Monday, January 7th, 2008 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/the-small-adventures-part-2
e slept, and it was reasonably comfortable, and soon enough it was 5:30am or so, and the train was approaching Milan. In Rome there are endless comparisons with the rival up north that actually works, the city that even tried to wrest from Rome the laurel of being Italy’s capital.
It was cold. I had two hours or so before my connecting train to Paris. Walking along the platform and to the station, Jam’s lead in one hand, the suitcase handle in the other, I began my search for a nice cafe and sit down with a coffee and sandwich to read my book and watch the folks. But as I criss-crossed the station, I became increasingly mortified to discover that there was in fact nowhere to sit at all in the entire place, and not one of the cafe stands sold tramezzini (sandwiches). They were all for standing at the bar only. Regional differences.
Rome’s Termini Station, for all the unpleasantness outside, is rich and modern inside, with a variety of cafes, fast food restaurants, a shopping mall, department store and supermarket. Milan Centrale’s got none of that, even if it has 19th century architectural grandeur reminiscent of Chicago’s Union Station. I had one quick cappuccino then decided to venture out to the station environs and see if I couldn’t find somewhere more amenable.
It was rainy. There across the road was a triangular patch of grass, around which the pristine stubby green modern trams circled, and I took Jam over there for her morning craptacular. Across the road I spied what looked like it might be a good cafe bar in that brown 1960s style, so I entered. Again, no seats, but there were at least tall tables one could lean on. I had another cappucci here, this time with a cornetto (croissant), and it was a much better coffee. The men working there were all older, with bonhomie or gruffness that comes from decades on the job. This place had the atmosphere. The door chimed repeatedly as working men and women came in from the cold for their morning’s delight and pick-me-up, and I did read there for a while, but oh I did so want to sit. There was a seating area but it was blocked off and the lights were out, the chairs on the tables; only open for lunch I guess. So soon enough I told the Jam it’s time to go, and we returned to the station and up the escalator. I think by this point Jam was a bit bewildered and upset by this new and seemingly pointless place.
Back in the station I bought a panino with cheese and proscuito, and was kind of surprised by the introversion of the attractive woman working there with her Subway-style plastic gloves and supposedly hygenic paper hat. But she warmed up and by the time she gave me the bun, now toasted, I got a lovely smile that gave me a nice boost as I walked away to sit on a bench in a grand hall at the top of the escalator—I’d spotted it on the way up. The opposing bench was occupied by a group of drunken hobo-looking fellows. I suppose that’s why there are no places to sit in the station. Jam jumped up on the bench and sat there with me, shivering a bit. After a while one of them came over to say hello.
Then it was time to board the train and it was delightfully clean and new and I took a little separate area that on a British train would be first class, the plush brown carpet riding up some of the wall. From there it was a pleasant, unmemorable trip all day up through what was probably Switzerland then France.
Paris. I’ve not been here for years. At the station I queued up in the ticket office for the next leg of the journey, a regional train to Dieppe. It was rush hour and the station had the woosh, human concentration and contained impatience of a major world city, with the people appreciating the rare furry animal intrusion. To catch the train it turned out we had to take the subway to another station with about an hour to do so. The ticket seller, who spoke impeccable English, said getting there on time shouldn’t be a problem on the Metro. In a bit of naming that can make life seem as tightly put together as a dream, the station was called Madeleine. Having Jam on the subway was allowed, but she was bewildered by the amazing flurry of people, some of whom tutted with irritation as they had to move around her, the suitcase and I.
The Metro was as full of rich characters as a New York, and I felt that I’d love to get back here to Paris sometime soon. Lots of young fancypants. Then we arrived at the station and I had time to spare and bought a coffee for the next leg of the journey. Dragging Jam around with me on the lead was becoming a bit of a drag.
Then we were off, with one change, and it was dark outside and the train was older and less comfortable. When we arrived it was a cold windy night as the Jam and I walked out of the station and towards the port, the town quite empty. I could smell the sea air and was reminded of another cold evening just over three years ago when the Jam, her mother Maddie and I arrived from the bus at Çeşme in Turkey at night to take the ferry to Italy the following morning. And though I was looking forward now to be getting home, the Jam with me at last, it was of course sad as well to remember that more hopeful time, when the thrill of a new life in a romantic country lay ahead and the catastrophe and horror or Maddie falling to her death from our balcony had not yet happened, nor the tears and deflation of those first few weeks in Italy, when I had to give the dogs over to someone in the countryside because I had nowhere to keep them in the city.
Çeşme had also been the result of failure and defeat, having given up the hike through Turkey and ridden a bus there from the seaside town of Kas. Nonetheless it was a happier time; the period following it in Rome really took the wind out my sails. There I was, fulfilling a dream and ambition I’d nurtured since graduating from college in 1995, nearly a decade earlier—to live and work in Italy!—and it was just crumbling in my hands; without security, without the things I’d grown to love in Israel, it lost its glamour and I just felt sad and anxious. Once I got a job there things got increasingly comfortable and pleasant and routinized, but then Maddie died, and I never did regain much interest in the place.
Walking the streets of this dark empty cold foreign port town towards the ferry brought this all back after the recent accomplishments and comforts—living in familiar Britain, going on trips to familiar and exciting America—and yet it was as exciting as it was melancholy, bringing back breezes of that promise and excitement, that brief and yet really pretty big adventure into Turkey and to Italy. Maybe I will pursue nice big travels again in the future.
And I realized: I’ve been here before! My college friend Boris and I had met in London back in 1999 and taken a road-trip from Amsterdam down into France, and we’d stopped at Dieppe for its quaintness and wandered around its streets and had dinner.
I walked up the street full of restaurants along the river and decided upon one of them—a family was just leaving it together with their little dog. I asked if Jam was welcome inside. But of course!
So I settled down with glee in the empty restaurant and ordered a nice dinner, Jam at my feet, pleased to have a comfortable place to pass the time until it was time to go to the ferry. Toast with foie gras, a carafe of red wine, a huge plate of mussels and chips, and finally a crème brûlée. My goodness, how nice it would be to take brief road-trips from Brighton, bringing the car across Channel on the ferry, just to get a bit of nearby Europe, so different from Britain, so full of its own successful cultural customs and food. Somehow it felt very good to be able to pay for this, for this independent idiosyncratic travel, having a functional and under-control credit card, nobody on earth knowing what pleasures and luxuries I choose to spend on. Certainly it wasn’t a huge amount, this 15€ set dinner, but somehow, though I’ve eaten in restaurants hundreds of times, I felt grown up sitting there, a bit of a man of the world.
After some halting attempts to chat with the proprietor, we made our way back around the water and followed the signs to the ferry port. There were two mechanical bridges on the way, one of which rose up, the other rotated. Because fishing boats were arriving, both happened to be in operation just as we approached. Jam went under the barrier of the first one and I had to sharply call her back for fear she’d get caught in the cracks. I felt a bit ridiculous holding her and telling her to “Look, look,” while the bridge operator talked into his walkie talkie, like I was treating a dog like a child. But I wanted her to understand that the world isn’t unpredictable but that this is just another one of these mechanical marvels we sometimes come across.
The town faded behind us as we walked the winding way in the cold fresh night to the ferry port on a road that led nowhere else, my suitcase trundling along the smooth road, Jam trotting on ahead sniffing the grass, the fence. The occasional car sped past us. I was reminded for some reason of the approach to the Eilat border with Egypt.
A new port. I didn’t have my ticket—Irit had them because she was making the journey out to Dieppe from Newhaven with a rental car to meet us, as the dog couldn’t come aboard unless we had a car to keep her in for the journey. The clerk understood and waved me in to the very proletarian waiting room. There was a restaurant/bar run by a heavyset blowsy woman. I was sure she was English, but she wasn’t. In northern France it seems the stock is not too different from southern England.
I bought a coffee and a roll with brie for the Jam. Bored, I wandered outside, where there was a cute enough Irish redhead girl in her early 20s on her way back. We got to having a smoke and chatting and just then Irit called me from through the metal fence. She’d driven off the ferry and out the port and to the roundabout for the way back in. I was quite pleased she saw me chatting with another woman—keep ‘em on their toes, eh what? (She wasn’t to know this is the most I’d talked with anybody the entire trip.)
Well this was another strangeness for Jam, seeing Irit for the first time in 14 months out here in the middle of nowhere. I’d been warning her she’s about to see a “visitor” (my doggie word for “human other than myself”) but that doesn’t go very far in explaining who. So I excused myself from the nice girl, whom I never saw again, and exited the building and hugs all round and we got into the car and drove back into the port.
We stopped at the security gate and the young fellow checked our papers. All was in readiness—or so I thought. The dog can’t travel, he told us. What? The 48 hours has already elapsed, he explained, and pointed out the date on the vet’s stamp for the tick and tapeworm treatment that I’d had done some 28 hours previously back in Rome. Sure enough, the date was wrong. The vet, eager to be helpful, must have thought I was leaving directly from Rome last night, and helpfully wrote the previous day on it, the 21st rather than the 22nd. I had looked at his date and stamp in her passport but not actually thought about it. I could have easily make the 21 a 22 myself, but I hadn’t realized it was wrong. So we couldn’t go.