Two Tales

The first is a joke:

A man is splashing around in a lake, in a park in Rome. A policeman wanders over and shouts out to the man, "Bathing in the park's lakes is forbidden!"

The man yells back, "I'm not bathing! I am drowning!"

The policeman responds, "Oh, very well: carry on then."

The second really happened:

When I arrived in Siena, I forgot my bag on the luggage rack above my seat. ("Out of sight, out of mind," is an expression that could have been written after someone saw the relationship of me to my possessions.) By the time I had realized this, the train had pulled out of the station. What to do?

I found the ticket window, and explained to the man behind it what had happened. He made a phone call and told me to wait. After five minutes someone rang him back. When he hung up that call, he asked me to meet him on the platform.

Once there, in Italian, he gave me a somewhat lengthy set of instructions for getting my bag back. I thought I understood him, but after I executed the first step, I found myself facing a sign that absolutely forbid me to proceed further, and with good cause: what was further was a narrow dirt path running between a concrete wall and the train tracks. Thinking I must have misunderstood, I backtracked and looked for another route towards the bridge where I was to pick up my bag. But the ticket agent caught me, and led me back, past the "No entry" sign, along the side of the tracks. Soon, on the far side of the six tracks, a man emerged with my suitcase. The ticket agent started crossing to meet him, but then stopped, turned to me, and casually recommended I step back a bit. I did so.

"No, a little more." (I translate.)

I obeyed. And as I did so, a train coming from the other direction from the ticket agent passed by me, about two feet away.

What is the point of these tales? Well, it has to do with culture, but further discussion will have to wait for a future post.


  1. Anonymous10:04 AM

    I am confused. Are you saying that the "authority" in the matter gave you fair warning and then afterward basically determined, "well, it's on you now"?

  2. Wow. Someone who knew a bit less Italian would be totally screwed (and possibly dead).

    Please tell me that the guy asking you to stand back used hand gestures or an urgent tone to convey his message.

  3. Well, Marris, he did use a hand gesture, but he was totally casual about the whole thing. Which will lead to the follow-up post.

  4. Marris, due to your question, I added "casually" to the post.

  5. If I read you correctly, Joseph, yes. And remember that he first sent me into the forbidden area, right alongside the tracks, all on my own!

    If I *had* been killed out there, I am certain both railroad employees would have testified that they had no clue why the crazy foreigner wandered into the area so clearly designated as forbidden.

  6. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Yes, we're definitely on the same page.

    What I am more curious about is what your explanation or opinion is for this particular observation of yours. I am sure that your mind is a churning upon it already, and trying to make substance out of the ether.

    I'll be looking out for that "future post", for sure.

  7. "In the shuffling madness
    Of the locomotive breath,
    Runs Gene Callahan,
    Headlong almost to his death."

    Wow, shocking story. I agree this sounds very much like the Italian mentality.

    Just for those who don't know that classic. That's Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" lyrics a bit changed. (This has nothing to do with the real meaning of the song, so please don't draw any false conclusions from the original lyrics. ;)


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