Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eurail to Bern

Before the train started out from the station in Milano, I took out The Life of St. Catherine. But I didn't know that we'd be speeding by the base of the Swiss Alps on our way to Bern, Switzerland. I was alone in my booth, and switched between the aisle and window seat, trying to see out both sides of the train at once. I pressed my cheek against the cool window to try to see the top of the green mountains. They were haloed in mist.

A few stops in, two men came and sat across from me. They wore beige polo shirts and brown fleece jackets, though the one on the right wore a hat, and the one on the left had a cross necklace. They nodded and smiled at me. I think they were related.

"English or Deutsche?" I asked, my hands in the air, signaling what I don't know.
They shook their heads. "Italiano, Français."

"Oh," I said, pointing at them. "Italiano?"
"Madagascar," they lifted their hands, too. "Um. . . business."

Security and customs came through the car thrice, each time asking for our papers. I felt like I was in a World War II film. The last time Sécurité checked our passports, they took a second look at the man with the cross. "Priest?"

He nodded.

"Priest?" I asked again, when Sécurité had moved on. The one on the left smiled and nodded. I wish they would just wear collars so you could tell these things.

Holding my book up with one hand, I pointed to the picture and title on the front.

The priest smiled.

"Santa Caterina," I said, looking upwards and patting one hand over my heart. Sometimes it really is pretty easy to communicate with just gestures. And nodding. Lots of nodding.

The priest and his friend (or brother?) got up to go to the cafe car. The man in the hat pointed in that direction and asked, "Caffè?"
I said no, grazie, but they brought me back a bottle of water anyway.

Soon the train came to Bern. I nodded, arrivederci, and hauled my twenty-pound backpack and fifty-pound suitcase to the entryway. Though not the largest city, Bern is the capital of Switzerland, so many people had to get off there. Soon there was a line of four or five people, complete with baggage, between me and my old seat. It wasn't until then that I remembered I'd bought a St. Catherine medal in Siena, and what would be cooler than to have it blessed on a train in Switzerland by a priest from Madagascar? The train was slowing, though, and the tiny medal was somewhere in my large bag. I decided I might look like an idiot, but nevertheless, I'd try.

There was just enough room to lay my bag down on the metal floor near the exit. I unzipped the zippers and rummaged through the souvenirs for a thin gift shop bag. Correction: for the thin gift shop bag. Luckily, I could feel the small bulge of the medal at the bottom of a bag of postcards. Nobody could take my bags anywhere with the hallways full of people, so I zipped it up again and squeezed my way back through the hallway to my seat.

"Scuza?" I said, leaning over their seat, still half in the entryway. The medal was in the palm of my hand and I smiled and held it out toward the priest. "Per favore?"

He raised his hand over it and made the sign of the cross.

"Grazie," I said. "Arrivederci."

Stepping around feet and over huge pieces of luggage, I made it back to my own bags and slipped the medal in a small pocket on the inside of my purse. Just a minute later, we pulled into the Bern station, and I tripped happily down the ramp, full of Italian stories to share with F, a family friend.

 All photos are mine. I'm pretty sure the last photos are of Interlaken (two connected lakes near Bern).


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