There are very good reasons for a June vacation in Italy's Umbria region: Ancient villas and Roman ruins, fine wine, fantastic food, pungent espresso, beautiful people, spectacular churches and museums, and a heavenly golden light at sunset, to name just a few. Little of this resonated with the four offspring being dragged to Italy by our friends, Tom and Lisa Boniface, from Poland, Ohio. (Yes, you recognize that surname. Brother Bob designed the Chevy Volt.) But to Italian car-besotted Tommy, 18, and Joe, 15, it all came together when the magnanimous Maserati press office delivered a luscious, black 2007 Quattroporte Sport GT S - with a startling red interior - in my name to our hotel in Rome for our holiday.
This was way cooler than the lumbering Renault Trafic their dad had rented to haul them, brother Nick, and sister Annie - against their teenaged wills - to castles and cathedrals. Little did they know of the additional surprise that sympathetic press agent Luca Dal Monte at Maserati had planned for them. Oh, wasn't I just Perfect Aunt Jean?
Jet lag took a back seat to arguing over who got the three available seats in the Quattroporte for the 150-mile trip to our villa near Umbertide, ninety miles southeast of Florence. There was a lot to lose, considering the cramped, steamy quarters of the Trafic, so the arguing, wheedling, whining, and negotiating was particularly fierce. Mom Lisa, more used to the squabbling than Perfect Aunt Jean, focused her attention on the skanky prostitutes hanging out on the ramp to the autostrada.
Actually, the first problem had come and gone a couple of days before the Bonifaces arrived. I'd carefully negotiated my way across rush-hour Rome in the Quattroporte only to pull up to my hotel and slice a tire on a protruding sewer grate. D'oh. I made the gut-wrenching call to Maserati, and the car was whisked away and returned with fresh rubber, but I was determined that no further harm would come its way. This didn't stop me from tapping deeply into the 394-hp, 4.2-liter V-8, searching for that claimed 5.6-second o-to-62-mph time and 168-mph top speed. Italian autostradas are a bit lumpy, which just serves to make you feel more alive at high speed. Snaking along the country two-lanes, though, gave the Boniface boys a great lesson in the Maserati's handling benefits.
Aunt Jean's driving school came to a screeching halt when we faced the last leg of our journey - a steep, rutted, gravel path leading up into the mountains. Yipe. We crept painfully for two miles through a cloud of road dust, trying to focus on the cypress trees lining the road. With the villa in sight and the path getting ever steeper, I made everyone get out for the last 100 yards. Our chariot remained parked for half the week as we suffered the indignity of the Trafic (yes, I fought with the kids for the front seat) as our grocery van and touring vehicle.
We dusted off the Quattroporte at week's end for the big surprise - a pilgrimage to Modena and a tour of both Maserati and Ferrari, arranged by Dal Monte. Actually, we didn't dust it off, planning to arrive early and find a car wash. That did not happen. After a fruitless search, we slunk in through Maserati's main gate, a thoroughly dusty mess, and scurried into the main lobby, hoping that no one had spotted us.
We began our magic day in the lobby, looking at cars and an exhibit by famed Modena photographer Beppe Zagaglia. Our guide, retired export sales manager Giorgio Manicardi, then walked us down the ultramodern assembly line, spouting history and performance figures. He had the boys mesmerized.
After an exquisite lunch with Dal Monte, we were sent to Maranello to see Davide Kluzer of Ferrari public relations, and the boys almost swooned when we walked into the sanctum sanctorum of the prancing horse. Seeing the sheer numbers of Ferraris - coming down the line, driving through the historic gate - almost popped their heads off. Then came the Fiorano track and the faithfully preserved house where Enzo had his office and watched F1 races. Tommy and Joe touched his telephone. The finale? Spotting a yet-to-be-revealed 2009 California.
We returned to the Quattroporte (it was spotless and gassed) bearing parting gifts. I am pretty sure that when their ships roll in, the Boniface boys will be Maserati owners. I just play a Maserati owner in magazines; this car, alas, needed to be returned. On the last day, my husband and I eased our Quattroporte down the hill and headed for Rome and home.
With ten miles to go, the thick traffic spit a piece of metal into our path, slicing a tire. D'oh. I made the gut-wrenching call to Maserati . . .