The Autostrada is the Italian national high-speed highway system, somewhat like the Interstate system in the United States. One major difference - in Italy, the Autostrada is a privatized company, and all tolls and licensing fees (for businesses, permits, etc.) are paid directly to the corporation.

The Autostrada routes mostly run North/South through Italy, although there are exceptions (the FiPiLi, or Firenze/Pisa/Livorno road, runs westward from Firenze across the top of Tuscany, for example). They are graded, with the largest highways designated Superstrada - usually at least three lanes per direction, with speed limits of 150 km/h (93 mph) as of 2003.

One of the best parts of driving on these roads is the Autogrill - Italy's answer to McDonald's, and boy does it make McD's look sick. Don't get me wrong; I'm a big fan of the Golden Arches...but fresh Parma ham and Bresaiola sandwiches, with a steaming espresso and a Nutella snack for after, all for around 4 Euro...heh.

So much for the factual bits of this writeup. I presume someone will come along and supersede this one with a more informative treatise. I here devolve into fiction, into a small piece I wrote in my head during a high-speed dash across the Autostrada system from Milan's Malpensa Airport to a villa 45 minutes west of Firenze.


Autostrada

Multiple dimensions can exist; can coexist. Sometimes we can see all of them coexisting at once; a multicolored sheen of realities intertwining. The Northern Lights. Swamp lights. Big cities at night. Wavering luminescence of millions of possibilities and lives moving in a myriad of directions.

Sometimes, though, they only partly overlap.

There is a stretch of highway in Italy where this is made obvious to even the casual observer. Between Milano and Bologna, on the A1 (Autostrada-1) one can see factories, warehouses, homes, stores, malls, movie theaters, junkyards, farms, nurseries; all the thousand and thousand edifices of modern living. Farms ranging from small plots of vineyard to massive industrial waves of corn; factories from huge slab-sided modern fortresses of capitalism to smaller, wood and brick craft shops. The houses one sees are almost quintessentially modern Europe- apartment blocks in some cases, modern villas occasionally, rarely (but sometimes) residential tracts of single-family homes.

Cohabiting the Italian landscape, though, is a chronological intruder.

Structures that once were homes, barns, workshops; they are strewn about, in disrepair, unused, almost defined by their absence from the modern grid. Fields are plowed immaculately up to their front walks. Electrical lines, marching down the countryside, dance around them in a quick jig of evasion. The Autostrada itself comes within feet of many, indicating that once (when the road was a track, or even perhaps a two-lane highway) they must have been On The Beaten Path, desirable. Now, some are used as storage for the working farms, and some (a very few) show signs of repair. Scaffolding beside them; paint cans waiting near another; a pile of terra-cotta shingles in a yard.

Mostly, however, they sit silently amidst the bustle and the life.

If you cock your eye just right at the hillside, you can see them come to life. You can trick your eye into seeing them as the lit and inhabited ones; their browns and beiges and blacks setting them apart from the soft tans and clean brick of their newer brethren.

Once you’ve made that trick of light, the slight twist of mind, then it’s easy to extend. People stand beneath their eaves, sit in their shadows, work in their windows. Neighbors chat across the spaces between the ghosts where the apartment blocks have fled into the background; mules are housed in one, horses in a few, tractors in several.

The Night City made real.

It can come over you even on the Autostrada, at high speed in a gloriously tiny car made of space-age plastics and aluminum. Looking to the right or left, suddenly the world you know turns into shadows on the walls, and then you have no choice but to drive on, for you cannot stop. You know, know that if you were to turn off the Autostrada for a moment, to see more closely or try to talk with the inhabitants, you’d lose the thread of the modern road, and feel it dissolve behind your car with the sudden chill of the forgotten essential and there’d be a minute of panic as you searched (fruitlessly) the scrubby hillside for a ribbon of modern tarmac that simply wasn’t there.

And then you’d trudge slowly towards the ghost houses, perhaps take a room, and find yourself living in the world of abandonment shadow, and only once in a great while might you lean out your window and see, flicker of illusion on the hillside, the ribbon of the Autostrada wavering in from the future with just enough clarity to drive your loss into you, hammer of obscurity and of memory.

-fin-

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