The throng of tourists that choked the Via Fillungo were not to know that, behind the exterior of certain of the shop fronts, all was not what it seemed...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  

  At about the same time that Gianni was looking at the clock and contemplating the possible hidden significance of the word 'MORTE' on his apron, the 3.50pm train from Pisa was pulling out of Lucca's station and was already disappearing up the track on its way towards the interior. It had deposited an assortment of passengers on the platform, most of whom were locals returning from a day in Pisa; any tourists, who were not part of an organized coach party, would have arrived at the latest by mid-morning. There were one or two youths - students from the university in Pisa, who had completed their lectures for the week and were returning home with their laundry and to benefit from a couple of days of their mothers' good home cooking. In the middle of the platform, next to the entrance to the station building, a little knot of people were clustered around a young couple, both of whom carried large back packs.

'We bought the tickets in Pisa … at the airport … not an hour ago,' said the young man in a heavy Australian accent.

A flood of Italian washed over him in return, delivered quite loudly by a uniformed official of Ferrovie dello Stato, the Italian State Railways. He held the two tickets in his hand and was waving them about, as if conducting an orchestra.

'You have not cancelled them! You must cancel them before you get on the train,' said the official, pointing to the tickets. He was becoming more and more animated.

The young man stared at him for a second and then looked at his companion, a young woman of his own age, which couldn't have been more than twenty-four. She shrugged, not having understood a word the official had said, and attempted to point to the tickets as they scythed through the warm afternoon air. This was a near impossible task, as their movement was unpredictably erratic.

'We don't know what y're saying,' she said, calmly, 'but we've done nothing wrong. As Jez told y'a, we bought the tickets in Pisa this afternoon … before getting on the train.'

She smiled rather sweetly at the official, who, for a moment at least, seemed to be taken aback by a pretty face wearing a rather skimpy T-shirt. Then he recovered his officiousness and started waving the tickets about again.

'This is a return ticket from Pisa. You have used the outward part, but have not cancelled it. That is an offence and there is a fine.'

'What do y'a thinks he's on about, Vic?' asked the young man quickly. He spoke out of the corner of his mouth. He also kept his eyes firmly engaged with those of the railway official, who continued to talk and wave his hands about with a look of near exasperation on his face.

'Buggered if I know, Jez' replied the young woman, 'did we get into the wrong class carriage or something, d'ya think he means?'

'Excuse me, can I help at all,' asked a voice from behind them in English, 'don't mind Alessandro. He quite likes getting on his high horse, but he doesn't usually mean any harm by it.'

An elderly lady, short and smartly dressed in a style from an earlier age and wearing a pair of pointed-frame glasses, suddenly appeared at Jez's elbow. 

'Alessandro! How are you today? What seems to be the trouble? Have they done something wrong?' she asked in fluent Italian, a disarming smile on her lips.

An instant change came over the railway official, as he bowed slightly towards the newcomer.

'The Contessa is too kind to enquire. I am well, thank you …' he replied politely, '… but they have not cancelled the outward part of
their tickets' . . . . . .

 

. . . . . . A few minutes later the four of them - the two tourists, the elderly lady and her small white Maltese poodle - emerged from the railway station into the bright sunshine and walked slowly across the Piazzale Ricasoli, the combination of garden and car park in front of the station. The small dog was trotting behind his mistress at the end of his leash. He was happily playing a game of nipping at the flapping hem of her skirt, which had come undone at the back. He growled softly as he did so.

'They do sometimes tend to get a little power-crazy with responsibility, you know …' said the elderly woman, '… it's probably something to do with wearing a uniform. Alessandro is a good sort and doesn't mean anything by it. His bark's usually worse than his bite.'

Victoria, once again a beast of burden to her backpack, eyed the elderly woman's dog, which had been growling almost constantly since the business with the tickets. She wondered if the same could be said of this angry little beast.

'You see, the ticket is valid for several months, but you have to insert it into one of the yellow machines on the station before you board the train … that cancels it, but it's really validating it within its time period. All very confusing, really … to us foreigners,' she said, smiling. Her two companions nodded, as if reluctant to admit their confusion.

'So we just have to remember to shove the ticket into the yellow machine and that's all there is to it? Not like being back home,' she added.

'And where might home be, my dear?'

'Perth …Western Australia,' replied Victoria . . . . . .

 

. . . . . .Passing through the San Pietro Gate, the small dog
and his owner led the visitors up a side street, towards the much larger Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi. The conversation, apart from the occasional huffling growl from the dog, had all but dried up.

'So that's what he was going on about, was it? Back there at the railway station, I mean. All that fuss was about the tickets?' said Jez, for lack of anything else to say. He was concentrating on keeping a safe distance from the dog, which he distrusted completely.

'Yes, I'm afraid it was … storm in a tea cup, really ...'

The conversation dried up again.

'We're staying at a hostel called …' there was a pause as Jez slung his backpack around and fished around in one of the side pockets. He took out a folded fistful of papers, sorted through them with some difficulty and extracted one. '…Ben-ven-u-to Mon-do in the Via dei Filatori,' he said, with some difficulty. 'I don't suppose you'd happen to know where that is in the town, would you?' he asked, hopefully. 

The only map they had was a very small scale affair printed inside the back cover of their even more uninformative guide book to Tuscany.

'First of all, don't let the Lucchese hear you referring to their pride and joy as a town,' she replied, a smile on her lips, 'we have a cathedral here, so we are a city.'

'Oh,' replied Jez.

'Via dei Filatori...we don't need a "the" before Via, my dear. Now let me think…' She paused in thought, but did not stop walking. 'Via dei Filatori', she corrected his mispronunciation kindly as she recalled the position of the road, 'do you know, I am sure Via dei Filatori is on the other side of Lucca. Yes, I remember now, it is near the Guinigi Museum. They were a very important family you know. As I recall, they ruled Lucca in the 15th century.' The Contessa's love of history made it easy for her to remember such things. 'Yes, a very powerful family. The museum is full of sculptures and the like. They also have the 1529 inlaid choir stalls from the cathedral … we call it Duomo. That same family also built the Guinigi Tower with the oak trees growing on the top.'

Victoria looked first at the elderly woman and then at Jez, her  eyebrows raised. She wondered how they had drifted onto this topic of conversation and where this woman was getting all this useless information from.

'You get a splendid view of things from the top, under the shade of the trees…' continued the Contessa, '… it's over there. You can see it from anywhere in Lucca.' She stabbed a finger of her leash-entrapped hand in the general direction of the Tower. 'Well, maybe not quite from where we are at present, but it is there, none the less.' 

The dog muttered under its breath as silence once again descended on the little group.

'So how do we find this Via dei Filatori?' asked Jez once again, pronouncing the name correctly. In fact, he was becoming quite adept at pronouncing it, considering the number of times he had just had to repeat it.

'Just keep walking to the eastwards,' replied the Contessa, 'and when you meet the city wall turn left.' She suddenly stopped. 'I tell you what you should do. After you've made your way to your hotel and settled in, you should take a walk and visit Roberta.'

 

 

Copyright © 2010 Stuart Fifield
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.