Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Trenitalia: Staying away from the dining coach

“Buon giorno, signore e signori! Blah-ah di blah-ah e blah, che la blah di blah carozzo cinque blah-ah e blah aperto. Carozzo cinque. Prego, blah blah-ah-ah la blah, e Trenitalia blah di blah buon viaggio. Ladies and gentlemen, we wish to blah-ah-e blah to the blah e blah seating in coach-eh five. If you have a reservation, please blah-ah-a blah coach-eh five. And Trenitalia blah eh blah blah blah blah.”

“Did you catch that?” asks my Omnivore looking at me blankly.

“I think part of it was in English,” I reply a little dubiously, trying to replay the flat tones of the woman’s voice in my head again. Apparently train intercoms the world over are exactly alike—built expressly for the purpose of not informing. “I think it’s something to do with lunch in the dining car.”

“Oh,” he says, settling back and stuffing another slice of cinghiale salami in his mouth, which he washes down with a glug of Tocai. “Whatever.”

Another favorite memory of traveling through Europe as a poor student is the train picnics. Sure, you can travel the Orient Express and have your “real china and silverware” on tables with neatly pressed linen, but fact of the matter is, I don’t think you’re going to get much in the way of cuisine out of the dining car.

So before we head off to Santa Lucia station on our last morning in Venice, we hit the gastronomia that’s a few meters away from the albergo and enthusiastically point and repeat “Per favore, cento gramma,” at, um, a lot of stuff.

Un etto of cinghiale. The meat counter guy gives us a quick nod and starts slicing. Um, un etto of the norcia ham. Si. Un etto of the Montasio. Si, si. Um, un etto of the cheese—that one…si questa—something affumicato? Si, bene.

“Um, come si dice…” I point at the case as my Omnivore flips madly through “Say It in ITALIAN.”

The counter guy looks at me only a little bit like I’m a moron. “Oliv-ah.”

“Right. Olives. Grazie. Bunch of those.”


“Yes, si, definitely.”

I stuff our plastic bag of goodies into my “on the train” bag—which also has a few bamboo plates, a couple of plastic cups, a small knife and a corkscrew that I’ve been hauling around for just such an occasion—and we are good to go.

Sitting just behind us is a loud, rather jubilant family of eight or nine people—I gather, from Colorado and here in Italy to celebrate grandma and grandpa’s fiftieth anniversary. Mom announces that she’s packed a couple of sandwiches for them, and Dad pulls out a backpack filled with bottles of beer. But I can’t help noticing that they keep glancing over to our humble little lunch, with the same longing that I see in the eyes of people returning from coach five holding saran-wrapped plates of salad and prepackaged snack bags of chips.

“I love train travel,” mumbles my Omnivore downing another chunk of Montasio with some olive bread.

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