I've been thinking a lot about the place recently. Despite the fact that I'm trying to put pennies aside to finally head across the pond, I do feel the urge to head back to Italy.
I'm sure it's a different place in many ways than when I was last there: and I'm in a different place in many ways too. Nevertheless, there are many resonances I presently feel aware of, which bring my time there to the forefront.
I'll just share a memory for now, one which begins some hours before I first set foot on Italian soil.
RM and I were heading there after a few days' stay in Geneva. We were at the train station waiting in a queue, a little groggy from a lot of alcohol the previous night, and getting increasingly anxious: the station was a large and confusing place, and time was ticking away steadily - as it tends to - making us worry that we were going to miss the train we wanted to catch. If we missed this train, then the next one wouldn't deliver us to Genoa until way too late in the evening. The journey was due to last several hours, including changing at Milan for the connection to our destination.
We had been moving along in the queue at a pace which inspired a certain level of confidence that we would just be able to make it - as long as we could find our way to the right platform without delay. However, as we reached just one place away from the ticket window, the chap in front of us seemed to be taking an extraordinarily long time going about buying his ticket. He was chatting away to the lady behind the counter, and it was with absolute fury that, when I listened in, I came to the conclusion that he was practicing his French language skills, making nothing more than small talk.
We had little time left. He continued waffling on to the lady behind the counter. RM and I were getting flustered.
I'm not religious, but I was in that place following a recent bereavement, in which one seems to suspend one's normal rules of engagement with the world, and to apprehend it in an altered way. Therefore, I lowered my head, closed my eyes and uttered a silent prayer that we would be able to get on the train and get safely to Genoa.
The bloody idiot in front of me was still enjoying the sound of his own voice. Oh well, that didn't work then.
At which point, I noticed that RM was now being ushered by a very kind person in the next queue along, into position in front of her, right up to the respective ticket window. Within moments we had tickets for Genoa in our hands, and a mad dash ensued which saw us get to the train platform in lightning speed. The brilliant sunshine dazzled us, reflected as it was on the surface of the platform. I paused only to shout to an attendant on the platform: C'est pour Milan? He nodded and waved us on.
Our relief turned to partial bemusement when, unbelievably, the dickhead who had held us up for so long in the queue, sauntered onto the train mere seconds later (at the precise point at which the train started to pull away and on the long journey to Milan) with his family in tow, still waffling on, though now in his native English. Words of pure tedium uttered forth in a seemingly interminable stream: fortunately he moved through to the next carriage with glum-faced family members trudging in his wake.
We soon forgot about him (though we continued to remark on the act of kindness by the person who let us into their queue) thanks to the astonishing journey through Alpine scenery, our arrival in Italy signified by a stop at the marvellously-named Domodossola: the scenery as we passed the great lakes of Northern Italy was just as breathtaking. By late evening we were sat on a forecourt atop a hill in Genoa drinking a well-deserved glass of beer. We watched the lights on the ships which were like beacons: they sailed languidly out of port and headed south, their silhouttes shimmering against the glorious evening haze.
We wondered whether they might be heading for Corsica, Sardinia or North Africa: it all seemed tantalizingly romantic and exotic.