24 June 2013
In Florence, the bus tour didn’t last the hour. It sped around a shorter, darkening route, minus Santa Croce, but at least it was over before the deluge. The omission of Santa Croce was due to the Calcio storico annual free-for-all, which the impending thunderstorm would inevitably postpone.
As we disembarked, my father asked for chips, having developed a taste for the McDonalds variety in his eighties. The rain started during a shared quarter-pounder meal beside Santa Maria Novella, where I took the burger. At the table my mother rustled in her bag and produced a baby Bacardi and put it into the Coke. Then she revealed he had expressed to her a wish to see the Duomo.
Outside, the rain was getting heavier by the minute. She rustled in her bag again. They donned plastic macs and I got the umbrella, which was broken. A few hundred yards away, the piazza was by then a pond, ankle-deep under thunder and lightning. The authorities had shut the door of the Duomo. I told my father to go back to the door of the Baptistery, where she had ducked into the doorway. A young man there with a clipboard told her she couldn’t stay because there was a christening on but then he let her be after she used the one phrase of the English-speaking nations that is understood by all others.
By the time we made it back to the station the elements had eased off. At first I couldn’t find a ticket validating machine on our platform. I asked two inspectors talking at the far end. One of them just waved me away with words that included “schermo” and “binario” but where was the schermo on the binario? That was what I wanted to know.
It turned out to be half-concealed at the entrance to the platform but then a delay invalidated the urgency. On the train I asked a glamorous, dark young woman across the aisle to make doubly sure it really was the one for Viareggio. When she learned we were Irish and I was the minder, for their fiftieth anniversary, she looked at my wet father and said something that made him say, “Eh, she doesn’t like me”, but she’d only said that she thought he looked a bit Italian.
The inspector with the wave showed up with his Germanic eyes and his short beard, a spaghetti western type, a dodgy Franco Nero or Gian Maria Volonte. His first move in the carriage was to eject an African hawker (“Scende da quà”). After punching our tickets he gave a sinister smile and politely said “Grazie” but then my mother told me to ask him if there was a toilet because she was feeling a bit sick. He only grasped why I was asking when I explained it was for my mother. Then he indicated a choice, front and back. I didn’t say anything to either about drinking in McDonalds.