Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo

Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo

Tim Parks

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0393348822

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“So inviting you might find yourself tempted to give the experience a whirl and ride the Italian trains yourself, book in hand.”—Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review

Tim Parks’s books on Italy have been hailed as "so vivid, so packed with delectable details, [they] serve as a more than decent substitute for the real thing" (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, in his first Italian travelogue in a decade, he delivers a charming and funny portrait of Italian ways by riding its trains from Verona to Milan, Rome to Palermo, and right down to the heel of Italy.

Parks begins as any traveler might: "A train is a train is a train, isn’t it?" But soon he turns his novelist’s eye to the details, and as he journeys through majestic Milano Centrale station or on the newest high-speed rail line, he delivers a uniquely insightful portrait of Italy. Through memorable encounters with ordinary Italians—conductors and ticket collectors, priests and prostitutes, scholars and lovers, gypsies and immigrants—Parks captures what makes Italian life distinctive: an obsession with speed but an acceptance of slower, older ways; a blind eye toward brutal architecture amid grand monuments; and an undying love of a good argument and the perfect cappuccino.

Italian Ways also explores how trains helped build Italy and how their development reflects Italians’ sense of themselves from Garibaldi to Mussolini to Berlusconi and beyond. Most of all, Italian Ways is an entertaining attempt to capture the essence of modern Italy. As Parks writes, "To see the country by train is to consider the crux of the essential Italian dilemma: Is Italy part of the modern world, or not?"

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No one can find space for their bags. Worse still, everybody is talking. Everybody seems to know each other. This is something I have never observed in England. There, on a commuter train, most of the passengers are shut away in themselves, in a newspaper, a book, or trying to prolong the dreams of an hour before. There’s a pleasant melancholy to the journey. But not on the Interregionale to Milan. These dead are alive, which is so much more disconcerting. Either the travelers are neighbors in

Brindisi in just forty-seven hours. Italy thus began to attract trade to its ports that had hitherto gone through southern France. But 177 workers died building the Moncenisio. And more than 600 died of lung diseases after working on the nine-mile-long San Gottardo tunnel, completed in 1882. The longest Alpine tunnel was the Sempione; at twelve miles and five hundred yards it would be the longest tunnel in the world until 1979, when the Japanese went a mile longer. So whatever one says about

not. Here was a man insisting he have his tickets not just seen but also punched. While he was fussing in his pockets and the inspector watched him, bemused, the young man sitting next to me put aside his laptop, stood, grabbed the first of the two green bags, and with no apparent effort, swung it up onto the rack. The man glared at him but was now worried that he had lost his ticket. “Grazie,” the wife found her voice. Then she said, “Perhaps they’re in my handbag.” They were. The inspector

small band was grinding out old covers, cheerfully enough. I swam a little way out to get a good view of the esplanade and rolled over on my back. The water is so calm in this part of the world that you can just float and breathe. I must say I felt immensely pleased with myself, pleased to have made it here, pleased that my Sicilian friends were as wrong about Crotone as they had been about the trains, pleased that in general the southerners were turning out to be far less threatening than I had

Colonna, where the grand temple to Hera, Zeus’s wife, had been built. Perhaps my country stretched into the past, too, I thought. In this bay, right where I was swimming, in the times of Magna Grecia, there would have been scores of ships at anchor. That was how the Greeks conquered and traded, exactly as the British did two thousand and more years later, moving arms and resources great distances by sea. Now there were just a few fishing boats and the sound of the band grinding out “Fernando.” I

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