A Palazzo in Florence

On the train from Pisa to Florence, we ate salami and focaccia and watched the Arno make its sluggish way through Tuscany in the brutal heat of early autumn. We shared our compartment with some boisterous high school kids, day-trippers who quit messing and composed themselves when they got off at Pontedera and marched dutifully home for lunch. They led the double life of Italian teens, heroic outlaws among their peers and perfect angels in their mamas’ eyes.

The conduttore came down the aisle, trim and officious, almost tiny. He had the self-righteous look of a Savonarola, eager to enforce the rules, invested in his uniform and the power it implied. It was a thing with men in Italy, this love of uniforms, of shiny brass buttons and caps of all sorts. I wondered if his wife washed and ironed his jacket and trousers every night. I saw him sitting with her over dinner in Empoli, a bowl of thin soup and not a word exchanged. I took out my phone to show our tickets, but the conduttore, his brow knitted, ignored me. He raised an arm and pointed to a door marked Uscita. “No mask, no train,” he scolded us, gesturing again to the exit.

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