A few weekends ago I was faced with a transport quandary. In a decision of surprising wisdom, Trenitalia had chosen a Sunday to dispose of a World War II bomb somewhere near Bologna and to take regional strike action. In what I believed to be a sage act of my own, I had pre-booked train tickets heading north that day. What to do?
On the Friday night I consulted my husband’s friend’s auntie who works at the ticket office of my commuting station. “Senta, I need some advice. I’ve got to be at Santa Maria Novella for 2pm on Sunday to catch a Freccia. Come faccio?” “Eh,” the usually smiley woman shrugged, probably having been asked similar questions all day long with no decent replies to be given. “Ci sarebbe un pullman qua fuori che parte a mezzogiorno e ventuno.”
Best translated as somewhere between “There should/might/could/will be a bus that leaves right outside at 12.21,” that third person singular, conditional tense sarebbe did not fill me with confidence. Neither did the extremely precise time of the phantom maybe/maybe-not coach. That conditional uncertainty played on my mind for the rest of the evening. Had the sarebbe been invoked in order for the Trenitalia ticket woman to distance herself from the situation? She had said it in a reassuring tone, however, so perhaps the level of certainty was on the upper end of the sarebbe spectrum? Just how sure was it that the bus would appear at 12.21?In bed that night, in the dormiveglia moment between wakefulness and sleep, I quizzed my husband, “Amore, how certain is sarebbe when it comes to Italian public transport?” His reply, half asleep: “Don’t worry, I’ll drive you to the station.”
Postscript: In the end, I caught an unscheduled 12.04 regional train, which did leave four minutes after the hour, saving my husband the trouble of driving me to Florence and alerting me to another take on the conditional: choices. Perhaps the real meaning of that particular sarebbe was that there might be other options on the day, such as additional trains, Trenitalia staff who decided not to strike and the chance to spend more time with old friends who were in Florence for the weekend.