Sunday, April 14, 2013

The exploits of Ugo

Monday through Thursday of this week, I was on the road in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany visiting some of the folks who produce foods we sell. Foods like balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and pasta. (More on those soon.) To reach the small towns where those producers are located, I rented a car.

Before I left the US, I made a reservation to rent a cute little Smart Car. I chose it because it was small, and cheap, and, most importantly, it has an automatic transmission. I can't drive a stick shift.

When we got to the car rental agency on Monday morning, the man at the counter told me that they had made a mistake. They didn't have any Smart cars.

"You drive a manual?" he asked, hopefully.

"No," was my emphatic reply.

After a few minutes of searching his computer, he told me, "the only automatic we have is a Mercedes Vito." With a chuckle, he asked, "you know what it is?"

Again, my reply was, "no." I know approximately nothing about cars.

But in the end, it didn't matter what it was. It was an automatic, and I'd get it at the same price as the smart car, so unless I wanted to return another day to switch for a Smart car, it was the Mercedes or nothing.

Enter Ugo.

Ugo surveys the countryside in the hilltop town of Castelvetro in Modena
Turns out a Mercedes Vito is a nine-seat van. I named him Ugo. He would have been called Hugo, because he is huge, but he is Italian and therefore called Ugo. He has a long scrape over each of his rear wheels and a dent in the front and back bumpers. He is perfect.

Together with Ugo, we drove along narrow paths clinging to mountainsides, we wended our way across centuries-old villages, and we passed through fields of olive trees and grape vines and fruit trees erupting in white and pink blossoms. It was a pretty remarkable trip, and Ugo made it possible for to visit all of the beautiful people and places we saw on the way. It felt a little silly to have such a large vehicle for just two people, but I think it worked out much better (and probably much safer) than if we'd had the little Smart car, after all.

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