Trains in Europe aren’t what they use to be – or at least not on the TrenItalia Eurostars. Gone are the old compartments with their worn bordello maroon plush seats and dusty billiard table green curtains. The coaches are now Pullman-style with groups of four or two airplane seats in violent red with black chevrons, given a false sense of privacy by smudged Plexiglas dividers. Gone is the embarrassment most North Americans feel when confronted by a train compartment occupied by local travellers – oh God I’m going to spend the next three hours with someone who doesn’t speak English. Now a smart metal console with dropdown table and laptop and cell outlets allows you to ignore the other travellers after the initial “buon giorno” and get on with your work, video gaming or blogging. But I must admit the gentleman in the pĥoto at the right did go to extremes to avoid fellow passengers.
I suppose something has been gained in the change but something has been lost. I remember on my first trip to Europe as a semi-callow youth of 19, a good deal of the pleasure and adventure of the trip were the people – European and other foreign travellers – I met in slightly musty train compartments. The struggles to make conversation with my Ontario high-school French and opera-libretto German and Italian was half the fun. That discomfort at occupying a enclosed space with strangers only set in as I grew older. Also at the time I was an not unattractive kid and I recall the attentions of several older gentlemen – oh they must have been almost 30 – of course as I grew older and my hairline receded so did those sort of attentions.
27 ottobre – San Fiorenzo
Well glory be – they still have Intercity trains with compartments – now in cooling blues and Plexiglas – and people still make conversation when sent to them by the ineffable TrenItalia booking system. From Parma to Bologna – 50 minutes – there was a lively discussion about the Maryinsky Ballet Swan Lake at La Scala in the compartment next to mine. And in my own much merriment was being made of the cha-cha rhythm of a woman’s telefino ring – I gather the reason it was going unanswered was that it was “only her husband.” And a concerned discussion broke out about the burning smell coming from the brake assembly of the car in front of ours every time we slowed down or stopped in a station. And in true TrenItalia fashion an announcement was made in Emilio Reggio that we would be delayed 10 minutes – and a minute later we departed.
On the connecting train from Bologna to Roma it was back to the Pullman and the solitude of XP and Ipod. Though I must admit there was a bit of eye-candy that would gone unseen in a compartment – some Italian mothers are right, their sons are gorgeous. And though we left Bologna on time with no stops along the way for some reason explained in a totally inaudible announcement, we arrived in Rome an hour late.
And some older man of 65 or so made eyes at me – or maybe he was just squinting to read his newspaper.
28 ottobre – SS Simone e Guida