wrote a letter with "a modest proposal" to the
paper a while ago. In the 1990s, the city cleared out
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.
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.