My train journeys from Bologna to Florence and back are normally peaceful enough. I usually get the slow treno regionale from Bologna Mazzini station, a short walk from where we live, to Firenze S.M.N. station. The slow train stops all along the way and you have to change at Prato Centrale. The only occasional excitement, apart from the odd fare dodger arguing with the inspector, is when the train is late arriving at Prato Centrale, leaving only about two minutes to change platforms for the Florence-bound train. Everyone, including barely mobile grandmothers and those reliant on crutches, goes like the clappers down one long flight of stairs and up another, to make it to the connecting train. It simply doesn’t wait, not even for lovely Italian grannies. Some people even flagrantly disobey the signs indicating that it is strictly forbidden to cross the tracks, and quickly pick their steps over the gravel and rails. But apart from that occasional adrenaline rush, nothing noteworthy happens on my commute. That was until the inconsiderate train passenger entered my world.
I actually don’t mind people making noise on trains, within reason. I quite enjoy listening to other people’s conversations, especially in Italian, because I can learn a lot. And if it’s a nice conversation I don’t even mind how loud it might get. One thing that I cannot abide is when someone enters a train carriage listening to their awful, loud, tinny, dance music without headphones. Especially when everyone else is clearly engaged in tranquil activities like reading, snoozing or just being a decent human being. A number of things go through my head whenever these brouhaha bandits appear. Firstly, has the cost of headphones risen faster than the cost of a bad haircut? Secondly, is he actually convinced that his choice of aural entertainment is so good that it will transcend all barriers, rendering the elderly man, and the heavily pregnant mother of the sleeping toddler, incapable of anything else but getting down with the ‘sick’ track he’s so generously educating them with? Thirdly, does he look like he might stab me if I give him a piece of my mind? I then usually ruminate on all the ways one might deal with such a situation, but a suitable reaction only surfaces hours later, and is forgotten by the time the next opportunity presents itself. Not this time.
As other people who had been enjoying the quiet, darted withering stares in the direction of the noise, and exclamations of ‘O mio Dio! Che musica!’ began to proliferate, I found myself rereading the same paragraph repeatedly in an attempt to get back into my book. The man sitting across from me gave up trying to read, gathered up his books and papers in a haphazard way, and with a loud sigh he moved to the next carriage. I decided to dig my heels in. This was MY quiet train carriage and it would be so again. From what I have experienced of Italians so far, they seem to be very much in favour of prosocial behaviour, and I was pretty convinced that they would protect me if necessary. I didn’t want to confront the tranquility thief directly, but I did want to demonstrate how unreasonable his behaviour was. So… I started to read aloud from my book with great volume and enthusiasm. If he was going to share his choice of entertainment with the whole train carriage, he would have to concede that it was only fair if I did the same. In addition, I reckoned such behaviour would give me the appearance of a slightly unhinged foreigner, making it less likely that he’d want to get all up in my face.
I was reading La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales, which is an interesting book about the roots and development of the Italian language and culture. I read about a page and a half aloud on the literary works of Machiavelli for the benefit of the electronica evangelist, when the music volume decreased and then stopped. SUCH BLISS!!! Smiles radiated from the other passengers. Calm was restored and I flicked back to the start of the page and a half I had just read like a hammed up Broadway wannabe, and reread it to myself. The rest of the journey passed peacefully. Upon arrival at Prato Centrale a man stepped forward and opened the sliding carriage door for me, ushering me through with a dramatic flourish. We all waited at the side door for the train to come to a stop, while DJ iPhone belatedly joined us with less of a swagger than when he initially boarded the train. Perhaps he’s enthralled by the works of Machiavelli now, and will be found reading books on train journeys from this day forth. Or maybe he’ll just buy some headphones.