Ticket To Ride, Chapter 16: Narcissistic hedonists existing on half-tuned terms…

300px-Surtidor_de_trenes_Sixteen 

Since I’d purchased my train ticket upon arrival in Lagos, and had loosely planned to make it to Algeciras in three days to make the crossing to Morocco, I passed on the ditch-digging job. Instead I took a train to the Spanish-Portuguese border where I crossed the Guadiana by ferry. Back in Spanish-land, Andalusia, entering through the village of Ayamonte, I was able to use my marginal college Spanish. I made my way to the nearest Tabac to pick up a pack of Fortunas, then headed into town seeking cheap accommodations; a place to read, and sleep.

“No tengo mucho dinero,” I’d say.

“Lo siento amigo.”

“Amigo. Shit.”

Over the red-tiled, dusty, cut-and-dried town, the sun set low in the sky casting its solemn, pinkish hue on the suddenly omnipresent world. For a moment the villager’s faces were transformed from a Gothic, gargoyle-grey to something saintly and almost sweet, like a mosaic in the St. Apollinare. But all seemed transformed into con-men when it came to bargaining for a bed.

The topic of money snuffed out this last flicker of godliness and I decided to move on, to hitch-hike to the next town, and a possible train headed south. Tired, hollow, dull-ache, sunset, where’s home from here?, mind.

I stalked heavy-footed on my tarmac path, a narrow, two-laned, “Mexican-One”-like highway where, at the edge of town stood the broken down, empty remains of an abandoned railway station which might once have served to carry me south. I have “all the time in the world,” I thought, but do I want it?

Hitch-hiking in Andalusia is not advisable if a ride is what you’re after.

The sun sank and I waited. Cars passed. The world turned, quite a revolution.

Situated alongside a fallow field and facing west, the dying light offered a little pioneer glory to my asphalt predicament. I ate some bread and cheese, smoked a few more Fortunas, drank the rest of a two-day-old soda, and when twilight arrived, I crossed the road to the Mari-Ro hostel and bargained for a bed. The manager was an arrogant bastard but I was too tired to argue.

“Diez mil pesetas.”

Just give me a room, I thought… “esta bien,” handing him the money, “las llaves por favor… gracias,” he gave me the keys.

In bed I read the last few pages of Kundera’s, The Joke which Norbert had given me, then fell into a disjointed sleep and dreams of lepers and whorehouse red. Sweet sleep that I long for.

Coined eyes

hands clam-cold

Morning… bright… clear… oppressive… waking… moaning… dream images… vertigo thoughts… mind.

In the morning I caught a bus in front of the hostel and headed into the fields and orchards of southern Spain and three days without sleep. The sky was grey and I’ve always had this thing about grey skies; sleepy, inward, ponderous. Cafe con leche at every stop was more than a feeble attempt to defy my mood and, mixed with a pack of cigarettes, kept me at least somewhat focused on something outside of my head.

In a cafe at the Huelva railway station I ate two ham sandwiches and went outside to read, but ended up writing a short poem.

blue fire lightning strikes desire in eyes

like red tide swells that fold & fall

then merge on the surface

feeding

flickering

wishing to be a flame

celta-sevilla-spainSevilla. Waiting hours between connections. San Jose Del Cabo, that’s what it looks like. But that was another time. Just a few years ago, but another time.

A few streets away from the station I came across two Brits playing broken riffs for Spanish coin. He played and she smiled with a tin can, collecting. They’d been in Sevilla for about three weeks and were making something like three thousand pesetas a day. They slept in a van parked on the edge of town. “Lovely here,” she said over and over. Nigel offered me a turn on the guitar, then helped me muddle through a few chords of “Sweet Jane.”

“Where’re you headed chief?” he asked with a broad Lancashire accent.

“Morocco… Marrakesh. I want to be in Algeciras in a couple of days to make the crossing.”

“Not exactly the right time for a yank to be in Morocco. With the Iranian thing and bloody Ramadan. It’s a bleedin’ sin to eat during the day. Allah humma laka sumna, wa ‘ala rizqika aftarna. A lot of ‘em get barmy on you… might better hold on to your fuckin’ head.”

“Fuck it, I just want to see Marrakesh.”

“The shops are opening up, would you like an ice cream.” said Nigel’s girlfriend.

“Sure,” I said.

Over ice cream they talked about strawberry season and how they’d done pretty well as pickers. I toyed for a moment with a Kerouacean notion of joining them, but didn’t.

After the ice cream I wished them luck and headed toward the train station. Some young Spanish girls were returning to their school which stood adjacent to the platform. As they passed, some smiled, their eyes like twilight. The ancestors of Mexican girls, embroidered in the Americas with Indian motifs. I smiled back innocently.

Their latin lovers followed the line of their gaze, then looked at me with contempt.

I was hungry again so I set off across the main square in search of food. After walking the perimeter of the square I ended up in a sort of cafe across the street from the station. I ate a sort of hamburger and drank a coke and was stared at by a few very old people. It was quiet and I suspected it would be until I left. They knew and I knew that I wouldn’t be there long and soon they would be free to talk amongst themselves and perhaps guess where the fair-haired young man had come from and where he might be going and where they themselves had been but never where they might go again.

As the sun set over the Guadalquivir, a group of excited students got on the train and sat in the seats around me. Some of the girls smiled and giggled as they discovered the foreigner in their midst. The boys smiled and giggled at them. They were traveling light.

“Adonde van?” I asked.

“On a day trip to Sevilla para Museo Principal de Bellas Artes,” said one of the boys, trying out his English. “Quiere ir?”  (Have you been)

“El año pasado pero… ahora voy a Morocco. Estoy en Sevilla solamente por el tren.”

“El museo es ‘brilliant,’” said one girl, “brilliant and lovely.” I found it charming how she fell into a sort of English accent when she used English words but found her overzealousness suffocating. The door had opened to continue talking to her but I went cold.

I managed to smile as I turned away and settled back in to my seat. In turning I noticed two very nice looking girls to my right. They smiled and I turned away. When I turned back toward them they were speaking between themselves, one looking into a compact and fixing her make-up. The door closed. Women felt forbidden to me. If not women, then what? Bread. Dry bread. I looked again, they were dragons. The world of the train car went away and again I was back in Anaya’s bathroom, tripping. Only this time, I was seeing Great Uncle Norman, Normy the fucking molester, and the fear that must have been on my father’s face when he was a boy and then my father yelling at me, calling me a pansy and a pussy.

The train began to move. I grabbed my notebook and wrote:

Narcissistic hedonists existing on half-tuned terms,

like germs in a culture,

like the vultures we’ve become.

We look into a mirror, not into the past, the present, nor the future, but at ourselves, fed by vanity, vanity and self-absorption.

I got up from my seat and went to the back of the car, I was on auto pilot now and not thinking just moving and only slightly interested in where I was being led. I’d made it to the back door, opened it and heard the noise of the wheels against the rails, and the wind, the wind in my face between train cars in the open, but I wanted it to be done, not all of me but a big part was ready to move on, to be done. The train was at full speed now.

Behind me the train conductor said in Spanish:

“If you jump you will most certainly die.”

Precise statement, pithy, decide.

I had to either jump or go home. At that point I wasn’t sure where home was.

I heard the words of U2’s “Into the Heart” coming from a cassette player inside the train:

“Into the heart of a child, I can stay a while, but I can’t go back.”

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Ticket To Ride, Chapter 12: Travel is, at best, a metaphor for the inner journey…

ivy-league-school-brown-university-providence-riTwelve

Morgan turned eighteen shortly after Psalm’s death. Even though his mind felt locked in a vice, he’d decided, just after Psalm died to return to the mainland to attend college. Visions of brick buildings and autumn leaves fed his desire of becoming a modern-day Thoreau and thus, at least in his mind, he began his journey toward becoming an academic. His meetings with Miko were cut short after his argument with his father and his hunger for books pushed him to read into the small hours of the night. He wouldn’t get out of bed until near noon and was just biding his time because his mother, whom he spoke to when his father was at work, insisted on giving him some money from her trust. Her sister was arranging it on the mainland.

He worked at the store less and without being conscious of the change, matters of the spirit seemed to have died. He was “getting into his mind” and felt that this was a good thing. His experience with acid had darkened him. He had become detached, a skeleton of intellect.

“Take this money and the money you’ve saved and honey… and be a writer, go to school Morgan, be yourself.”

They hugged and promised each other they’d keep in touch.

Back on the mainland Morgan studied literature for two years, rarely looking up from his books to see the world around him. His retreat into this life of the mind was almost seamless. Almost, until one day, in a French literature class, the professor showed “Boudou Saved From Drowning” by Jean Renoir. Morgan could feel it coming from the pit of his stomach, burning. The professor was going on about how Boubou represented a sort of primal wildness and further, that his presence was a threat to French society. And in that moment, Morgan felt like college was nothing more than some long drawn-out form of masturbation that never quite finished the job. He raised his hand. The professor looked at him. The class looked to where the professor was looking. Morgan breathed and said,

“The middle class has no sense of humor, the lower class wants to be the middle or upper class and the upper class is populated by zombies. Western culture is suffering some kind of collective neurosis where everyone’s living in some kind of weird fear… This shit’s too much.” he finished, smiling.

The professor just stood there, expressionless.

His academic counselor, a pony-tailed and down-to-earth man only a little older than Morgan suggested that Morgan spend some time in Europe.

“It’d be good for you. All the great writers have gone on spiritual and intellectual sojourns.”

“I’m just having a hard time seeing what I’m accomplishing here.”

“Most of us go through this sort of thing. If nothing else, you’ll be collecting experiences for future writing.”

This spoke to Morgan’s literary self, his academic vanity, and to a much smaller extent, his sense of adventure, which had been all but snuffed out by his over-indulgence in vicarious journeys.

“But remember, ‘travel is, at best, a metaphor for the inner journey and, at worst, an avoidance of it.”

Sketches of Spain in Spring – Sevilla

2004_barrio_santa_cruz_sevillaSketches of Spain, Spring by Philip Scott Wikel

I.

I caught a bus in front of the pensione and headed into the fields and orchards of southern Spain and three days without sleep. The sky was grey and I’ve always had this thing about grey skies, sleepy, inward, ponderous. Cafe con leche at every stop was more than a feeble attempt to defy my mood and, mixed with a pack of cigarettes, kept me at least somewhat focused.

In a cafe at the Huelva railway station I ate two ham sandwiches and went outside to read, but ended up writing a short poem.

blue fire lightning strikes desire in eyes

like red tide swells that fold & fall

then merge on the surface

feeding

flickering

wishing to be a flame

II.

Sevilla. Waiting hours between connections. San Jose Del Cabo, that’s what it looks like. But that was another time. Just a few years ago, but another time.

A few streets away from the station I came across two Brits playing broken riffs for Spanish coin. He played and she smiled with a tin can, collecting. They’d been in Sevilla for about three weeks and were making something like three thousand pesetas a day. They slept in a van parked on the edge of town. “Lovely here,” she said over and over. Nigel offered me a turn on the guitar, then helped me muddle through a few chords of “Sweet Jane.”

“Where’re you headed chief?” he asked with a broad Lancashire accent.

“Morocco… Marrakesh. I’m supposed to meet a friend in Algeciras in a couple of days to make the crossing.”

“Not exactly the right time for a yank to be in Morocco. With the bombing and bloody ramadan you might better hold on to your fuckin’ head.”

“Handley’s idea…”

“Handley?”

“Yeah the guy I’m meeting in Algeciras. Talked me out of Bordeaux and Biarritz and…”

“The shops are opening up, would you like an ice cream.” said Nigel’s girlfriend.

“Sure.”

Over ice cream they talked about strawberry season and how they’d done pretty well as pickers.

 

III.

Some young Spanish girls were returning to their school which stood adjacent to the  train station. As they passed, some smiled, their eyes like twilight. The ancestors of Mexican girls embroidered in the Americas with indian motifs. I smiled back, innocently.

Their latin lovers followed the line of their gaze, then looked at me with contempt.

I was hungry again so I set off across the main square in search of food. After walking the perimeter of the square I ended up in a sort of cafe across the street from the station. I ate a sort of hamburger and drank a coke and was stared at by a few very old people. They knew and I knew that I wouldn’t be there long and soon they would be free to talk amongst themselves and perhaps guess where the fair-haired man had come from and where he might be going and where they themselves had been but never where they might go again.

 

IV.

As the sun set over the Guadalquivir, a group of excited students got on the train and sat in the seats around me. Some of the girls smiled and giggled as they discovered the foreigner in their midst. The boys smiled and giggled at them. They were traveling light and I asked them where they were going and where they had been. One of the serious boys informed me that they were on a day trip to Sevilla to see the Museo Principal de Bellas Artes. Had I been there? Yes, but not this trip. I was in Sevilla only to make a train connection.

“El museo was ‘brilliant,'” said one girl.

I smiled and turned away and settled back and noticed two very nice looking women to my right. I smiled and they turned away to speak between themselves, as is usually the case, once you’ve shown some interest.

From Pillow of Grass by Natsume Soseki, 1925

yin-yangFrom Pillow of Grass by Natsume Soseki

Going up a mountain track I fell to thinking. Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh. Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current. Give free rein to your desires, and you become uncomfortable confined.

When the unpleasantness increases, you want to draw yourself up to some place where life is easier. It is just at that point when you first realize that life will be no more agreeable no matter what heights you may attain, that a poem may be given birth, or a picture created.

The creation of this world is the work of neither God nor devil, but of the ordinary people around us; those who live opposite, and those next door, drifting here and there about their daily business. You may think this world created by ordinary people a horrible place in which to live, but where else is there? Even if there is somewhere else to go, it can only be a “non-human” realm, and who knows but that such a world may not be even more hateful than this?