I have been seeing Fiat 500’s in my neighborhood lately. I want one. Of course my boyfriend wants the Arbath souped up version. I have a feeling I wouldn’t be driving much if we get that. But they are cool looking. The original “cinquecento” was produced in Italy from 1957 to 1975. I remember it was tiny. We used to squeeze into them hitching rides in Italy. We used to make jokes about them. It was a mere 10 feet long and honestly not very comfortable. The new Fiat 500 sold today is a full foot longer!

When I moved to Russia, I came across the Zhiguli. When I first saw it I immediately thought of the cinquecento. Interestingly enough, in the mid 1960’s the Zhiguli was produced by the Volga Automobile Works (VAZ) in a collaboration between Fiat and the Soviet government. The Zhiguli was modeled after the original Fiat 500 and was exported to the West after 1975 as the Lada.

The Zhiguli is small and boxy. I would sometimes see very large Russian policemen cramming themselves into the Zhiguli four at a time. I wondered what would happen if there was an emergency. Would they be able to extract themselves in time?

The Russian car that I really liked was the Volga. It was the car used most for city government officials and usually came with an official driver. In Moscow there was no taxi service, you just hailed down a passing car and negotiated a price and they took you where you wanted to go. When my son was in pre-school, I would go out every morning and hail a car to take us to school. I was too harried to manage a stroller, a screaming child, and a bus in the middle of the Russian winter. And the cars were usually pretty cheap.

One day I lucked out and managed to flag down a black Volga. Volgas are mid sized sedans with comfortable seats and plenty of room for the child and the stroller. Much better than a Zhiguli!! I was in heaven. The next morning I went out as usual to flag a car, and there was the same Volga sitting at the end of my drive. He was waiting for me! Apparently our schedules were in sync. For the next couple of months, I had a driver every morning waiting for me. I even managed to talk him into taking me other places as well, like the airport, and the vet.

And then one day, he wasn’t there anymore.

Oh well, it was great while it lasted!!

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