun.  And it was loads of fun, sashaying around cones, skidding on the pad, learning that you don’t gain anything by lane-shifts in slow highway traffic.  It was an excellent day and I recommend it to anyone who is within shouting distance of one of Skip’s schools (no, it’s not cheap exactly, but costs way less than an accident). The climax was zooming around the Limerock Race Track at what felt like, but wasn’t, break-neck speeds in a Dodge Viper, which is way too much car for me.  I left feeling I had become a modestly better driver, and that I hadn’t been a terrible driver to begin with.

All this is lengthy preamble.  After all this time I’m back to square one: studying to take a written exam for a driver’s license.  Citizens from other EU countries can trade their country’s drivers’ licenses for an Italian one.  Not so the hapless American.  We can drive on our US licenses for one year after taking residency in Italy; then we are obliged to get an Italian Patenta.

So last Monday I went to the Gilberto Scuola di Guida and signed up.  I received a 258-page book detailing rules and regulations of the road.  In Italian. *

There are lots of pictures, but the print is small.  This is not easy!  I was also given  a larger book with 301 pages of practice quizzes.  Also in Italian, of course; this is Italy.  Here’s the thing about the questions though: they’re sneaky!  They try to trick you by using a negative where you would expect a positive, by changing one word just a little bit to change the meaning (‘al meno’ vs. ‘a meno’).  This book was not written by the helpful, considerate Italians I’ve come to know and love over the past few years.  It was written by insane people sitting in cramped offices who want to torment others.

The Captain went through this process about five years ago.  He says two things worth repeating.  One is that in his whole life he’s never encountered a greater chasm between theory and practice than with Italian driving.  The other is that he thinks that after you pass the driving exam they take out your brain and give you a license.  It’s true.  The best way to describe Italian drivers is Wild and Crazy.  But when you read the book you realize that the actual rules are precise, logical and designed to make for safe highways.  Ha.

Over in elaborations on the right you can find a weekly recap of the Great Driving School Adventure.  (Not the one under ‘pages,’ the one up above.) I am far and away the oldest person in class, most of the others seem to be in their 20’s, with one teen-ager and one woman who is perhaps 40.  Here’s the thing that cracks me up.  I assume we’re all there because we need driving licenses.  After class we all go out, hop on our scooters, and disappear in clouds of dust.

*Disclaimer ~ the text is available in an English translation, and one may take the written test in English.  I was told the School would not take responsibility for the accuracy of the translation, however. hmmmm.

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