As soon as I stepped off the bus from Malpensa airport at Milan’s train station I realised my mistake in carting reference books and enough clothes to set up a pre-loved clothing store. I had no ticket and no idea where the ticket counter was. I stood on the pavement surrounded by luggage in varying sizes - a sitting duck for the street- smart touts who would offer to help me.. I said yes to the first person to approach me and trailed after this man carrying half my luggage with memories from a lifetime ago flooding into my head of the Chinese man who fleeced me at the Guangzhou airport…
Having established I was off to Venezia, yes, si, si, Venice, he left me in the mid-stream of people-traffic to buy me a ticket. I waited nervously, wondering what would be my next step if he didn’t return. Ticket in hand he rushed me to the correct platform. The train was about to depart. I quickly tipped him what could have been a pittance or a fortune and jumped on board with him shovelling my bags up to me.
With the end of the carriage already cluttered by people, standing, leaning against anything that offered support, I squashed myself and bags into the left-over space. Catching my breath I looked at my ticket. None the wiser, I asked the lady standing next to me about my seat number. With a half-apologetic smile, she promptly informed me I didn’t have a seat..
That should have confirmed the misgivings I’d had months before setting off for my first journey to Italy (and so far, the only one, but hopefully that may change), specifically to the city of mirrored images and mystique. With all that luggage it could be mistakenly assumed I was going to set up residence, but no, that wasn’t the plan for my Italian interlude. Nor was I going there to swan around San Marco square or float under arched bridges in a gondola steered by a devilishly good-looking Italian man in striped top and beribboned boater hat. It was the ancient mysterious Feng Shui of Chinese culture that I would deliver to some university students. I wondered whether Marco Polo had brought back with him any of these special ways of looking at buildings in a landscape, in this case a gallery of waterscapes.
Joseph Brodsky, the Russian born poet saw it this way -
'The sky is brisk blue, the sun, escaping its golden likeness beneath the foot of San Giorgio, sashays over the countless fish scales of the lagoon’s lapping ripples; behind you, under the colonnades of the Palazzo Ducale, a bunch of stocky fellows in fur coats are revving up Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, [a little serenade] just for you, slumped in your white chair and squinting at the pigeons’ maddening gambits on the chessboard of a vast piazza. The espresso at your cup’s bottom is the only small black dot in, you feel, a miles-long radius.'
I felt like that small black dot at the bottom of the espresso cup. Having slumped over my luggage which every person climbed over to get to the train’s toilet in constant demand, I didn’t have the energy to drag my baggage to a compartment when a seat became vacant after the train left Verona.
Finally the train pulled into Venezia’s Santa Lucia station. One by one I threw my bags onto the platform and waited….the bag lady was dying for un caffè espresso!