No, this is not about hominids, but about the great and glorious Ape (pronounced AH-pay), a vehicle so diffused in Levanto that they should be building monuments to it. Made by Piaggio since just after the war, it is a three-wheeled pickup truck that originally was nothing more than a Vespa with an extra wheel and a flatbed stuck onto it. (I’m not kidding … they’re made by the same company.) You can still buy an Ape in its original format with a 50cc 2-stroke engine. Compare that to any average-sized Ford and it is laughable. But just try to get an F-series through a Ligurian borgo or up and down the cobbled paths that lead to Vermentino-laden grape vines, and you will see why the Ape is so popular. It is the perfect truck for farming needs here.
I’ve always loved the Ape because when I see it, I really know that I’m in Liguria and that I’ve left the fancier Italy behind. There is nothing more assuredly Ligurian than seeing an Ape winding down a hill, its pickup bed filled with plastic crates overflowing with small dark olives, driven carefully by an elderly couple, husband and wife squeezed tightly together in its miniscule cab.
But I had never seen a scene like today when, while dropping off my daughter at school, I saw a man of improbable size trying to shoehorn his way into an Ape. The guy looked like Sébastien Chabal, the French Rugby star known (affectionately?) as “The Orc,” except that this guy had a flowing mane of dreadlocks. His shoulders were easily the width of the flatbed. It looked like you were trying to stuff an NFL guard into a carry-on bag. But after much maneuvering, he managed to get himself in and with the handlebars squished against his ribcage, the Ape coughed to life and whined off.
“This,” I thought, “is something you just can’t get in Florence.”