On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo
Tim Parks, author of Italian Ways, ruminates on why train stations are the ideal scenario for greetings and farewells.
The Romance of Train Stations “If the whole of railway technology, the whole cultural and architectural heritage that is the Italian rail station, had been designed on purpose to maximize the emotional drama of return from afar, it could not have been done better.
In every aspect of Italian life, one of the key characteristics to get to grips with is that this is a nation at ease with the distance between ideal and real. They are beyond what we call hypocrisy. Quite simply they do not register the contradiction between rhetoric and behavior. It’s an enviable mind-set.
Italian Ways is unmistakably an expression of love for his adopted country and its people. The close confinement of the train compartment becomes a metaphor for a society, in all the ways it does and does not work. It also explores how trains helped build Italy and how their development reflects Italians’ sense of themselves from Garibaldi to Mussolini to Berlusconi and beyond.
Most of all, Italian Ways is an entertaining attempt to capture the essence of modern Italy. As Parks writes, “To see the country by train is to consider the crux of the essential Italian dilemma: Is Italy part of the modern world, or not?”
Tim Parks’s Website