Eric Newby wrote, “No one really likes to travel by train.” Ordinarily I would disagree with him wholeheartedly, but the local train from Gravelone to Milan one August, Sunday morning was an adventure for some of the passengers on board that they would have rather gone without. As the train pulled into the station I took the huge step from platform to train. And I mean huge; the gap must have been some six inches from platform and a good nine inches up. Considering the average height of the older generations of Italians this presented some difficulty and grandmothers were unceremoniously shoved on board. To add to the difficulties the doors were heavy, making opening and closing them a Herculean task. I was on the old rolling stock this time, the bonus being larger seats.
White and silver shards danced upon the waters as we rounded the edge of Lago Maggiore. The train stopped at every station along the way to Milan. A middle-aged woman had risen in good time for her stop and stood by the door with her suitcase and two large laundry bags ready to disembark. The train clunked to a halt and she tried valiantly to open the door. A gallant man sprung to her aid but the door remained resolutely shut and the train pulled out of the station. First, entreaties were made to the station guard through the windows, but he made no attempt to halt the train; obscenities then stormed back at him as the train picked up speed and the platform slid from view. The lady whipped out her mobile and shouted her tale to the unseen recipient of the call. She moved to the other end of the carriage and waited. As the train jolted to a stop she threw herself bodily at the door which was not stuck as fast as the other. Holding onto the handle she swung out onto the platform and executed a perfect landing. Grabbing her luggage, she threw it onto the platform, fearful that at any moment the train would move away. As we pulled out of the station I watched her harangue the station master; his Mediterranean shrug of indifference had no effect on her as she continued to gesticulate in his face.
The next station was no less exciting. This time an elderly lady attempted to leave the train at her scheduled stop. She managed the not inconsiderable drop from train to platform but her bag did not. The door swung shut trapping the bag inside; its straps were still around the lady’s shoulders. She started to scream. Three men leapt to her assistance and between them they managed to open the door and release the bag before the train got under steam. She was thankful to her helpers, then bore down on the station master who had stood idly by. I would warrant he did not get away very easily.
I thanked my lucky stars that I would be leaving the train at its terminus, and should be able to make a relatively dignified exit.