by Afshin Behnia / 12 Nov 2012
(An Alfa Summer Affair is a six-piece article series filled with tales of romance and intrigue. Follow the adventures of our Petrolicious protagonists as they navigate blind romance, love triangles, and Italian roads in a 1968 Alfa Romeo GTV. Click here to catch up on the complete series.)
We all have our baggage—bits and pieces of stuff we carry around with us, and Kika and I both had our fair share. We folded, rolled, and packed every bit of us into bags that lined the narrow Milanese curb outside the lock box belonging to Ludie, my newly-acquired 1968 Alfa romeo GTV, wondering how to convince her to carry the load. Could Ludie manage the burden of our histories as we drove down to a new future?
In just a few days, Kika and I would be married in Florence. I was hoping Ludie would take us there.
It was a foolhardy decision, perhaps, to risk one's marriage on a fling or worse—a teenage fantasy. Besides, I knew Ludie had her own load to carry. She had her own history, her own baggage, that brought additional risk and excitement to the mix.
I imagined her having had countless drivers from 1968 onwards. She must have been through first owners and last goodbyes, drivers who babied her, and those that aimed for top speeds, a full throttle. First-time motorists who stalled with shaky, nervous limbs.
She had been through student riots, class struggles, hard times, and celebrations. Ludie had drivers who tinkered under her hood and others who never looked inside. She had seen football heroes come and go: Gigi Riva, Pietro Anastasi, Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio, and Andrea Pirlo. Fashion trends die and pop hits are forgotten. She might have had accidents, dings, and other mild collisions.
On top of it all, Ludie had only just recovered from her recent disastrous breakdown. There was no telling whether Franco Nani’s hard work would pan out, whether we would actually make it to Florence for our wedding. My impending wedding was at risk.
But how could I pass up miles of Italian highways and B roads? Stretches of coastal switchbacks, sailing through open hilly fields, zipping past rows of swaying wheat, climbing precipices, and shooting past sunflowers that stand in ovation? How could I resist the thrill and silence my desire?
The fact is…I couldn’t. After all, Ludie was designed to be a fast grand tourer. She was ideal for the open road, perfect for high-speed journeys. Besides, Giorgetto Giugiaro had created her without sacrificing comfort for straight-out performance. Additionally, her front-engine design left plenty of room for the cabin. Kika would see Ludie at her best, I argued internally. Kika would love my Ludie.
Now, for the problem at hand: the baggage. Three suitcases, two suits, three gowns, four duffel bags, and a slew of camera gear still dotted the sidewalk.
Kika and I worked diligently to piece together the puzzle. We took over practically every square inch of Ludie’s available interior with my bags next to Kika’s and hers by mine, side by side and intertwined: ready for our future together.
At first, the pull of our baggage weighed us down. A slight incline just beyond Ludie’s private lock box sneered at us. Ludie hesitated. We slipped. We slid. Backwards.
It felt as if our histories held a tight grip on each of us, making it difficult to advance, but I wouldn’t give in, and neither would Ludie. I pulled the hand brake. I simultaneously released the clutch, gently stepped on the gas, and let down the brake lever. We briefly rolled backwards. I revved the RPMs. Our tires spun seconds before we jerked forward. Ludie’s solid engine took on the challenge. I told myself that the past was behind us—we were all moving forward together.
Except…except that at precisely that moment, Kika uttered some blasphemous words: “Good job, Vallanzasca,” she whispered.
Vallanzasca, again! The Milanese mobster heartthrob?! Kika's teenage fantasy? Our histories certainly ran deeper than the things we stuffed into our suitcases and bags. There was more baggage than what was in our suitcases. This was going to be another difficult trip.
In any case, we were off to Santa Margherita in Liguria, two hours away. I was sure Ludie would get us there sooner than projected. We cozied up against the vinyl seats, in a car that smelled of the past. I trembled with excitement, looking forward to the super smooth A7.
The difference in the quality between Italian roads and Californian ones is tremendous. Ludie’s tires licked the asphalt, and I knew I could cruise well over 100 MPH, confident there wouldn’t be the potholes that make California feel like a third-world country.
Ludie was a thrill, a dream come true. She had a bit of a wheel alignment issue that meant having to constantly adjust the steering. Otherwise, she was a blast. What I especially loved about her was her signature Alfa Romeo rumble as I opened up her throttle; the sound of her carbs sucking in volumes of air cannot be mistaken for the sound of any other automobile. Kika also made up for what Ludie lacked. She hummed 60’s pop and Italian troubadours from Mina to Fred Buscaglione, so we never longed for a stereo.
Before long, we had paid our tolls and were onto B roads, single lane roads with some passing. I didn’t mind the occasional slow-moving Fiat Pandas. In fact, I welcomed them. They were just another excuse to call upon Ludie’s ample low-end torque and have her eagerly respond with a firm thrust, enabling us to easily overtake the econoboxes even as we drive uphill along the coast.
Soon the aroma of lemon trees, hydrangeas, and camellias washed out the gasoline smell Ludie constantly emitted. As we entered Santa Margherita and rode out its cobbled paths, we took in the elegant hotels and trompe l’oeil buildings, palm trees, and yacht-speckled waters. It was obvious why high society Milanese elected Santa Margherita their preferred vacation spot. We arrived towards the end of the lunch hour, hungry for a taste of Liguria.
At the Hotel Continental, the valet gawked as we pulled in. Clearly brethren enthusiasts, they gave Ludie preferential treatment throughout our stay. The concierge directed us to their restaurant, which was nestled in the cliff just past the jetty where crashing waves regularly cooled sunbathers. Overlooking the marina, we dug into local specialties: trofie al pesto, spaghetti alle vongole, freshly caught seafood, and gamberoni with a wonderful vegetable terrine. We washed it all down with a fresh Pigato and counted ourselves among the lucky.
Santa Margherita was our home base as we explored the region. The next day, we were off to Camogli. The drive was everything I had fantasized: dangerously-great views and single-lane twisty roads. The Alfa Romeo GTV, my Ludie, was a perfect match for it. Its flexible 1750 motor matched with its firm chassis enabled me to drive in a spirited but controlled manner with my soon-to-be wife. To add to everything, Ludie’s body matched beautifully with the colors of the Italian scenery: yellow, ochre, rose.
I was on cloud nine. That is, until Ludie developed a defect. Her hood popped open over every bump in the road. Each time it happened, I’d pull over. Kika would jump out and slam it down like the hood had something to hide.
Sure, we all have our baggage. And clearly, the older one gets, the more one accumulates. But one either has to reveal all faults and eccentricities (the full load) from the get-go or had better hide the evidence. Unfortunately, Ludie didn’t seem to be doing either.
Relaxed and happy, Kika again sang her love songs. “Maledetto il giorno…che ti ho conosciuto…maledetta notte…che non ti ha cancellato.”
I had a bad feeling.