Yesterday I started Italian lessons. Official, go to a class with a teacher, Italian lessons. I have been studying on my own a bit, and struggling out in town, but now I'm going to a class on the base. It's only been one day, but I think this will be good for me. It is time set aside that can't be taken away where I can concentrate and learn. It's also good because the teacher, being Italian and married to an American, also talks a bit about living in Italy and we can discuss cultural differences and understand them better. Yesterday in class we talked about Emergency numbers. She was shocked that in America, we have one number - 911. Here, there is a different emergency number for each type of service, Fire, Police, Military Police, Ambulance, Road Assistance, etc.
Who knew how valuable that information would be??? Allora, (That's Italian for a whole host of words, used to change thoughts or to get one's attention). After my Italian class, Chris and I went to the Autoport (mechanic on the base) and got all new bulbs for three areas of the car: Headlights, parking lights and license plate lights. Right before we left, Chris started the car and asked me to listen to it run. There is a slight whining noise that looks as if it is coming from the drive belt. I said that's odd because in the $2000 we spent fixing everything on the car, we replaced that belt! He said maybe it's just loose and he would look up how to tighten it. Then we were off to pick up the kiddos. On the way back to Naples, we were on the Autostrade, debating which way to go. Chris was driving and we heard a loud "SNAP!" Chris said he couldn't steer the car, like the power steering went out! We were able to drive it ahead about a mile to an "SOS" turnout. He started investigating and just as he walked around to pop the hood, I saw a warning message come up that said, "Major Power System Failure". He looked at that belt, and sure enough, it had snapped. We weren't going anywhere for a while.
It's the law in Italy that you have orange vests for each occupant of a vehicle and orange safety triangles. So I jump out and grab the vests and suit everyone up. Then we get out the triangles and set them up. (At least we're legal!) We called the Autoport because thanks to a friend who had car trouble this same morning, she had posted a question on Facebook where someone responded saying that you can call the Autoport for a tow. They told us to call the emergency number 115. We call 115 and get a recorded message! :/
Our last resort is the SOS box at the turnout. We walk over to the box. The little Brittish Flag symbol said that if we needed assistance, we should press the button and help will be on the way! We push the button. Nothing happens. So we walk away and pray that help will be on the way!
No sooner do we walk away then a voice comes out of the Heavens! "PRONTO!" Well, not out of the Heavens but out of the SOS box. We run back over and ask, "Parla Inglese?" "NO!" Well, Chris kept saying TOW TRUCK! "Non Capisco". (I don't understand.) So I grabbed my phone and translate, "tow truck". It is "carro attrezzi" I say, "Carro Attrezzi!" He kept asking us for some other piece of information that we didn't understand and then hung up on us. We now have to assume help will come...
We go back by the car and out on the country road that parallels the highway, a woman drives up and talks to us. I explain that we don't speak Italian well and she said she could call for help. We told her that we used the SOS box and she was confident someone would come quickly, 30 minutes or 1 hour at the most (Quick, huh!) Then she offered to bring us some refreshments! Like beer or something. I asked if she could bring some water for the kids. "Si! Si! Con gassa o ancora acqua?" Here most people drink carbonated water (or water with gas). I reply, "Naturale, senza gassa." That means Natural water without carbonation. She left and came back with 4 liters of cold water and 4 bicchieri (four plastic cups). She even put foil over the cups so that we knew they were clean. She was an angel, and that is the kindness of the southern Italian. She would take nothing for her trouble and was happy to help us!
Soon after, a car from the Autostrade came up and tried to figure out exactly what we needed since they couldn't understand us at the SOS box. At the same moment, a tow truck came and prepared to load us up! Chris had just called one of our Italian friends, Ciro and explained the situation. He then handed the phone to the tow truck driver and explained we needed to be towed to the base. He was familiar with the base and knew exactly what we needed to do. He explained the fees and just to put the car on the truck was €110 and an additional €1.30 per Kilometer! I was prepared for that because I saw that on some of my friend's Facebook posts this morning. Also, I knew that our insurance may reimburse us for the tow. Allora, he loaded up our car and we loaded into the tow truck. When we got in the truck, Ivan was dying to drive the it and wanted to push every button he saw. The driver let him press the buttons that worked the lights and such. He was very happy!
We went to the base and once we got in the gate (never a quick moment) we took it into the Autoport. Luckily Chris had Euro cash on him because that's all the tow truck drivers take. Then the driver said, (in Italian) "Hey, nothing for me? Caffe?" (He wanted a tip, that is the game of the southern Italian). So Chris gave him another 10 because that's all he had, and sent him on his way.
Then I took the kids over to the food court so Emily could start homework and Chris talked to the mechanics at the Autoport. Well, the belt snapped due to some bearings that went bad and caused the belt tensioner to also break. And at least it's a European car, right? So parts are easy to get, right? NO!
It's an American spec car, so all the parts have to be ordered from the US. That means it will take 10-15 days to receive the parts and who knows how much labor! (Mamma Mia!)
It just so happened that we also had Chris' Motorcycle on the base, so he had to drive to our hotel to get the car and pick us all up. While I was in Italian class this morning, Chris had done two baskets full of laundry and we also had a lot of other things in the car: laundry soap, umbrellas, school bags for all of us and all the other things you accumulate when you commute. So after we loaded up and fed dinner to everyone, we were FINALLY able to load up everything and go home in our second car.
We make it about 5 miles down the road, and the red STOP warning light and the temperature light come on in our second car!!! MAMMA MIA! Really? We pull into a Q8 gas station and Chris jumps out to investigate. The temperature light was on, but the car wasn't running hot, so we thought maybe it just needed coolant. We talk to the attendant at the gas station and he speaks a little english! YAY!
After some investigation they find that the car needed a whole liter of oil and liter of coolant. We fill up the fluids and are back on the road with no issue. Whew! We finally make it home! All in time to finish homework, go to bed and get up and do it all again in about 8 hours.
Although it's crazy that we had two breakdowns in two cars in a 6 hour window, I am thankful for many things! Our friends who never hesitate to help us translate (thanks Ciro and Kathy!), the woman who brought ice cold water to us on the side of the road, two friends that offered us an extra car, Emily winning TWO stuffed animals out of the claw game on base, one for herself and one for Ivan which cheered them up. That our second car was easily fixed. That our car did not break down when we were on vacation in Tuscany or in a bad part of town! That we were safe through the whole process!
This morning I safely made it to school with the kids! Thankful for the small miracles! :)