Last Train to Santa Margherita Ligure

emil at santa margherita ligure coastline graphic

Lou’s best friend once told him “You’re lucky your father was born before you.”

Over decades, his family had accumulated a number of rinky-dink 12-suiters across Calgary. In his mid-twenties, with no ambition, Lou became a caretaker of one of those buildings.

Lou became friends with Joe—a tenant of his own age. Joe was a roughneck, working mostly out of town in the oil patch.

One day, Joe hurried up to Lou clamouring for $10,000.

“Joe, you’re two months behind on your rent (which at that time amounted to $400). And you expect me to loan you $10,000?”

“Lou, I’ve struck a wildcat well, while drilling. I’ll give you 50% of all I make if you loan me the money. I know you have it.”

20 years later, I bumped into Lou, still living in the same apartment building, but now the beneficial owner of this and a dozen others.

“Lou, why are you rushing?”

“Got to get to the airport. Joe’s invited me on his private jet to watch the Dallas Cowboys at the Superbowl.”

I burst out laughing. Joe was now worth half-a-billion dollars. While canny Lou remained immured in his one-bedroom.

Roll out another fifteen years.

My family and I are left stranded in Nice.

The perpetual summer French railway strike is on. Our train to Villefranche-sur-Mer, then on to the Italian Riviera has been delayed—from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening.

Thankfully, the train leaves on time. We need to be in Genoa to catch the last train to Santa Margherita. We can just make it. We have all the tickets prebought.

At Genoa, we rush to the platform for Santa Margherita, where the ticket collector stops us.

“Sorry sir. We cannot accept these tickets. They have expired. You need to go to the ticket office to exchange them for this trip.”

“But the train is leaving in twenty minutes. If we miss it, our hotel room will be cancelled. We’ll have to spend the night here looking for accommodation. We’ve been waiting for this train since this morning. We’ll lose over $400 and have nowhere to stay,” I implored.

“Sorry sir. Those are the rules”.

On entering the large ticket purchasing hall, my heart fell to the floor. There were fifty passengers waiting in front of the only ticket exchange booth. We’d be here for hours.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. He was a six-foot-six, beefy, swarthy local jabbering away at me. He grabbed our bags. “Come. Follow me.” I hesitated a second and followed. Laura held back, gripped with foreboding, our boys clutching at her. I ran with this stranger. Laura had no choice but to follow.

In Italy, the platforms are connected by underground tunnels with steep steps, poorly lit. We had 4 cases and 4 backpacks to carry up and down those mountainous stairs. Our guide was heaving luggage in each hand. Eventually, we reached our platform. The ticket collector let us all in without a murmur. The man guided us to the first-class compartment of a nearly empty train. He threw our luggage on the floor. “Wait here,” he ordered.

As the train was about to leave, he came back. “Here sir.” He handed me the new tickets. “No charge.”

Have you ever seen a sheepish giant, his eyes lowered to the ground, waiting for, what I presumed, was a tip? I gave him a hundred euros, the equivalent of US $150. At once, the still giant leapt into action, kissing me on both cheeks and whooping with joy. He disappeared pronto, in case I changed my mind. It was the best $150 I ever spent. We had been saved.

For some reason, Lou shot to mind, still awaitin’ his deliverance.

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Written by Emil Rem

An eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales, with each chapter taking us on a trip into the fascinating twisted world of Emil Rem. Born to a close knit middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa, wearing a St. Christopher’s cross one minute and attending church, to wearing a green arm band and attending Muslim religious classes in Africa next minute. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.


Last Train to Santa Margherita Ligure