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Andrea de Carlo: Treno di panna (The Cream Train)

Giovanni is a young Italian who travels around and ends up in Los Angeles. On one of his previous travels, he had met Ron and Tracy, who invite him to LA. He goes to stay with them in their small apartment underneath the freeway in Sherman Oaks. He seems to have no reason for going to LA as he just hangs around, watching TV and gradually getting increasingly annoyed with both Ron, a failed screenwriter who stays at home all day, and Tracy who works for her father’s export firm. Apart from a temporary job, involving cycling around the neighborhood dressed up as a cookie with Tracy, Giovanni does nothing to improve his cash flow till he is desperate, when he manages to obtain a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant, primarily because he is Italian, the others waiters being all Mexican. There he meets Jill, the cashier and, being so thoroughly fed up with Ron and Tracy, not least because of Tracy’s obsession with her shampoo, he moves out (without telling Ron and Tracy) and moves in with Jill.

However, this is no idyllic relationship, particularly when he catches her in flagrante delicto with her ex and when, on a whim, he chucks in his waiter job. After giving up his waiter job, he finds a job as a teacher of Italian (it seems highly surprising that, the day he applies for the job, he gets work at two different schools). And he moves out of Jill’s apartment and rents a room with a sculptress. The first teaching job is with a mother and daughter – the daughter is going to Italy on holiday and the mother is just learning to keep her daughter company. However, the second job is the very famous film star, Marsha Mellows, who is going to make a film in Italy. Gradually, he ingratiates himself into Marsha Mellows’ life, not in what might be called an American way, but as one of her many friends. And there the story ends.

The success of this book in Italy is undoubtedly because of the unromantic and mildly (but only mildly) jaundiced view it gives of America and LA in particular – the shallowness, the fads, the detachedness from real life and the real world, the self-centeredness. Giovanni is no saint – he spends hours sitting around watching TV, is ungrateful and seems totally devoid of any ambition but he clearly sees himself (and we see him) as a cut above the natives, even the divine Miss Mellows (with whom he may be enamoured – or may not.) Even the movie business does not seem to attract him – he takes it all in his stride – except for the fact that he has always been interested in Marsha Mellows (perhaps sexually but he does not say so) and is glad (but not too excited) to finally know her. The blurb on the back of my book says he casts a cold look at LA. Cold, yes, but dispassionate might be the better term.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Einaudi
First published in English 1984 by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich