Thursday, 7 July 2016

tozza tozza

'tozza tozza' is an apt Neapolitan phrase to describe the experience of driving in the cities of Napoli and Palermo. It reflects the spurting flow of traffic in the city centres, moving bumper to bumper, or side by side like dodgem cars. Palermo adds an level of difficulty: cars moving four across, switching from one imaginary lane to another by swerving without indicators. 

Driving in a Fiat Bambino is a compounding frisson of excitement - while it's a piccolo car which can fit into any space, it can also be overwhelmed by trucks and buses and even electric scooters. You will recognise your own form of demise before it hits you. 

This is often followed by the frantic search for a car park, where a concierge will wait in the street and run ahead of your car to show you an available parking space which they then want to be paid for, even if they don't own the real estate. They are ready to throttle you if you don't pay them for something which is not theirs to sell. 

In the city and the suburbs with narrow streets, cars are parked nose to nose or nose to the kerb, and sometimes with half the car on the footpath or three deep on a pedestrian crossing. (OK, the latter only happens in Roma.) It is a creative and effective use of limited space, unless you want to drive away.

It's important to take a deep breath, because sometimes 'tozza tozza' reflects the research experience too. In the chronically under-funded archives, museums and galleries everyone is very willing to provide advice, is usually interested in speaking to someone whose first language is not English and is occasionally willing to listen to the story you have to tell. But often there is only a referral, and as you move on to the next less-likely repository in increasing circles of frustration, no result.

The research conundrum being pursued, by car and on foot, was the exact location of a street in Palermo, Via Cavallacci. It was the home of many families which lived in SetteCannoli / Brancaccio for generations. It no longer exists but neither is there a map from the 1940s which shows where it might have been. Where is the concierge when you need him?

['tozza tozza' is from the verb scontarsi.]