Italy. Summer. 2010. The middle of a heatwave.
My friend Maria and I are speeding along the autostrada between Venezia and Bologna at an only slightly illegal pace. We’re bopping along to the “Siena” playlist on her iPod. We’re marvelling at the amount of leg room in her black, non-airconditioned Smart car, affectionately called “Arthur Fonzarelli”. (The Fonz wore only black, the Smart car was all black. You get it, right?) We’re making plans to stop in Bologna for a late lunch of mortadella sandwiches. We’re checking out the scenic countryside.
As I twist around in my seat to get a glimpse of a town we’d just passed, I spot the unmistakable grey and yellow of the Guardia di Finanza – a type of Italian police that deals with customs, tax and some international crime business. The guy who was driving, the officer, I should say, looks too cool to be true. Perfectly coiffed hair, stylish sunglasses, bracelets on his wrist, a chain peeking out from the V of his uniform shirt, one tanned forearm resting on the windowsill while he uses his other hand to drive. He looks more like a GQ cover model than a police officer, and I’m spudorata (shameless) enough to stare.
That was mistake #1.
Of course, he and his partner catch me staring. He smirks and bows his head slightly in acknowledgement. I whip around in my seat, giggle like a schoolgirl and recount everything to Maria, just as Mr. GQ and partner pull up beside us, give us a wink and a wave, then cut in front of us. They slow down. Significantly. After a couple minutes of nearly crawling in the slow lane, we decide to pass Mr. GQ and company. Mistake #2, but hey, there were mortadella panini waiting for us in Bologna! They pass us and slow down again. We pass them. Mature? Certainly. (Are you counting the bad moves here?)
Then… come the flashing lights.
“What are they doing with their lights on?!” My friend cries.
“Well I don’t know! There’s no siren. They can’t be wanting to pull us over. They would have done it ages ago, right?”
“No idea. Italians!” With an exasperated sigh, Maria reaches to turn the music back up. We keep driving. Normale.
They decide to pass us again. As we’re watching them approach and eventually overtake our car, Mr. GQ’s sidekick sticks his beautifully tanned forearm out the window, and we see his beautifully tanned hand holding an official-looking red paddle.
“What? He’s paddling us?! That can’t be! He wants us to pull over! Can you believe him!?” Maria puts on her blinker to pull onto the shoulder. Paddle boy shakes his head furiously and waves his paddle towards the quickly approaching sign: AutoGrill 900 m. A rest stop in just less than a kilometre.
“What?! I guess we’re supposed to pull off there?” I’m puzzled by this strange Italian pull-over protocol. Not that I had ever been pulled over by the police before in any country, but I didn’t think this was the way it usually went. Even in Italy.
“Yeah, but for what? I’m not going much faster than the speed limit, and I mean, why didn’t they just pull us over 10 minutes ago when they started following us?” Maria frowns.
“Foreign plates, maybe? You did drive here from London, and your plates show it.”
“Hmm. Possibly,” she concedes as she steers Arthur towards the off ramp. “Ok, here’s our plan. If we’re in trouble, neither of us speaks a word of Italian. Which, of course is a lie, but…” She looks over to make sure I’ve understood. I’m busy digging in my handbag for my perfume.
“And if, for some reason we’re not,” I say as I extract my head from the depths of my handbag and spritz myself with perfume, “then we can both use our marvellous Italian on Mr. GQ and friend.” I finish with a spritz towards Maria and stow my perfume as we both laugh.
She checks her appearance in the rear view mirror. “Hair down? I think so.” We pull into the nearest parking spot at the rest stop. “You never know with these guys… A few hair flicks may get us out of a speeding ticket, if that’s what they’ve got us pinned for. I’ve heard stories.” Excellent thinking. Did I mention that Maria is a lawyer?
We both shake out our unruly, frizzy, sweaty hair (hey, Arthur doesn’t have any air conditioning, remember?) and prep our most convincing “we weren’t speeding” smiles. Mr. GQ and friend saunter casually towards our car. They motion for us to roll down the windows.
“Ciao, ragazze,” Mr. GQ croons has he bows his head to look in the driver’s side window. He flashes us his million-dollar smile. His partner follows suit. “Could we offer you a coffee?”