Saturday, 27 June 2009

through the train window

I missed the last bus and had to take the train,
an absurd route (I traced it on a map)
like New York to Philly, via Boston—

checking in at every little station stop
in western Tuscany, the order random.
But I had open treasure on my lap:

what Italians call Le Ricerche, the first volume
(a plural, since no singular sufficed,
the multiple Researches of Lost Time. . . ).

In truth, the antique carriage suited Proust,
its start-and-stop, its slow eccentric rhythm,
each square of sky intensely overcast

and then split open by a full-fledged storm
so that I kept moving from the young Marcel's
interwoven overlays of daydream

to lightning startling olive-dotted hills,
which echoed with the opera that each station
improvised from greetings and farewells.

I'd lose some crucial thread or convolution
as another chance quartet reached its crescendo
and have to keep rereading the same section

looking for the hidden innuendo
of whatever unassuming word or phrase
had been darkened by a raindrop through my window.

in which the potent, not yet sounded syllables
of names of towns were unrepeated mantras

that, once uttered, cast enduring spells.
I knew the actual cities but forgot them—
preferred the more ethereal towers and hills

of words' exquisite forays into dream,
not that Proust in any way fails Venice
(the one Italian city he could claim

as a nodding acquaintance, face-to-face
from his terrace on the Riva degli Schiavoni)
but his way of capturing the unseen grace

of a place just from its name was so uncanny
that I looked out my window in disbelief
at that fake landscape posturing as Tuscany,

the real one on my haunches, keeping safe.
The storm that had propelled my little train
through all that falseness finally spent itself,

and without the constant urging of the rain
its languid pace grew even more lethargic;
the sky went dark in earnest; night came on,

my window's black so thick it seemed opaque
and there I was, at last, uninterrupted,
reading like some emptied-out amnesiac,

so lost in the dominion I'd adopted
I mistook it for my own imagining,
everything I'd known or seen coopted

by what Proust's elliptic sorcery could wring
from the timbre of a city's withheld name.
There was nothing in that country as compelling

as his progress through the semi-dark delirium
in which I—if it was I—sat transfixed.
I'd have stayed forever in that steady hum

of thick, unhurried motion: train and text
driven by a not yet mentioned name.
No one will believe what happened next:

how the train, slower still, approached a platform
with its long, late, out-of-breath cortege,
how the letters on the sign chose exactly to conform

to what was just unfolding on my page:
as if the only word worth spelling were "Siena"
and geography were always paying homage

to the sway of syllables, unless Siena
really was a figment of Proust's dream.
Where was I? Would that Siena—

had I thought to disembark in time—
even have resembled the red mirage
perched around a black-and-white striped dome

where a high probing tower appears to rummage
through the heavens for the single hold-out angel
Duccio never managed to dislodge.

(The others, of course, had transferred, at his call,
to the gold arrested air around his Mary,
an environ far more splendid and ethereal

than the one they came from, and less illusory.
You couldn't call it anything but Maesta)
It was probably Duccio's vision, albeit blurry,

puny, black-and-white—an early replica—
that launched the kyrie in Proust's ear
for that perfect one-word masterpiece: Siena,

an enchantment I not only got to hear
but to enter for an instant when my unhinged train
found its way to that precarious stratosphere

where a word will take on actual dimension
and those arch rivals, clarity and mystery,
reveal themselves, at heart, to work in unison.

I was so hell-bent on chasing beauty
it almost seems, in retrospect, inevitable,
my stumbling on that out-of-balance trinity:

Siena, Proust, the endlessly insatiable—
if utterly uncomprehending—me,
wrong about everything conceivable.

Jacqueline Osherow

(excerpt from: Proust on the Slow Train from Grosetto)

Dedicated to my dear Ffflaneur, who loves trains, austerity and - of course! - Proust.


  1. so many stories in the grain of these trees - i'm holding off from reading the text, to listen for a while - and delay some more gratification :). hug.

  2. your train is a space-and-time for tracing back the deja-vu.. a sharp edge dedicated for a poet pondering over cup of very hot tea.. and a spared section for the talented photographer interpreting the world through such small rectangle of the viewfinder..

    But my train is literally a train.. just a mechanical engine.. alas.. poor peter..

  3. Super! Imi plac mult fotografiile in special a doua si ultima. Toate cele bune, Gabi.

  4. Se tra la mente ho trovo emozioni..non mi rimane che un "clic"
    Hi..beautifull shots

  5. That's a very striking set of photos. Very impressive.

  6. Dans la photo de l'arbre je vois comme un fossile ; quand tu ramasse une pierre et de sous il y a les restes d'organismes fossilisés et les empreintes fossiles.Cela n'a rien a voir mais nous laissons partout autour de nous des traces de la vie contemporaine. Les chiens laissent des traces de pas dans la vase, vous laissez des empreintes de soulier sur la neige et la vaisselle sale que tu as déposée dans l'évier me dit que tu as bien mangé.Et toujours ton unique parfum.Allan

  7. i will join the chorus this time, second and third are ...umh... amazing? there is certain perfection of density there

    maybe your relative should return the digital gear.

  8. yes, Manu, i love this grain too - there are so many pictures which wouldn't charm me if it weren't for their texture (i'm not referring to mine now :-)
    stories, indeed, as it is always the case with trains...

  9. ah, Peter, but for the poet/photographer to embark on such a journey, i am afraid we need that 'mechanical engine' first :-) and also, we wouldn't have cameras at all if it were only up to poetical spirits :-)

  10. Multumesc, Gabi, ma bucur de trecere si de apreciere.

  11. Hi Morris, yes:
    "Se tra la mente ho trovo emozioni" - this is essential, it is inside that we have to search for emotion, i think.

  12. -K-, thank you for visiting and for your kind words, i am glad you liked them.

  13. Allan, l'analogie avec les fossiles est interessante, un voyage en train est pour moi toujours susceptible de faire ressusciter le passe, il cree le milieu parfait pour plonger dans la memoire - des themes qui sont importants ici sur le Pont Flottant :-) les souvenirs comme des fossiles, qu'on redecouvre a notre insu, quand on leve une pierre, par ex., comme tu dis - j'aime cette image. merci!

  14. Eneles, 'amazing', 'certain perfection'??? what has got into you? :-P
    it must be the softness of Sunday afternoons - which others would call 'boredom' :-)

    (i should be enjoying this silently, but my twisted tongue is restless, sorrysorrysorry)

    it is of course original b/w film, perhaps this explains the density a little. and the dirty glass (as the shots are exactly as i got them, no Lightroom or PH here). once again sorry for the un-poetical explanation, instead i should be talking about the dark clouds of my mystical soul (but i suppose that is already a truism :-).

  15. no, or else i would compliment your pictures every sunday. sundays are indeed boring - did i mention that my new obsession is making bread and cakes? slowly dying

    it was clear it was not processed, very hard to imagine this kind of picture;)

    anyway, i am envious - my pictures are completely different nowdays

  16. no, Eneles, but you (almost) never write on weekends, i have noticed, so i assume you are away from the blogworld :-) which is a sane thing to do. especially if you bake cakes and bread, how cute :-P

    (we've just had a recent proof that i don't have to take your tragic assertions at face-value, as was the case with your lost friend, so i will just ignore 'slowly dying' :-) but please don't say that anymore, not even in joke)

    my first and last experiment with baking a (heart-shaped) chocolate cake, many years ago, didn't end very well, so i now refrain from that - i bet it was that impossible shape to blame :-)

    hmmm - 100 feet deep into the primordial Sea and i don't see anything you could be envious of here, in my humble train :-)

  17. I love the trees, they're like etchings

  18. :-)

    thank you, Sorlil - and i agree too.

  19. on weekends I am out photographing and than processing, so I post far less, and also there are fewer people around to see what i post ;)

    as slowly dying goes, how come I am depraved of a poetic license? you may make references to death all the time and I get reprimands for making comment on transgressing of intellectual activity (life) into manual labour (death), spare alone the possible meditating allusions

    and I was joint going to get into long lament about weight of the world and how I will escape it in reclusive mountains of tibetan plato

    no, you shouldn't engage in cooking, or CoA may substitute your laurels for the laurel leaves. I only do so because this country cannot produce white bread. Will likely stop in October.

    I am not envious that you did it, I am envious that I cannot do it - omnipotence is my bread and butter, with a childish insistence I fake weston or adams - roversi or lindbergh, and it usually works out ;)

  20. actually.. I am mechanic only for a soul train.. Sorry, I am not the one you are looking for.. :p :p

    .. roxana, i am happy even with this trivial talk. what can i do, mr.

  21. Eneles, exactly, making poetic references to death all the time is a privilege of Bridges without proper support, birds (especially those who run away because they cannot bare too much reality, i think we share the same love for Eliot :-) should forever chirp happily in their colourful swarms in the fields, feed on cakes and play with children :-P

    i understood what you meant by 'envious', and i maintain my answer. but i like your confession about 'childish insistance' :-P

  22. Peter, a 'soul train'? now you have already started to move on poetic grounds, see, it is not so difficult :-P

  23. we're dealing here with a special kind of birds - "a bird on a bridge", and as they tend to chirp about what they see - here comes the constant of sorrow

    speaking of trains, last picture of that series, is nice, but since when did you start over-processing? i thought it is for the birds, and serious bridges don't use photoshop

  24. haha, "bird on the bridge" - i should make a series like this some time :-) though i am not good at handling birds, i've never been.

    now, what picture are you talking about, Eneles?! haven't i told you these train pictures are exactly as i got them?

  25. nothing is easier than handling the birds ;) once one accepts that birds are just birds

    my bad, i meant the soulstorm of course, attention deficite :(

  26. oh yes, i realized that immediately after answering, i got mislead by 'trains' because the soulstorm had nothing to do with them.
    you like only the last picture? it's the one i like less :-)

    but i am so glad you ask, perhaps you can help me solving this mystery. you speak about over-processing - but don't you think all the colours, in all pictures, look crazy and wild? well, you won't believe it, but it is just what i got after scanning. i only had one film of this type in my life, Kodak High Definition 400, so i don't know anything about its colours, and what i could have possibly done wrong to get such a result. you will surely laugh, but my only explanation was that the film got damaged by the rays they use to scan the luggage in the airport (i had it in my big suitcase, actually, my mistake). so actually the only thing i did was to move the exposure bar a little to the right, and already that wild red appeared. it left me no choice. but they looked strange even on the negative, i was amazed when i saw it in the lab.

    so? :-)

  27. today is not my day, I am wrong all the way - kodak high definition is, i think, what used to be called kodak royale. as colours go, there is no possible way to get these - xray machines just diminish contrast without affecting colours much. what happened here looks a lot like cross-processing, i just wonder where the green is, hmmmm

  28. what is cross-processing?

    this series here had mostly magenta/purple after scanning - i am not sure about the green, whether there was a little at first and i got rid of it in 'levels'. i always have to move the green-bar a bit to the right, because there is a green cast after scanning. but nothing that would justify such colours. i remember wondering at how green the negative looked in the lab, i suppose that was the magenta.

    but there are others pictures where there is real green/blue also - and others where i got gold and red. i will post the rest soon.

  29. cross-processing is using chemicals for slide on normal film, or vice versa. produced completely crazy colours and is beloved by a lot of people. it is sort of poor-man's version of alternative processes - not every girl nowdays spends her time in a darkroom developing cyanotypes or lithography (in your case I envision green tea being used as the developer).
    when used properly, alternative processes may provide unbelievable texture and very poetic imagery from the mundane objects.

    You can fake cross-processing using Nik Colour FX or Alienskin Aperture.

  30. oh! i had no idea about this - i will check to see photos on the net, i am so curious! (big surprise :-)

    (green tea being used as developer - hahaha - indeed, Eneles :-)

  31. no, i was not kidding. tea is a serious matter

    here the author commented that he used tea for toning after cyanotype process

    and here is green tea

    because if you skip the toning it will look like

  32. wow

    i am blown away!

    thank you!

  33. still recovering you know - from the text, from the dedication.

    trains - proust - sienna - Duccio's maesta - ah......

    have no smart comment now, am just being speechless :-)

    how did you find that text???

  34. ah, fff - i am grateful to you for noticing my humble dedication...

    how did i find that text? easy, i just asked the oracle: "which is the best poem to choose for a love declaration to ffflaneur?" and there is was, Google-Pythia came up with that one, and i just trusted her blindly :-)

    (i see there is a ffflaneur-love epidemic sweeping through the blogosphere :-)

    and quite unrelated, but since we talk here, i will just say it now: i loved your last post (big surprise :-) and i thought i would like to hear your thoughts about what happens in a communist totalitarian regime, because i think this is very interesting and also different: aren't we confronted there with an attempt of erasing the gender identity (be it biological or cultural defined one) to reach a neutral stage of the 'comrade', the 'new person'? and in this twisted way a new form of gender equality is established, at least what the ideological discourse is about. i read about feminists from West Germany becoming really enthusiastic when they discovered, after the fall of the wall, what position women held in the former Democratic republic - of course those women themselves had another perspective upon their society and their lives and were far less enthusiastic and optimistic.

  35. a pandemic , dear R, no less! :-)

    a very interesting remark about communist regimes & gender identity - it's of course all about totalitarian erasing of individuality & plurality - be it by declaring everyone a genderless comrade (in communist regimes) or by imposing a monolithic "average female" gender-identity to every woman & an "average male" identity to every man (in the 'average patriarchy') . All totalitarian regimes (be they communist or fundamentalist -religious) seem to be scared of diversity and of fluid gender-blending .

    --- It's of course fun, and proof of how gender-identities can be manipulated, to discover that in a same era, different regimes imposed so very different gender-identities ("every woman an engineer" in the DDR and "every woman loves lipstick" in the BRD)

    ---- but you are undoubtedly too young to entertain us with true-life-communist-era-stories?