English-born expat novelist Parks (The Server, 2012, etc.) pokes affectionate fun at his fellow train travelers and surveys a rapidly changing Italian landscape.
Since 1981, the author has lived in Italy and supplemented his fiction with a series of charming memoirs about his experiences there, beginning with Italian Neighbors (1992). Here, he chronicles his adventures on the nation's rails, which became his preferred mode of travel while commuting from his home in Verona (his wife’s native turf) to his teaching job at the university in Milan. Train travel in Italy is the ultimate leveler, Parks finds, and it provides a microcosm of what is transpiring in the society as a whole since globalization has taken root. His observations mingle travelogue, history and memoir, spanning the years from 2005 to the present. During that period, parts of the main state railway, Trenitalia, were split off into private lines; regional routes were streamlined; faster trains were added to accommodate EU travelers; and reserved and class-oriented seating was introduced, along with some bewildering ticket machines. Anyone who has ever battled a provincial government functionary in Europe will be heartily amused by Parks’ anecdotes about the finer points of choosing the correct ticket from an officious clerk or getting a ticket validated with the requisite stamp. His renderings of the comical pronunciations featured in well-intentioned English public-address announcements are also funny. Parks divides the passengers into several categories: chatty; objectionable; resigned; long-suffering; pignolo, which means the stickler who obeys each rule to the letter; and (an inevitability in Italy) furbo, the sly one who tries to get around every rule. Our intrepid traveler evolves from being disoriented by the newly renovated Milano Centrale station to being capable of negotiating a trip all the way south to Otranto and back. His journeys renew his sense of being eternally an outsider in Italy, yet he also recognizes how warmly he has taken to his adopted country.
Enchanting travels with the good-natured Parks.