Wandering Books

There’s much to mourn in present day trains – gone are the little red curtains on copper railings, gone the iron luggage racks, not a splinter of wood nor a single shred of faux-velvet remains on the seats. All has been replaced by PVC and polyester. Even a summer railway breeze has become a thing of the past, what with air-conditioning and handleless windows.

But luckily a train still rolls on rails! Thus yet producing enough rattling and swaying to accompany a roving mind. And as handleless and tainted they may be, train windows do faithfully go on fulfilling their essential function of revealing fleetingness, be it of landscapes rushing by outside or of shimmering reflections inside.

Settling down with a book in a train, for me, still remains one of the most appeasing rituals – with both book and train offering a reassuring forward movement (and, at least for the length of a voyage, some purpose and a destination ) while still generously allowing one’s thoughts to wander off.

The book-specimen I was holding on these photos may well have been particularly conceived to enlighten the train-travelling masses – it’s a pocket, having once cost a handful of shillings only. But quite nicely designed (PHAIDON press oblige), and with a hardcover proudly announcing a “hundred plates” inside.

The bizarre resilience of high art ... three years after a bloody war the English were reading a book by the nifty Goncourt brothers about French 18th century painters? I could of course have acquired this book in French, and more lavishly illustrated with reproductions of much better quality at that. But I found it quite moving, this sturdy 1948 pocket with its delicately rustling pages. (Oh I do dread the day I’ll be fingering a smooth i-Pad’s touch screen instead of sensuous paper).

The reflection of an open book in a train window ... a quite joyous vision really. But photos (even digital ones) sometimes express an unexpected mood. How grave and ominous these reflections seem, dark letters floating in the sky....

“[Ils] vagabondent dans l'air - A la recherche d’un logis - Ils habitent dans mon âme” (Chagall)

(Showing off my 1948 pocket!)