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While in Rome, Do as the Romans?

We're in southern Italy, in a breezy villa a short walk from the beach. The beach, embracing a wide expanse of blue-green sea, stretches the 3 km between the tiny seaside village of San Marco and the larger coastal town of Santa Marie. Perched directly above us is the historic village of Castellbate, clinging to the mountainside. It's quintessential Italy, at least the Italy I've imagined all my life.

These next 2 weeks are the holiday part of my sabbatical. I've put aside my writing for 16 days to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, foods, and sun of Italy and France.

And I love it all – with one exception: the driving. Or, more to the point, the drivers. I have witnessed – up close and personal – some of the most insane, dangerous, and aggressive drivers I've ever seen (and I've been to Thailand, India, Argentina, Bolivia, Kenya – you get the idea: I'm no stranger to madcap drivers). Yesterday, a crazed Italian tried several times to force me off the road for the offense of driving too slow – and I was doing 10km over the limit, just to try to get him off my tail. He was driving a new SUV Volvo – maybe a hundred grand vehicle – but was willing to smash it up, it seemed, just to make a point. What's more, after he got by me, he kept pulling over to the side so that I would pass him and he could repeat his reckless antics. I was feeling my inner Hulk awakening.

Wales has slowed me down. I have come to savor taking my time. And now Italy's roads want to force me back into my pattern of rushing. I am resisting with everything in me, but it is unnerving to be in a place where it's actually dangerous to drive the speed limit: you risk, literally, being run down.

And the guy in the Volvo was not even running late – his road warrior antics must have delayed him 10 minutes. That's the thing about being in a hurry: it's usually, literally, pointless. It's a soul condition, not a condition of lateness.

Just before my encounter with the Highway madman, we were having dinner in the picturesque city of Sorrento after an unforgettable day on the Island of Capri. I was thinking about the 3 hour drive home, and was anxious to get going, so asked the waiter for the bill even before my daughters were finished their meal.

"My friend," he said. "Slow down. You're on holiday. Relax."

Great advice. I just wish it applied to the roads here. In that at least, while in Rome I plan not to do as the Romans.



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