By Angry Train Guy

    Ahh trains. Now there’s something I know a bit about. We commuters are instantly at home around the bump and squash and tinned noise of stations. Venice’s Santa Lucia station soon corrected that fantasy. Footscray it aint. But this squat, flat-white modernist terminus, whilst innocent on first viewing, hides its darkside well.

    Inside, it provides sustenance for the traveller in a way that would banish any nobby hipster Brunswick Street faux tin shed 
splasher to the borderlands, and has done for donks. Where 
else can you scarf an espresso that pins your ears back, wash it down with an amaro, while vacuuming a toscanello, lovingly rolled by a one-armed Tuscan, and watch the sun come up over the Grand Canal? Well, that’s how Jan started the day.

    Me, I was tinkering on the piano out in the departure hall, thoughtfully provided by the management for use by travellers and passersby alike. That is until an extremely arranged Frenchwoman begged me to stop and even offered me money to do so. Sitting quietly while my shame abated, I began to notice the warning signage that suddenly seemed to be everywhere: keep your luggage with you; beware of being approached by groups of strangers; only take advice from uniformed station staff; do not fund beggars.

    No place for bad restaurants

    A young, besuited Italian man took the seat next to mine. I had my luggage with me; he certainly wasn’t a group; as yet, no advice proffered; no international palm-up-hand signs of begging. He folded his copy of la Repubblica into his lap, crossed his legs and, in splendid English, asked me where I was from.

    My response [‘Melbourne’] triggered a torrent of keywords: ‘Sosta Cucina’, Donnini, Tiamo, Florentino, Pellegrini, DOC, Toto.’ It was the last word that sent me to Defcon 4. The guy was clearly some kind of fraud. Nobody mentions Toto in that sentence. Especially not an Italian.

    With splendid timing as usual, Jan wafted by brandishing a pair of tickets. ‘Platform four,’ she slurred.

    The Italian stood up with me, offering to show the way and ‘allow me to take your bag’. I looked down on him, showed the gaps in my teeth and pointed to the sign that warned against offers of help with baggage. ‘I’ll be fine,’ I told him.

    Slicker than gudge off a doorknob

    Bags are stored at the ends of carriages on European trains. In the open. Near the doors. From my vantage point on the second class economy carriage, I could see both our bags and the platform below. And there was The Italian. Rushing a diminutive spot-faced youth to a destination past us, dragging the hapless victim’s American Tourister HS MV+ 79cm expandable hardsider, white with checks, 360-degree spinner wheels, lightweight suitcase, and talking very fast.

    Through the end doors I watched how it worked. Stow the suitcase in the end racks, the very end, keep talking; guide the mark to a seat as far away from there as available, keep talking; hassle for a little fee, be gratefully surprised, keep talking; seat the dupe, his back to the door minutes before departure, keep talking; start walking; collect the American Tourister HS MV+ 79cm expandable hardsider, white with checks, 360-degree spinner wheels, lightweight suitcase on the way out; walking into two guards Jan had thought to alert when appraised of this violation of first-time traveller dignity.

    And then, as the fast train to Milano pulls out, wave ironically to the fuming Italian, who appeared to have nothing left to say.

    Eyeballing the countryside

    When a train is described as ‘very fast’ in Europe, nobody’s kidding. These slick little puppies can scamper along at up to 300kph. And in the uneventful two hours it took to get to Milano Centrale, I learned one useful thing: don’t try to observe anything in the foreground outside your window – your eyeball physiology will not cope and you will be left with the uncomfortable sensation of having had them torn from their sockets.

    Milano Centrale is a magnificent folly – part palace, part Union Station, Washington, part Mussolinian expression of fascist power, with stylings borrowed from Art Deco and Liberty, and over there, the froth of Rococo. It will steal your oxygen. Beyond it lies self-indulgent style of every stripe, and I’ll get my hands on that. But first, my reverie is interrupted by a voice in my ear. ‘Ciao Melbourne,’ whispers the voice attached to a besuited young Italian, a copy of la Repubblica protruding from a jacket pocket, an American Tourister HS MV+ 79cm expandable hardside, white with checks, 360-degree spinner wheels, lightweight suitcase being pulled along by his right hand.



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