Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Art, Sea and a Train Strike

   Castiglioncello, a charming seaside resort, home to Tuscan Impressionist (Macchiaiolo) art patrons and artists during the second half of the 19th century, traditionally hosts a summer art show regarding the movement.  This year Elke and I were invited to a press conference on the Tommasi cousins, post-Macchiaioli painters who were strongly influenced
 and inspired by the style. 

       There happened to be a train strike on the day, Friday, July 22.  There was shuttle service to and from Castiglioncello for journalists but we wished to remain after the press lunch in order to spend a couple hours on the beach.

     The shuttle service was at the end of track 16 at Florence's Santa Maria Novella train station, so I arrived early to make inquiries about coming back on a train during the strike (sciopero).

      Unable to find the information office, I asked two Trenitalia conductors, immediately identifiable by their uniforms.  In a strong Roman accent, they admitted to being out-of-towners and unfamiliar with the local lay of the land.  The Roman train employees, however, were kind enough to share a secret (at least it was still a secret to me, even after 25 years in Italy).

      Certain trains are "guaranteed," they said, just look for the G on the official timetable listing.  I looked and they were right--but no guaranteed trains were stopping that day in Castiglioncello.

  I went to a newsstand where a tourist was perusing an official timetable, kindly lent by the kiosk's young employee.  After he finished, I asked to see it as well, and noticed there were a few "guaranteed" trains leaving in the early evening from Pisa and Livorno.  "We just have to find out how to get there from Castiglioncello," I thought.

The show in a neo-Gothic castle with park in Castiglioncello was beautiful (watch for a complete commentary to follow shortly in a separate post).

I went to a Castiglioncello newsstand, where I was told that there was bus service to Livorno and that we needed to buy tickets at the tabacchi (see Pino's Stamp).  There, I also purchased the fat train time table that I had flipped through in Florence for 2 euro, a bargain!  I noticed there was a guaranteed train leaving Livorno at 7:05 pm.  We were assured by the lady at the tabacchi that taking the 6:08 bus to Livorno would only take a half an hour, plenty of time.

Well, the bus took nearly 50 minutes and the final stop was Piazza Grande, not even the Station!  Elke and I ran towards a parked taxi, but the car was empty, where was the driver?  Luckily, Elke saw a # 2 bus with the final destination Stazione, and we jumped on it, arriving however at 7:10 at destination, just missing the guaranteed train.  Oh my God!

Outwardly calm, Elke went over to the station monitor where we saw many trains were either canceled or had more than an hour's delay BUT there was one guaranteed train to Florence departing a little after 8 pm.  So we went to get something to eat in one of Tuscany's darkest and most unattractive train stations--it resembled a relic of industrial archeology.  As we listened to annoucements of more train delays, the guaranteed train arriving from Piombino en route to Florence pulled into the station on time.  A miracle!

In the second column to the left, on the bottom, looking closely, a G in a box is visible.
Well, although we had stamped our tickets. of course no conductor came to check--they were all on strike too.  At every station, the train sat for an extra 5-10 minutes in protest, and I prayed that it would start moving again.  Photographer Elke and I were thankful to arrive in Florence four hours after departing Castiglioncello in what normally would have been a 2 hr. and 20 minute journey.  This was the first time I had ever ventured out during a train strike, it had gone relatively well and I learned something!
Look for the upcoming post on the Tommasi show.

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