If you find yourself in Newmarket or Northcote in the first couple of weeks of October and you can't move for motor scooters, blame it on the movies. The Italian Film Festival revs up next week for the 13th year in a row and on the programme is a valentine to one of the most-recognised and best-loved Italian icons: the Vespa motor scooter.
Sure the artistry may not be up there with the Sistine Chapel but take it from a Vespa owner: a renaissance fresco isn't much use when you need to get to Newmarket in 15 minutes through rush-hour traffic.
The rise in fuel costs has spawned a scooter boom. The last time I looked, sales were up about 80 per cent on the previous year. These days, a scooter rider is not a lone eccentric afloat in an ocean of cars. The other day, I found myself in a bunch of a dozen at a red light: as we throttled away in a buzzy swarm, leaving the ponderous saloons in our wake, I pretended I was in Rome.
Trouble is - and one doesn't want to be too snobby about this - not everything that buzzes is a Vespa. We Vespa owners do get a chuckle when people refer to a plastic and aluminium toy from Taiwan or Korea as their Vespa - although we are happy to accept as cousins anyone who rides one of those Indian-made Belladonnas, which were made to Piaggio's standards.
If you need to know why we feel this way, Forever Vespa will help. The film, whose full title includes the words "the story of an Italian legend", is so enthusiastic about its subject that I suspected it of being a promo film. But its makers, Pippo Cappellano and Marina Cappabianca, are independent filmmakers who were considerably assisted by the fact that Piaggio, the manufacturer, has kept impeccable records and even runs a museum in Pontedera, near Pisa.
Piaggio made aeroplanes and found itself in 1945 with a drastic drop in demand for its products. So it set itself the challenge of getting Italy back on the road by producing one of the most successful vehicles in history.
The film makes a fascinating chronicle of the scooter's design history and, more important, its part in rebuilding Italians' sense of themselves along with their bombed country in the years after the war.
The Vespas in this movie range from the familiar (Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) to the downright bizarre. I did not know that one model was fitted with a 75mm cannon and sold to the French to be used against the Algerians, though there are times in Auckland traffic where such an accessory would be useful.
As a traditionalist, I was distinctly unsure about the wisdom of the one fitted with ape-hanger handlebars. Ditto the stretch Vespa (with the handlebars about five metres from the seat, is a work of art, not a vehicle) but there are plenty of mint vintage models too, including a sidecar which, as the film shows, is vital if you want to change a tyre without coming to a halt. And I loved the canny marketing campaign which created a verb - vespare - meaning "to ride a Vespa".
It's unadulterated fun even if you are unfortunate enough to get around on four wheels. Festival director Tony Lambert has alerted the scooter clubs, so you've been warned: book early.
The 13th Cathay Pacific Italian Film Festival, Rialto and Bridgeway Cinemas, October 1-15. See italianfilmfestival.co.nz