The first leg of the journey was only an indulgence of inexistent nostalgia, the commute to work of summer 2009 [when my comparative professional advantages were not utilized to increase GDP effectively at all], 2009 which I do not begin to wish to remember.
Once arrived in Arth-Goldau we boarded a train of considerable notoriety: the Cisalpino, one of those dastardly exponents of a technology which considers motion sickness an acceptable price for velocity, which is to say that the cars lean into the curve like bob sleds [minus the skeleton-rattling g-forces]. And yet, perversely, the train cannot on any account be considered fast but rather meanders up and down the Alps at a leisurely pace, reminiscent of the huge, black steam-engines of yore. Waltzing up into the Massif like a big Machine of War.
Meanwhile, as an informed traveler, having heard the rumors and read the articles, one anxiously awaits some technical SNAFU or other.
Not me, I irrationally believed in the resilience of the Cisalpino, its grey, alpine bulk that could. I found myself transfixed upon the boxy, fighter-jet-type seat under the spell of the landscape of the Canton Uri. Not even landscape but mythoscape: deathly ravines, jutting crags, forests dark enough to accommodate any demons, deep footsteps left by Hannibals elefants, grey, glinting mountain tops like the very teeth of the earth and bridges that crossed the valley’s steep Vs at angles from Hell. Everything bespoke unconscionable eons and the sublime.
My breath being taken by such sights they seemed to stretch on and rise until I would die by suffocation, my eyes bulging, moving out on their stems in a cartoon-like fashion, at the ever more rarefied vistas of Uri.
What I had been anticipating, truth be told, in my geographical ignorance, was the sudden and long-lasting black of the St. Gotthard Tunnel somewhere at the back of the alluvial valley plane that stretches away from that deep emerald called Lake Lucerne. But no, at the end of the plane came all of the above, a long, long rise and after that…
…when grizzled Göschenen, garbed in granite, finally rolled into sight, I rather looked forward to an intermezzo of bland black, oblivion… and breath. Italian already, un piccolo, insinuating itself into my language.
By the time we entered the subalpine tunnel or ear (Göschenen–Airolo) or rectum, my opposite number had fallen asleep deeply enough (perhaps feeling at home or put under by Patria’s siren call) for me to study his physiognomy more conscientiously: the character had the clichéd air of criminality about him OR he might have been hired as low-rank muscle in a C-G-movie, which, as everybody knows, is a C-movie about Gangsters. More precision is of the essence: Arms so burly they were criminally multifunctional [order the ranks, get rival cartel members to sing like nightingales, snap fingers, dig deep ditches, anything for this “thing of ours”]. I was unable to stop myself from glancing at him, sleeping comfortably ensconced in his own bulk, home safe, me trying to imagine what his life is like. Though I also knew it was much, mui, beaucoup likelier the man was just a seasonal worker, one of those millions of southern European human mules who helps construct and maintain the Swiss infrastructure. Somewhere in the vicinity of the Gotthard tunnel, exhausted by unknowable efforts, he had finally winked out and assumed the aspect that was most becoming of him: a gentle giant unable to hurt anybody [who didn’t really deserve it].
I further indulged my study of his massive physique, so much powerful looking flesh yet the shape of muscles was only hinted at. Strength, not power. His shirt’s ventral upper front was a deep V echoing Uri’s ravines, where curly, lush chest-hair was overgrowing his sun-toasted torso; a torso so voluminous images of oil-drums came to mind unbidden. Very interesting this guy, let me tell you. In the open overhead compartment he stowed his baggage: a black, medium-sized designer purse a clepto-supermodel walking by [we were after all headed to Milano; Pro Anorexic femmes fatales are, after all, plagued by anti-social antics], such a model would have snatched up without batting her mascara-caked eyelids. The handbag gave my imagination more license to run wild and it happily obliged.