I ascribed this unexpected mellowness to the Murcielago Effect, wherein awe and national pride cause Italians to momentarily genuflect to the mighty Lambo, forgetting for a moment that they're engaged in a high-stakes road race with all other cars in the nation. On its native turf, the Murcielago projects a force field of deference. In Bologna, I'm pretty sure I drove through some normally off-limits areas -- bike paths, al fresco restaurants, people's living rooms -- because there was really no way to back up once I charted a course. But nobody ever gave me any trouble about it, because the citizens of Bologna were too busy taking photos and trying to figure out whether I was an obscure German soccer player or just a car thief.
But it turns out that traffic in Italy wasn't slowing down just to rubberneck the orange Lambo. Having just spent five days in Tuscany, I've realized that there's been a fundamental shift in Italian driving culture. There are still roads in Italy where you can properly exercise a car, but those spots are like secret surf breaks in an ocean of resentful obedience. In the general thrust and parry of everyday traffic, Italy's once-indomitable speed demons have been thoroughly cowed.
Italians surely still love fast cars, but the driving-as-competition habit has been ruthlessly crushed by traffic enforcement. In the denser parts of the cities, there are cops everywhere. And out on the open road, the infestation of speed cameras effectively discourages the maniacs who used to set the pace. I drove twenty miles on a divided highway outside Florence, and traffic was flowing at or near the 90-kph (56-mph) speed limit during the short interludes between cameras -- and at the cameras, everyone stabbed the brakes and slowed down even more, just to be on the safe side. It was sad.
This time around, I know that my fellow motorists weren't slowing down to check out my wheels. My wife, two friends, and I were comfortably ensconced in a handsome yet innocuous Alfa Romeo Giulietta, plucked off the lot from the airport Avis.