Saturday, 21 June 2014


Life in Italy moves to its own rhythm. It is a country filled with helpful thoughts and people who move to respond in their own time and pace. Take our train ride to Florence yesterday, the one with amply advertised handicapped access, both for the train and the station. Apparently they have a different meaning for these things than we do.

We wanted to go to Firenze, so we headed to the train station. There we found a totally automated station with no human station staff, the notable exception being the woman working hard to keep the platforms and bathrooms clean. The station, in fact, had a handicapped washroom; they keep it locked. If you wish to use it, you must first find the cleaning woman and ask her to unlock the washroom door, and when complete you are politely and profusely requested to find her again so she can lock it up again. I am not sure what they do in those hours when she is not at the station, but she assures me this situation is "normale".

While we could not find a station agent, there was a very helpful conductor for a different train awaiting his time for work, awaiting his own train. We asked him about wheelchair access for the train to Firenze, the train currently in the station getting ready to go. With profuse apologies and much gesticulation, he, via his companion who translated, told us there was no way to get a wheelchair onto the train, notwithstanding the signs and symbols on the station map, on the schedule, on the train itself, even on the automated ticket stand. "I am so sorry; it's not possible."

There was another train in the station, leaving in another hour. Perhaps we could talk to the train crew there to see if they could offer us the "salablu" service, the service that puts wheelchair people on trains, the service that depends on train station agents to operate the lift system. Unfortunately this station was not staffed. It's "normale"

We went to the other train, the one that would leave in an hour, except that the conductor and driver only show up about 20 minutes beforehand. That's when their shift starts; it's "normale". We waited. When they arrived they, with much gesticulation, expressed deep sorrow and frustration at the absence of "salablu" in this station, that they would work very hard to see what they could do, that this situation, unfortunately, was "normale".

You see, there were handicapped ramps designed into these trains. The stickers were there for all to see. The buttons to activate the ramps were in place, still functioning. Unfortunately the ramps, over time, had broken, one does not know how, and would no longer retract once extended. This, of course, meant the train could not go. So they left the ramps un-repaired and implemented the "salablu" service, the one "not possible" in our station as there were no personnel to provide the service.

I know a bit about Italy; I know that all that phone calling and loud talking and hand waving was their way of trying to help, yet I also know that "normale" and "not possible" meant they were not going to get me on to that train. I finally took matters into my own hands and to the horrified stares of the conductor and driver, I simply transferred from my chair to the floor of the train. Cheryl lifted my chair onto the train and she, along with the now thoroughly embarrassed train crew, helped me up and into my chair. This was not "normale".

We went to Firenze where the "salablu" team was there to help me off the train, having been duly warned by the conductor on our train. We spent a wonderful couple of hours at the Uffizi Museum. We went back to the "salablu" office in the train station where they politely informed us that, while "salablu" operated in Firenze, it was "not possible" in Borgo San Lorenzo, our home stop. They could get me on the train, but they could not get me off the train.

Once again, I took matters into my own hands. We got on the train, this one fully accessible right down to a wheelchair washroom on board. It was even at a platform with a level access; I could get on it myself, without the help of the two big, burly men from "salablu" whose job it was to ensure I did not get stuck on the 2 inch gap from platform to train. The train departed with us on board. We went to our station where I slid out of my chair and along the floor to the door. There a very helpful young couple assisted Cheryl in getting me into my chair, now down on the platform.

All of this activity meant the the train doors remained open during the transfer. The conductor got out of the front car to see what was going on. He stared at the situation and seeing it well in hand, simply waited for us to finish the process. He did not come to help. There was no hand waving nor expression of deepest sympathy and frustration. After all, for him this must be "normale"

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