Category Archives: The Bookish Type

[JUNE] IN THE RAILROAD EARTH

Railroad Train by Edward Hopper

“The restlessness and the longing, like the longing that is in the whistle of a faraway train.
Except that the longing isn’t really in the whistle—it is in you.” 

                                      – Meindert Dejong, The Little Cow and the Turtle 

I have been thinking about Trains of late, I recently went to see a Miyazaki double feature, Spirited Away and The Wind Rises, where those beautiful iron beasts carry the wanderlust/lost on a spiritual trip to the afterlife or to an other life. I spent a good solid month in a small town in Wisconsin called Prairie Du Chein, and every night I was serenaded by the whistling soliloquy of the distant train and it was true, it was a displaced wail for a longing inside of me, a longing I knew couldn’t be fulfilled in a tiny town (no matter how much I romanticized it). The trains whistle still haunts me inside, I can feel it like a force of breath between my ribcage.The wailing between the rails guarding my unconscious. I long, so I play Vashti Bunyan’s Train Song.

I am on a bit of train binge at the moment, I am, as it were, loco over locomotives. It especially amuses me that trains petrified Freud, he suffered from Siderodromophobia (fear of train travel) through his childish eyes the steam jets from a train looked like souls burning in hell. In his self-analysis he said the rocking of the train reminded him of the loss of his mother, love thy mother.

The following is a list of my favorite train tracks, films, books, poetry ladeda.

LITERATURE

pawprints

Ghost Cat by Joy Cowley 

A couple years ago,
A deaf old cat named Mack
Went for an evening walk
Along the railway track.
He didn’t hear the whistle
Of the midnight train.
‘Dead!’ said the engine driver.
‘We won’t see him again.’
Me-ow!

The driver was mistaken
The ghost of Mack came back
To haunt the midnight train
On the section of the track.
The driver said he saw him suddenly appear.
His coat was grey like mist
His eyes were cold and clear.
Mee-ee-o-ow!

And sometimes lonely travellers
Bound for the distant places,
Woke up after midnight
With pawmarks on their faces.
They gave a cry of terror
As a pale grey shape slid by,
And through the darkened carriages
They heard the ghostly cry.
Mee-ee-ee-ee-o-o-o-ow!

This poem by children lit darling Joy Cowley was probably my first exposure to terror, the accompanying picture drawn by a child called Waaka Harris didn’t help to nullify the unease. Between the whistle of the train, the callous response of the engine driver, the iridescent haunting of a Cat, with such a congenial name like Mack, I was absolutely petrified but also disturbingly beguiled on my first train trip.

 

Railway Rhymes by CL GravesRailway Station

“When books are pow’rless to beguile
And papers only stir my bile,
For solace and relief I flee
To Bradshaw or the ABC
And find the best of recreations
In studying the names of stations.”

Ah to escape by train from life’s shit, now that would be a great adventure. There is something therapeutic about studying the names of streets and stations. The best part about studying train stations from a moving train is that it flashes by and it is gone, and it’s on to the next one. Ponder and release.

Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Train lit. has been embroiled in the world of what I am going to call hard-boiler crime. The Train in Patricia Highsmiths psychological thriller opens a platform for a psychopathic playboy to prey of those in transit-physically and mentally. An A to B journey for Guy Haines is derailed by a strangers proposition-a moider swap, he will kill his unfaithful wife, if Guy kills his father.

 

 

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

What appears to be a formulaic whodunnit on a train, opens up a space for derailing ideas of crime and punishment. It sparks on the terrors of train travel, being cooped up in space of compartmental collapse with strangers, who could perhaps kill you. Exotic landscapes are rendered  impressionistic by the trains speed, and whodunnit becomes a landscape to the shaky forefront of human ethics. 

 FILM

In 1986 the Lumiere brothers created the first unintentional horror film, when their train sent audiences (unfamiliar with how film worked) screaming from the auditorium, solidifying the symbolic power of the train on screen. The terrible, terrific imprinted forever on the collective unconscious.

Click on the pictures to watch a scene from these films.

North by Northwest

North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock, 1959

The reason why I attribute train travel to sexy espionage, slinky martinis and comfortable sleeping lounges, Amtrak quickly dissolved those romanticized views. The end of this film has the best sexual innuendo involving a train.

Once Upon a Ti

Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone, 1968 

Trains have and still are intrinsic to the myth building of the West in the American consciousness. Sergio Leone capitalizes on the ‘traveling’ nature of the Western to redress the mythological expansion of the iron horse across the west-frontier building on crack. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack, accentuates the plodding, dying whistle of the demi-gods on horses, as the train makes tracks across the western narrative.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki, 2001

There is something so peaceful about a train taking spirits home, train as travel to the afterlife. The train scene lulled into a slumber by the medicinal music of Joe Hisaishi is like a meditative pause. It opens a space for a long sigh after life is done.

La Bete Humaine

La Bete Humaine, Jean Renoir, 1938

Jean Renoir’s poetic realist masterpiece takes us into the coal clogged, hellish belly of the industrial monster. In this locomotive infested world, the plights of suffering male,sacrificial woman and popular front are fought in the slinky, oilskin shadows.

The Music Man

The Music Man, Morton DaCosta, 1962

The opening scene where a honky salesman rap coalesces with the rhythm and sounds of the train, as if the men are having synchronized sex with the train, not to mention each other is just brilliant. The fact they are salesman (prostitutes in suits) jostling in synchrony with the grind, steam and steady thrust of the locomotive will have you in hysterics.

The list could go on and on so here is a montage of train scene from the films I love.

TRAIN TRACKS


Click on the picture below to  listen to my  Spotify playlist, TRAIN TRACKS

Trains

DERAILED LOVE
5:15 The Angels Have Gone – David Bowie
All Aboard – Muddy Waters
Jumping someone else’s train/another journey by train – The Cure
Downtown Train – Tom Waits

LONGING WITH A LONESOME WHISTLE
500 miles – Peter, Paul and Mary
Train Song – Vashti Bunyan
Blues in the Night – Ella Fitzgerald
Homeward Bound – Simon & Garfunkel

THE GREAT ESCAPE
The Draize Train – The Smiths 
Gone Darker – Electrelane
Long Black Train – Lee Hazlewood
High Speed Train – R.E.M

REEL ROAD
The Sixth Station (Spirited Away) – Joe Hisaishi
Farewell to Cheyenne (Once Upon a Time in the West) – Ennio Morricone
Conversation Piece (North by Northwest) – Bernard Herrmann
Lara’s Theme (Dr Zhivago) –  Maurice Jarre

Train

“In this fast movin’ world that we live in nobody rides ’em much these days
Maybe I’m a little sentimental cause I know that things have to change
But I’d still like to go for a train ride cause I’ve got a thing about trains .”

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“Lord! there’s somebody walking over my Grave”

Criswell

I was reading The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham and I came across the line, ‘Someone is walking over my grave,’ a response by a character feeling a sudden shudder. I had used, what I presumed to be a common idiom often; but I had never actually thought about what it meant.  For some reason the saying irked me, scratched at my skull. This I declared called for an investigation.

Thanks to the wonders of the Interverse I discovered that the saying was first coined under Jonathan Swifts pseudonym Simon Wagstaff, in A Complete Collection of Ingenious Conversation, 1978,

“Miss [shuddering]. Lord! there’s somebody walking over my Grave.”

It also stems from a folk belief/wive’s tale, recorded in Basil Godfrey’s Caprice by Lee Holme, 1868,

“Joan shuddered – that irrepressible convulsive shudder which old wives say is caused by a footstep walking over the place of our grave that shall be.”
Link to full text here

The saying derives from a time when the distinction between life and death was ambiguously murky; also grave sites were for the most part pre-determined so the idea of someone walking across your future resting place made sense.

In American versions, the human footstep is substituted with a Goose, hence the term ‘goosebumps.’

I am often possessed by sudden shudders, I get them multiple times per day. Either someone is being a twit and walking over my grave multiple times to be an asshole, I think it could be the love of my life OR I have multiple grave sites because I am going to be chopped into tiny bits by New Zealand’s first serial killer and be spread across this antipodean land OR I am going to get my wish and be scattered to the wind and wind up flying back into my nearest and dearest’s mouths. Thats right, bite me future loved ones

and now to leave you with some grave words from Criswell…

 

 

 
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Will You Walk Into My Parlor …. THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS By Ian McEwan

Lee Friedlander shadow

It was the word STRANGERS that stood out to me–as I too am a stranger in a strange land, relying upon the kindness of strangers.

I read the blurb on the back which said …

On vacation in a city that may or may not be Venice, Mary and Colin are growing weary of each other, lost among the city’s ancient, endlessly winding streets. Then one night … they meet an enigmatic stranger named Robert.

I was instantly intrigued …

This is an adaptation of the ole’ Spider and the Fly poem–the alluring charms of the parlor, the trap of the unheimlich, the play of power and the death drive. HOME is at the centre of this tale, where its plasticity becomes gothic putty in the hands of Ian McEwan.

The menacing forces of unheimlich are at play, as Mary and Colin (the undead) wander about a city that is both familiar and rendered unfamiliar by remaining unnamed. There is a sense of nightmarish claustrophobia as peripheral predators close in like a hitchcockian noose. It is an erotically spun suspense tale, where one is conscious of an uncanny evil lurking but is still stunned when it launches its attack. It shall leave a taint upon thee.

Enough blablabla, from your friendly neighborhood echo, go read this book.

Traveling Light: Stories & Drawings for a Quiet Mind

I thank the Goddess of Chance I happened upon this winsome lil’ book by Brian Andreas. A whimsical something, where words of inspiration, humor and subtle provocation, coexist with delightful child-like creature doodles. Here are some of my favourites ….

Seriously suggest buying a copy!!!

PHANTOM TALES: 5 Novels on Death

With the extensive amount of literature on the subject of death, I decided to narrow it down to ghosts. 

1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte 

A novel that could only have been spawned from a female mindscape. One that resides in a space of between: nightmare/daytime, Gothic supernaturalism/Victorian pragmatism, desire/restraint.  A novel of children’s desires that fatefully mimic the laws of an adult world, yet bend them through mortality.That excess of desire that haunts the moors, that protruding crag, that tapping on the glass, ‘let me in,’ it is all frightfully erotic. Read this novel and let these ghosts in.

2. Winterwood – Patrick McCabe

This is one twisted tale. Redmund Hatch is haunted by phantoms of past: homesickness, trauma, abuse and mythicism, an underbelly to the Irish beast – The Celtic Tiger. Will he find protection in the magical kingdom of Winterwood?

3. The Turn of the Screw Henry James

A woman is appointed governess to two children in an isolated country house and begins to see ghosts. Are these ghosts real or is she insane? Simple, I think not. Woman plus habitation equals the uncanny gothic, an enclosed space for slippage, displacement and collapse. Note: truth is subjective and answers are voids.

4. Rebecca – Daphne De Muir

An unnamed young woman marries the Byronic Maxim de Winter and moves into Manderley – a house tainted by his deceased wife, Rebecca. Another great habitation plus woman novel. This time the ghosts are ‘that which cannot be named’ – a lesbianism. You too will be dreaming you returned to Manderley, after reading this gothic gem.

5. The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allen Poe


Incest, a crumbling castle, an entombed alive, a wailing – intrigued? This is quintessential Poe, exploring the underbelly of humanity – the fears, the guilts and morbidity in haunting imagery.

Other great novels about death and fatalism: 

  • Dead Souls – Nikolay Gogal
  • Tess of the D’Ubervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  • La Bete Humaine – Emile Zola
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
  • They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  • Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  • The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
  • The Birds – Daphne De Muir
  • The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy
  • The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
  • The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler.

Yours Invisibly,
Anyones Ghost