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Sunday in Japan Valentino Rossi won his sixth Moto GP Championship.  That’s motorcycles, and a happy result for Italy.  And in Singapore Filipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonon did not win the Formula One race for Ferrari.  That’s cars, and cause for a national day of mourning in Italy.

Should you care?

Well, that depends.  If you live with or are going to talk to one of the 90% of all Italian males or 60% of the males in the rest of the world (and who knows what percentage of females) who follow motor sports closely, the answer is Yes.  You will want to be at least familiar with the main players so as not to appear a complete dunce.

Personally I stopped watching Formula 1 when Michael Schumacher retired.  There was something about his utter focus, determination and single-mindedness that warmed the cold northern cockles of my heart. (If you haven’t heard of Schumacher, he was the Tiger Woods of Formula One.  If you haven’t heard of Tiger Woods you need a subscription to Sports Illustrated.)  The new Ferrari ace, Massa, is a cute kid, but he doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct that Schumacher had.  And I never did watch the motorcycle races; those boys lean over way too far.

If you live in Italy, however, there’s a more pressing reason for you to keep abreast of at least the racing schedule, if not the results.  Within half an hour of the completion of either of these races the ordinarily gutsy driving of the Italian male becomes downright lunatic.  Sunday morning as I coasted sedately down the hill to Rapallo, shortly after the completion of the MotoGP, a young kid on his all terrain bike came screaming around a car in the opposite direction on a blind curve; he was in the middle of my lane, and very fortunate I wasn’t driving my gravel truck today.

We were on our way to the beautiful city of Chiavari just down the coast from Rapallo.  There is a Mercatino dei Sapori (a food market!) on the last weekend of each month; vendors come from all around the country with absolutely delicious things to eat. Over on the right you can find a link to an album of photos of this delightful event.  This week, however, my interest strayed from the comestibles to the sky, because there was a Canadair flying from the sea to an inland fire and back again, over and over.

The Canadairs are small 2-engine airplanes with big stomachs.  The pilots, who must have to pass an insanity test for the job, skim over the sea and pick up a belly-full of water which they then carry back to the site of the fire, on which they dump their load of water, back and forth, back and forth.  Again on the right you’ll find a link to photos of the Canadairs fighting fire – both from Sunday and from a couple of years ago when they were flying over the hill just behind us.  They engage in amazing feats of flying prowess, aiming right towards a hillside, for instance, and pulling up at the last possible moment, at the same time releasing their water which inertia carries forward to the burning hillside.  It’s incredible to see, much more exciting than either of the races that were on TV that morning.

There’s a great urban myth about the forestieri finding the charred remains of a swimmer, in full scuba outfit, high on a burned out mountain.  He must have been scooped out of the sea by a Canadair and dropped right into the heart of the fire!!  I believed this entertaining tale the first three times I heard it; then the penny dropped.

The pilot this morning flew back and forth low over the city of Chiavari instead of over a less-populated area.  We could hear the low grumble of his engines as he neared the city; the sound growing to a roar as he passed low over the narrow streets, which sent the sound bouncing back and forth till we weren’t sure from which direction it was coming.  The Captain, who should know, says he was between 300-400 feet above us, which sounds like a lot until it’s an airplane flying over your head.  Then it doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

As we were scooting home we watched this hot dog fly parallel to the coast up towards Rapallo.  He then banked sharply and flew directly at a cruise ship in the bay outside Portofino, banked very sharply and flew between the ship and the land, banked again in the other direction around the Portofino lighthouse, and headed back up to the airport at Genova where the Canadairs are based (rather poor pictures of these maneurvers, blue tinted for some reason, on the right).  Anyone on the ship or at the lighthouse will have had a more exciting morning than they had planned. The Captain says that the pilots eat in the cafeteria at the Genova airport at 12:30.  As it was 12:10 I’m sure this fellow was on his way back for lunch.  But he couldn’t resist giving the folks on the land a bit of a thrill.  No doubt he had watched the motor cycle race that morning.