Roman Holiday, Day 1: Maserati Interrupted

Samocar is a gleaming glass palace in an industrial park off the ring road-the Grande Raccordo Anulare or GRA-north of Rome. Samocar is full of Ferraris and Maseratis, one of which was a Quattroporte Sport GTS with my name on it. Because my name is Jean and not Jeanne, Europeans expect they will be meeting a man. This may have been the case with the Samocarians. I think that’s why they gave me lessons in how to shift before they let me leave. Seriously, they were all, “You put this lever in R when you want to back up and you put this lever in D when you want to go forward.” They skipped the manumatic part, obviously realizing the plus and minus part of manually selecting gears would be too much for me to learn in their parking lot.

They were distressed to find out that my hotel-the fabulous Hotel FortySeven-was in the very heart of Rome. They had a long discussion in Italian which ended in the happy realization that they could program the navigation system (!) to get me there. They also made an elaborate list of every turn I would make, deciding that taking the long-but-easy way via GRA would keep me out of trouble.

The nav system shrugged off all doubts about my interior tracking ability, missed the part about the GRA, and sent me right into the belly of the beast at rush hour.

It is not an ideal nav device, or at least it wasn’t set in the ideal mode; that is, in autostrada mode. I couldn’t say, because I wasn’t about to start searching around through the menus and risk losing the final destination altogether. So I went into a Zen-like stupor, blithely following nothing but a big fat arrow, a harsh American dominatrix of a voice (Please prepare to turn right in 150 meters! Please take the second right!), and a grid of descending distance to see me through. I miscalculated three times, and Mother Superior got me right back on track.

The Maserati and I ebbed and flowed as cars streamed around me, making three lanes of one. At every red light, motorbikes and scooters squeezed through to line up for the green flag. I was the one driver in all of Rome using a turn signal.

There were many car-lined streets so narrow we would call them alleys in the U.S.; so narrow, that the Quattroporte’s proximity sensor’s warning blare was in full song. I slipped through each unscathed. There was one hairy moment when, halfway down a clogged street, an Audi A8 pulled in from the opposite direction and raced forward, never hesitating, stopping inches from my bumper. The driver acted like I wasn’t there, or like I would now, of course, reverse down the street. Which I did. The A8 stayed glued to my bumper going exactly as fast in forward as I was going in reverse. If I’d stopped, he would have creamed me. I swear it was NOT a one-way street.

I found my hotel, to my great joy, after first finding the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and the Palatine and the Circus Maximus looming above me in every direction I looked.

When I pulled up in front of the very discreet Hotel FortySeven, it was if a movie star had arrived. People walking by stopped to watch the beautiful Quattroporte, then gasped as I backed closer to the curb, found a sharp edge, and chunked the zillion-dollar, right rear 20-inch Pirelli P Zero.

Jesus wept.