In Italy, there’s no such thing as truancy. If someone or something’s late it’s only because your expectations were too high.
On our last day, we had expected to get a bus from Praiano to Positano at 10:45 a.m., but it didn’t roll up until almost 11:30 a.m. Our plan had been to meet my sister and her husband for a little while before taking the next bus to Sorrento, but now we were so late, all we had time to do with them was walk down the hill to the bus stop. The bus there was scheduled to arrive at 12:30 p.m., and we got there with about ten minutes to spare. We waited. My sister and her husband waited with us. They had planned to see us off, but a half hour later, when the bus still hadn’t arrived, I told them not to worry about it. No need to waste their precious honeymoon time sitting at a bus stop. We said our goodbyes, and about fifteen minutes later our bus came tooling up. We got in, sat down. I noticed the digital clock next to the driver. It said it was 4:32 p.m. when it really was only 1:05 p.m. It was the second bus I’d been on on that trip that had a clock that was several hours off. There was something to be said for that attitude toward time. It was, after all, a human construct, and therefore open to interpretation. But we had a plane to catch, and a train to catch in order to catch the plane. The train was scheduled to leave Sorrento for Naples at 1:45 p.m. and there was no way we’d make that one now. We’d have to catch the next one which was scheduled to depart at 2:25 p.m.
Well, we arrived with plenty of time to spare for that one, but after boarding, the train just sat there in idle, brooding. It didn’t pull out of the station until close to 3 p.m. and by then we were seriously up tight about missing our flight, which was scheduled to depart from Naples at 5:15.
It was an old beast. A slow-moving beast. A crowded and airless and boiling hot beast, especially when it veered a little and the sun came through windows, pouring onto us.
It was a train straight out of Dante’s Inferno.
And every time it stopped at a station, there seemed to be a long delay, and you wondered if it was ever going to start up and get going again.
Then you’d hear a hum and a din and a roar. Then you’d hear the beep and the doors would close. Then there’d be another delay and you’d sit there with the sun burning the side of your face, your legs sweating on the leathery seat, your ears attuned to the incessant babble of Italian voices, your nose catching the occasional whiff of the buzzard in front of you, vapors rising off his skull.
It was 4:15 p.m. when we arrived at central station in Naples. We pushed through the crowds, made it outside and flagged down a cab. Our only chance to make our plane was to take a cab to the airport. We slid into the backseat and off we went, darting through the insane Neapolitan rush hour traffic, no one abiding to any law.
He turned around in his seat and started talking to us, gesticulating with both hands as he blew casually through red lights, dodged around corners and cut people off, missing them by mere fractions.
In Naples, it seems almost every car has a scrape or a dent or a ding on it. Some cars are riddled with them. His cab had a long scrape down the left side and the front bumper was partially crushed. Nevertheless, this modern-day Pulcinella got us to the airport without incident, a few minutes before our plane was scheduled to board. But that, of course, was before the delay.
The plane was apparently on Italian time too.