Sunday, September 09, 2007

Below is another post that got stuck. As the New Belgium Brewing Company sez', "Follow your folly..."

Notes from the geographically dyslexic

24 August 2007, 0800 -- Onboard one of Europe's most efficient, super quick ICE trains -- Inter-City Express -- which the European Rail Guide said have managed "to slice hours off the journey times between popular destinations such as Hamburg in the far north of the country and Munich nestled in the south." The high speed train I'm on, which can go at speeds of up to 175 mph, has just left Amsterdam. I'm supposed to arrive in Vienna after around 12 hours, but a tiny cosmic quirk means first I have to change more trains than I counted on.

As my usual luck would have it, I picked the right train for my lurch to Austria. My ICE train developed technical problems even before it could leave Amsterdam's Centraal Station. The kinks were serious enough to warrant a complete change in schedules for all the passengers, with the train acquiring as its final destination the rail garage, or whatever such a version of a train fix-it-place is called.

As an exasperated, wincing train official who checked my ticket told me, now I will have to await the announcement that is supposed to tell me (likely in Dutch or German) if I am to disembark in Cologne or in Frankfurt. From there, she said, I will have to locate the train bound for Munich, and then from there another long lurch to Salzburg, and then Vienna.

"Good luck sir," she said.


I get lost all the time in my hometown of Quezon City, and now my train changes have multiplied.

My heart leapt at the ICE woman's words and I almost stood up to order a beer for breakfast before I reminded myself to stay awake. I settled for coffee and the sandwich in my bag.

The train hurtles through the morning and the sounds inside the coach are muffled. Outside, the fog is growing thicker and has seemingly forced the train to reduce speed. I see a legion of crows flying across a field dotted with clusters of horses and lumbering cows with colors so stark in mottled black and splashes of white and grey they look as if they were lifted straight out of milk cartons.

I have a tangle of things in my head -- ideas and concerns and plans -- competing without a sense of ranking. For too many months now, I have managed to avoid sending out articles regularly with my usual frequency, despite the material I have been able to gather and store for so many unfinished essays. I have with me a wonderful store of materials, notes and clippings and even more clippings and notes. But it has been a frustrating period putting together my second book, it's chapters too often melding and separating at will, and I have not found the rhythm to actually do what I had intended to do after The Poverty of Memory was published, which is to write more essays with a wider range of subjects -- many for for immediate publication -- while I shape and mold the chapters of the second book, which is more probing, more complicated. I consoled by the fact that I have begun to paint again but this thought has brought me to a brooding mood as I remember the water pencils, brush and pad that I forgot to pack for the trip.

The sky is clear again and the scene outside the window has acquired the familiar feel of an old movie reel. Images whiz by but the eyes see far away, prowl other things.

Every now and then train officials march down the corridor of our carriage with a scowl on their faces. Germans and the Dutch are known to get upset over delays of a single minute or two; their feet nervously tap the ground or they furtively glance at watches and clocks. I can't imagine what this trip was like for them, especially the officials: our departure from Amsterdam was delayed for 45 minutes...

There is a different sense of time in this part of Europe, where they take their seconds and minutes and hours most seriously and preciously. Or at least "seriously" and "preciously" from their perspective. There are other notions of precious time as well as time taken seriously, and I am thinking of Spain right now, where gravity bears down on the clock and the minute hand in a different way, where instead of gearboxes and other mechanical things, the velocity of departures and arrivals is determined largely by the physics of smoke and liquid and lingering scents.

India somehow also taps me on the shoulder, whispering that the sitar is no less accurate than the violin and that the same provenance of time governs both instruments, though Slowness and Speed, two extremely upright fellows, take longer to chat and exchange lecherous notes each time they meet. #

Photos by Redster, who is smitten with the red trams of Vienna, such as the one in the last pic. They could've been blue or yellow and they would have still been just as timeless and elegant...

1 comment:

Daniel Mittler said...

It was a good thing yu made it to Viena, Red. And I blame privatization for the increasing delays on Europe's trains. Now that profit rules, accuracy and punctuality are, increasingly, a thing of the past. That said, the ICE is truly wonderful. The best I know in the world. And they serve a decent wheat beer (Koenig Ludwig) in the ICE restaurant. Try it next time!