The secret of Italy

Paolo Bruscoli, one of many artisans featured in Fantasy in Florence, has been chosen by the city as part of a twenty poster display at the railway station that illustrates the most representative local businesses for history and art handicraft.

The station, known as Santa Maria Novella (SMN), serves as a gateway to the city for millions of visitors a year and offers a wonderful venue to introduce artisans as the celebrities they should be. Built in the 1930s by Mussolini’s Fascists, the station was among the first structures in what became known as the National style. The flat-roofed three-storey yellow brick building is modernist, stark and relentless with, to my mind, no redeeming features. The station in Milan, built about the same time, is much grander with a facade in the Liberty style that includes statues of winged horses and is among the most beautiful depots in the world.

The joke about Mussolini was that he kept the trains running on time. Well, they still do run on time, even during a strike. We planned to take the train one Friday from Florence to Rome but on Tuesday, transport workers announced a work stoppage beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday that would last twenty-four hours as a protest about unsafe working conditions. The government proposed an eight-hour strike on Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Art Historian Peter Porcal found a ticket seller at SMN station who claimed inside knowledge. The wicket wizard said that two Eurostar trains would leave Florence on schedule Friday morning for Rome regardless. We bought our advance tickets, with reserved seats, and crossed our fingers. The wizard was right. Despite the strike our train departed and arrived on time.

All of which leads me to one of the secrets to understanding Italy: the country might not work but everything functions. Strikes make appropriate statements, but travelers can still move about. “Italy is like the cartoons, everything is possible,” said our friend, Kerima, a manager at Luisa Via Roma. “And you are never bored.”

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