Usually I am a sucker for the internet. My routine consists of getting a coffee first thing in the morning and then plonking myself in front of the computer for an hour of perusings across a multitude of blogs, sites, podcasts, and cat youtube videos. But since arriving in Italy for my little holiday I have had a strange disinclination to look at anything at all. I am ignorant as to the happenings around the world for the last five days. The most I can tell you is that Meryl Streep’s visage is everywhere so I assume she has either died, said something stupid, or made good on her promise to move to Canada.
Well, I am enjoying my temporary state of ignorance. It’s nice not to know or care what is going on. Although I have the sneaking suspicion that this is how the vast majority of the world’s population operates on a daily basis. This is their normal, which makes my internet bleatings rather futile. We’re all yelling at each other in our small internet box. We’re convinced of our own brilliance and if only the powers-at-be would just wake the fuck up and listen to us then everything would be fine and we could all get on with our happy happy lives.
But here I am with an internet bleating anyway. Che ironia! Oh well, what can I do? It’s an addiction. I’m taking pills and receiving shots but nothing seems to work.
Italy has been interesting thus far. The good wife and I flew into Milan airport at Malpensa which now boasts a new train line linking it to the city’s central station. The train was new, fast, clean, and efficient. It whisked us into Milan Central which was fantastic as it means you no longer have to run the gamut of pickpockets outside the station entrance. The station too has had an extensive makeover. A great deal of money has obviously been spent. In the station itself there were scores of military personnel with simply enormous machine guns strapped diagonally across their chests. I’d never seen anything like it but times have changed in Europe it seems.
Then we got the train to Verona. Good god almighty, what has happened to Italy? There is a new train called the Freccia Rossa. It’s not just a new train but a whole separate train line as well. This wasn’t here three years ago when we last graced the Italians with our presence. I purchased tickets and the friendly and polite lady, (what happened to the scowling banshees who used to man the ticket booths?), underlined the carriage and seats assigned to us. I glanced at this with some surprise.
“Does anyone actually follow these?” I asked as I have a great deal of experience in how the Italian system operates. Assigning a seat number in Italy is about as effective as organising a street cleaner in Kampala.
“Of course,” she responded. “Everyone follows the system.”
I looked around in confusion. “Am I in Italy?” I said.
She laughed. “You are in the new Italy.”
The train was phenomenal. It hurtled across the Lombardy plain like Usain Bolt on a coke binge, and we arrived in Verona in 90 minutes, half the time that it previously took on the old train system. And sure enough we had our carriage and seats all assigned as did everyone else. Blimey.
In Verona I met some old Italian friends who took us on a wine marathon around various bars and restaurants. Dear god, the prices. Everything was a third of the price that we pay in Melbourne. The good wife talks about the rule of 100/50 in Australia. Everything costs you in multiples of $50 or $100. We walked around Verona and I was pleased to see that the commercial situation seemed to have improved in the last three years. But things are still grim with youth unemployment sitting at just under 40%. I wonder when those in charge will realise that perhaps they’re doing something wrong. When youth unemployment hits 70%? 90%? 105%?
I wouldn’t count on it. The Italians are old masters at sticking their collective heads in the sand. I exclaimed to my friends at the amazing improvements to the train system.
“Where on earth did Italy get the money to pay for it?” I said.
“From the EU,” came the reply. “They pay for everything but only if it is completed within a certain time frame.” My friend went on to regale me with a story of a similar rail system that had been proposed for Sicily. They had received 2 billion euros to build it but had fallen short of the time restraints.
“What happened then?” I asked.
“They took back the money. No rail system.”
I grinned. “So the Sicilians didn’t get to keep all the money?”
“No, they lost it and it was deducted from Italy’s overall budget. So we paid 2 billion euros for nothing. Italy pays more into the EU than it gets back in return. It is not a good system.”
“But you do have a nice new rail line up here,” I said.
“For now. Who knows what is happening with the EU.”
The next day we took a train up into the mountains to the Dolomites. Our hotel gave us a password for the internet. I fired up the computer and clicked lifelessly on a few sites but my heart wasn’t in it. It was late afternoon in the mountain village and the sky was already dark. The good wife and I donned our best clothes and headed out for the early evening walk around the square. What the Italians call the passagiata. Some braziers had been lit and we stood around one for warmth as we drank a glass of wine. People said good evening to us as we passed them in the street and we returned the greeting in kind. The computer sat forgotten in the hotel room. It felt good to be back.