Follow the winding, paved streets for long enough and you might just become sufficiently lost to discover that Padova is a city with a heart. On the outside, the people are young and beautiful; on the inside they’re tortured, and afraid of escaping the chains of expectations that shackle them to each other and to their daily rhythm. It’s a place where the denim jacket is still in fashion (either that or it has come back into fashion, with the same results); the youth pander about, most often with a cigarette drooping from their upturned lips, sporting whatever style of shoe is in mode (this year it’s the low-cut sports booties) denim jeans, denim jacket and, if they’re students, an invicta backpack. And there are flocks of them: on the buses, in every café, in the squares. The boys move around in groups, looking at the girls fluttering and chattering about the boys who are making jokes about how big the girls’ breasts are.
The town and gown theatre plays out every evening. The students congregate in the Piazza dell’Erbe to drink their spritz and beer, smoke joints and chat about their boyfriends and girlfriends who are invariably studying English somewhere in a richer country than their own. One minute’s bike ride away is the Piazza dei Signori where the town go to drink more expensive spritzes and beers, sit in comfortable chairs, and smoke American cigarettes. Maybe they’ll go home later for joints. The two crowds rub together like two sheets of satin, but the static electricity they generate – that silent but active energy – does not dissipate. All this goes on until 10 or 11 o’clock when the cobbled-stoned bed must be remade and everyone washes lazily from the squares and cafes in search of a restaurant.
The bustop at the train station attracts the usual crowd of drunks, immigrants and those who prefer to loiter and watch the people come and go. There is the man with one leg who hobbles around on crutches – he has a permanent scowl, dark eyes and a long, dirt-brown beard, which always seems to bear the crumbs of his last meal. Occasionally he might ask you for a Euro to contribute to his next drink or sandwich; he has learned better than to ask those people waiting for buses. They rarely wish to be disturbed, as they mutter curses upon the public transport system.