Monday, July 19, 2010

Milano Centrale Train Station

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I recently tried to fly to Madrid on EasyJet Airline to meet my brother Paul for a few days before returning to America. However, after taking the train to Milano, Italia, from Firenze, and then the bus from the train stazione to the Malpensa airport, I learned that the flight had been canceled shortly before I arrived.

The man behind the counter told me that it was a staffing problem and that it was not uncommon to have the later flights canceled because early flights had been delayed. The delays meant that the crew would not work after a certain point, I guess. This was especially true on a Saturday night. A Spanish traveler told me that he discovered that there was currently a strike by air-traffic controllers in Spain after the government cut their pay by 80%. That changed all the dynamics for my trip.

EasyJet arranged for all of us now-stranded clients to stay in a hotel with a simple dinner and a nice breakfast buffet. I was told to find an Internet connection at the hotel and decide whether I wanted to reschedule or get a refund. Some of my fellow travelers were re-booked to Spain – the following Tuesday (tomorrow). After a long night of researching my options, I decided to head back to home (Firenze) and try another day.

Unfortunately, I ended up needing to wait over five hours in the train station in Milano. The day was hot, as was my tolerance for spending more money than I had already wasted on travel to and from the airport, which I knew would never be reimbursed. Milano Centrale is actually one of the more attractive train stations that I have seen and I was happy that I had packed a small set of pastels and paper in my small suitcase.

So, instead of exploring Milano, I decided to stay put and just wait. After a nap on a marble bench, I took out my drawing supplies and began a couple of sketches. There was an interesting clock on opposing walls with bas-relief sculptures of the zodiac signs. I have been fascinated with fantastical creatures all of my life and began to draw one whose shape appealed to me.

Here is the view from where I sat. The relief of Capricorn is in the center of the image, just to the right of the light posts. Sure, it was far off, but I was not worried about making a masterpiece, I just wanted to amuse myself and maybe learn something.

Always there are men lurking around the stations, waiting to chat you up. One of them began speaking to me cautiously and then more boldly. His name was Mohamed and he was from Egypt. Like always, these guys always start with the small talk – where are you from, where do you live now, what is your name, when is your train and which one? I only answer what I feel like at that moment, and as vaguely as possible.

During the course of my sketching, a policeman approached and gave me compliments on my drawing. I was not sure if he was just personally curious about what I was doing, or if he wondered if I was OK with Mohamed hanging around. If the latter, he never mentioned it.

Mohamed eventually picked up a brown pastel and then I offered him some paper. At first he was shy, but I insisted that he try it. Then I asked for his permission to take and post the photo that you see here. Afterwards, he asked if he could take my foto.

At some point later on, Mohamed got bored and said his goodbyes. He was quite polite. I finished up my little sepia sketch before starting another. And then it was time to board the train again.