Thursday, February 15, 2007

Night Train

It's ironic that I had to come to Austria to understand why Americans once got so worked up, misty-eyed, horny and/or poetical when they talked about trains and riding them. It's such a part of Our Story, or at least we're told it is: the Union Pacific, the taming of the West, the Golden Spike, a million blues songs, etc. etc. My friend Bill Daniel has made a film about hobo graffiti on American trains, and I'm sure it's great. But the romance and mytho-nostalgia that most of us feel for train travel is received, lifted from old movies and songs, because, at least in my experience, Amtrak sucks. It's too expensive and not at all comfortable.

On the other hand, railroad trips in Europe are way luxus, and pretty cheap. You sit in these ginchy little compartments with nice seats and a big window, there's a dining car with tables, tablecloths and excellent potato soup (as opposed to the glorified snack bars on board US trains), there's even a special "quiet" compartment for breastfeeding mothers! A couple of months ago, Anette, Adinah and I took a train from Vorarlberg (where her parents live) back home to Vienna (an eight hour trip) and we were set up in a Family Cabin with banquette seats, board games built into the compartment walls and even a little rocking horse in the corner for the kid! Tonight, I'm hurtling towards Italy in another excellent continental conveyance: the sleeper car.

My cabin is for four, but I've got it to myself for another half an hour. It's cozy but nor claustrophobic. The bed has a fitted sheet--actually more like a starched pocket I'm supposed to stick myself into, a blue fuzzy blanket and a little pillow. Out the window, I watch castles and shopping malls and vast dark farm fields rush past us. Smokestacks. Sad quiet suburban homes with lights still burning but no movement inside at all. It's lonely-amazing.

Man do I love to travel.

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