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Posts Tagged ‘trains’

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 10: Surrender to the Situation, Part 3

September 23, 2015 | by

David and Julia on the Carolinian 80. Photo by Ivan Weiss.

David and Julia on the Carolinian 80. Photo by Ivan Weiss.

In his prose poem “Rounding Off to the Nearest Zero,” Albert Mobilio writes that “Driving, or at least driving alone, is, I’ve always found, conducive to thinking. The sense of forward motion, the calf’s calibrated flexing, the purposeful grip of the wheel combine, it seems, to concentrate the mind.” Trains have this effect, too: their linear haste through the landscape makes thoughts unspool. The final three chapters of “Big, Bent Ears”—including the latest, Chapter 10—follow the trajectory of the Carolinian 80 as it wends from Durham to New York, and its motion drew Ivan Weiss into a web of associations between the sounds and processes of Tyondai Braxton and of Oren Ambarchi as well as those with whom they collaborate. This new chapter revels in sensory confusion—rhythms that are seen, memories that are sonic, tables that make music—and in the comfort that can be found in music:

I’d walk into a room and be invisible, and music was always the thing that calmed the noise. It was where I found solace. I would go to sleep with the radio next to me and wake up with the radio next to me. Before my eyes would open, my hands would flick the on switch.

The chapter opens with David and Julia, pictured above—strangers who meet on the Carolinian 80 and whose conversation is loosed by the lull of travel. Their exchange, like the rest of the installment, recalls Joseph Mitchell’s lines from our first chapter: 

The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.


Fairy-tale Ending

September 15, 2015 | by

From “Wuthering Heights.”

Once upon a time, a newly married couple rode an old train from Myrdal to Flåm. The train passed through mountains and valleys, past waterfalls and vast lakes. Often the climb was dramatically steep, the hairpin turns almost impossibly sharp. The passengers ran from window to window in a frenzy of excitement, exclaiming at the vivid scenery, blinking in wonder when the train emerged from a tunnel. 

A voice spoke to the passengers, first in Norwegian, then in German, then English. The voice spoke of gradients and history: of the men who had built tracks from wood and stone and the many people who had ridden on the red seats of the old train. And there were legends, too: this was folklore country. The land through which the train was passing was said to be haunted by trolls and fays. The valleys were home to the Hulder, a forest siren who lured mortals with her unearthly song. The bride squeezed her husband’s hand in excitement. Here was magic; here was darkness. Read More »

The “Romance” of Travel

August 25, 2015 | by

Joseph Roth’s hotel years.

The Grand Hotel des Bains, where Thomas Mann wrote Death in Venice.

“I am a hotel citizen,” Joseph Roth declared in one of the newspaper dispatches anthologized in The Hotel Years: Wanderings in Europe Between the Wars, “a hotel patriot.” It’s easy to see why: Red Joseph was nothing if not a cosmopolitan humanist, and the hotel was his natural habitat. “The guests come from all over the world,” he explains:

Continents and seas, islands, peninsulas and ships, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists are all represented in this hotel. The cashier adds, subtracts, counts and cheats in many languages, and changes every currency. Freed from the constriction of patriotism, from the blinkers of national feeling, slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land, people seem to come together here and at least appear to be what they should always be: children of the world.

 Read More »

Courtesy Counts

August 21, 2015 | by

The MTA takes a stand against clipping and primping.


Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story. —E. A. Poe

With time to kill before my train, I moseyed into the New York Transit Museum’s shop at Grand Central Station. A train-mad little boy was going wild, and a clerk spoke to his mother sharply about not touching, which seemed to me tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. There were lots of T-shirts with the logos of different subway lines on them.

The shop was also selling merchandise bearing images from the MTA’s recent “Courtesy Counts” campaign—cheeky subway posters prohibiting “man-spreading,” in-car performances, incivility. My favorite is the one that portrays a female figure brushing her hair while a nearby male clips his nails. “Clipping? Primping?” it says. “Everybody wants to look their best, but it’s a subway car, not a restroom.” Read More »


March 10, 2015 | by


Photo via 6sqft

When we have to change an opinion about any one, we charge heavily to his account the inconvenience he thereby causes us. ―Friedrich Nietzsche

I was riding a train the other day that came to a halt between stations. 

After a few moments, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker: the conductor explained that there had been “a pedestrian strike” down the line, and they’d inform us when they knew more. 

I guess some people weren’t paying attention. After a while there was a rumble of discontent and querulous voices, and this one man started prowling the aisles trying to meet people’s eyes in outraged commiseration. Even absent the announcement, this was premature grounds for bonding; we hadn’t been stalled that long. Read More »

All Aboard for Collectivists, and Other News

June 23, 2014 | by


A portrait of Ayn Rand. Illustration: Manuelredondoduenas, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Gordon Lish, at eighty, lives literally in the dark, because of his psoriasis: “His apartment is a crepuscular chamber, largely unchanged since his wife died more than a decade ago. With his heavy knit sweater and wild white hair, which culminates in a braid, he wanders these rooms looking like some cross between an old fisherman and King Lear … The problem with Lish is that he is all over the place. That also happens to be the best thing about him.”
  • “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.” Flannery O’Connor hated Ayn Rand
  • … and Rand loved trains. More specifically, she loved to write about morally unworthy people dying in fiery train crashes: “The doomed include everyone from a lawyer who feels he can ‘get along under any political system,’ to ‘an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards’ because they believed in the will of the majority …”
  • Borges: not a World Cup fan. “Soccer is popular,” he once said, “because stupidity is popular.”
  • Further evidence that writing may be, you know, creative: scientists tracked “the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers … The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.”