Saturday, August 12, 2006

Milan to Geneva, Part 3

The train started moving and I began to panic. My heart was pounding so hard that it was distracting to me. Overheated and over-excited, a flash went through my mind that I might have a heart attack, so forceful was the pounding. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears.

Moving around in the car's landing like a caged animal, I made the train crew nervous. I was trying to make my way back to the door to go back a car, just about ready to burst into tears, when the door flew open and there was Jess. Whew. So we started moving through the narrow hall of the car, single-file, toward our seats.

When we got to our compartment, we were hot, sweating, and looked a mess. We slid the door open and the woman sitting inside looked up, rather disapprovingly, before going back to her book. I can only imagine what was running through her head..."Stupid, bumbling Americans...great...and they smell!"

The car was very warm; the a/c was just barely blowing, and it wasn't that cool. Of course, air conditioning theory is different for Europeans than Americans; what many Americans would consider the right level of cool would be considered too cold by Europeans. And what Jess and I consider the right level of cool could be considered cold by American standards. Case in point: when Jess' cousins from Paris visited us, they complained that "the climatisation is too hard in here." We had a hard time keeping things comfortable for everyone in the common areas of the house, but fortunately, we didn't have central air, so we were all able to regulate the temp of our rooms with our own a/c wall unit. They may not be so happy when they visit us in our currrent house, which has central air...

We had a hell of a time getting our luggage into the luggage racks, which were located high above the seats. Heaving a 44-lb. full-sized suitcase more than a foot over your head is a bitch. Heaving two or three of those pieces is torture.

But I digress. The car was too warm, even by European standards. After waiting a reasonable period of time in misery, my mom asked our European rider if she spoke English. "No; Français" was the rather curt response.

"May we adjust the climatisation?" we asked, not expecting a good response.

"Oui."

So we adjusted. Unfortunately, the adjustment did little. Our train was an older train. Our compartment had a sliding plexiglas door that kept sliding open. We'd close it, and with the next jostle or stop, and the door would open. That got old quickly. I managed to get one smile out of our French traveling companion when, after the door slid open for no particular reason, I looked over at her, rolling my eyes, and grumbled, "ouvert, fermé; ouvert, fermé" which was probably not precisely the proper French for what I was trying to say (the French are very particular about their language), but she smiled anyway. I am sure she was thinking "stupid American!" but I'd like to think that for a moment, she was entertained rather than put off.

The view on the ride was actually spectacular. The little country villages and shacks that dotted the Italian countryside were charming, and it was clear that a lot of the land outside the cities was involved in agriculture. Vineyards were planted everywhere they would grow, and some grew in very unexpected places, like down the side of steep hills and areas next to bridges. As we pulled into some of the towns along the trip, they were names I recognized from Italian restaurants here in the States. Like Stresa, for instance...built into a steep hillside that ran right down to the tracks, the stuccoed homes were all bunched together in units, dappled in shades of pale peach, seafoam, ivory, butter, and salmon, with terra cotta tile roofs, some in the natural salmon color, others in multiple shades of salmon, peach, periwinkle, butter, and forest. Flowerboxes under windows spilled over with petunias and geraniums. There were few homes with yards, and many homes had clotheslines drying the daily wash in the pristine Italian Alpine air. The train station in Stresa looked as though it had been there for as long as trains had been running. Refurbished, of course, but you could see by the glass in the windows, which had been mottled by age, that it was an original.

The Alps were stunning. High, snow-capped peaks loomed on either side of the train, and the mountainsides seemed to run right down to just within a few hundred yards of the tracks. Vineyards were even planted into the steep mountainsides. We wondered if there wasn't anywhere that a vineyard wouldn't grow.

Crossing over into Switzerland, it was very evident that we had left Italy. The landscapes and towns were more spartan, utilitarian, the housing very homogenous. Very engineered, very unimaginative. It all had a coldness about it. On the train, we had been hearing announcements in Italian, French, and English. Shortly after crossing the Swiss border, English announcements ceased in favor of German. And that, combined with the apparent social and communal engineering, made me think this: We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

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