While I was in my countryside, traveling was a matter easy to understand. Meeting at the office, and you take the car, cross the river, in fifteen minutes you are at the office. Lesson at the university: drive toward the mountains, and after half a hour you are at the capitol town. A pièce at the main theatre of the farthest town of the region? Easy: drive one hour north, and you are there.
Now, I’m in a big town. My friends think that I’m spending my time in bistrots, sipping anisette and falling in love with the beautiful girls passing on the way (this latter part, actually, I can confim). Or, I’m having a continuous Stendhal’s syndrome in one of the thousand museumes and galleries of the town.
Not really. Most of the time, I’m underground, waiting in dark tunnels or traveling in dirty trains. The fact is this: more than its magnificent buildings, what you learn to know more of an art’s town is what sits under its ground. Travels last long. O my. What to do with all this spare time?
I see others have solved this problem in either of two ways: listening music, or reading a book. Can I say it? As a writer an musician, I hate using books or music as a distraction. If I read, or I listen, it is an act of love. So no love for me: just, the fact I’m totally naked when traveling in the RER.
What you big city inhabitants do while in this situation?
As a writer I read. Always. I don’t leave the house without a book. And it’s still an act of love, not a distraction. That must sound cruel for you, I know. But I can’t imagine not to read because of circumstances.
When I’m not on the subway, but on real train - I write. In fact, there were many times in which I’ve managed to do a day’s work in 2 hours. Must be the missing internet connection.
(For the record, I’m not a big city inhabitant anymore, but travel to big citys often - my behaviour on the road hasn’t changed over the years, though. I’m still scared to death by the thought of sitting on a train for several hours without anything to read …)
I have about a three hour commute both ways, and I usually either read or write. Riding the trains can be great for people watching and jotting down ideas based on the things you see. I don’t really see reading as an attempt at distraction though, it’s everything else that is going on that is a distraction.
Really, I do enjoy having a long commute. I get a lot of work done, and since I’ve been riding trains for many years now, it’s just another part of the day in which there is largely nothing else calling on my attention. It’s a nice one and a half hour block in which it is practically certain that I can do whatever I want, so long as I can carry it with me.
What I do? Make audio notes (to the digital voice recorder that hangs from my neck) or sing – at one time I could sing the Pirates of Penzance in its entirety while driving at a pretty good clip. Certain of those numbers were born to be sung at 50 mph in our '73 Volkswagen Beetle – with the windows down. “Come, friends, who plow the sea…” Okay okay, don’t get me started.
But for you, in the underground, Gilbert & Sullivan may not be the best choice – though I do not rule it out entirely. For you, I should think the best thing would be to find the right kind of reading for the commute. Not wanting to mention any genres or anything, but am thinking surely all your reading interests are not equally exalted in your estimation. No “trashy” fiction you enjoy and that would be suitable for the commute?
I feel fortunate in that my “commute” is only 4 miles, taking at most 8 minutes from door to parking lot, then maybe another 10 minutes to ride a bus into campus. I make this trip once a week, to teach a seminar. The rest of the time I work at home, using the Internet to plug into research sites everywhere.
In the future, I would hope that no one has a long commute, and that most of us live in towns rather than cities. A few times I have lived for extended periods in New York, Boston, or Washington, and I was always restless and unhappy. Not enough sky. Not enough trees. You know about druids and trees. :mrgreen:
Today I filled my cell phone with some poetry, and read it during the ride. Attention is not broken too often: these are texts to be read a piece a time. I’m rediscovering poems (like those of Baudelaire) that I had read too much time ago, and that can also drive me in my exploration of the town. To be true, most of the authors I’ve put in my phone are parisiens – I’m building my literary guide to the town.
(An additional problem, may be that this is no longer exactly the town ancient writers used to live into. I must check the library for some modern poetry and narrative).
Yes, living in small towns and/or in the countryside might be easier. You may sleep better. But I like a mix of both: as social animals, here in the city we can find a different, savage attitude. Didn’t someone call big cities asphalt jungles?
PS: In Paris, there are trees and you can actually see the sky. Only, it is orange or dark grey, depending on the weather. But I’ve seen paintings where it was blue.
EDIT: Tonight, it was indeed cobalt blue.
I used to commute an hour each way every day, during which time I found listening to the radio was my preferred solution. If I was having to travel on the underground I’d probably be listening to podcasts of news and current affairs. That or jotting ideas down on an ipod touch.
At the moment, and for the last 4 years, I do not commute. I work from the room immediately adjacent to my bedroom, apart from a detour down to the kitchen to get coffee.
I have to say, I don’t miss the commuting thing at all, although I imagine I’ll probably have to do it again one day.
Apart from reading and writing — sleeping, unintentionally.
I used to live nearly fifty miles outside London, and often worked late hours in the capital. At that time there were trains running all night on the main lines, unannounced in the timetables, delivering newspapers and taking railway workers home. I travelled on them. Sometimes, I fell asleep; usually I’d wake up before my stop.
But then some quieter, smoother carriages were introduced. Falling asleep, I visited several places I’d never been to before, certainly not in the small hours of the morning.
I once woke in a town a hundred miles away. It was a May morning, and I travelled back to my stop in company with a high court judge who’d also slept past his destination — but not before we’d seen the sun rise on a glorious day in western England and listened to a lovely dawn chorus.
Now my commute is shorter, just twenty feet, and I never fall asleep on the way back.
Thanks Paolo - yes, many useful ingredients are there. And there was something fantastical, dreamlike and indeed Ballard-ish about the whole experience. I can’t remember the tale you mention, but having had my perceptions of Shepperton and the backstreets of Cannes influenced by his novels, perhaps my midnight train-rides will now be affected too.