Travelling by train

As I start writing this, I am in a high-speed train crossing Europe at 238 km/h. I love trains. Why? I don’t really know. Going up the clouds is nice too, but in general planes are too cramped and give me a sense of claustrophobia, plus there’s the whole security at the airport thing and just thinking about it removes any possible fun. I like the independence of cars, but driving is tiresome. Ships are nice too, but the constant movement of the waves can get you seasick. Buses are boring and also cramped, and I had very bad experiences on the American Greyhound, probably the worst bus service on Earth.

In trains, at least you can walk around through different wagons. Sometimes there’s even a restaurant. There is no turbulence or seasickness. There’s more than enough legroom. There are more chances for people watching, sometimes even to strike conversations if that’s your thing. It goes fast. There’s no traffic. Windows are large. Views are generally nice.

But I think it is really something about the tracks. Trains travel through tracks and this brings one a sense of security of comfort. Even the sound of the wheels on tracks — not to mention the nostalgic romanticism of the train horn — are somehow soothing. I even prefer city trams to buses for the same reason. They go on tracks.

Sure, I know that trains can derail and crash, and recent tragedies in Greece and Ohio have reminded us of that, but what of it? I don’t really mean a sense of personal, bodily safety, but a more subjective feeling. Perhaps tracks, as opposed to the uncertainty of roads, gives us the idea that our paths are already predetermined, and that we are always going somewhere, even if we don’t always know where.

When I was a boy scout, we used to sing a song:

Andar de trem (andar de trem)
É bem melhor (é bem melhor)
Mas se você puxar o cordão (puxar o cordão)
Você pára o trem, (você pára o trem)
E o inspetor (e o inspetor)
Se aborrecerá (se aborrecerá)
E mandará (e mandará)
Descer do trem (descer do trem).

Roughly translating, “Going by train is much better, but if you pull the cord, you’ll stop the train, and the inspector will get annoyed and make you get off the train.”

What does it mean? Why did we sing such a song if, when travelling as a boy scout, we went mostly by car or by bus (and once by ship)? No idea. But I’m on a train now.

I used to have a small model train complete with tracks when I was a child. I don’t think many children play with model trains these days. But perhaps adults do. One of the curious things of life in the modern West is that, although children grow faster and start using technology earlier and earlier, leaving physical toys soon behind, adults become more and more like children, for longer and longer. They collect model trains or superhero action figures, sometimes worth thousands of dollars. They dress up for cos-play parties. Women pretend to be men and men pretend to be women. In general, they have childish ideas about society and the government treats them like children too. But I digress.

I was saying that I was on a train, but later I will be on a plane, and perhaps on a bus too. I am going to Spain (Barcelona) to visit my sister, and from there directly to Finland, for an arts residency. I will stay there for a month in a small village. Some place in the middle of nowhere. Forest and lakes, as far as I can see. At least it will be Spring. I may post about it when I’m there.

“I’m tired of travelling, I want to be somewhere”, sang the Talking Heads in an old song. I enjoy traveling, but sometimes I feel this way too. And yet, isn’t life also a journey? We seem to be in constant movement, and nothing is permanent. Even if we stop moving, things still move. This train won’t stop, even if we pull the cord. We see things as if through a glass, darkly. Like from the blurry window of a train. But do we get somewhere in the end? Where are the tracks of life leading us?