July 17, 2013

Excerpts Wednesday! (trademark pending)

From Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

 ...bouncing towards Batumi in a cold drizzly dusk—into the unknown, a place I’d never been. Its very dreariness and decrepitude were a consolation. I could see from the border, the roadside, Sergei in his old car, and the men laboring with pushcarts that this was a benighted place, not expensive, and slightly creepy—wonderful, really, because I was alone and had all the time in the world. No sign of any other tourist or traveler; I had walked across the frontier into this wolfish landscape. And if Sergei was correct in saying that there was a night train to Tbilisi, it would be perfect. It seemed to me that this was the whole point of traveling—to arrive alone, like a specter, in a strange country at nightfall, not in the brightly lit capital but by the back door, in the wooded countryside, hundreds of miles from the metropolis, where, typically, people didn’t see many strangers and were hospitable and did not instantly think of me as money on two legs. 
*
Even on the outskirts of the capital the full moon lighted the huts in the hills, giving it all the look of a Gothic landscape, darkness and blunted shadow, and rooftops and hilltops bluey white from the cold moon. 
*
Why don’t you take the plane? the Georgian had asked me. Because—I thought when I was in the corner seat of my railway compartment—airplanes are a distortion of time and space. And you get frisked. 
*
The predictable regularity of humdrum domesticity is perfect for writing: monotony is the writer’s friend. People said to me, “You’re always away!” But it wasn’t true. I loved being home, waking in my own bed beside my wife, watching the news on TV, spending half the day writing, and then cooking, reading, swimming, riding my bike, seeing friends. Home is bliss. 
 
Travel means living among strangers, their characteristic stinks and sour perfumes, eating their food, listening to their dramas, enduring their opinions, often with no language in common, being always on the move towards an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary that is continually shifting, sleeping alone, inventing the trip...

And behind the tower the sea began, the utterly faceless, leaden, unfathomable Caspian Sea, and beyond, the desert — jagged rocks and scrub: still, mute, unconquerable, the most beautiful landscape in the world.’” 
          *

I reached the conclusion that Turkmenistan, perhaps because of its tyrannous history, was one of the most superstition-prone cultures I’d ever seen. 
*
all travelers on Turkmenistan’s roads were subject to numerous roadblocks and the arbitrary search-and-seizure rules of the security forces, train travelers were blameless and carefree—another instance of railway passengers regarded as being beneath notice. 
*
It was a lesson in rural Turkmen economics and paternal love: this man who’d just had a fitful night of sleep on the train would crouch in the darkness and cold of Mary Station and wait for three hours, wrapped in his cloak, to save 30 cents to divide among his four kids.

No comments: