Il Capotreno 0 – Us 1

Tirano to Varenna – February 2007
This trip follows on from Basil the Ticket Collector, which includes a description of buying a train ticket from the temperamental machine at Tirano station.
The man in green uniform and leather sling-bag
The Italian train took us from Tirano and the conductor, the capotreno, came to check our tickets and was very suspicious about them, probably seldom having seen machine-issued tickets before, and in Italy you have to validate your tickets by putting them in a machine on the platform that stamps them, but the validation machine wasn’t designed for machine-issued tickets so that hadn’t worked very well, hence the uncertainty on the part of the capotreno.
The capo said, you need to change. Change? said I, where? For the timetable had said that the train stopped at Varenna. At Colico, said the capo, this just as the train was pulling out of Colico station. What! But the timetable at Tirano said . . . Aspetta, said the capo. Aspetta. Aspetta literally means wait, but the Italians use it in the way we might say, hang on a minute. And he checked his hand-held computer and said, yes, he was confused, the train in fact would stop at Varenna. Only in Italy would the conductor not know which stations his train was stopping at.
When we got to Varenna the capotreno was still around our carriage, chatting to some people about something, and he came and helped us with the door, which he opened and then said: Aspetta. Aspetta, the platform’s on the other side. In Italy everything happens with a generous sprinkling of chaos and some people can’t cope with this, but to us it’s a relief. It’s human, and often it’s frustrating, but at least I don’t feel as I sometimes do in Switzerland where we’d just come from, an urge to break something – sometimes over someone’s head perhaps, but that’s different.
You need to know the ropes, see.
The following morning we were to take the same train, or its cousin running some ten hours later, so we went to the platform where we’d got off last night – at Varenna the ticket machine was decidedly broken, smashed in fact, and there was no one in the ticket office and no bar – and waited for the train to arrive.
There was a train waiting in another platform and since one was due to depart in the other direction one minute earlier than ours we assumed that was it, however one should never assume anything in Italy and when a train appeared in our platform from the wrong direction I quickly asked someone who said, no no, you want the other train, which we currently couldn’t get to before it was due to leave as despite the notice saying you mustn’t cross the tracks, that’s the way everyone appeared to be getting to the train that was rapidly being obscured from our view by the incoming and moving train we didn’t want.
So we ran to the end of the incoming train, that was interminably long, and crossed the tracks beyond the end of the platform and up onto the other platform, and I shouted to the driver, this train going to Lecco? and he replied enthusiastically, Si, and waited for us to get on board, before departing on his way.
In Britain, this would all have had us in court, and the driver most likely would have said that waiting for us would be more than his job was worth, but in Italy, everyone does it, or something like it, for the place operates in a warm, cuddly, friendly and usually exasperating, chaos. And that’s really why we like it, and hate it, and feel when we get there, phew! Relax! That’s provided we’re not driving, of course.

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