My last hour-long lesson I teach on Fridays is at 5:30pm with a category manager at the Cologno Monzese-headquarters for a home-improvement retail chain. Once I’m done, I usually head straight to my school, twenty minutes away, to wait-out the rush-hour traffic then catch the strada statale 36, commonly called the valassina, for home – but not without finding a random chiosco mobile for a yummy panino con salamella. But once in a while I elect to just fight through the congestion until I find myself on the strada provinciale 7 route (which starts in Arcore). It is a longer, traffic-jam laden drive with many roundabouts, but much easier to access from Cologno Monzese. This was the route I’d chosen on the third Friday of November last year, and it was at the third-to-last roundabout of this commute where I got rear-ended, thus marking my very first road accident in Italy.
Here’s how it happened: As usual, the traffic started thinning out as soon as I passed Arcore, which meant I could accelerate a bit to the required fifty kilometers per hour. It allowed me to cruise comfortably under misty street lights, through little towns like Lesmo and Campofiorenzo-California, listening to Radio Marconi while channeling Toby Dammit in my father-in-law’s blue 1997 Volkswagen Polo. The best part of this drive, I’ll quickly mention here, is what I usually start seeing on my right as I head toward Casatenovo. It’s a far-off view of a brightly lit hilltop structure called Il Santuario della Beata Vergine Del Carmelo di Montevecchia with a line of street lights (like little dots) leading right up to it. It’s quite a sight, but on that evening, like many others, this meant that soon I’ll be home in time for dinner and a nightly satirical program called Striscia la Notizia. But what I learned, just as I’d slowed-down-to-a-stop in the middle of a newly built roundabout on Via Roma to allow a man with his Maltese to cross the strisce pedonali, was that my Friday night plans would be altered dramatically -literally with a bang.
The sudden impact I felt from behind was so hard that although my foot was firmly on the brake pedal, my car still lurched forward. Nevertheless my efforts brought it again to a stop, and the first thing I couldn’t help noticing was how much more disheveled the inside of my already messy car was. I saw that some of my English textbooks and photocopied grammar exercises that were on the front passenger seat were now falling off my lap; four crumpled up water bottles, an old Chinese takeout box, discarded receipts and trattoria menu flyers appeared together out of nowhere; and my recently-gone-missing disco orario decided to show up under my gas pedal.
I was thankful that the also shaken Sri Lankan driver who rear-ended me wasn’t hurt, and that both man and Maltese were still intact and had continued on. And feeling comforted that it wasn’t my fault made me reach into my glove compartment for an accident form called Constatazione amichevole – Denuncia di sinistro, which is, depending on who you ask, an underrated piece of Italian folklore. I felt heroic as I started filling out my part because I’ve been preparing to do this Italian pro bono thing for years by occasionally making it a centerpiece of my English lessons with selected students. Yes, they hated me for it, but while confidently filling out the conducente part, I wished they were there to witness. But as I moved on to the compagnia d’assicurazione part I ran into trouble. I suddenly felt like a dolt. And seeing that the waiting driver of the other car had the same look on his face, I did the next logical thing: I called my wife. By the time she arrived, I’d already put out the hazard-warning triangle and was looking quite dapper in my neon giubbotto retroriflettente ad alta visibilità. She wasn’t impressed. Thirty minutes later, we all shook hands and went on home. “It looks my Constatazione amichevole – Denuncia di sinistro lessons would have to continue”, I said earnestly to my wife. She nodded.