One week later, Pino is at the train station, preparing to depart for Casa Alpina. Michele gives Pino money and tells him that someone will be waiting for him when he reaches his destination. After saying goodbye to Michele, Albert, and Tullio, Pino finds a seat on the train and watches the landscape pass by. The train makes a brief stop at Lake Como where Pino spots hundreds of “filthy men” in “dull gray outfits.” Pino is confused by their presence and wonders who they are. He contemplates the strange sight for the rest of his trip. Soon, he arrives at Chiavenna, where he is greeted by Alberto Ascari. Alberto takes Pino to his car, a Fiat with a loud and powerful-sounding engine. Pino comments on the sound of the engine and Alberto tells him that he wants to be a race car driver.
There will be more to say about the men in gray outfits later in the novel as their identity becomes apparent. For now, it is worth noting their number, which is substantial, and their lack of basic hygiene, which doesn’t appear to be a choice on their part. Meanwhile, in Alberto Ascari, the novel presents another real and significant historical figure. Although he is just a child here, the real Alberto went on to win back-to-back Formula One World Championships. He is one of only two people to ever do so in the history of the sport. Tragically, he died while test driving a car in 1955.
Alberto drives Pino up a mountain road full of turns and other cars. Alberto drives quickly and effortlessly, passing other cars and diving the car into turns. Pino is terrified and excited at the same time. When they come to a stop, Pino tells Alberto that he believes he will be a race car driver. Pino asks Alberto if he skis and Alberto responds that he doesn’t. Pino then makes Alberto a deal: if Alberto teaches him to drive, Pino will teach Alberto to ski. Alberto agrees to the deal and the two make plans to meet up whenever Pino gets a chance.
Here, the novel uses dramatic irony to wink at its audience. After all, anyone familiar with Formula One already knows that Alberto will go on to be a world-famous driver. Additionally, the deal Alberto makes with Pino, though seemingly trivial, becomes important later in the novel.
From where Alberto drops him off, Pino hikes several hundred meters to his new home. There, he is greeted by Father Re, who is happy to see him. Father Re sends Pino inside to eat dinner and reunite with Mimo. Mimo is happy to see his brother, though he is sad to hear about what’s happened to their home. Pino assures him that everything will be okay. At dinner, Pino talks to Father Re, who asks him if he remembers the way to Val di Lei. Pino assures Father Re that he remembers and even knows multiple ways to get there. This pleases the priest, although he doesn’t say why. Father Re tells Pino that while at Casa Alpina, his job is to go on daily hikes and to study three hours a day.
The Alps lie north of Milan, which is itself in the northern part of Italy. Notably, the Alps create a border between Italy and its neighboring countries, including Switzerland, a neutral force during World War II. Meanwhile, the Val di Lei sits right against the Swiss border. Although it’s not yet clear what Father Re wants Pino to do, it seems to have something to do with Switzerland.