AMERICAN CAR IN GERMANY (FORD) VS. FRENCH CAR (RENAULT) IN ITALY

REFLECTIONS OF A NATIONAL CHARACTER OR JUST DUMB LUCK?


After making the rounds of all the Documenta 14 sites in Kassel, Germany, we jetted off to Palermo, Sicily, via Milan where we arrived at gate B-19 just as passengers (the “select” ones) were boarding Alitalia’s Flight 1793 to Sicily.  Coming from Germany where the high temps were around 24 C (75 F) to Palermo where the high temp that day had hit 40 C (104 F) according to the Hertz Car Rental woman I dealt with, it was a bit of a shock.  But, hey, it was hot in Venice too (but nowhere near 100 F) and the Sicilian sky was bight blue with big puffy white clouds so it felt kind of good.  Typically, the day began in Kessel with a solid gray cover of clouds, shifting to a light drizzle by noon, and finally clearing up by 4:00 PM (1600 H).  And, I thought, we had rented a beachfront cottage just about halfway between the airport and Palermo proper.

Speaking of car rentals.  It was a Ford (no kidding!) in Germany and while it was much larger than I wanted (it was an SUV) I have to admit that it was very well put together.  But key to our happiness in Germany since we drove just under 1000 kms while we were there, was the navigation system.  Simple, easy to use, and very intuitive.  Even though all the instructions were in German as was the female voice of direction, we figured it ought in a couple of minutes.  Neither one of us knows more than 6 German words between us but we had no problem with the system’s crystal clear, large format, nicely designed screen.  It wasn't until our second last day that we finally figured out how to change the language setting to English.  (Sorry to say that lady navigator's English voice was just not as attractive as her German one!) 
As I noted above, I was dealing with Hertz again as I had been in Germany only this time it turned out that I had done the online rental car not from the airport terminal but from the Hertz downtown office.  I know precisely how this happened although I didn’t realize the mistake at the time.  My first foray into car rentals at Palermo‘s airport yielded prices starting at $58 a day and increasing upwards from then on.  “Hell, no,” I said.  Later I checked again via an open search and got prices where they should have been, beginning at around $28 a day.  The young women graciously transferred the rental at the same price so it all worked out quite well.

Because we had such an excellent working relationship with our GPS navigation system in our German made Ford, I ordered one for our French made Renault.  Well, I'm not sure why there is such a difference between the two systems (German precision versus French diffidence?) but the French versions of a navigation system – at least by Renault – is about as confusing, counter intuitive and impossible to navigate as one could imagine.  Learning from the last time, we reset the language to English before we pulled out of the rental lot.  We then punched in our cottage by the sea address and we were off.  But the system seemed to have been designed by a dyslectic software engineer since we kept missing turns (“in 400 meters turn left” but there was nowhere to turn left after 400 meters) and “take the first right in the roundabout” which would have led us into a massive industrial park (in this instance apparently the “driveway” to the industrial park was not considered important enough to note.)  After about 30 minutes of frustrations – the Renault was the first standard transmission car I’ve driven in maybe thirty years, so there was that too! -  we gave up and relied on Google Maps to get us to our destination. 


As we were attempting to find our way back to what seemed to be the route to our cottage by the sea, we had also been looking for a restaurant – by now it was about 7:00 PM - but the little towns we were passing through looked a lot like those Mexican towns we’ve visited that were way off from Mexico's national highways and don’t offer much in the way of restaurant fare.  But then we happened across a large bodied Italian man with some sort of barbecue rig - like the side of the road barbecue guys you see down South - near the entrance to what looked like a landfill.  (I kid you not! The area we were driving through was full of industrial operations and shipping companies.)  So we stopped since we had no idea where the hell we were or – more importantly – where we were going just then.  Naturally he spoke no English and we no Italian but through those universal international hand gestures, nods and grunts we made out that what was cooking were wild boar’s “glands.”  What type of “glands” we never were able to figure out but, hey, we were hungry and they tasted pretty damned good.         

Our cottage by the sea lodging, owned by Gianni and his lovely wife (a just past middle-aged Italian couple) consists of a small living room, large kitchen/dining area and two bedrooms.  And, it is on the sea, on the north coast of Sicily about 10 kms northwest of Palermo.  It’s a nice place, decently outfitted, with a large outdoor patio, grassy sunbathing yard, a canoe to use if you’re so inclined and all the tools, appliances and gadgets that we most often never use but are nice to look at.  Only one of the two bedrooms is air conditioned and it’s a kids room with those pipe-framed bunk beds you see advertised on late night television for $199 the pair.

What wasn’t revealed in the Air B&B advertisement, was that the “Chalet sur Mare” is also adjacent to a four lane divided highway.  And I do mean adjacent.  There is a narrow, (maybe 20 feet wide) one way service lane, about 5 feet of grassy, trash collecting strip of land before you come to the limited access highway itself which seems to be Sicily's major truck route.  Because we had to leave the windows open - it was HOT! - the sounds of the traffic – cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles -  accompanied us as we tried to get some sleep.  Neither one of us made out all that well.


But Gianni and his wife provided us with coffee, pastries, cheese, sausage, for breakfast and last night we drank a bottle of spumoni courtesy of the cottage by the sea owners.  This morning we swam in the Mediterranean Sea and so far we’re just lazing around thus far this morning, so all in all not such a bad place.  

And, I've come to realize that any day without a Trump Breaking News Headline is a truly wonderful day.  We've had quite a few of them so far and we are very much enjoying the relaxing break being away from the U.S. has provided us.   



Take Care!

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