venerdì 13 luglio 2012

Lost in Italy

Parigi - Lione - Torino - Milano ... Paris - Lyon - Turin - Milan*

It's become something of a habit for me to take this train at least once a year, usually in the summer, and my trip of 2012 started on Friday of last week, unsociably early in the morning. With three new books downloaded onto my Kindle, the entire archive of a newly discovered blog to read, and gorgeous scenery flashing by outside the window, I had no worries about how to fill the time. (I may have napped a little too).

And then I stepped off on to the platform in Milan and felt strangely disorientated. It was partly that the train, which used to go directly to Milano Centrale, now terminates at the Porta Garibaldi. I had to take the metro, and I was fairly sure it was the green line, but I couldn't remember which direction and didn't know automatically which buttons to press on the ticket machine. Apparently three years is enough to forget what a metro map looks like.

But it wasn't really that. It wasn't really the language either, because a diet of Rai television , Italian novels and conversations with friends here in Paris is enough to keep the words fairly near the front of my mind from one visit to the next.

What I had forgotten was how to behave. Not my manners, of course, but those small, subconscious signals that we give out that show that we are local or foreign, lost or comfortable in our own skin. How loudly do you speak? Walking into a shop, at what point do you say Buongiorno? Or do you use Ciao? And more than anything, when do you look people in the eye, and when is it safer to keep your glances to yourself?

For a couple of hours, I felt foreign. Then slowly it came creeping back, and I felt at home in Italy again.

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