At Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station, platform 17 is the furthermost track from the station entrance, and the most elusive. Lacking directions, indicators of any kind, binario diciassette is regularly witness to scenes of near-hysteria. Mornings, newcomers to platform 17 look perplexed, wondering if they’ve arrived in Florence or instead some mysterious wasteland. Later in the day, red-faced travelers are often seen running down the platform, arms flailing desperately, cursing at railroad personnel. All the while we ‘in-the-know’ commuters look on smugly and with just a touch of Schadenfreude. From platform 17 trains depart for the linea Faentina, to the principle destinations Borgo San Lorenzo and Faenza–and that’s about it. In other words, only those of us commuting from these towns understand truly the nightmare, the circus-like spectacle that is ‘the seventeen.’ I do not exaggerate.
By the way, for Italians the number 17 is bad luck.
For a while now I’ve been thinking about documenting my mostly typical yet occasionally remarkable life here, in particular with regard to what is, I admit, an otherwise pretty boring topic. Who wants to read about someone’s commute? Yet commuting every day—to frenetic Florence each morning and back to sleepy Grezzano every night—has brought moments of such frustration and hilarity that often, come bedtime, I find myself thinking ‘I should have written that down’ or ‘I wish I’d taken a picture of that.’
I think of Platform 17 as the thematic impulse driving an urge to write about Italy, as the figurative platform from which I hope to launch and explore several aspects of my life abroad (clever, I know). If that fails, in the very least it will do me good to vent, and in the process perhaps reveal another side to this at once gorgeous and turbulent country.
So here goes. Il treno è in arrivo al binario diciassette. In ritardo, naturalmente…