I took the train from Alba to Florence to begin my adventure in Tuscany. I was still battling a bit of jet lag and restless nights, often not sleeping at all. So I was already in a surreal state. But traveling, especially to foreign countries, is already a kind of surreal state. New sensations, different sensory reactions, exaggerated feelings, and a new language stimulates an unfamilar anxiety. Those changes, plus time differences, train schedules, new foods, late meals and strange beds make for stress that envelopes one in a state of hyper-sensitivity. I tried to maintain as much as a routine as possible, but going gluten-free or getting enough rest just wasn’t going to happen.
I ate a lot of pizza.
I had to take anti-anxiety pills to help me relax enough to sleep.
I started smoking, again. It made me feel, well, a little more European, and helped pass the hours or minutes between trains and meals.
The arrival in Florence shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I was to leave the station and take a bus to the airport to pick up my rental car. For the first time in my foreign affairs, I was going to drive, by myself, through a country that has cameras to record speeding violations, and signs I didn’t quite understand. (Is that sign for no parking, or does it mean “one way?” I think, by the end, I had it figured out.) My level of anxiety was pretty high. I tend to have what I call “potential anxiety,” I start thinking of the worst before it actually happens. And it was raining. And it was getting dark.
Have I mentioned, too, that my luggage was kind of clumsy and weighed a lot. My back and body were a little tired. Next time I am packing like a man.
I was leaving the station when I saw the ambulance lights and the fire truck. In the lobby of Maria Novella, a man was receiving CPR. I was there, walking by, when they strapped the defibrillator on his chest and started the series of shocks to restore his heart beat. I don’t know if they were successful. I had a bus to catch. What a strange experience to see a waiting area full of people watching a man probably die before them. Strange, too, to walk on by. What a metaphor for the train station itself. His death (I assume) took place in the crush of arrivals and departures, the waiting, the rush to buy a ticket and find the right platform, not having enough Euro to use the bathroom because you used your last change to buy a cappuccino, farewells exchanged and time now gone. How many people had a train to catch, that could not even pause to observe the situation? Or worse, those passengers between stations who stayed and watched as his life slipped away in front of them like some form of entertainment.
I thought about this for a long time, wondering if he made it or not. But I couldn’t think about it for long. I had to drive to Rufina in the dark in the rain in a Fiat 500 stick-shift transmission. That stress took over. Thank God, I had a TomTom to help me navigate the way. But still I was lost. In the Barni Bar, a little roadside bar during apperitivo, I had to stop for directions to the winery. Using universal hand gestures, some Spanish I thought the Italians might understand, and finding someone with a mobile phone that had Google, I was finally able to find my destination. But that’s when an Italian gentleman stepped in. Knowing enough English to understand where I was going, he didn’t hestitate to call the winery’s restaurant to relay my arrival, but then he led me all the way to the front door. My first Italian superhero, gentleman, was named Andrea. He saved me.
There was wine waiting, a fireplace, hot water, wifi, all the comforts I needed for the next few days. This is how I came to Colognole.