Written by Derek Olson, Student, CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania.
I didn’t notice the motorcylce until it zoomed inches in front of me. I had removed my eyes from the road to observe the restaurants to the left as I walked along the catanese streets. Paying close attention is a necessity on the streets of Catania. The road system looks more like bumper cars with BMW motorcycles and Vespa scooters weaving through the entanglement. Of course the road isn’t a county fair ride, so bumping is strictly prohibited.
Now immagine crossing this confusion without a pedestrian light indicating when to go. If there’s one thing people don’t wait for in Italy, it’s crossing the street. One must cautiously creep into the chaos before it slows down to allow you to cross. Even in the few intersections that have crosswalk lights, I felt uneasy at first. Cars and motorcycles making left turns will sinuously wrap around the pedestrians in the crosswalk. But after a few weeks, it’s beginning to feel more natural. The biggest bumper car collisions I ever experienced were the T-bone crashes I didn’t see coming. Thus, I have learned that eye contact, assertion, and awareness are the most important skills for a pedestrian.
Crossing an intersection is almost the same process for vehicles. Most intersections don’t have stop signs or stop lights. Cars and trucks inch forward until they demand their own right of way. By far, the most incredible part of Catania’s traffic is the way the drivers whip around the diminutive street corners missing the parked cars by centimeters on each side. However, sometimes side streets in the city really are too small. While riding in the car with my friend Riccardo, he took a turn that proved impossible to make with a car parked on the corner. Thankfully, the bump didn’t leave a mark.
Despite the frenetic appearance to a foreigner, the system seems to work well. It fits the layout of the city with it’s winding side streets intersecting each other every fifty meters. I know I won’t drive in the frenzy but perhaps on a back road, one of our Italian friends will teach me how to drive manual transmission like a European.