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In the End, Most of the Odd Couples Even Out

October 07, 1990|JUDITH MORGAN

The snow-capped Alpine wall between Italy and France was as shiny as a mound of vanilla gelato that was just beginning to melt. Gray slate roofs glinted in the sun as our train stopped in Bussoleno.

I lowered a window and stared at the mountain village with its turreted bell towers. A farmer walked slowly by in a long coat and boots, leading a donkey-pulled cart that was heaped with brush and twigs. A second cart followed, pulled by a woman in a long coat and babushka.

"Lady," I heard an American shout, "it doesn't have to be that way."

I recognized the earnest wail of a young New York City editor I'd met on the train. She was a Princeton graduate and a champion of equal rights and fair play. She was leaning from the next window.

I watched her sigh as she returned to our compartment.

"Well, at least she got the smaller cart," she sputtered.

As we left the stone huddle of Bussoleno and headed west, I thought of some other odd couples that I encountered during the journey. After all, observing human behavior is part of the joy of travel.

In Torino, at the edge of the Piazza San Carlo, I had heard squealing brakes and turned to see a fashionable Italian stop her Lancia with two tires up on the curb. She flung open the door, stormed around her car and straightened a rear-view mirror. Naturally, a crowd gathered.

She got back in her car and started the engine, but was too livid to drive. With a shout, she leaped out and ran down the street, in pursuit of an older man of distinguished bearing. When she caught him, she made a fist and punched him hard in the back.

He turned with a bewildered look, but said nothing. She smiled as if vindicated and marched, head high, to her car.

Maybe the man had stepped from a curb and bent her new car mirror. Maybe it was an old hurt she was avenging. I will always be curious about that confrontation.

Another mishap of sorts took place on a crowded London subway one night after the theater. I listened as a jolly couple from Iowa introduced themselves to a twosome from Texas. They stood cheek by jowl in the aisle.

"We've been here two weeks and we've seen 10 plays," said the chatty blonde from Sioux City. "The best was Les Miserables. No question. But this is our last night, so we're getting off at Hyde Park Corner to get a T-shirt at the Hard Rock Cafe. That's all our daughter wants."

"But we already passed that station," drawled the Texan. "You'd better get off at Knightsbridge."

"Oh, thank you," said the blonde, pushing her husband ahead and then turning to say her goodbys. The door slid shut between them and our train began rolling.

"Charlie," she shouted, pointing out the window. "Stay there. Stay there."

She laughed as she said, "It's a real good thing that he's there and I'm here because he's the one who gets lost. He would never find his way back. Whoops. Here's South Kensington. Bye."

And from the Lyon-bound train in France, at lovely Aix-les-Bains, I watched as the setting sun turned the mirror lake to purple. A white swan glided past as a couple embraced by the shore.

The passionate clinch was still in progress as the lake began fading from view.

And the young New York City editor from Princeton sighed. "Lady, it doesn't have to be that way . . . but it sure is nice when it is."

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