While staying in Siracusa, I took a short day trip to Noto for the sole purpose of trying some gelato that was described as, "a taste of Sicily in your mouth" by my guidebook.
I talked with my B&B, and they advised taking the bus to Noto, since the train station was far outside of town. So, I woke up early in the morning, walked to the bus station in Siracusa, and was met with an abandoned building. Train it was.
I bought a round-trip ticket, and when I arrived in Noto I was glad I did. The station only had one track in either direction, and there was no ticket machine at the train station, no people working in the booths, no NOTHING - except a schedule taped to the window, which put the last train out of Noto at 17:00. But even this was scratched out and, in pencil, 17:30 was written in its place. If it had been in pen, I would have believed it, but since it was in pencil I decided I should show up at 17:00 and see what happened.
I walked 15 minutes to get into town, and generally enjoyed my day in the tiny city - though unfortunately, I committed the fatal error of ordering the mandarino gelato when the guide had recommended the sorbetto, so I will never truly know what Sicily tastes like. It was gray and misting when I arrived, but by the time I headed back to the train station the sun was shining and I arrived to quite the pastoral scene. There was absolutely no one around, the station overlooked a field dotted with flowers, a dog was sleeping on the tracks, and the sun warmed my shoulders. I sat, drinking in the experience and feeling at peace.
I arrived at 16:45, and at 17:00 I began to suppose that the penciled-in time had been correct. Suddenly, I heard water running. This was quite alarming, as I had been sitting at the station for a significant amount of time, assuming I was alone. A grizzled-looking man stepped out from what I assume were the bathrooms and paused in front of me. He didn't look overtly crazy or homeless, but I was very confused as to what he'd been doing in the bathrooms for 15 minutes. "Ah, you are waiting for the train from Siracusa?" he asked me in Italian.
"Yes,"I replied defensively.
"Lo sai che non arriva per ancora trenta minuti." You know it doesn't arrive for another 30 minutes.
"Yes, I realize that now."
"Ascolta, ti piace trombare?" Listen, do you like to trombare?
I looked at him blankly.
"Sai cosa vuol dire?" Do you know what that means?
"No, I don't."
"Ah, okay." He walks away.
That was weird, I think to myself. I go back to enjoying the idyllic view, dog continues sleeping on the tracks, a gentle wind blows, etc. Fifteen minutes go by.
Fifteen minutes before my train, the man returns.
"Ancora aspetti il treno?" You are still waiting for the train?
"Lo sai che ci sono ancora 15 minuti." You know there are still 15 minutes.
"Yes." I am irritated with him at this point.
"Ascolta...ti piace scopare?"
This word I knew. I was in Italy to teach English at a high school, and on the first day, I had chaperoned a field trip for a class of all boys. One of them used a word around me and the rest looked at me, frozen, expecting to be disciplined, but I didn't know the words. Upon realizing that I didn't know the parolacce (curse words), they immediately started writing them all down for me. They didn't know how to say, "What do you like to do?" but they definitely knew how to say, "Fuck you." And they taught me that scopare, which literally means "to sweep," also means "to fuck."
But, scopare sounds like a bunch of other words. Scoprire, for example, which means "to find." I made a face at him.
"Sai cosa vuol dire?" Do you know what it means?
"I think so...it's a bad word, right?"
"No noooooo... non e' una parolaccia." No, it's not a bad word!
"Ah, then I don't know what it means."
"OK. Mi fai un pompino?" OK. Will you give me a blowjob?
That word I knew, and there was no mistaking it. I looked at him with a mixture of shock, disgust, and confusion. "NO!"
"Eh, ho provato." Eh, I tried. And with that he left.
When I returned to Milan and told people this story, they laughed at me. They said that he was a crazy person, and they told me not to go to Sicily by myself. And I laughed too, because I didn't know what else to do. When I first told this story, I'd tell it like it was this big joke, like it was so funny.
But it's not funny. I had to sit there, at the train station far outside of town, where no one could hear my screams, for fifteen minutes of pure, elongated terror, praying the man would not come back. I was so scared that I was shaking, nonstop, my phone clenched in my hand with the emergency number dialed. But what could they do? Could I even relay my situation in Italian, could the police get there in time?
This was the second truly dangerous situation that happened to me in Italy, and the same thing happened when I was assaulted - the people I told laughed, they told me I should have known better. I'm really lucky that nothing happened, but remember - I speak the language. I was living there. I'm not some tourist with a fanny pack on.
People have a tendency to romanticize Italy, and I absolutely agree that it's a beautiful place, but I always fight them a little bit to try to make them understand it's not perfect, and I think this is why. La dolce vita has a lot of problems: bureaucracy, the mafia, an older population, and a lack of modern methods. But it also has a big problem with aggressive men, and it's something I repeatedly felt threatened by during my time there with a frequency I've never felt in the US.
So no, this story is not a joke. It wasn't fucking funny.