Life in Modena

Moving to Modena also involved organizing life in a new country, and learning to speak Italian.   In those days he would have found very few English-speaking people in a provincial town like Modena.   He bought himself a small penthouse flat in the centre of the city.  Being a totally “undomesticated” male he always used to eat out in restaurants or trattorias.  Annabel can remember him telling her that to begin with he ate his way gradually through the menu, evening after evening, in order to discover what foods corresponded with the dishes on the list.  So far as food was concerned he never became totally Italianized, tending to stick mostly to dishes similar to English food, although he was quite partial to Modenese tortellini and prosciutto crudo.  He was never that keen on spaghetti – his favourite version was “alla carbonara” which is made with bacon and eggs, probably because it reminded him of English breakfasts.

When he was asked in an interview some years later whether he had found it difficult to adapt to life in Italy, he said: “Yes, it was.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my first months in Italy were very tough.  I found myself in a totally strange country, where I could not speak the language and I did not know anybody.  It was a big leap, but I’d do it again now”.
In the end he settled down in Modena very happily.  He learnt to speak Italian fluently (if not always grammatically) and even picked up the local dialect.  One of the first people to help him find his way in Modena was an English girl, Brenda Vernor, who was living there teaching English to Italian students, and had already learnt to speak Italian.   She remained a friend right to the end.
In time he even learned to deal with Italian bureaucracy, in some ways exemplifying the Italian saying “Inglese italianizzato, diavolo incarnato” (An Italianized Englishman is the devil incarnate).  His sister remembers his way of dealing with Italian policemen.  One day she was in the car with him when he was stopped for speeding on a country road.  When the police asked him to pay an on-the-spot fine he pretended, with the greatest aplomb, that he could not speak any Italian and then produced some foreign currency.  Faced with the problem of converting the lira fine into sterling the policemen eventually gave up and waved him on.  On other occasions he would take advantage of their evident interest in the prototype Ferrari he was driving and soften them up with remarks such as: “Well officer, you know it’s very difficult to make this car go slowly”.

Next: Testing Ferraris

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