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Hemingway Adventure

Milan (second day)

Austro-Italian front 
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Ernest was in uniform before his eighteenth birthday.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureIn A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recalled the ambulances he drove on the Austro-Italian battlefront in the summer of 1918:

I remembered how they used to burn out their brakes going down the mountain roads with a full load of wounded and braking in low and finally using the reverse, and how the last ones were driven over the mountainside empty, so they could be replaced by big Fiats with a good H-shift and metal-to-metal brakes.

Their 1999 versions are still made by Fiat, but they are sophisticated affairs with lots of gears and £20,000-worth of equipment in the back alone. Which may account for the nervousness with which the Italian Red Cross has acceded to my request to drive one. I’m sent out to the main depot, given a uniform, and directed to an ambulance. Piero, the regular driver, has a mournful face and a dark beard line. He hasn’t had an accident in twenty-five years’ driving, and looks at me dubiously, as if the record might be in jeopardy today.

‘These Fiats must be pretty tough?’ I ask him. I think he takes this the wrong way, for behind the nod of agreement is a hint of anxiety at my motive for asking. The Fiats are fine, he says, but they’d rather have Mercedes. However, they’re government funded so they have to buy Italian. We drive around the streets until Piero finds one wide enough, straight enough and empty enough for him to entrust me with the wheel. Empty streets are not easy to find in Milan but we find comparative peace and quiet on the approach roads to San Siro Stadium.

If Central Station was Mussolini’s temple for the 1930s then San Siro is Italian football’s temple for the 1990s. It’s a functional building of enormous size - it seats a hundred thousand spectators - but in its grace and elegance is an outstanding example of the Italian talent for turning engineering into an art form. Piero answers questions about it somewhat tersely whilst giving me instructions on where to go next.
Austro-Italian front 
click to enlarge 
file size
A Fiat Red Cross ambulance of the sort Hemingway learnt to drive, rattling down the mountains from the Austro-Italian front in 1918
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Milan (second day)
  • Country/sea: Italy
  • Place: Milan
  • Book page no: 48

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