In order to research an obscure (but true) massacre which is part of my novel Toads’ Museum of Freaks and Wonders, I travelled to that part of Italy where massively heavy marble trucks roll down single lane mountain roads that look more like landslides. It’s a beautiful region. Next time, however, I want a donkey. And a parachute:
In part one, she rents a small Fiat that comes ready equipped with an overflowing ashtray, a GPS unit (more on this later) and a pair of sandy bikini bottoms on the passenger seat. “Mine!” giggles the booking agent, snatching them off the seat and wiggling her butt in a way that contrives to be both sexy and slimming.
In part two, the author attempts to drive the Fiat up rock face that has been described erroneously as the road to her accommodations in a gorgeous but fairly inaccessible medieval village. She has read the directions which state that even thought the road looks impossible, if you keep your foot on the accelerator, you will eventually get there or die in the attempt. Halfway up, the engine burns out and the Fiat begins to gracefully roll backwards towards the non-existent safety rail. It’s beginning to look more like the die in the attempt version.
In part three, the Fiat’s GPS unit tells her (once the engine has been replaced or whatever it is that is done with burned-out engines) to drive through a concrete mixer. And through a terracotta studio. And up an insanely steep mountain and into some farmer’s chicken hutch. All in the vain hunt for a bottle of Coke. Because, you know, Coke is life, and I’m needing some at this point. Life, that is.
In part four, the GPS unit is dubbed the Navigation Bitch, because of the way she shrieks “No! No! No! You utter moron! You’ve gone way too far! What are you, some kind of idiot Australian for attempting to drive on Italian roads or what???”
In part five, the author attempts, yet again, to drive up the road to her accommodations. She notes, appreciatively, how someone has thoughtfully bent out the ten inch guard rail in the place where the road isn’t actually as wide as her car, so that there will be someplace for the tires to go when she turns the corner at that stone house that has already gouged the side of the rental car (before she figured out that the road isn’t as wide as the car…). She reminds herself not to look down on the guard rail side, because she’s afraid of heights, and she reminds herself to keep her foot on the accelerator, because the hill is very steep, but not give it too much gas, because if she presses too hard, the engine will burn out and she and the Fiat will, in fact, roll backwards and fall gracefully down that steep chasm that she isn’t looking at right now.
In part six, the author decides to drive up to Sant’Anna, location of the massacre in Toads’ Museum of Freaks and Wonders, but gives the driving over to her friend, who is an expert driver. The friend, however, freaks out halfway up the mountain, gets out of the car and sits by the side of the road and says that she is not going any further because it’s too bloody dangerous and she hopes to see me in a couple of hours but isn’t counting on it. The Fiat, courteously, begins to roll backwards, as the handbrake wasn’t quite up to the job.
In part seven, the author hires an interpreter to go with her the next day and lets the interpreter drive. As she is local, the interpreter spends a large amount of time pointing out spots where her friends have fallen off the mountain in their cars. She also screams at the drivers of marble trucks and big buses until they back up and let her go first. She knows all the best swear words and uses them frequently.
In part eight, the author decides to drive on flat coastal roads, just to steady her nerves for a little while. When she pulls out to pass a grandma, a fast Italian sports car appears on the horizon and in seconds is an inch from her bumper, beeping and flashing his lights. When the author still continues to pass the grandma, the fast car gently bumps her car in the rear bumper. They are driving at about 100 miles an hour. When she mentions this incident at an AutoGrilli, the attendent smiles and says “Lady, that lane called the spatula lane, ’cause they need spatula to pick you up off the road if you stay in there and drive slow.”
In part nine, the Coke must be helping, because I am still alive.
Goldie Goldbloom’s first novel, The Paperbark Shoe, won the AWP Prize and is an NEA Big Reads selection. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and has been the recipient of multiple grants and awards including fellowships from Warren Wilson, Northwestern University, the Brown Foundation, the City of Chicago, and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is chassidic and the mother of eight children.