The vast majority of my time here in Sicily is spent driving, so I thought it appropriate that my first contribution to the funkinaround blog would be about cars. I have a lot to say about driving in Sicily (I think I’ve spent more time in the car than I have on the island), but starting at the beginning is probably best.
Also, I’m hoping that someone at the BBC will read this and give me free tickets to Top Gear.
Before we got here, my friend told me this about renting cars in Sicily: “Sometimes, you get a good car. Other times, you get a Punto.” The hour we spent at the rental car desk gave me plenty of time to reflect on this. Please don’t let it be a Punto. Please, please, please don’t let it be a Punto! I must have jinxed it, because finally the clerk handed me a key, saying, “A Punto. Grey. Diesel.”
So, please welcome…
… My Little Punto!
(Notice the killer parking job I did today!)
So naturally, I felt pretty deflated, but after a billion hours spent flying all the way here, I wasn’t about to let a pokey little Fiat ruin my day. So we packed everything in and off we went.
And let me be clear, when I say packed, well, I mean packed. Three suitcases, two carry ons, two computer bags, a wife, and a driver is about THE limit. This car is not big, folks. Though, in a country where a Honda Fit is a practical family car, I suppose it depends on who you ask.
What I didn’t know at the time was that a Punto is the Sicilian car. This Italian workhorse is small, nimble, fits four doors where a Geo Metro in the US could only manage two, and since it’s a diesel it gets pretty good gas mileage – very important to the parsimonious Sicilian. That’s what the rental clerk told me to try to cheer me up, anyway. What I’ve found is that the Punto – being a manual transmission like all cars in Sicily – is actually a pretty fun car to drive. It feels… sprightly. Not athletic by any means, but it’ll dodge pedestrians and scooters all over town. Which is a crucial feature here.
And I see them everywhere! Driving around the island is like visiting an exhibit at the Fiat factory where they have every Punto ever made on display.
For a little car, not to mention a rental car, it has a lot of thoughtful touches, too. There’s a button on the dash that, when you press it, makes the steering wheel go super light for city driving. The wipers have four settings: High, Low, Intermittent, and Off. Unexpectedly, the rear wiper turns on automatically when you put the car in reverse. The first time I saw this, I was doing one of those 11-point parallel parking jobs, and I was cursing my piece of crap Italian car with the rear wiper that kept randomly going.
That being said, this car was built for an Italian, not an American. To fit my legs, I have to put my seat far enough back so that the steering wheel is almost too far to reach, unless I sit bolt upright, which I can’t since I’m too tall, so I end up hunched over the steering wheel like Mr. Magoo. And I’m only six feet tall. Needless to say, the driving position is uncomfortable.
Despite that, I’m happy with My Little Punto. In the past three weeks, it’s become a sort of friend, waiting faithfully by the door for another adventure. Where are we headed today, My Little Punto?