From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 45
La Carrozzina (The Golf Cart)
When my parents were in their eighties, it became more and more difficult for them to climb the steep path from the parcheggio up to the front door of the Palazzo. Since Gioviano is basically a walking town, it was almost impossible if they had a heavy load to carry up the hill. It looked as if they would be forced to stay back in Texas years before they actually decided that the plane trip was just too difficult to make.

In 1998, we had purchased a lake house in Texas that, by chance, came with an electric golf cart. It was great for traveling back and forth through the forested streets of Waterwood. Eureka! That would be the answer to solve my parents’ problem in Gioviano. All we had to do was to find the local Italian golf cart store, buy one, and they would be set for the next few years. (“Carrozzina” is the word the Giovianini use for golf cart.) Easier said than done. Before leaving Texas for Italy, I tried to Google up “E-Z-GO” in Italy and was unsuccessful.

When we arrived in Italy, we drove up to the only golf course in the Garfagnana to ask about locating carts. The course had only three mountainside holes at that time and no carts. One of the golfers gave us the name, “Lamborghini” and a phone number to call. Wow, just think of the possibility of owning a Lamborghini golf cart! We would be the terror of Gioviano, even more so than the teenagers whizzing through the narrow lanes on their motorscooters.

I called the dealer, and he agreed to send a new Lamborghini to Gioviano for a test drive. When the cart arrived, we were all relieved at how it looked. It wasn’t a ridiculous-looking Mercedes, Rolls Royce, T-Model or other high dollar cart that obese men with too much money and too much time on their hands drive around on golf courses all over America. (These golfers complain all the while about people on welfare who they say are too lazy to work. However, the poor, in reality, can’t get a good job, because the rapacious corporations that these right-wing old geezers used to work for exported millions of jobs to China or India.)

But once again, I digress -- back to the Lamborghini. It was shiny and new but could barely climb the steepest part of the hill when fully loaded. Worse still, it couldn’t turn the hairpin curve leading up to the Palazzo without backing up a couple of times. We were told that we could special order a souped-up model but that the turning radius would be the same, so back to the factory it went.

That same year, Mercedes Benz introduced a tiny new car manufactured for the Swiss watch company SWATCH. We went to the Mercedes Benz dealer in Lucca and rented a “SMART,” as it is called, for 24 hours so that we could try it out. It had less pulling power than the Lamborghini and was so wide that turning up the sharp curve to the Palazzo was an impossibility.

The next stop was the Piaggio factory in Pontedera. We had no luck there. Then we went on to a factory in Prato that had produced a prototype that looked like one of the 1950s era Messerschmitts, that were made from German airplane cockpits so that the passengers had to ride behind the driver. No matter how hard they struggled, my poor old parents couldn’t squeeze into the cramped vehicle. When we were waiting to check out the Ligiers back in Lucca, a couple came in fuming and yelling. They had purchased one, two years before and had never gotten a day’s use out of it. So much for French engineering. We left without further ado.

Since it looked like that summer would be my parents’ last one in Italy, we decided to take a nostalgic tour to Siena, one of our favorite cities. Every morning while in Gioviano, I drink my coffee from a cup from Siena bearing the hand-painted image of the oca (goose), lupa (she-wolf), tartaruga (turtle), or porcospino (porcupine). These cups represent four of the 17 contrade (districts) that fight it out in the famous palio (horse race) of Siena twice a year. We had purchased the coffee cups there in 1972 when Anne was a baby, and her favorite is the porcospino as is mine. So, when she comes down the ladder for “coffee talk”, we fight over which one us will get to drink out of it.

Two years ago, I bought her a cockeyed cup in the form of the Torre Pendente di Pisa (Leaning Tower) hoping that she would prefer to drink out of it since she was born in the Province of Pisa, and let me drink out of the porcospino, but no such luck. You’ve caught me digressing again. If I were a college professor, it would be very easy to distract me and get me clear off subject like we did every single day in George Ross Ridge’s French classes at Louisiana State University back in 1966.

In any event, just before arriving in Siena, I saw a sign pointing to a golf course. I said to my mother, “Let’s make one last effort to see if anyone here has ever heard of E-Z-GO. If not, then this summer will probably mean arrivederci Gioviano, Siena, Firenze, and you will have to say goodbye to Italy forever.” We drove down to the main entrance of the Club House and asked the man behind the desk if he had ever heard of E-Z-GO. “Of course,” he replied in perfect English. “The distributor for all of Italy is in a city that is not too far from Siena. I’ll give you the address and phone number of the agency.”

He went into his office and returned with the address and name of the city – which turned out to be Lucca! I couldn’t believe it. The E-Z-GO distributor for all of Italy was located just a short drive down the road from Gioviano. We wouldn’t even have to go into the traffic snarl of the city, just turn off toward Camaiore and you’re there. E-Z? Not quite yet.

When we arrived at the E-Z-GO warehouse, huge piles of golf carts were stacked one on top of the other. We went inside and met Ursula and Sergio Baldi, two of the most wonderful and hardest-working people I have ever known. They were not in the business of retailing single carts. However, when they met my parents and learned their plight of not being able to return to Italy unless they had a vehicle that would take them up and down the hill, they took pity on them.

E-Z? Not quite yet. Golf carts are manufactured to be driven on private golf courses, not Italian streets and highways. Even though the narrow lanes of Gioviano are not much more than mule paths, they are still considered public streets by law. Thus, even a golf cart would have to meet certain safety standards and have a license plate. I am not sure, but suspect that when my parents returned to Italy the next year, the shiny new E-Z-GO that greeted them, with its little pickup truck bed for carrying luggage, may have been the first and only one licensed for highway travel in Italy.

Because of the kindness of the Baldis and their personal sacrifices in time and effort, my parents were able to enjoy several more years of living in Gioviano for nearly six months a year from April until October. I had had visions of tens of thousands of golf carts being produced for use in thousands of villages, as well as in congested historic city centers such as within the walls of Lucca. This would make it possible for the aged and infirmed to add years to their ability to travel about. Unfortunately, to date, that vision hasn’t come to pass.

Last week, as I was taking turns typing and looking out my window and toward the bottega, two men from the Misericordia (ambulance service) went over to the carrozzina parked by the front door of the Palazzo and were discussing its virtues. I went outside to visit with them, and they both said that every little village in Italy needs an E-Z-GO. They went on to tell me what I already knew-- that thousands of elderly Italians are literally prisoners in their homes because the little lanes in their villages as in Gioviano are too steep for them to negotiate.

The men also stated that every Misericordia in Italy should have an electric cart. As I had been thinking the same thing for years, I mentioned that it would be so easy to modify one to even transport a person lying down on a stretcher by eliminating the passenger seat to lengthen the pickup bed. The other half of the pickup bed could be used to carry medical supplies and personal effects. I would certainly like to see the Italian government reward the Baldis with a contract for producing about 10,000 E-Z-GO ambulances.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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