Train the body and develop stamina and endurance. But the spirit of competition and power that presides over them is not good, it reflects a distorted vision of life. The root of the martial arts is not there.
— Taisen Deshimaru, quoted in Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery, G. Cameron Hurst
Sometimes a journey, no matter how mundane, is the most interesting part of our day. How is art like travel?
A train car passing through the Cascade Mountains as part of EXPO 1974. Public Domain Image via NARA.
It is a wonderful quality of travel that it puts us in contact with other people. Sometimes these interactions are pleasant, other times challenging or downright disturbing, but they are the source of countless surprises that mark our lives like signposts. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of public transportation. I remember riding the bus during my college years and the time it gave me to unpack my day and to watch others living their lives. The kindnesses and cruelties on a bus or train are many–empathy and prejudice never fail to be passengers.
This beautiful and amusing fado, Pica Do 7, is written by Portuguese songwriter and musician Miguel Araújo and features the velvety voice of António Zambujo. The song is a marriage of whimsy with the underlying sense of fatefulness and melancholy that laces through the entire genre of Portuguese fado.
The words do not lend themselves to a literal English translation, which kills the poetry that makes them so stunning. The singer sings about love for the train, for the electric controller that puts it into motion. He (or is it really the she of the video?) didn’t want to fall in love with it, but his skeptical heart was stolen–he doesn’t even care if it breaks down because that means he can spend more time on the train. Nothing gives him the shock that the Number Seven train does and he can imagine no destination that would be more desirable. We get a momentary glimpse of what might have caused the situation when Zambujo sings, “If I ask if it has the pass to someone’s heart, who knows if I could obliterate that heart.” This traveler is not the first who turned to travel because of a wounded heart. Does he travel to assuage the pain or to nurse it?
Video via António Zambujo on YouTube.
The video itself is beautiful and full of a sweet, winsome longing. I especially enjoy the invasion of the train car by the band, a lovely, and yet only momentary, diversion from the young woman’s solitude amongst the everyday passengers. It emphasizes the difference between external and internal reality and the impossibility of bridging the gap between our perceptions and aspirations and those of people around us. We are never quite where we think we are. The delightful gender confusion between the song and the video add to the disorientation already present. Is the singer perhaps the young lady’s animus–always near, sometimes comforting and sometimes uncomfortable, but never quite in sync with her conscious self?
Art and music come along to complete the journey, but it’s difficult to judge whether they reduce or amplify the pain of life’s heartbreak. At any rate, the silence without them wouldn’t be very exciting, nor would it be as beautiful.
For more information about this talented singer with such a sexy, easy voice, please check out his website.
…the train goes fast and is going fast when it crosses a little trestle. You catch the sober, metallic, pure, late-light, unriffled glint of the water between the little banks, under the sky, and see the cow standing in the water upstream near the single leaning willow. And all at once you feel like crying. But the train is going fast, and almost immediately whatever you feel is taken away from you, too.
I lie down on many a station platform; I stand before many a soup kitchen; I squat on many a bench;–then at last the landscape becomes disturbing, mysterious, and familiar. It glides past the western windows with its villages, their thatched roofs like caps, pulled over the white-washed, half-timbered houses, its corn-fields, gleaming like mother-of-pearl in the slanting light, its orchards, its barns and old lime trees.
The names of the stations begin to take on meaning and my heart trembles. The train stamps and stamps onward. I stand at the window and hold on to the frame. These names mark the boundaries of my youth.
―Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
It’s not getting from A to B. It’s not the beginning or the destination that counts. It’s the ride in between…This train is alive with things that should be seen and heard. It’s a living, breathing something — you just have to want to learn its rhythm.