Friday, 24 July 2009
Strangers on a train to Milan
THURSDAY 23 JULY 2009
We headed for an overnight in Milan, after an early breakfast by our landlady and a drive in her cut-off Merc to the station at Viareggio. It was a beautiful morning and it was almost like being given an outing as a kid - a break from the dullish but OKish routine. We had to change at Genoa, which turned out to involve a one-hour wait. That was OK but then the ticket-man came round and he pointed out that we shouldn't be on this train that left Genoa at 12.10pm., we should have been on the one that left Genoa at 11.18 a.m. He let us off, having made it clear, without using English, that he was being very flexible in so doing. The chap in the carriage with us did a lot of smiling when the ticket-man left: Italy, he said, is full of rules but then when it comes to the crunch they're not taken too seriously. We got to talking to him and his Brazilian partner. He must be in his 50s and is a painter/decorator in a small town in Mexico. He's called Andrea ('A girl's name everywhere but Italy!') and his partner is Roxanna ('My father read a lot and came on this in his readings').Andrea had strong but amused views on the Italian government. Berlusconi is either the head of the mafia or is where he is because of them. Putin gave Berlusconi a present of a bed. All of Italy is corrupt and prime ministers since way back have been members of the Mafia. The Church is linked hip and thigh (or whatever) with the mafia - they don't make a squeak when Berlusconi is getting a divorce and doing stuff with a 17-year-old. The mafia may have killed Kennedy, because he didn't have a counter-revolution against Castro and let them back into Cuba...On and on. Andrea was terrifically entertaining - full of laughter as he cut the tripe out of the Italian government - and he's read George Orwell and Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad. I give him the names of Graham Greene and Ronan Bennett as writers to read, which he took with every sign of interest. Before we part I take a pic of him and Roxanna - several, actually, cos he's not impressed by his own looks. I get his email and promise to send him a copy of the pic. And did I mention he likes The Dubliners (the folk group)?
In Milan, we got off at the Station Centrale - built, Andrea told us, by Mussolini, and I believe him. It's massive the way a loyalist body-builder is massive: big and squat and in your face...No, squat isn't the word for something as vast as this - its height dwarfs everyone who moves through it. It's so impressive, it's a pity it's used as a train station, almost. And guess where it reminds me of? Yup. Stormont Parliament. The same idea at work: bow down before the power of this or by God, we'll make you bow down...