Italy Landscapes: Scenes from a Train | See the mountains, lakes, hills and villages of Italy by train

Italy Landscapes
Scenes from a Train

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Having found myself on a train, yet again, heading for an unknown destination, I had prepared myself properly for the trip. Stored away in my back-pack lay a good book, my writing journal, a Walkman, and a really big snack. (I don't usually carry my Walkman to listen to music. I carry it so that I won't be disturbed while in mid-thought by my fellow passengers.) Train time, in my book, is a sacred time to prepare thoughts or mental notes, or just to catch up on my reading. I rarely stop to chat with my cabinmates, who usually feel the same way I do.

It was month four of my year-long adventure in Italy and I was in great need of a mental break from my friends, housemates, and most of all my studies. I had enrolled at the University of Bologna, ostensibly to finish my Bachelor's Degree in European History, but really as an excuse to travel and enjoy my senior year in a non-traditional way. Contrary to what I had hoped for, I was finding that my Italian life was just as crazy as my American life because wherever I go I take myself along for the ride.

On this particular trip northward I found myself, by chance, in an all-female cabin. There we were, six women, looking at each other, not knowing which languages any of the others spoke. Pretending to listen to music, I opened my diary. Life had become dramatic in the last week and I needed a good moment to write it all down. I was about a month away from my first final exam, and I was a little worried. The exam was to be done orally, all in Italian. I was not at all sure how well this would go over, since I could barely communicate with my friends and housemates. How would the professor respond to my ignorance not only of the Italian language but also of his subject? Between his thick Bolognese accent and my lack of language skills, I had barely understood a word of what he had said during lecture.

As preoccupied as I was, the women around me slowly began to interest me more than my fears. Listening quite closely, I came to realize that there were three different languages being spoken in the wagon: Italian, English, and Japanese.

I drifted back and forth between my notes, their words and my thoughts, when suddenly I was snapped back into the present by the view from the train. I was not alone. All six of us were taken aback by the stunning sight of a mountaintop, white-capped from the previous weeks' snowfall, peeking out from behind the gray storm clouds. One of the women said the mountain is named Monte Rosso and that it gained its name during an earthquake. While the ground was shaking all around, the light reflecting off of the mountain suddenly turned it red (Monte Rosso: Red Mountain). A beautiful story for a stunning sight, yet the truth of it is a matter for debate. No one I know has been able to verify it. The only Red Mountain they have heard of is in Cinque Terre.

Still, who is to say there couldn't be another? And what does it really matter, anyway? Are there any true stories told while traveling by train? As hours go by, stories are spun and fool's gold is created by the alchemy of mere words.

I continued to watch the scenery pass by and slowly found myself engrossed in conversation with the others. The beauty of the Italian land had led me to discard my disguise. As we came closer to the water of Lago Maggiore, the sky was sunny, without a trace of the previous weeks' rain. The sunlight reflecting off the water made the lake seem to be as large as an ocean. And there, in the middle, were little islands that could have been houses for a family or two of water lily fairies.

The other women and I were hypnotized by the surrounding beauty. While we watched the land pass by, we talked about Italy, life, and love. Eventually it was time for us to part, each woman getting off at her own particular stop. I was the last to go, left with my book, my journal, my snacks, and my Walkman, heading towards more pleasant surprises to come.

by Jacqueline Gomperts, Los Angeles

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