“Death on the highway”

72,000 people were killed on Italy’s roads during the 1990s. 72,000. More than were killed in the Vietnam war, according to Tobias Jones.

Yes, I’ve finally got round to reading The Dark Heart of Italy. It was recommended to me after it was first published in 2003, but without any tangible connection with Italy, I didn’t bother. Now I’m living here, it makes sense to read it. And a thoroughly engaging read it is too, though the user-critics on Amazon make some interesting , albeit arguably misguided, points about its credentials. Jones lived in Italy for four years, with an Italian girlfriend, and presumably wrote the book as he went along, as he learned Italian. The Amazon critics abuse him for getting things wrong. But it’s not written as the ultimate fact-based portrait of Italy (c2001-2002), but more like a series of observational opinion pieces, many published previously as magazine stories. Indeed, they’re not unlike blog entries, in many ways.

Writing a blog, or doing any kind of online publishing, there’s a strong sense that you should really be re-visiting each piece, and revising it as you learn more, as your ignorance or understanding shifts (something that’s harder to do with print media).

So for example, when I wrote this about Rome’s traffic, it was early September and I’d only been living in the city for a few weeks. I was naive and ignorant (I still am of course). In early September, a lot of Rome’s residents were still on holiday, avoiding the summer heat. When they came back, the number of SUV-type vehicles on the roads increased markedly. So that’s one comment from that earlier blog piece that’s inaccurate.

(As an aside – seriously, what the hell are these people thinking? Fossil fuels are a tangible and ongoing environmental catastrophe, oil itself is getting increasingly pricey, AND Rome is a city with a core of old neighbourhoods with tiny streets. Status symbolism really is so much more important than common sense to our moronic species.)

Another comment from that earlier blog that’s inaccurate is about cycling in Rome. I do see a certain amount of cyclists in Rome now. I even see people using the cycle track along the Tiber. Presumably, again, people who’ve come back from their holidays. I even sometimes see people wearing helmets, though not often. Though the cycling population is still tiny compared to that of London. In London, a dedicated riverside cycle track would be chocka.

Anyway, the point is that essays, blog entries, or even books like The Dark Heart of Italy aren’t about facts, they’re about opinions, and a certain amount of ignorance goes along with that.  Opinions are an essential part of writing, they’re dynamic, lively. There’s a clear difference between a news story and an opinion piece, but unfortunately in an era of immediate, easy reactions to anything that’s published, many people forget or ignore the distinction and are all too ready to troll.

That said, I wish Jones’ book that included a note giving the source for the “72,000” killed figure.

So anyway, I’m going to publish this now. In a week I might disagree with myself, but I doubt I’ll re-write this completely at any point.

(Oh, and quick quiz – name that tune.)





Filed under Rome

2 responses to ““Death on the highway”

  1. PMDE

    Do you remember driving on that motorway near Rome in the summer 11 years ago when the vehicle in the lane next to us just started to come? I had nowhere to go, with cars immediately in front and behind, so we just ended up 5 abreast on a 4 lane road. Funny in retrospect, but at the time, with the family in the car, I remember the adrenilin spike.

    Since then of course, I have been to Delhi, where only 5 abreast on a 4 lane road would seem a waste of tarmac.

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