ROME, JUNE 13 -- After eight days on the Italian road, I'm back in Rome. It feels like home.
Pisa, Tirrenia, Florence, Milan, Florence, Pisa, Sardinia. The World Cup pace is not in keeping with life in Italy. I'm going to try to get in step with the Romans.
What's on my mind now, as I touch up my diary, is whether I will be able to get through on the phone to the United States Thursday night after the Italy-U.S. game here. When Italy beat Austria Saturday night, I was in Florence for the U.S. opener. After Italy won, the phones produced nothing but busy signals.
June 5, Rome
It takes three hours to ride the train to Pisa. It takes six hours to buy the ticket.
First, let me absolve the Italians. It's my fault. I did not take a cram course in Italian in May as I had vowed. I did not make an advance purchase of the 40-day rail pass good for anywhere in Italy during the games. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
So today I head north for Pisa, near the U.S. team's camp in Tirrenia, where the morning will bring my last chance to watch practice and talk to the coach and players. I decide it's time to buy the 40-day rail pass -- as it were, "now."
"Now" is a very American word. A preferred word here is "domani."
It was shortly after noon, plenty of time to catch the last train to Pisa at 7:50 p.m. Two lines and one hour later at the overburdened media center travel desk, I learn I must proceed to the bank and pay 500,000 lire (a little more than $400).
With my receipt, I queue again at the travel desk. Back at last to the counter itself, I learn there is no ticket. (I feel a chill. Have I given away 500,000 lire for this flimsy piece of paper?)
From another floor I must send a fax across the city to a gentleman who would make a "determination." I pay 8,500 lire for the fax, buy a ham and cheese and take it with me back to the travel-counter line. It's 4:30. But the woman says yes, and gives me the address to pick up the ticket. It's on the opposite side of the city; the taxi dispatcher calls it "a suburb."
It's raining and it's rush hour.
"We expected you at 8 p.m.," an English-speaking receptionist says in greeting.
For some reason, a new ticket has to be prepared because I show up at 6 instead of 8. Ah, the coveted green card. It feels good in my hand. Cardboard, and on the face of it the Cup's symbol, the tri-colored "Ciao" stick figure with the soccer ball head.
I take a taxi to the Termini. I know a woman who had her purse picked clean near the Termini recently. So I enter prepared, with every item of the slightest value under my clothing and attached to my body as if I were about to have an electrocardiogram.
The conductor has never seen a green card. Puzzled, he turns it over. Sure enough, on the back it says "valido." He looks again at the soccer figure on the front. "You play football! World Cup!" He is joyous, and kicks an imaginary soccer ball up the aisle.
Tirrenia does not have a taxi. You have to call the Pisa taxi. At no extra charge, the taxi comes the 15 miles from Pisa and takes me four miles in the rain to the Americans' camp. The next morning, I call the Pisa taxi again so I can leave Tirrenia. Same driver. Already, we're like old friends.
June 7, Florence
The train is scheduled to leave at 8:20 p.m. for Milan, where the Cup's opening game will be held tomorrow. Running late again, I arrive at the station at 8. The board shows no train to Milan. A train man says Track 12. Track 12 says Frankfurt. "No Mee-lano," another man says.
"Yes, this train stops in Milan," says a man, speaking reasonably good English. On the side of one car, he points out what appear to be intermediate stops, including Milan. "Have a good visit in Italy and enjoy Milan," he says, ushering me aboard.
I sit down. I have second thoughts. It's 7:59. Desperately, I search for a conductor. "No, no, no Mee-lano. Germany."
"You'd better get off," says a woman I haven't noticed behind me in terrific English. I go toward the back of the car. The door is shut, the car too long to get to the front. Will I begin the games in Frankfurt?
I push down on the handle. It opens. I jump to the platform. A train attendant waves and shouts at me. He is furious. I've left the door open. I'm holding up this bullet to Frankfurt.
Dazed, I sit down on a bench next to the tracks. An older man and woman sitting there look at me as if I am crazed. I'm carrying, with my bag and computer, a white paper bag with three little sandwiches in it. It's wet on the bottom and about to break. It's the tomatoes.
June 8, Florence and Milan
In the light of morning I learn the Milan train leaves from another Florence station. "Grazie," I've learned to say.
In the afternoon, the sun glistens against the Milan stadium's Plexiglas overhanging roof and shines warmly on Cameroon, rather than favored Argentina. Within minutes after the Cameroon victory, a yellow "Lions of Africa" T-shirt becomes a prized possession.
June 10, Florence
I dreamed last night of Brooks Robinson. Brooks told me confidentially that the money man who could buy Washington a baseball franchise was Ray Moore. Ray Moore? I think, waking up. I know Washington's baseball chances remain as slim as ever. A fastballing right-hander, Moore pitched for the Orioles when dead center field at Memorial Stadium was 450 feet. One night I was there, Moore served his best heat to Mickey Mantle, batting, of course, left-handed. Mantle hit a ball just beyond 450, into the hedge.
June 11, Cagliari
Arriving on Sardinia, I wait a long time before a taxi shows up at the airport. The driver is anything but the recklessly aggressive ones in the big cities. Two Italian writers with me talk our way past every police roadblock on the way to the English-Irish game. But then each time, they have to talk the driver into moving forward before the policemen change their minds. The driver stops to join an argument; a young man on a motorbike has bumped the fender of an irate older man, who's shouting in the street. I can't tell whose side our driver is on.
June 12, Rome
Touching down at Fiumicino, I feel the same exhilaration I do coming home to National or Dulles. Here, everyone is dressed up in front of the Palazzo delle Esposizione, opening a Rubens show. The streets are filled with people and cars. Ah, Rome.