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?

5 comments on “Travelling by train”

  1. Billy Thistle says:

    Didn’t know Europe had hi-speed trains. The US doesn’t. Big Oil/Rockefellers didn’t want public transportation. Cars for all occasions. Buy up the railroads, then allow them to deteriorate.

    I remember when GI Joe was introduced as the first doll for boys. Super hero figures came soon after. Never understood the attraction. I suppose it’s a generational thing. We had rubber military miniatures we could deploy. But nothing so personal as what I still feel are dolls for boys. You also mention the cosplay frolics. Another fad that came and stayed that just leaves me scratching my head. Adults want to play children’s games to prolong a sense of childhood. I think these trends are socially engineered. Dumbing us down emotionally.

    1. Tom says:

      They’re not as fast as the new Chinese or Japanese bullet trains (I think China has a new train that can go up to 430 km/h), but they can go up to 300 km/h I think. Germany, Italy, France and Spain have a network of fast trains between the main cities. The rest are slower, and service varies. The U.S. has Amtrak but it’s not very good. And Via Rail in Canada is also not very good (lots of delays). I think they do it on purpose to deteriorate the service. Los Angeles in the 1940s seems to have had a large network of trains and trams. All gone.
      The cos-play thing is strange for me too. I understand it for special occasions such as a costume party, Carnival or or Halloween. But it has become some sort of normal feature of Western cities now, and you have lots of events or even shops that cater to this public. I see lots of people walking around that look like anime characters, but maybe some of them aren’t (blue hair, weird clothes, etc). Well we did have goths in my time, so there’s that.

      1. Billy Thistle says:

        Love the goth movement, the music that inspired it too. I never adopted the costuming myself but was pleased watching others who did. Goth was about something collective, same for metal. Cosplay seems individualistic and consumerist by comparison. There’s no creative core to it.

  2. AbsurdTimes says:

    Just wanted to add my experience. I often had a 400 mille commute that took about fifty minutes by air and eight by car. However, the entire trip by air was spent in the processes you mention and also delays once they locked you into the plane. Once that trip took so long, they had to ut us up in a hotel to wait for a connection. After that, I always drove. And yest, they let the passenger trains deteriorate in order to shut the down.

    1. Tom says:

      Yeah, in some cases, depending on the distance it makes more sense to drive or take another form of transportation than a plane, because you have also to count the time to get to the airport, then the whole security thing, waiting for connections etc. At least they ended most of the Covid nonsense now, having to wear a mask all the time was the worst.

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