I’m not sure about the rest of the world, but in North America, we who visit the older cities are none too pleased with having to learn the roadways. They are usually laid out without much logic and have names that are meaningful but arbitrary in relation to their landscape and often are as confusing as trying to navigate the government. But I have learnt to appreciate even the most absurd roadways of Canada and America for two simple reasons. 1) The streets of Canada and America have some length to them. Europe’s most long standing cities have survived from the days when walking was the foremost method of travel. This resulted in rather short streets meaning every few seconds of driving you have to turn onto a new road, learn a new street name, and flip the map one more time. I guess if you are used to that sort of thing it’s not so bad but for those of us who aren’t, the ability to get on one street and stay there for a while is almost relaxing. 2) In Rome, anyway, there is this issue with clearly labelling streets. It looks beautiful and classic to have the street name engraved in stone set into the side of a building with ivy flowing down the side and that might have worked fine when people were still walking everywhere but when you are driving… When you are driving in a street with people behind you, it is dangerous to have a permanent crick in your neck as you are straining harder to read a hidden street sign now behind you rather than paying attention to where you are going. The great part is some streets don’t even have lovely chiselled plaques, or some of them are placed on the second or third building down the street. In a land where drivers are crazy enough as it is would it be such a bad idea to invest just a little bit of cash to put up proper street signs….visible from a moving vehicle from a respectable distance?
Romans have something of a God complex that I think, no, I know, is very difficult for North Americans to swallow; or really, anyone whose culture it is to wait for a clear and safe street to materialize before crossing it. Romans believe that they are Moses for when they cross the street they quite simply expect the cars to miraculously not hit them- and every time a miracle happens. Like the waters of the Red Sea a pathway across the busy street ways just appears around the person. These Romans are born to dare certain failure and stare it down in the headlights, and continue on as if they are the semi-truck burling through an intersection of Smart cars and not the other way around. I have endeavoured to find this daring sense of power inside of myself to persuade cars to make way for me and while I have found some success, and probably act like a native Roman to the tourists patiently waiting at the curb, I discovered I am no expert yet. There is a busy street which I must cross every day to get to the subway and to school which allows me to practice daily. Today I took a leap of faith. Cars were coming in both directions with little to no available space to cross, but, to the trained Roman eye, plenty of time. I wasn’t so sure but had seen an old man cross this same street yesterday with even heavier traffic and didn’t even get a honk aimed at him. You can’t hesitate crossing Roman streets, so I half closed my eyes, half held my breath and went for it. And just like Moses crossing the Sea, I went through untouched by the waters. But I am sure my heart rate went up a bit more than I’d be willing to admit. When in Rome!….
As an update, my corner of Rome has sympathetic drivers. I have encountered many times my moments of doubt being rewarded, like a child unable to reach Grandma’s cookie jar, by a wave of free passage from the drivers.