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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Jan 2003, rev. Oct 2010
Everything is related to Naples
Number 65 in this series. Link to all items here.
Driving Miss Godzilla
A gentleman wrote a letter
with "a modest proposal" to the paper a while ago.
In the 1990s, the city cleared out Piazza Plebiscito,
the large square in front of the Royal Palace in
Naples. It has been returned to its natural,
wide–open, pristine state—spacious, clean, and
eminently walk-aroundable. The letter pointed out
that "wide open spaces" are all right for the Wild
West and Asian steppes but, after all, we are
human beings, not buffalo, and such an area is not
natural in what is the least wide-open space in
western Europe, Naples. Let the cars return, the
letter argued. Bring those thousands of vehicles
back from the parallel, quantum Naples that they
are star–gated to every morning and let them park
here in the real Piazza Plebiscito where
they belong. Certainly, nothing could be worse
than the presence of various works of "art" that
take up space in the square a lot of the time,
from castles made of Coca–Cola cans to mountains
of salt to a recent display of 100 bronze skulls. Why
not—in keeping with "Art for the masses" ambitions
of the city—put on a permanent display of parked
cars as "mobile installation art"? Then, instead
of slurping coffee and holding maps of the city
upside-down, visitors to our fair city can put in
some quality tourist time by admiring the
kaleidoscopically changing colors—Matisse, eat
your heart out!—of the square as cars putt about
looking for parking spaces, or by deconstructing
the semiotics of the Hittite tridents, runes,
alchemical emoticons and gypsy logoglyphs that
serve as hood ornaments.
In any event, for parking, small is better, and you see a lot of the official car of Lilliput nowadays, the Smart, a two–seater (photo insert, top). It is made by Mercedes and Swatch (from Swiss Watch, the gnomes who make those screwy–looking transparent wristwatches where you can actually see the springs and cogs of the works. The Smart is not cheap, in spite of its diminutive size, but it is easy to park. On the other hand, I did know one of the nouveau riches in Naples who had the ostentatiously bad taste to get himself a Rolls Royce. I have no idea if he ever took it out of the garage. I don't even know where the garage was; it was probably some sort of a secret cavern where he could enwomb himself in his expensive toy in solitude, fondle the steering wheel and feel completed in life. There are a few Mercedes around—the real ones: somber, well designed, solidly built, wall-to-wall airbags and even—as an optional—a cigar-smoking industrialist in the back seat. There are some Volvos and Saabs, too. Having a new high–tech German or Swedish set of wheels around here, though, is asking for trouble. There is a big market for them, and they say that if you park one in the wrong part of town, some sheikh will be driving your car around downtown Riyadh a few days from now.
I may have been the only person in Naples who ever owned an American Motors Corp. Concord, a fine machine built in 1979. It used to draw stares, "oohs" and "aahs" when I brought it up out of my own Bat Cave for my nightly patrols through the by-ways of Naples. It wasn't what Europeans disparagingly term an "American battleship". They are remembering way back when—the 1950s—when American drivers were shameless love–slaves of the Godzillamobile, a gaudy behemoth with tail-fins aerodynamically honed to create intense low pressure vortices in their wake, vacuuming up little old ladies from curbside and blowing them down the streets like geriatric Dorothys on their way to Oz. One turn signal, alone, pulled more juice than it took to reanimate Boris Karloff in The Return of Frankenstein, and in fossil–fuel consumption, those cars barely got two miles to the dinosaur. My Concord wasn't any of that—it just wasn't a "European-looking" car.
I drove that car way up to Switzerland once, even motoring up over the Alps instead of through the long, dreadful Gotthard tunnel. It was a fine ride. On the way back down south, I strayed from the autostrada near Naples onto a road that even the world's greatest optimist might call "What Road?!"—a trail ludicrously overrated on my map as a vague tracing of broken squiggles. I wound up in a village where children fled from my path and wide-eyed peasants threw sprigs of wolfbane at my car. (Or maybe it's "cloves" of wolfbane, or some metric unit like "kilobushes".)I pulled up in front of City Hut to ask directions, and a village elder appeared. He eyed my car suspiciously since it had just been seen to move without benefit of harnessed brute. Helpfully, he set the townsfolk to sharpening stakes and gathering firewood until I explained with my map that it had been all downhill from Switzerland. He was impressed, too, that Switzerland was a mere eleven inches from his village. He seemed fully conversant with the technology of the wheel since he tried to converse with my tires. When they wouldn't answer, he started kicking them, shaking his head and "tsk–tsking" as he went. I turned down his offer of a trade–in for a fine, slightly used mule. He even kicked the poor animal in the shins a few times just to show me what a good, solid beast it was. In any event, they let me go and I drove off back to Naples, but only after letting every adult in the village sit in the front seat of my Concord, fondle the steering wheel and feel completed in life.