Train to Venice

Non Gettate Alcun Oggetto Dal Finestrio

The Eurostar ride from Firenze to Venezia was going to take 3 hours. I didn’t have a book and already had read the 30 words of Italian I knew in the Trenitalia magazine. Pope Benny protect me from sitting with people from New Jersey or Italians on cell phones or barking dog Germans or drunken Aussies or – okay, just give me a private train. No such luck. And someone was pretending to be sleeping in my seat. I slapped her halfway to Monte something. The guy next to her made Italian noises that the two were together and would I mind sitting across the aisle in his seat. I wanted a window. He was offering
me an aisle. I requested a seat facing forward. His was facing backwards. I was hoping for an empty seat next to me. The four seats across the aisle already had – hello. There were 3 reasonably attractive blondes. Yes, Guido III, I’ll sacrifice for the good of Italian-American relationships. Mr. Sensitive is what they call me. Okay, so nobody actually calls me. I slipped into my chair and assessed the possibilities and the math for the next three hours. One me. Three blondes, all definitely under the weight limit. A very buon giorno to you all. Click. Click. Tap. Tap. That’s a big ciao, baby. Hello! The three unnatural blondes all had laptops and were feigning more interest in their mediocre mid-level management memos than striking up a shallow but meaningless and short train encounter. I was getting less than nowhere – -which is my permanent mailing address.

Va bene, go for the one to my right since the two opposite were hiding behind their laptop screens. I took a closer look. Uh-huh, nice hair. Eyes – good. Whoa! Does the French actor Jean Reno know that you have his nose? And that wart is the size of a Fiat. But if I close one eye and just look at her from the neck down….Yeah, I’m going to hell. I told you, I don’t have a book. And making up for the nose and wart disaster, she does fill out that cashmere with some fine Italian form.

Okay, I’m bored. I’ll read her email over her, well not quite her shoulder. Look at all those electronic folders lined up on the left side of the screen. Some Italian. Some English. All boring, boring, boring. Wait. “Unknown Pleasures.” Suddenly this Italian version of Steffi Graf was more darkly intriguing. Maybe she would want to take a ride on the Raoul express in the between cars toilet. Dare I suggest we enter that folder together? Dare I eat the peach?

It didn’t really matter what I dared. She was busy multi-tasking – checking e-mail, text messaging, answering the mobile in Italian or English, and writing notes in her well-worn planner. She deleted over 1000 emails while I sat there trying to focus on her screen. At least her posta elimanata folder increased from 13 to 1053. About all I could tell was that her friends called her Gaby, and she sold cantaloupes. Well, one guy was pleading for more of her great cantaloupes. It looked like a business letter.

This dynamo of visual and digital dexterity was flying through bilingual emails faster than I could even decipher which language they were in. I’d get to, “Dearest Gaby, last night was probably the…” and she’d be off to an ad for low-interest loans or viagra or penis enlargement. I thought I would point to the last ad and impress her by saying in Italian that I didn’t need that. But I was afraid my infantile knowledge of Italian would come out as, “Tried that but it didn’t work.”

No, Gaby was not impressed with my command of Italiano, nor my weathered good looks, my fashion sense of layered wrinkles, or my bald spot. I was getting ready to try, “Io ricco e singulo,” when the conductor arrived asking for tickets. Gaby wet herself with uncontained exhilaration when I pulled out a ticketless ticket I had printed from the Tenitalia web. For anyone who has endured the interminably slow (can it be interminably fast?) lines, crowds, and indifferent clerks at Italian rail stations, it was as if I had just showed this star of efficiency how to turn espresso longo into gold. She bounded into my lap and wanted to know how, what, why. She was all over me but just using my body to get closer to the conductor. Okay, he had all the answers. He was a man in uniform. He was tall, dark, young, and undeniably handsome – if you like that sort of thing. Gaby is so superficial, so like her gender. Didn’t she know he was gay.

The laptop crowd and just about everyone else in my car cleared out in Bologna. So, in my section of 8 seats, four aside separated by an aisle, seven 9 year-old girls swooped in with mobiles and packs and chatter. The one across from me looked like Sandra Bullock with a bad pair of glasses. She had a cold-induced raspy voice. Obviously a very caring mother had wrapped her neck in a fine scarf that I would call autumn yellow but I’m sure someone more discerning would have a better grasp of its true color, perhaps pink. I couldn’t recreate it with a color wheel and a week. Her frivolous friends seemed to pick on her, especially when she called her mother to check in and report her approximate return time from the field trip and to let mama know that she was indeed following all instructions.

“Ciao, mama.” “Ciao, Carmella.” They shouted in her direction. She didn’t protest. She just earnestly talked to mama. Yes, she was the serious one in the group. I’m sure she did not think of herself as attractive. I’m sure all of her friends were more popular. If Italian kids have school dances, she is the last one to hit the floor and probably with her fat cousin Alicia. But in 10 years, she’ll be The One. The boys will be lining up to take her to the pizzeria and her friends will want to be close and enjoy the reflected popularity. I wanted to tell her but she wouldn’t believe me. Ah, they never do.

She did pull out the largest apple I’ve ever seen this side of the Arno. I’m sure mama had reminded her to eat her fruit. Such a good mama. When I blurted out in English that the mele was as big as her head, her clear brown eyes bulged from behind the crisp, red orb. I had worried about what I might say in Italian but had never thought about a poor, semi-lost in translation of my English. What had she just heard? My unease was quickly replaced by another disquiet. She asked, “Are you American?”

“Si, sono Americano. Perche?”

Quick excited chatter among the gang of 7. They were all awake and focused on me instead of the games on their mobile phones. I finally get a group of Italian females excited to be near me and they’re too young to remember when the Mariners were in the World Series. Oh, that’s right.

Anyway, they all started simultaneously, like there is another Italian way, throwing out English words: “Monday, Tuesday, Sunday, Friday.”

“Yesterday, tomorrow. Winter, spring, summer, autumn.”

For the next hour, I played English teacher to a group of 9 year-old girls. I had no choice. They had superior numbers and brain power. A group of girls that age are relentless and merciless, like a pack of sharks. The gleeful torment of males must be genetic and universal. Run, boy. Run.

We hit Mestre and class was dismissed. The girls shouted, “Ciao, sono Americano,” laughed, and scampered with backpacks out of Carriage 11 of the Eurostar.

A relieved silence allowed me five minutes of quiet reflective preparation as the train crossed the lagoon to Santa Lucia station. The winds of change blew the thunderstorm and lightning out past the Lido and let welcoming sunshine dance and sparkle across Venice. It brought back vivid pictures of Katherine Hepburn arriving in Venice in the movie, Summertime. But there’s no room in the backpack for a red goblet. And besides, as Kate said in the movie, you need a pair.

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