Spring skies recall a moment 70 years ago

train

(Canscene) — Several times this past April and May cerulean skies and gentle breezes in the GTA have brought Bardonecchia to mind.

In September, 1936, my father and I were returning to England after a month’s stay in Italy. In the early morning, our train had stopped for twenty minutes at the last Italian station before crossing the border into France. Our papers had been cleared by the Italian border guards and we stepped down to the platform to enjoy hot coffee and rolls from a vendor’s cart.

It is precisely this moment that I recalled. After the heat of Rome from which we’d departed the night before, the morning air was rare and beautiful.

The stationmaster, resplendent in his buttoned-up dark grey uniform and shiny high-crowned black cap festooned with gold braid, strutted past us and down the platform with an air of self-importance. .

In English, my father said : “You know what I think of Mussolini, but you can’t deny the trains run on time. You know why? He gave every stationmaster one of those uniforms, appealed to their egos and made them kings of their own castles. It became a matter of honour to see trains left on time.

Though I’ve travelled the length and breadth of Italy, I’ve never seen Bardonecchia again, but I was to remember that morning, when in 1944 I was waiting for a military train at a heavily damaged station in Tuscany. Trains were no longer running on time but there were still stationmasters at each station. As the train finally approached, this one came bounding out, head erect and gesturing to us to stand back. He was dressed in sandals, ragged pants and a dirty cotton singlet.

But on his head, a sad relic of its former self, gold braid tarnished and high crown dented , he still wore. his stationmaster’s hat.
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