Sunday, February 28, 2010

I love train travel for so many reasons - not only because, against all realistic statistical reassurance, I'm scared of falling out of the sky in an airplane - not of dying, but of the horror of the fall. It doesn't make sense but it's there, that fear.

But there is more to my love of train travel than fear of flying..Sunday morning early I stirred in my sleep and opened my eyes to a scarlet moon set, full and fat falling beneath the western horizon. I cherish riding contained within a little traveling microcosm of human life. As the train moves through deserts, mountains, cities, the Great Salton Sea, and wind mill farms, I wander the cars, or sit quietly typing in the lounge car and watch people and overhear their conversations.. A sleekly dressed, elegant lady in her eighties regales a scruffy self proclaimed recovering compulsive gambler with tales of train routes, accomodation and service past. She remembers elegance of train travel in the forties and fifies (nineteen, of course) but still enjoys traveling by Amtrak. Later, as we watch a flaming sunset from the lounge car, the recovering gambler recites by heart a truly moving poem he wrote about the loss of his loss of his marriage and family, a poem in which he claims his responsibility but doesn't attack himself. He says his healing comes form his God, and I hear that kind of spiritual connection in his poem. Back in my chair car, I hear a three way conversation between three Americans of Hispanic heritage talk about their lives. The lawyer from El Paso, the charismatic, opinionated lady, who strives to stay as feisty as her ninety six year old mother, and the quieter widowed lady who is making this trip to try to decide trying to decide whether to together as we see the Texas Mexico border through the train. They talk about growing up poor on frijoles and rice, how it's too bad the train has to serve "baby" food because grin goes can't handle spice. One woman shares, in a matter of fact voice, that her father was shot by accident because he was mistaken for an illegal immigrant. They talk about the price of giant jumping balloons commonly rented for birthday parties (tinka tinkas - never seen one, but they sound like fun). The charismatic lady picked grapes with the migrant farmers to pay for ballet lessens when she was thirteen, talks about it like it was a lark, and is grateful she was able to learn the lessons she coveted. Their conversation floats back and forth between Spanish and English, seamless, and glad I get at least some phrases of the Spanish.

I share lunch (community seating in the dining car) with a young man from a wealthy Brazilian family who loves to explore the United States by train. he tells me about the Amazon River, with it's alligators, the monkeys in the rain forest, how odd brown flat west Texas looks, how the Amazon is so big that when it flows into the sea you can see from space, the brown brackish water entering the blue salt sea. He says he got a good education in Brazil because his family has money, but that poor kids don't get many chances. Argentina he says is worse than Brazil, more dangerous, and so is Peru. He asks at least thirty questions about Native Americans in the UInited States, how the white settlers treated them, how they live now. I could anser at least a few. He repeats several times that Portuguese simply killed everyone they found when they settled Brazil, so there is no indigenous influence. There are flukey settlements in Brazil though, like a large city called America which was settled by Confederates after the southern loss of the Civil War. I learn so much on trains.


Ann said...

From your description, Victoria, I now MUST take an extended train trip. You took me back to the short train rides I took growing up in NJ (trains still are abundant on the east coast) trying to figure out the stories of the people and cities and buildings we passed.

Mary said...

Victoria, how interesting to picture the people you met on your train trip. My favorite is the 'sleekly dressed, elegant lady in her eighties.' How neat that she has traveled by train for decades. I find myself creating a mental picture of her.

I have taken short train trips between here and Chicago, in Tasmania, in Europe. But nothing as long as the journey you took by train. It is an experience I may never have, so it is fun to share YOUR journey vicariously.