In Italy, panorama viewing counted as a bonafide activity, as much as going to the theater or out to dinner. In fact, the question, "Vuoi andare a un bel posto?" -- Do you want to go to a beautiful place? -- was the Italian equivalent of the American boy's invitation to a drive-in movie.
No viewpoint was left unmobbed by groups of friends and pairs of lovers, especially on summer nights. Whereas the average American viewpoint might be surrounded by safety railings and interrupted with signs warning you not to get too close to the edge, and etched display boards narrating the view, the Italian scene featured clumps of viewers perched on a low parapet gesturing wildly while talking amongst themselves, and passionate couples on the verge of writhing themselves right over the wall.
On any night of the summer, the road up to a viewpoint was lined with cars. You had to park way down at the bottom of the hill and walk up. The first time I was walking up to one of these viewpoints with a group of friends past all the lined up Fiats, I noticed that many of the Fiats were wiggling. I mean visibly, unmistakably, hilariously wiggling. "Ragazzi. Ma queste macchine si muovono." (Hey look you guys. These cars are wiggling.)
Then I noticed that many of them had newspers taped over the windows. It turned out that even up here the scugnizzi had found a way to reel in a few lire. The scugnizzi (the gn is pronounced as in lasagne) were the street urchins of Naples, unschooled and uncorralled, running around everywhere fulfilling invented needs and holding out a dirty hand for coins. You could barely turn your head around Naples without seeing one. A tram would go by and there'd be one attached to the back of it like a tree frog, for a free ride. Out here on the hilltops they approached occupied parked cars with newspapers and tape in hand, selling the scarce commodity of privacy. In a culture where an apartment of one's own was hard to come by, people had to make do.
So those were the entrepreneurial scugnizzi. But then there were the bad scugnizzi -- doesn't every population have its rotten apples? A favorite stunt of the evil ones was to slink by in the darkness and light a match to the newspapers covering one of the wiggling Fiats -- causing the occupants, no doubt at the zenith of their wiggling, to come bursting out of their car in a semi-clothed panic to attack the flames with their cast off apparel or whatever was at hand.
Labels: cars, Italy, safety, signage