When I got home I looked anxiously for several minutes at the thermostat on the sitting-room wall. It didn't seem familiar; it seemed in fact even less familiar than anything else in my house. The cats seem lean, muscular, rather obnoxious in their enthusiastic affection. The sheets in the bedroom seemed the wrong colour. I'd forgotten where I kept the knives and forks. In the pub, with Roz and two of her friends from the office, the conversation is all shop; fair enough, but my attention wanders. It must have been dear old Ziggy Stardust, I think, his cover so yellow (giallo, I think Mike said, is Italian slang/journalese for a crime 'shocker' -- whether yellow backed novel or real life scandal), his name all fat in Gill Kayo, the sort of book that druggies read.
Dear Roz rescues me from Embankment station. On the train I wonder at the space between the people; they don't have the same need for personal space that we have, I remember. I'm still terrified of roads, expecting a Milanese supertram to spin silently round the corner at Gloucester Road.
Inspired, I ring Roz at the office and suggest Plan B. This must be the low point, sitting here, unable even to walk over to the kiosk for a can of drink, for the weight of my luggage, just sitting on this bit of step, occasionally moving the one step to the press-button phones, to ring people who aren't in. People who say they'll try and give one a lift home and then aren't home are the pits, I think.
'Ah, so yer did get away at last', says young Alf Romeo on the coach, begging a light. 'Yes, I was shaking like a leaf, it was awful, it's never happened before ...' I say. So young and assured, like a baby Mafioso in his Standa shirt with a chain clip at the collar and a ribboned package from a pasticerria on his lap, for his mum in Dagenham or wherever, is he watching England go by and dreaming of Milan?
'That's all right.' And I can go free, bloody well think so too, but I stay and pretend to have trouble with my bags, their zips and packing them again, so that I can keep an eye on what they say to the black man at the table behind. Dear god, even my poor little doll Easter egg; made of? 'Well, sugar, I suppose -- think the body may be a chocolate egg underneath ...' Why me? 'More books, I suppose?' yes, more books, and my diabolical scourge from Assissi -- what will he think when he sees that? What does he expect to find between the pages of my cheque book. It's not my fault -- I'd genuinely forgotten that I'd bought that hat -- after all, I only bought it yesterday. Oh god, and I only declared five pounds' worth of crockery, and there, still in the pretty wrapping from the shop are half a dozen books, and my young cousin's birthday present -- a stripy board handbag, and he opens it, and oh god that t-shirt, and my navy blue hat in its shop bag and 'Are you carrying anything illegal?' he asks, and I try to look surprised as I say no. 'You know what I mean by illegal' and I say I suppose drugs; forgetting to add firearms, pornography, official secrets, pirated editions of the interpretation of dreams ...
'You, stop.' as I wheel my trolley through the green channel. (But it was blue when we overflew it; the Alps were grey and white.) 'You've got your allowance, I see; and what's this' (Roz's present, fresh tortellini) '-- lunch?' and I try to look amused. 'The handbag first, AH what's this?' looking like it's his birthday as he finds a six-month-old cough sweet, all mouldering in its bit of foil package; I unwrap it, and disappointed, he searches among the crumbs, fragments of tobacco, little curls of ancient Kleenex in the bottom of the bag. Sooner him than me.
Here are my bags off the conveyor thing, heavy with chunks of Dickinson library, but here's a trolley, and don't I just look the eccentric travelling English lady with my three fat barrel-bags, and my supermarket bag with drink and olive oil and bread and pasta and foul Italian cigarettes; and my handbag, with my pencil-case and sketch/note book and the Joyce book and a crime book and The Interpretation of Dreams sticking out of the top. The hostess gives me a sweet, a green one, and the channel is blue and France is all cloudy.
Lunch is ham open sandwich and chicken vol-au-vent, and when I find my seat it's been nicked by a young man who looks like a misunderstood Italian-American J.D. in a rather duff episode of the Naked City. (This is one of them,) Still, I can have his, and he is most uncharacteristically polite, taking my hand luggage on his lap so that I can settle in; but this mystery is explained when I say 'Grazie', and he says 'Oh, yer welcum, darlin' in my own dear native London suburban, And I say I've been on holiday round Umbria, and he says lovely, he's been seeing his girlfriend in Milan, and have I been to Como, and I say only by accident. Then we drift into reading, but you can't read Freud on a plane; he is for reading on trains, because he always goes on about extremely boring incidents that happened to him on trains, or dreams about incidents on trains, and I wonder why, and it'S time to kiss Mike and Jackie goodbye at Passport Control.
Well,I have seen a proper-sized Michelangelo, though a rather peculiar one; and started drawing again, though not very well, and only even beginning to be happy with more-or-less two-dimensional things; and I have discovered why people go on about all those frescoes; and I have bought a navy blue felt hat; and I have re-read almost half of The Interpretation of Dreams. And you can't say boo to that, I think, choosing in the supermarket between brands of olive oil, at last going for the one with a pouring thing in the top. And bits of me are brownish, which can't be bad for April.
In Milan I find 100,000 lira in a cigarette packet in the street. So I go shopping and treat my hosts to hamburgers and cocktails.
The rest of the Wednesday we sleep, mostly. Como seems like a nightmare, Como, where it was Liberation Day; it was all over Italy, in fact, though the fascists all ostentatiously go to work, but for some reason more so in Como. Did we liberate you so that you could close all the bars, we cry, next time we'll leave you to the Russians; and the sinking feeling when we'd just got a carriage for the last hour of the journey, and the man came and said the train had been split at Milan, the other bit was going to Gallarate, the next stop for this bit is Como. Still, one can sleep on the floor in this corridor, what do the Italians think of this English lady, in a long pale grey skirt, body S-curved round her handbag, asleep on the floor of an Italian train (you certainly couldn't sleep on the floor of a train from London to Glasgow), it's like a sort of shanty-town out here, what do the people in the carriages think, with the interpretation of dreams for a pillow, not quite sleeping really, but thinking that this is a place of reflected perspectives, we only got this train because of the three black men coming out of a hidden hill path in Perugia, and guided by the shining cross, and perspectives and reflections, regular bars of steel and glass along the corridor and in the pasticerrias and the station bars, and baroque chapels with the eye of the Illuminati, and hill towns reflected in lakes and perspectives and easter eggs in great pieces of foil, and this comes from Abigail Frost, 69 Robin Hood Gardens, Cotton Street, London E14.
FRANK'S APA 7 (May 1984)