Cuneo, Italy

Rome, Italy

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The Insanity Called Commute

So now I have a lovely car, and I am driving it. Myself, to work every day. What kind of looked crazy from the backseat of my former driver’s car, can now indeed be diagnosed as exactly that: insanity. The morning is not so bad, and today was actually pretty quiet. I take the Western Express Highway and after about 30mins and a few potholes here and there, I am at work. The way back, however, is absolutely mind-boggling. At around 7pm, it’s usually already dark, and today it was raining a bit as well. Not that the roads would be slippery or anything – the fact is, The Western Express Highway on Friday evenings is never quite express enough to anywhere near any speeds where one could slip.

The best part, however, is getting onto the highway to begin with. It’s about 3km or so through residential areas (well, in Mumbai, everything, literally, is a residential area), on pretty narrow lanes, each occupied by two or three cars each direction. There’s thousands of pedestrians fighting for space with the traffic. The road has fantastic potholes that make the cars look like little cogs in a whirlpool, or maybe toilet bowl.

I knew I was in a bit of trouble when a riksha coming the opposite direction got close enough to fold in my side mirror. Matters got a little more exciting when another riksha cut me off and scratched the left front corner of my car. It was my turn next when a truck to my right started swinging so heavily from the potholes that I saw it coming within fractions of an inch of my sidemirror, so I took a little swing to the left to evade him and immediately made contact with a riksha. So I heard a nice scratching sound and felt very sorry for my left door.

Drivers around here are incredibly impatient. The traffic is not moving one bit, there is absolutely no movement in sight in front of me, and the guy behind me keeps honking his horn like his life depends on it. There’s pretty much zero courtesy – instead it’s an all out war for every single inch of space. The Western Express Highway has a couple of stretches that could be considered fast road, but there’s other stretches where one has no choice but go down into first gear to make it over the potholes relatively safely.

Of course, the highway is filled with rikshas as well, and just like on the NJ Turnpike, the very slowest cars are happily crawling along on the center lane. Except they are passing two wheelers (helmet optional, flip-flops mandatory) and sometimes the odd pedestrian. Still, some folks in their Hondas and Hyundais will use every split second opportunity to zig zag their way around the mess, always with the hand firmly attached to the horn, never too shy to come within inches of anything the pass.

I don’t think accidents happen all that much – traffic is generally too slow for anything serious to happen, and the bumps and scratches are just part of the deal. Of course the absolutely last thing I’d like to happen would be to hit a pedestrian. As it is, no matter what, it would be my fault – if the guy walks onto the street without looking, as seems to be the custom, it doesn’t matter. Interestingly, however, if the driver is a woman, at least that’s what I was told, it is never her fault.

Anyways, so my commute back home usually takes an hour or more, for a distance of about 20km. And at the rate of three little bumps per day, my car will very quickly develop some lovely patina. I guess that’s the way it should be, although the amount of cars with dents and scratches is actually pretty low, so maybe this just means that I’ve got to learn how to drive. I thought Italy was pretty good practice, but really, it’s just elementary school compared to the masters of the Mumbai roads.

Premature Puking

Well, I guess this is good preparation, maybe even a good omen. I am in Novosokolniki at Ksenia’s cousins’ and I am heading out for Mumbai, India in a few days. Ksenia will follow two weeks later. I’ve been assigned to work in Mumbai for a year, so we said good bye to NYC (Long Island City that is) and on our way to Mumbai we made stopovers at my parents in Italy and at Ksenia’s mother in St. Petersburg. So, in preparation for all sorts of stomach flues that we are fully expecting to get in India, I had some of Ksenia’s cousin’s sour cream for breakfast. Maybe it was the 8 hour train ride to Novosokolniki from St. Petersburg, maybe it was the vodka that I should have drunken but didn’t, in any event my head is over the toilet bowl and I am puking to my heart’s content.

It will be a fun ride back on the night train and probably a great flight to Mumbai via Moscow and Delhi. Novosokolniki has a fantastically blue painted big Lenin statue on its main square and, at least here, one is tempted to believe it when people say (which they do) that since Perestroika everything is in ruins. Who knows? What I am noticing the most in my few days in Russia, both here and in St. Petersburg, that people are actually seriously proud of being alcoholics. A 10:00am can of beer and an afternoon bottle of vodka seems to be nothing to write home about.

People are extremely friendly around here and St. Petersburg looks beautiful, especially with the sun not going down untill 11:30pm or so. Still, I am pretty anxious to get on that Aeroflot to India, especially now that my stomach has received a blessing of sorts.