Are Italian superstitions? You bet

I managed to change a train ticket in Venice at the last minute. It was a major triumph.

First Jabba the Hut behind the counter puffed at me, saying he wasn’t sure he could change my Internet ticket. So I Spaniel-eyed him.

He reconsidered. Then punched in a few things with monstrously fat fingers and waited for the computer’s verdict.

“You shouldn’t have fought with your boyfriend,” he commented, smiling through a row of green-gray teeth. Because, of course, the only reason a woman would need to get the hell out of Dodge in a hurry would be a love spat.

Anyway, he managed to get me on a Cisalpino — great but rare Swiss trains — leaving in 10 minutes. I said “grazie” and ran.

Two stops out of Venice I find myself sitting across from Erica, a woman I take a class with here in Milan and her sister, visiting from London.


No, Fate! It’s a random Thursday and a trip neither of us ever take. I shouldn’t have been on the train. The seats are reserved, the train is packed. It definitely means something.

Erica fields a mobile phone call from her boyfriend who insists we play the lottery.

The lottery, or lotto, is one of the things that unifies Italians. In fact, in the 1500s — centuries before there was an Italian state — Florentines were already holding lotteries with cash prizes.

How do you know which numbers to pick?

Well, if you’re lucky like we were, life hands them to you. Her man implored us to play our seat numbers (71,72,78) and the carriage number (8).

It struck me as a good idea. The only other time I’d ever played the lotto using this method it worked, rectifying a bad vacation. A bed and breakfast in Lecce had requested a deposit –1/4 of the total plus two or something — wired down before the stay. It was an odd figure, say €138 euro.

On arrival we promptly managed to knock down a low wall in the B&B’s garage while trying to park. A guy in cement-spattered overalls trotted by the next day with an estimate: €138 euro. My Italian companions insisted on playing the 1-3-8 combination — we won €200.

There are many other ways of finding your lucky numbers, the main one is dream interpretation. Developed around the time of the lottery in Florence, a book out of Naples called the “smorfia” (book of numbers) is a guide to turning figures in your dreams into winning numbers.

I’ve never had much luck with it. Perhaps the smorfia only works if your dreams are a little less impregnated with pop culture. Many a time I have pored over it wondering how to place H.R. Pufnstuff or if Alice from “The Brady Bunch” qualifies as dead woman walking.

Anyway, now I’ve got my numbers and if you don’t see me on Thursday, I’ve hit it big.

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