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Model behaviour, top tomatoes and adventure afoot

Model behaviour, top tomatoes and adventure afoot

Tickets please!

Anyone who’s ridden the rails for a while in Italy, ( I know, I sound like an old American hobo) will know that even after you have purchased your ticket, before boarding the train you must validate it yourself by sliding it into one of the punch clocks found on the station platforms. If you fail to do this, ticket inspectors on the trains will fine you.  All Italians know this, of course, but it’s a common trap that many foreigners fall into. The sales office personnel rarely mention the required self-validation when they issue rail tickets, and many new to the Italian rail system find out about it the hard way.

The train out of Fiumicino airport in Rome (‘The Leonardo Express’) to Rome’s Central station (Termini) is always jampacked with newly arrived foreigners and the ticket inspectors are issuing fines left and right. It’s a real ‘Welcome to Italy’ experience. ‘We didn’t know’ they cry ‘No one told us about it’; but the inspectors, who’ve got smart and now speak three or four languages, carefully explain their mistake and shrug. You have a choice; pay up or get off at the next stop.  In which case, you could find yourself kicking your heels in one of Rome’s sub stations such as Tuscolana or Ostiense. I don’t know if it’s true, but someone told me that the inspectors get a small percentage of every fine they issue as motivation.

But sometimes even the Italians get caught out. ‘The validation machine wasn’t working’ said the group of three young Italians on their way from Perugia to Arezzo.  The female inspector reminded them that there were several machines at each station and one of them not working was no excuse. ‘But we didn’t have time, we would have missed the train’ they protested.

I was two seats behind them and I’d already shown my ticket. Suddenly the inspector’s gaze fell upon me again and she pointed out this middle-aged black women to the young offenders.

‘Look at the Signora there. She’s not even Italian but she’s validated her ticket. You see! The Signora did the right thing. There are no excuses. She knows the rules and so do you.’

Needless to say ‘the Signora’ kept her head down. I wasn’t used to being publicly cited for good behaviour. I slid a little bit further down in my seat and fell to desperately searching for something (anything) in my bag.

*****

Northward Ho!  

It’s an old and oft-told story in Italy. Leaving behind family and friends, a young man sets out from his home in the economically-deprived south of Italy to find work in the big cities of the north.

‘Off to Milan eh?’ said the elderly gent opposite to the young man sitting next to me on the train from Bari going north.

It was one of the old corridor trains and we were five perfect strangers in the compartment.

‘Yes my brother works there. He’s just found me a job’

The young man glanced up nervously at the brown packing box tied with string that was balancing precariously in the overhead rack and threatening every minute to brain one of us. He got up to shove it in place more securely.

‘Supplies from home?’ the old man said with a knowing smile.

The young man nodded sheepishly.

‘It’s my mother’s pasta sauce’ he confessed checking the box again.

‘Of course it is. Your mother knows as well as I do that you can’t find a decent tomato in the north. Do you know where the best tomatoes come from? That’s right. Salerno. Right here in very south of Italy. It’s the soil. It’s volcanic, you know.  You won’t find a more fragrant, more flavourful tomato anywhere in the world.’

The old man looked around us all in the carriage as if he was ready to knock to the ground anyone who said otherwise.

We all nodded in agreement. Yes indeed. No arguments here. The Salerno tomato was king.

‘Well, good lad.’ he continued brightly  ‘Off to a new life and new friends. It’s an adventure eh?’

‘I hope so’

The young man suddenly looked uneasy.

‘My brother’s the only person I know there and, if I’m honest, I’m not very outgoing’

The old man shuffled forward in his seat the better to make his point.

‘Now listen to me, young man, I was always a bit shy myself when I was your age and I have to say it didn’t do me any harm. Not a bit of it. There are lots of girls who like the quieter type and I was never short of a girlfriend. They don’t all go for that bluff and bluster, you know. Us shy fellows are less threatening. More reassuring.  No, it did me no harm at all being on the shy side. So don’t you worry yourself. I can see from your face that you’re a good honest sort. You’ll have no trouble, you’ll see’

The old man sat back nodding and smiling reassuringly.

So no spotted hankie on a stick for this Italian Dick Whittington. Armed only with an honest face, a pep talk, and a dozen bottles of his mum’s pasta sauce, our intrepid hero set out to conquer the big city of Milan.