I believe in (road) diversions and am always up to exploring new paths. Having said that, I decided that there was no particular reason to stick to the Berliner taxi drivers for the series, and why not – language permitting – interview the taxi drivers around the world whose cabs I end up in. When my daughter and I arrived in Florence over a week ago, we took a cab from the train station with all our luggage – and the cat. Like anywhere else, the amusement over the cat in the backpack was great and Giovanni wouldn’t believe me at first that she was real. As if she understood, Champagne snorted and meowed on cue to prove her point.
This interview was a bit more challenging, first of all because I conducted it in Italian, second, the old city of Florence is tiny, so there wasn’t much time for a lengthy conversation. I grinned to myself when I realised this entry would have to be created in true Italian style – talk fast, smile a lot, use your hands for emphasis, admire the style, and get as much done with the minimum chaos – and always allow for last-minute abrupt changes. Oh, and hang on for dear life as you zoom through the narrow alleys of Florence.
Giovanni is a young and enthusiastic driver, though not committed to it with heart and soul. Carrying on a conversation with him was challenging, not because of the language (a hell of a practice for me) but because he always had to stop and shout at the car or driver in front or beside us. It was almost like being back in Delhi! I (re-)learned a few impolite Italian phrases (which I will not repeat here…) nevertheless, he said that to be a taxi driver in Florence, you need patience, creativity and good brakes. Ditto to all that. Winter is low season, and you need a second source of income otherwise you will starve to death.
Florence in summer, on the other hand, “e caos totale – i turisti non guardano mai dove vanno” (is utter chaos, the tourists never look where they are going). But it isn’t just the tourists that he has to watch out for – the senior citizens who drive without licences in their little FIATs, or the businessmen from out of town and big cities who are in a hurry. The city is always buzzing with activity, not just because of the various sites, but Florence is also a preferred location for large events: fashion week, concerts, special art or historical exhibits, and at the time we arrived, the Rock Festival had just begun, and Iron Maiden was playing that day – hence the train full of all the Iron Maiden fans from Austria!
He had a GPS installed in the car, but barely looked at it. Florence is small, and I grew up on these streets, and know them well on foot, with a bike, and the worst, with a car. Florence, I discovered, is the one city where the taxi driver will turn you down from time to time and send you off on foot instead. “Firenze e piccola con molto strade a senso unico” (Florence is small and with a lot of one-way streets), and many people come to Florence and never look at a map beforehand. In most cases it is faster to go on foot than by taxi, and cheaper. Not that Giovanni wants to turn business away, but it can be a real pain to drive around Florence because of all the one-way streets, and all it takes is a delivery van to block the road and all hell breaks loose.
When I arrived at my destination, the cat received a more enthusiastic farewell than I did, but that was expected. Ciao Amore! (to the cat), grazie Signora (to me).