There and back again

Enclosed space behavioural patterns, what’s it called, lift behaviour?  The doors close on two people who only seconds before were having a friendly chat over an espresso in the hotel bar. Now they shut up shop and silence ensues when the doors close like a pair of folded arms. The will to wish the lift to rise is strong and the relief is almost tangiable when it arrives.  It seems like the lift and its occupants are holding their breath and finally let it out when the doors open, when those arms unfold.  It’s a unique situation, it doesn’t happen when four people are squashed into a car.  Space.  We thrive on it.

Space conservation happens on trains.  Four seats and only one of them occupied, their occupant relaxed and probably reading, playing Candy Crush or possibly, Heaven forbid, writing, with a pen and paper.  A second person arrives and sits down opposite, diagonally anyway.  A shuffling of feet and space, reluctantly, is conceded.  This is still bearable.  The first occupant continues as before; reading, Candy Crushing or maybe writing.  The new arrival starts to rummage in his bag and out comes a book, a phone or maybe a pen and paper. Two people sitting diagonally can share the same space comfortably; they may even swap greetings – sometimes it still happens.  This sense of conviviality continues, each to their own doing what they’re doing with possibly the occasional glance out the window, looking at the black and white cows in the fields.  Why are all the cows black and white when seen from the window of a train?  Where are the other cow colours?  Is there a law that says only black and white cows can graze near railway lines?

Then the train pulls into the next station.  Both occupants look up from what they’re doing, look at the seats next to them, move their bags half an inch nearer their feet and wait.  They hold their breath.  Time doesn’t stand still but they wish it would; they want to remain with an empty seat next to them forever.  They don’t want their space encroached upon but they know it’s going to happen, it has to.

The doors of the train open with a swoosh and people file in, looking for a seat, any seat.  It doesn’t matter next to who, they just want to sit down, to have their own place where they can sit and read a book, play the telephone or possibly write.  The two original occupants frown, engage in more feet shuffling and move their bags another half an inch to see if that is enough.  If not they will sigh, sometimes audibly, and rearrange their space; four seats, four people.  With space dramatically reduced the original occupants will have to get used to it.  The two new arrivals on the other hand are happy as Larry.  They have their seat and now they can relax, coat off and a big, happy sigh of relief and out come the books, phones or pen and paper.  They’re on holiday, look at them! Any more relaxed and they’d put their feet up and ask the ticket inspector for a pina colada.  The two original occupants are most certainly not on holiday and have been thrown back into winter, because it’s darker now the light from the windows has diminished. The book is harder to read, Candy is harder to crush and the thoughts transmitted from pen to paper are harder to come by.  Love thy neighbour, but only if you have the space to do so.

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Keeping track on the tracks

As the lights from the carriage flash by, reflecting off the dark, Cold, damp walls of the tunnel, the locomotive races toward the distant light and then explodes from the tunnel mouth, where snow and a mist so thick it could hide a wolf’s cry, mingle and the mountains soar higher than the Eagle flies and the train starts its long descent into canton Uri, winding its way through short tunnels and the river, as cold as the snows that feed it, accompanies us down to where the snow has not yet arrived.  It is January but it is not yet cold and this long valley, with its steep, slate-grey sides, which now hide it from the low winter sun.

Higher up the valley from where we’ve just come, the mountains have lost their shroud as the grey clouds give way to the sun, and emerald banks are dressed in green cloaks that are almost springlike except for the absence of lambs but, before long, the train now kisses the edge of the Four Cantons lake, which mirrors newly-formed low, lumpy clouds as they pass, distorted in the ripples and a wind blows from the north.

Upon our return, just outside Zug on the Zurich side, I see a field of small wooden chalets which at first I take to be large allotment sheds, although the allotment alloted to each appeared small.  Planning wisely, one could possibly grow a season’s lettuce in summer or a winter stock of greens later in the year.  Behind this field rise rounded green hills which are sugar-topped with a thin white crown of snow, tinged with yellow in the late afternoon sun. A sprawl of angular concrete a mile further announces our arrival in Zug.

After a stop of only a few minutes we leave Zug behind and snake our way around its lake, reflecting the growing shadows as the first mountains, their features dark with the setting sun sitting behind, frown down upon us, their peaks gripped in ice and snow as we rise slow and easy up the incline towards Arth-Goldau.

Arth-Goldau is flanked on both sides by white-crusted mountains, the snow level low, only a hundred metres or so above the railway line.  Our journey will now continue upwards and we return to skirt the Four Cantons lake, this time from the north, where straight, slab-sided cliffs rise shear from the still, leaden water, now mirroring the evening sky.  The one regret of travelling by train in this beautiful, ancient mountainscape is the views that are missed as so much of this journey necessitates tunnels.  As the white peaks stand strong against the ever-darkening blue sky with its high, pink clouds floating in the cold airs the view s suddenly lost with guillotine abruptness as another tunel is entered, as we head back to the long Gotthard tunnel and descend into Ticino for the homeward run thereafter.

To darkness and beyond

We have just rolled through Gestnellen; I don’t know where it is, as the light from the carriage interior obliterates almost any view I may have in the darkness beyond the window: almost, that is except lit Christmas trees which to me appear premature but, in effect, probably aren’t.  In one month’s time Christmas will be over and TV programmers will be falling over themselves giving airtime to sunny adverts of faraway places as you glance out of the frost-encrusted window into the cold, grey gloom beyond, wondering if it will snow.

Four young men in military fatigues have joined the carriage.  I presume they are in the army; if not then I guess we’re in the shit.

I would like to know where we are, but I can’t see for the lit Christmas stars, snowflakes and reindeers that suck electricity to show you they’re there.  I look at my watch; theoretically I’m one hour from Zurich.