Riding in a Car made of Sticky Tape

I attended a vehicular funeral last week.

My friend Totò, a bright-eyed and sprightly septuagenarian, had a maroon Alfa Romeo which was, basically, made of sticky tape. I don’t mean trashy thin stuff, I mean the top quality wide, brown parcel kind.

By the time I had seen his car enter the final, declining years of its life, that brown parcel tape was holding the doors on, it was fixing the windscreen in (which was made of transparent polythene), it was wound all round the middle of the car going over the roof and under the undercarriage, it was holding the rear bumper on (at one side, anyway) and it was even securing the hubcaps.

Once the car became afflicted with ‘failure to thrive’, the driver’s seat was upholstered in a solid sheet of sticky tape strips, patchwork style, with no trace of the original leather to be seen. The vehicle had no number plates near the tragic end, I think because Totò must have run out of tape before he got to them.


I am running ahead of myself, though. I must introduce our friend, Signor Totò.

Signor Totò works at the village’s small Town Hall. The town hall in the village is so small that Signor Totò is the only person who works there. I am deliberately excluding the fat lady at the entrance who swats flies away and asks you your name, then sits there not telling Totò, and just waves you through to his office. She is there, yes, but you could not say that she works.

Totò was the first friend I made in Sicily, independently of my husband. He is one of the few men in the village who is not a fisherman. He is related to every other person in the village and they tease him about his famous namesake, for Signor Totò has the same name and surname as a recent President of Sicily, who governed the island for two years while on trial for being in the Mafia. He was sentenced to five years in prison but decided not to stand down as president immediately, instead declaring he would continue his full term of government and go to jail afterwards.

Whilst it is impossible for anyone outside Sicily to imagine how this could possibly be possible, here it merely provokes a day of grumbling and some groans of irritation, like the “Here we go again” groans of weary irritation on the London Underground when commuters are told their train has been taken out of service because there is a terrorist bomb on it.

Whilst our Town Hall is small, it resides in part of a sprawling, late seventeenth century villa. The only structurally sound part, in fact.

The facade boasts twin marble staircases which curve outwards and upwards in grandiose, once-magnificent semicircles and unite at the main entrance on the first floor. This is the classic design of the Sicilian baroque villa and it is always a terrible dilemma choosing which staircase to walk up, because they are both so badly cracked and crumbling that either one of them could suddenly give way beneath you and leave you with a sprained ankle and a broken nose.

“What if I go up this one and break some bones, when I could have used that one and been safe one more time?” one ponders anxiously at the foot of the staircases.

All the other offices in the building are so badly flooded, when it rains, that it is like a monsoon indoors, Totò told me. That is why his office is the only room in the building that is used any more.

“Why don’t they restore it?” I asked. “This building could be stunning if they fixed the corners back on.”

“They’ll wait until a piece falls on someone and they get sued, then they’ll do something. Until then, they won’t spend a Euro on it,” he told me.

I like to walk whenever the weather is decent, so I am often to be seen pottering about the vilage. Totò is most gentlemanly and always offers me a lift if he passes me on foot. He drives very slowly and safely.

Last week, I was caught out in an unexpected shower of light rain. My hero Signor Totò came to the rescue.

“Would you mid draping the seat belt across your body?” he asked as I settled into the passenger seat. “I know there’s nothing for it to click into, but at least it looks OK if the vigili urbani (traffic police) are checking. I’ve been bossing them around a bit too much lately, so they’re looking to get their own back. There are a couple who are not nephews of mine, so I can’t really keep them under control. They all know this car last passed its MOT nine years ago.”

We exchanged the usual pleasantries, then Totò suddenly said,

“I must apologise for going so slowly. My wife thinks I’m a cowardly driver, but I can’t risk getting up too much vibration. It heats up the bodywork and melts the glue, so the tape unravels.”

While we rolled along, chillaxing at 12 miles per hour, a car approached which was rather like a go-kart, in that it had no bodywork other than the absolute essentials. I think it was composed of pieces from at least five different types of Fiat, judging by the range of colours and the fact that the parts did not fit together particularly well. It was at least 80% rust.

“Cor, look at that heap of junk!” laughed Signor Totò, stepping on the accelerator and shooting up to almost 20 mph in a sudden surge of confidence. “How embarrassing to be seen in such an old banger!”


As we passed the x-ray go-kart, we realised its exhaust pipe was scraping along the road releasing sparks like a firework. It made a tinny noise, as if the driver and passenger were newlyweds and the scrap metal they were towing behind them had been tied on by their scallywag friends.

And that, my friends, was the fateful moment.

There was a dire ‘clonk’ noise from somewhere down below us, and Signor Totò and I exchanged glances. We both knew something terrible had happened to his vintage Alfa Romeo. Totò pulled over and we jumped out: His exhaust pipe was lying in the road, several metres behind us, trailing probably not less than 20 miles of tangled, sticky brown tape in its wake. Smoke was billowing out from under the bonnet. Finally, there was a decisive ‘Poff’ noise, and the engine cut out.

That was when we both knew: the end had come.

“My dear old Alfa Romeo,” said Totò, like a priest delivering the last rites, “you have served me well these past twenty-three years, but henceforth I will save a fortune in sticky tape. We must now part company for ever. Che liberazione! Good riddance!”


25 Comments Add yours

  1. Pecora Nera says:

    Ha ha very funny, There are so many cars running around in Sicily that should be put out of their misery.

    I watched a tatty old car in Catania fail its MOT because the exhaust emission was too high. The problem was resolved in 30 seconds, they stuck the emission monitor up the exhaust of a new car and used the results to pass the tatty car.

    I am sure the odd euro passed hands, or the favour would be repaid in different way.


    1. I used to drive one of those cars that needed to be put out of its misery.
      Our best man made it pass its MOT for the last 3 years. He didn’t bother with the exhaust readings fiddle. He just repaired anything that could put our live in danger and ignored the rest, writing that it was all perfect. There was a LOT to ignore!


  2. Brilliantly funny—as usual!!! 🙂


  3. There are many equivalents of Toto’s car here, mainly 2CV’s and Renault 4L’s. You generally hear them long before you see them. I loved your description of the town hall; it sounds…. ah , yes, that’s the word I was looking for…. authentic. Hope you grabbed the opportunity to perform the last rights – probably an all time first for a woman in Sicily, even if it IS for a car…. 🙂


    1. 🙂
      Authentic, yes, good word!
      It’s a pity, because if they restored it, the place would be truly magnificent.


  4. This whole post made me laugh so hard. Here in the US, you’ll occasionally see duct tape (the silvery-gray cloth stuff) holding a plastic sheet over a broken window, or used to reupholster a seat or affix a broken hose. But not for major bodywork.

    That’s what Bondo is for. http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/BONDO-Auto-Body-Filler-Kit-3RAR1?gclid=CIGm64HRwLcCFUyk4AodTmIASw&cm_mmc=PPC:GooglePLA-_-Adhesives,%20Sealants%20and%20Tape-_-Caulks-_-3RAR1&ci_src=17588969&ci_sku=3RAR1&ef_id=UJmTfwAAQxVwCg@7:20130531151355:s

    Except there are cars that have far more Bondo than metal in them. Rust held together with unpainted Bondo.


    1. Ah, yes! I’ve seen a few cars made of that stuff in the UK too. They seem to be getting rarer, though!


  5. seagypzy says:

    I had the most white knuckle ride of my life in a smart car through the streets of Catania. The rental car man dead panned us a look when we requsted a nice car. He said, “Where you are going..no nice cars.” When I saw some of the beater Catania cars, I understood it would be cheaper to fix a smart car :). People were passing each other on the sidewalks in cars, too. I was wondering if you could comment on those road side tables with umbrellas. We almost stopped at one for refreshments until I realized this was not the place for a cool drink!


    1. Ha haaaa!
      I’ve seen people driving up the pavements (or sidewalks as you Americans say) quite a few times. The worst case was when I was parking, and a guy raced up the pavement, behind five cars, and wedged himself into my space from the other side!!!!!
      Oddly enough, I’ve never heard of anything happening to people at paevment cafés. Sicilians do regard food and eating as sacred, so perhaps that’s why they are careful around eating venues. 🙂
      There is an upside to this, though! I once returned a rental car in Sicily with a great big dent in one door. I was expecting to be charged a small fortune, but the man just said “Oh that’s not damage, that’s normal wear and tear,” and didn’t charge me anything!


      1. seagypzy says:

        That doesn’t surprise me..lol. There were three of us, all nurses, in that smart car. My friend wouldn’t drive for 24 hours after we reached the hotel because she was so stressed.
        Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from WIND


      2. Poor thing!
        I hope you managed to enjoy your holiday in Sicily despite the adrenaline rushes??


      3. Anonymous says:

        We vacationed in Taormina. So beautiful. I live and work in Vicenza and I think the Sicilians are much more friendly than my Italian neighbors up north.


      4. It’s true they’re very open and relaxed.
        Sorry to hear you find the northerners around you less friendly. I have met a lot of friendly people in northern Italy too… maybe it just needs more time? To be perfectly honest, it has taken me an extremely long time here in Sicily to take things from acquaintanceship to the stage of actually having real friends.


      5. seagypzy says:

        I live in the countryside, and when I moved into my rental house my landlord’s family was very confused because I was a 50+ year old woman living alone. They could not fathom me not living with a husband or sons for protection.
        Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from WIND


      6. I think the country towns in Sicily are still quite old fashioned that way. Luckily they’re modernised in Palermo and the other big cities – I hope the rest of the island catches up soon!


  6. Anonymous says:

    We were vacationing in beautiful Taormina. I work in Vicenza and find Sicilians much more friendly than most of my northern neighbors.


  7. Diane C says:

    Reblogged this on My Sicilian Home and commented:
    After all the posts that I have done recently on driving in Sicily and on la bella figura, I couldn’t help but reblog this post…it had me giggling with the picture it created in my head. I think it is only out in the countryside that you see things like this. I recommend you drop by and read more than one post of this dangerously truthful Sicilian housewife!


  8. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

    aahahhah really good! will Signor Toto’ get another car now? will the repair kit colour match the colour of the new car? ….. please keep up posted 😉


    1. I promise to report on his new car, whatever it may be!


  9. lost you for a while when you went to wordpress – so funny though – you should get paid for this V


    1. Thank you! Good to have you here. I missed your comments. I hope you’ll have time to comment regularly now 🙂


  10. ramblinann says:

    You make me want to hop on a plane and visit. I may never come back here though.
    Back in the good ole days when we could get away with a car like that we would. Now the inspections are so strict my car wouldn’t pass because it had sharp rust underneath it. Someone might get cut. Well what are they doing under my car and if they are there they deserve to be cut. That was my thinking, but not the garage. We bought the bondo and I did the reconstructive surgery myself.


    1. Can I recommend your services to Signor Totò, should the need arise?


      1. ramblinann says:

        Oh of course. That could be just the excuse I need for making the trip.


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