memory train / by patrick carpenter

There's a comfortable feeling of delivering myself into the care of those who run these great, somnolent trains, through the clear glass of which people are staring, as drained, as quiet as invalids.
Salter, A Sport and a Pastime

Just like that, I'm back in Europe, boarding every train I ever boarded in the eight years I lived there. Overnight trains to Venice, longer to Paris, Heidelberg, Palermo, where they backed the train into a ferry to cross over to the island from the toe of the boot and you'd jump out at every stop to look at the postcards of the town to see if it was worth spending the day there, and this is how you discovered Cefalu and Solunto. Overnight trains which were always an option if you could not find a good pension in town and didn't actually need to spend another day there anyway. Friday after work trains to the ski towns of Zell Am See and Saalbach, the dining cars with heavy white tablecloths and efficient, peevish waiters, goulasch and romerquelle, trout and strudel. Sunday trains back to the city crowding up the closer and later it got, falling asleep on top of each other after two days on the slopes and two nights under eiderdown and windows open to fresh alpine air. trains to countries that no longer exist - only cities now: Belgrade, Split, Brno, Bratislava. First class sleepers with your own sink and no customs officer will wake you at 2am, the budget sleeper with the crack that let in the frigid February air. All the great, thick magazines to buy at the kiosk, the magnetic chessboard, the dares you would dare your friends to play on strangers to cut the boredom, the pity of East European trains where the third class would stand for hours outside compartments full of privileged free-market students, exhausted victims of dysfunctional economic systems, reeking next to young soldiers hung over and sick returning from a weekend pass, climbing over all these bodies and cheap luggage and sick to get to the hopeless WC, the time you kept getting kicked off trains because you had no ticket because you had no money because you had no wallet because it was stolen along with your passport, clothes, and your only decent pair of shoes in the Venice train station and the customs official didn't know what to do with you without any of these things and so he finally gave up and let you get back across Italy to Austria but the Austrian conductors kicked you off all over again so you had to hitchhike to Graz and jump on the next train available - which turned out to be the one you had just been kicked off of, and when you recognized the conductor and he recognized you you both couldn't believe you luck and you had to get off at the next stop again but at least it was one stop closer. and the times you mistakenly boarded the local instead of the regional and added hours to your commute, plodding through towns like Bruck Fusch, Bruck An Der Mur, St. Johann Im Pongau...all the time the chance to stare out at mustard fields, abbeys on the hill, vineyards, rivers, alpine towns, snow flurries, farmland, places where you would think to yourself: what would you do if you lived here? or here? or here?