Date: 3 May 2016
Location: Seat 4D (forward facing, window seat) of a Trenitalia train from Napoli to Torino smugly munching on — this is relevant — a breakfast roll and speeding north through Italy at 297km/h.
At some stage I should look long and hard at my priorities. This morning I was faced with a telling choice.
The facts first.
I'm staying at Hotel Piazza Bellini. It's a cute and new little mid market place on the fringe of old town Napoli. The neighbourhood is a little alarming but the hotel itself is all a bit trendy, with big white walls, succulents everywhere and way hip staff in round glasses (yeah, all of them).
Breakfast at the hotel starts at 7.30. Still smarting from my 6am wake up call yesterday and my rushing, breakfast-free day, I'm excited.
Then I remember that I've booked an early train. I pull out my ticket: 8.05am, Napoli to Florence. Curses. Foiled again.
Ideally, my paranoid, organised self ('paragonised' ought to be recognised as a word, the fact that it contains the word 'agonised' is simply too perfect) would like to be at the station — at least a 15 minute taxi/30 minute metro trip away — by 7.35.
Remember also that traffic in Napoli is notoriously awful.
My hungry greedy demon self wants to have a Neapolitan breakfast. (Everything I've eaten in Napoli since I arrived yesterday afternoon has been delicious. Their local delicacies seem to be mozzarella, pizza, clams and fried everything. This is my tastebuds' Mecca, their Disneyland. The tastiest morsels of my short gourmand roll about town were the little bites last night's waiter at 'A Lucianella handed me as 'a gift'. He explained it as 'pasta and seweed, fried'. Fine. To me, it's best descrbed by imaging what sort of donuts mermaids would make if they could, for this this would certainly be exactly how they tasted: light as air, a little salty, reminiscent of the sea.)
So, what to do?
Take a guess.
The next day I ravaged the breakfast buffet for 5 minutes between 7.30 and 7.35am. This was just enough time to exclaim with joy over the home made individual pots of ricotta, eat one, and then I grab a crusty roll, stuff it with ham and cheese, wrap it in a napkin, throw that in my handbag and dash out the door. I deliberately don't check the time for I know it will stress me out and that there is a genuine prospect of me missing this train. My paragonised self never misses trains as she's there, smugly and infuriatingly, twenty minutes before it's reasonable to be.
But as you can tell from my location above, this actually all ends well this time. There's no traffic this Tuesday morning. The cab driver drops me at a handy pedestrian crossing at centrale stazione and we don't even have the customary dispute over the tariff. I find my platform easily. I settle into 4D.
As I type this, the smell of espresso tickling my nose, my free wifi working brilliantly, Italy speeding by, I realise that it must be almost exactly two years since I did this same thing through northern India. Then, like now, I would have been tapping away at my iPad mini furiously recording my thoughts. (For what? I ask myself often. For my future self? For you? More often I conclude that there is no goal, no intended readership — it's the exercise of writing itself that's the point.) But what a contrast from two years ago! Leather seats, monitors showing train speed and progress, snacks served by handsome men in jackets and white gloves, flush toilets. Let's all pause for a minute to give thanks for flush toilets. And, while we're at it, for Italian men. There's a blurred mosaic of green and blue as the rolling hills of first Campania and now Lazio slip by. I could not be more excited to see Florence again but, oh, I do just want to stay on this train for hours.
One thing that struck me in Sicily was the constant references to Northern Africa, the combination of 'Sicily and Northern Africa' was much more frequently mentioned than 'Sicily and the rest of Italy' or 'Sicily and the rest of Western Europe'. Pinching to zoom out on my iPhone map to get a fuller view of Italy just now, I can see why. Sicily sits like a bridge between Italy and Tunis. Odd that I'd never noticed before. There is none of that here. This Italy is continental Europe, a nest of western culture indifferent to, and considering itself well above, the wilds of Africa.
Well this got off track. Too much cheese for breakfast? Obviously joking. There is no such thing as too much cheese.
PS – I just contemplated a third coffee then told myself 'no, save it for Florence you caffeine fiend'. However, our train has just paused in Roma so I can literally tell myself 'when in Rome'. Third coffee it is.