It took me two-thirds of the book InterRail to work out what it reminded me of, but finally it came to me: Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo. There’s something about the author Alessandro Gallenzi’s way of writing conversation that is very reminiscent of Fo’s play. It’s therefore interesting to note that, as well as being a novelist, Gallenzi is a playwright. Incidentally, according to his bio, he’s also a poet, prize-winning translator and publisher – this is a man who keeps himself busy.
His novel InterRail goes back in time to (if my calculations are correct) the early 90s. It follows Francesco, a 21 year old Italian travelling alone for the first time, and is apparently based on the author’s own experiences of InterRailing as a young man. How closely we are not told, but Francesco has the adventure of a lifetime, meeting the girl of his dreams, winning (and losing) huge amounts of money and getting involved in an international scandal. Phew.
The cover of the book depicts a train track-SLASH-fly zipper opening up to reveal a map of Europe. Cheeky. However, although Francesco garners plenty of attention on his travels, the story that I was really interested in was that of Pierre, the mystery stranger who flits in and out of Francesco’s life causing trouble. While Francesco is experiencing PG-rated sex and his first taste of space cakes, Pierre is roaring around Europe in a Maserati providing a much more fantastical side to the story. As Maria Feletti had the Anarchist, so Francesco has Pierre. He’s the maniac counterpoint to what is otherwise a routine memoir of notches on bedposts; with Pierre’s help it becomes an entertaining absurdist adventure, complete with fast cars, casinos, beautiful, vengeful women, blockhead detectives and double-crosses aplenty.
While I’m yet to experience any of the kind of adventures that Francesco did on my train journeys across France and Italy, I’ve got plenty of tales to tell. From meeting the middle-aged couple from Messina – “I’m an arancino with legs!” announced the wife cheerfully before chattering all the way to Napoli and revealing her secret desire to turn up at a station and get on the first train, no matter where it was going – to sharing a night cabin with not just one but two earth-shattering snorers, to looking out of the train window to see the glittering turquoise of the Adriatic so close that it seemed as if we were in the water, I’ll take the train over a plane any day.
With this in mind, I’ll be entering Alma Books’ competition to win an InterRail pass across Europe. And, as if that weren’t enough, they’ll throw in a copy of InterRail to keep you entertained as you go. To enter, tell them what you would do if you had an InterRail pass. Where would you go? What would you see? Be inventive – Europe is your oyster! Two lucky winners will be picked by Alessandro Gallenzi on 31 July, so you still have a little time to refine your travel plans.
In bocca al lupo!