Posted by: 4initalia | March 26, 2009

Keeping Track

Every Monday in Modena, there is an open-air market. The first time I tried to go there, I was too bewildered by the tiny winding streets to trust that I’d ever get out again. And I could take the bus, but I am suspicuous of the entire “this bus has a specific route and stops only at these stops” theory. I have the same problem with trains and subways.

I may be alone in this, but I don’t believe that subway trains always go where the map says they go. For example, in London the subway is called the Underground. Since the trains are underground, it’s difficult for them to escape, and go somewhere other than the holes that have been dug for them, but it could happen. There are different lines, and theoretically, the London Circle Line stops only at the places designated on the map on the wall of the subway train. You can tell the train authorities take this route nonsense seriously because the route map is permanently painted onto the enamel wall of the subway car, and the different routes are painted in different colors, like yellow, green and blue. Or that’s what they want you to think.

Sure, that’s what the map says, but every subway train has a driver, whose only job is to steer the train around the little track all day. How do you know how the driver is feeling about that? I leave open the possibility the driver could decide that if he takes one more run through the Yellow Line stops of Binghampton on Pickle, Pinkington on Poppinshire, and Chopmutton on Rye, he’s going to lose it completely. How can you spend day after day, underground, stopping at places that make you giggle if you say them out loud?

I personally balk at routine, and so I think the driver could tire of the monotony, and spontaneously switch to a different track, from say, the Yellow to the Blue Line. Or maybe he could dodge and weave and combine the Yellow and Blue lines, into a very confusing Green Line. Or he could mix several routes, which would result in an unpredictable and unattractive Grayish Brown Line. It could happen, and then where would you be? You would have no idea, because you put your faith in an enameled map. I’m not that gullible.

Perhaps the difficulty at the heart of our marriage is that Andy studies transportation logistics and planning. Transportation experts have a confidence in train propoganda that is positively Orwellian. “Of course this train stops in Modena – that’s what it says on the train schedule. And on the map. And on the board in the station. And on the electronic screen beside the track.” Talk about drinking the Kool Aid. So he studies the maps and the timetables and buys tickets, and we end up where we intended, or maybe he’s just pretending that that’s where he intended us to go; he knows I won’t check.

Because I don’t believe in all this planning. If the train people were so good at planning, why do you always have to walk down stairs to get to the track? And then back up again on the other side? If transportation experts were all that good at planning, they’d know I have waay to much in my suitcase to carry it up and down steps.

So I don’t believe in the whole “you can’t get lost because they’re experts and they tell you where the train stops” thing. Besides, I subscribe to the Willie Wonka theory of transportation management: if you push a button on the elevator, it could go up, down, sideways, diagonally, or straight through the roof. How do I know that subway trains can’t poke new tunnels if the driver is bored with the old ones? I do not rely on the sanity of strangers holding steering wheels. Where do you think the phrase “driving me crazy” came from?

Funny, Andy uses it a lot.

So even in little Modena, I’m not falling for the “it’s easier to take the bus” theory. A bus driver has a lot more leeway than even subway drivers. Bus drivers can do wheelies, donuts, blow this town and head for Crespellano. In this space I may have made certain unkind remarks about Crespellanians failing to forward my FedEx package. So a one-way ticket to Crespellano could require help from the American Embassy in Florence, and they haven’t even answered my last email. The bus is not a good option for me.

But I do have a Plan B, for those transportation logistics planners who believe in that kind of thing. If I get lost on foot, I always have the option of sitting down, tucking myself into a fetal position, and sobbing quietly until I figure out what to do. So walking, rather than taking a bus to the market is my best option.

And besides, walking is the whole point of Italy. When you walk, you glide past sidewalk cafes where deep and rich Italian syllables bubble up like acqua minerale from a shaded spring. Look up and there are dark eyes, mahogany curls, and the plane of a cheek that should be carved in marble and resting in the sun of an afternoon museum. Look down and see shoes, cleverly functional like a well-designed building, of soft and radiant leather.

And you see black. Black cashmere, wool, silk. Black here is not listless and sad, it’s precise, definitive, intriguing. The shade is so deep that it crisply excludes itself from everything around it. Here is the sharp blue sky, here is the gray speckled sidewalk, and here is the black coat that moves so elegantly past every lesser thing. In every part of my life I crave color, but on the streets of Modena I luxuriate in black.

Through mud-specked bus windows, black here looks like black everywhere else.

So I walk to the market. And with every step, I arrive at my destination.

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