Rome is a melting pot of drivers, each one more different than the last, though all united by an inability to drive in straight lines and a certain disregard for speed limits. Some one-handed, some two – even some who neglect to put a hand on the wheel entirely, preoccupied with books and phones and sandwiches. There are the drivers with maniacal gleams in their eyes, the knuckles of each hand white on the steering wheel, pearly teeth gritted in concentration. They constantly battle with their opposites: sprawling drivers with a finger or two resting on the curve of the wheel, the others holding a mobile, and their gaze fixed pointedly at the screen instead of the road. They weave their way through alleys and side streets, throwing you from side to side as they go. The squeals of tires protesting against the brakes and the honk of horns fill your ears wherever you go, until it becomes commonplace and you notice only its absence.
Taxis take you to Alton Towers and back, going round and round and up and down, from zero to eighty miles an hour in under three seconds. The ride judders to a halt inches from the door of wherever it is you've directed them to, and you pay the driver with shaking hands and stagger out of the door, dizzied. There's always a second or two when you stand there with a hand on your chest, relief at having survived the ride overriding whatever other emotions you may have had beforehand.
Italian cars are specially made. They have only two buttons: 'stop' and 'go'. Should you press 'stop' then you will squeal to an immediate halt, seatbelt straining and airbag eagerly pressing against its container. The moment you press 'go', you are off again, hair flying out behind you and face contorted by the sudden whoosh of wind in your face, cartoonlike.
There is some unspoken law that there must be a restaurant every ten metres or so, lest the tourists get lost and starve to death, and the moment you enter them you will be instantly presented with either a list of pizzas, or unpronounceable pastas. After all, it is completely inconceivable that a non-native could possibly wish to eat something other than spaghetti or margherita.
When they leave their pizzerias for a minute or two, a favourite hobby of the Italians is to dress as a statue and stand very, very still in the middle of streets. It is an unending source of mystery to me as to why they are so fascinated by people who are dull enough to have expressionless faces and remain perfectly still without dying of tedium. Maybe they just feel sorry for people who are so hopeless that they must resort to standing around doing nothing for money.
There must be bloodhound somewhere in the ancestral line of all locals, because they can sniff out a tourist from a mile away. But then, they're hardly needles in a haystack: the red faced, sweating English huddle in groups around their guidebooks; the Japanese stare in random directions and dart around with seemingly no idea of where exactly it is they're going; the Americans beam at everyone and anyone, and speak in very loud and slow Italian to waiters with flawless English. The Italians saunter past the ancient pillars standing nonchalantly in the middle of streets, eyes focused on the pavement instead of the incongruously placed columns around them. They seem to take pride in their casual ignorance of the enormous structures that the tourists delight in gawping at, frantically flipping through the pages of their guidebooks in search of more information.