The 2pm train from Lecce to Milan leaves right on time, so on time that a woman who came onboard to say her final goodbye to a friend didn’t manage to get off before departure. Her face drops as she realizes she’s got to ride half an hour before she’ll have a chance to get off and get a train back to Lecce. Having done this before myself I watch with a mix of empathy and amusement.
Though it’s 9 ½ hours and about 1,000 kilometers to Milan and the only food you can buy onboard is the unappetizing fare that comes from a little cart that passes through the corridor every so often, I have come with nothing in the way of food or drink except for a large bottle of water. This is my idea of a forced diet following a bit too much eating in Salento during my planned one-week stay that morphed into double that.
More than six hours into the trip with us not far from Bologna the guy across the aisle, looks to be about 23, offers me a schiacciatina, which in Salento is a meatball of sorts only it’s slightly flattened to about the size of a 3rd generation iPod Mini, almost like a small hamburger (in much of the rest of Italy a schiacciatina is a flat cracker). He is wearing plaid shorts and a black tank top to go with his too-cool-for-school aura. His attractive wife has dark purple toenails and unpainted fingernails. I’m not sure I have ever noticed a woman who paints her toenails, but not fingernails.
Mr. Cool, who got on in Lecce with me, and I had exchanged just a few words when he asked to read my newspaper and then later asked if I would mind if he did the crossword puzzle. When I realized he didn’t have a pen I offered mine and then did a double take when I saw him pour over the many pages the newspaper had dedicated to the rebels capture of Tripoli. I did a second double take when I saw him hard at work on the puzzle because somebody with his getup normally doesn’t get much beyond the soccer-dominated sports pages.
I have known for ages that a schiacciatina must be hot to be good, but I accepted Mr. Cool’s offer. Such a nice and sincere offer could not go unheeded and I had in mind that scene in The Hunt for Red October where Alec Baldwin’s character accepts a cigarette from Sean Connery even though he doesn’t smoke, something about fitting in I guess. Soon after I accept a prosciutto, tomato and cheese sandwich and later a piece of breaded and fried veal.
“It’s eight hours to Parma, but my mother insists every time on packing three days worth of food,” Davide said as I reached across the aisle to accept the veal. He and his wife, he a mechanic and she a beautician, are from Leuca, the very very very very southeastern tip of Italy, the point of the heel.
“You could warm it up tomorrow,” I said in a bid to show I knew the food he was giving me was not destined for the trash can.
“The meat, perhaps, but not the sandwiches.”
He then insisted I take one of the tree cookies they had for dessert. It was a dreaded Ringo, I hate these things, but I accepted that too. Ringos are vaguely like an Oreo except one side is dark brown and the other cream colored. I once lived with a guy who lived on them and, perhaps not coincidentally, he always looked sickly and every year would fight a cough from late September until well into spring. Anyway, not my idea of a tasty cookie, but this one was terrific. And you know why?
To coin a phrase…it’s the experience stupid!