At 9 in the morning, the condottore walked through from the preceding car, and glanced in our direction. He said nothing. The train was running late, but as the train was always late in Italy that spring, and always crowded, there was nothing to do about it, and less to say. Patricularly at 9 in the morning.

We had been standing shoulder to shoulder in the small space between cars for 24 hours, on a trip that should have taken eight. The rain splashed against the windows. The door to the lavatory clicked open and shut. No one rose to close it. There was no room to move. Not in this car, no in the next Aqua n on potabile, aqua non potabile, aqua non potabile. Don't drink the water.

An old woman leaned against cardboard luggage, and unwrapped her breakfast. The bread fell to the floor, and floated in a small pool of brown water. "Like beasts, like beasts we travel," she muttered. A small girl refused a bottle of yogurt. Her father cursed and lit a cigarette. The air was already blue with the smoke of a thousand trapped Italians.

The rain had washed out the bridges all the way north. We'd gone west, making our way up the coast in a thousand detours.

When the train derailed, we were only 30 kilometers from Bologna. Our train hit an adjacent track and pushed a lighter rapido right off the side of the mountain.

We climbed out through the windows and stumbled along the track through the rain and the smoke. I lost my shoes in the mud. In the ravine 100 yards below, arms dangled at strange angles from twisted steel frames. It was called the worst train disaster in Italian history.

After, there were friends to tell about it. But there was no feeling, no relief. Nothing. It occurred to me that I should inform my parents. With the time differences, that took two days.

My mother answered the phone. She had heard about it on the radio, she said. She had wondered, and couldn't sleep.

When I told her she shrieked and called my name and started to cry.

That's when I knew it had really happened.