- The Man Who Missed Trains
At the time I was working as a server in the Ferrara station bar. I served grappa and coffee to people setting out, their coats brushed, tickets unpunched, and to others at their journeys’ end, hot and bothered, smelling metallic. From the bar window I could watch time pass on the station clock. Every hour brought its own trains, every train its own faces, every face its own coffee at the bar counter. The dreary times when business was slow were marked by the humming fridge and the smell of the cashier’s feet as, slipping off her shoes, she had the look of someone slipping off her panties. Also by a pair of weary flies that settled on a salami sandwich.
I have always been unnerved, though at the same time attracted, by the sensation of eternity passing that looms over train stations. When I set off on a trip myself, I make an effort to change—shed my skin like a reptile—though in every case I adopt the wrong camouflage for the place I am heading. I feel edgy in train stations yet bask in the sensation of being adrift. Regardless of risk, I always board trains like a lover as the memory of a face is fading or, without realizing it, is about to do so. Which explains my contentment as a server in the station bar overlooking platform 1. I could undergo and, deluding myself, understand that feeling. I could even put an end to it. [End Page 356]
On warm summer afternoons, when the city swarmed off to the beaches, I made a point of wandering alone over the softened tarmac downtown, along with the odd drunk and madman. Unable to tell the difference between them, I considered whether drunkenness had a corrective effect on lunacy. Could two liters of liqueur restore a lunatic to lucidity? The type and quantity of wine could be picked according to the type and severity of mental disturbance. A mild neurosis might be cured with a bottle of Lambrusco. The guy who sifted through the trash and smiled at me as I passed might have had his wits restored by drinking two bottles of raisin wine a day before meals. Could excesses of the sane be treated with injections of neurasthenia? Could a slight dose of schizophrenia be administered to people full of themselves, or a touch of melancholia to the overbearing? Lonely days gave me the opportunity to consider the major strides that psychiatry had yet in store. The dazed silence of the station courtyard might be shattered by the roar of a motorcycle. The trains slid in under the roof like great fishes plunged against their will into the depths of an abyss. They drew to a halt weeping. A lengthy screech of brakes followed.
Stations, as we know, are all female, so our leaving one for another is not insignificant. Some stations, like Trieste, are haughty and condescending because accustomed to standoffish international trains or troop trains freighted with tragedy. These bestow their favors rarely, but, when they do, it is on a regiment. Some stations are matronly and buxom, like Bologna, receiving all comers with the warmth of a seasoned whore, though they no longer take pleasure in doing so. Milan station is a feather-clad signora, inured to every perversion. Fully clothed, on her feet against a wall, her barest grimace may be one of pleasure or disgust, it’s hard to say. Leggy Florence station fancies intercity pendolini; her knowing she is beautiful detracts a little from her charms, and all that you remember of her is wrinkles. Callow, foul-mouthed Ferrara station is still wet behind the ears. You may slip a hand between her thighs but then will face a reproachful look. At ease with diesel cars, she is unhappy with hard-nosed express trains that draw up at platform 4 in the late afternoon; still, she would be pleased to oblige them in the long grass. Some stations feel right for departures, others for arrivals. Trieste is right for departures, with the eastern light in your face...