A train cinches a mountain’s waist, rusty brown wrapping around summer green, rhythms soothing in their rickety uncalm. Sunlight through transparent leaves, the train inching its way toward its destination. I yet again failed to look at the arrival time when choosing my train and have wound up taking the über-local, cutting through small peasant towns that I have never heard of. I am the only foreigner on the train, the rest of them having chosen a more express route to Napoli through Roma Termini. Smoke lingers just above my bench-style seat, in sight of the sign that reads ‘Vietato Fumare’. I wave it away, back towards the soldier it belongs to, as my walkman starts to jam. The batteries must be dying – it’s playing a U2 verse too slowly, Bono’s falsetto lowered to an eerie and monstrous tone. After some fumbling, I give up, putting away the headphones and sliding open the window to alleviate the stifling heat. The train curves through vines of what look like yellow wisteria blossoms, the scent coming in reminding me distantly of Virginia honeysuckle.
When the four-car train stops, our car gains two passengers: a modestly dressed middle-aged woman and an elderly nun in a grey habit. The younger woman heads immediately to the window, shutting it forcefully, muttering something in a heavy dialetto about how the draft will make us all sick. I long to disagree, but am already too familiar with this cultural difference (having slept in the un air-conditioned apartments of friends where all of the blinds and windows are kept closed, even at night). I sigh, pulling out my train itinerary to fan myself. It does nothing, and I remain drenched in sweat.
The nun speaks to me in a very formal Italian, asks where I am from and where I am headed. She says that she is very impressed that I am travelling around Italy by myself, that I am comfortable travelling alone. Unlike other Italians from small towns that I have met, she does not seem to judge me for it, for being a woman alone in a foreign country. She is full of curiosity about America and my impressions of Italy. Like many other Italians I have met, she displays surprise and delight that a foreigner would be at all interested in learning Italian. The beauty of the language must escape those who were born into it.
The train pulls to a stop in a small mountain town, and the nun thanks me for the conversation as she gets up to leave. She wishes me well on my journey, and I express the same to her. As she pulls open the car door and nods to me with a warm smile, a welcome breeze floods the train. I watch her walk slowly along the platform until she reaches a small group of her sisters, and I watch them grasp hands as the train pulls away. Letting the slow rhythm of the train soothe me, I fall asleep to the soft green curves of mountains, the Italian language weaving itself into my dreams.