Friday Column: Ut på tågresa - A train journey to Sölvesborg and back

Clint said this would happen on the boatride back from Åland. I was espousing how much I was looking forward to being back home in Dunderbo for several weeks. Making fires and drinking coffee and not living out of a suitcase or having to move anywhere. He said it. “Mate, in two weeks you’ll be itching to go somewhere new.”

He was right. Something in my nature does not like sitting still for very long. I cannot explain the joy I get from coming back from a trip, eating proper food that I can cook myself in a real kitchen, sleeping in a real bed and waking up to my own environment. But it definitely does not last. Probably because I have been stuck in the pattern of coming and going now for most of the last five years, since I first met Mia (and Clint, for that matter), down in New Zealand.

After New Year’s, Clint was off to Copenhagen to visit a friend for a while, before going back to England for another (maybe) MMA fight. After training for six weeks he was going to go back to Norway, where he has a small apartment and a job as a tree surgeon. I suppose he did not do the fight – I got a message from him yesterday saying he was off to Turkey, and then headed back to Oslo. Don’t know what for, and apparently he was traveling alone. He might have the itch worse than I do.

So it is then that I’m sitting in the train station in Enköping, waiting to ride to Stockholm, where my journey will begin in earnest. I only bought tickets last night around 8:30pm, at the last minute, and only decided for certain that I was going about an hour beforehand. Earlier that afternoon I had been distracted by taking the dogs out sledding again (six of them this time, which is considerably faster than four).

I do have an actual reason for the trip – I’m off to the south of Sweden to buy a camera. A used Nikon F3, originally released in 1983, and fully manual. That’s right. I found it on, a sort of Swedish Craigslist, and negotiated with a very friendly man named Torbjörn to meet me at the train station this afternoon. More on why I did this in a while. It is loosely related to celestial navigation.

I sit and wait in Enköping. My train should arrive in 14 minutes. What follows will be an account of my journey, as it is happening, a running diary of sorts and one of my favorite ways of recording events.

1010: På snabbt tåg. Till Mälmo och Köpenhamn.

On the fast train. To Malmo and Copenhagen (though I will change at Hässleholm, for the last hour of my ride to Sölvesborg). The beginning of this narrative is going to be regularly interrupted, as I have some real work to do on the train today, a major reason I decided to spend over $100 to come on this trip rather than have the camera mailed to me. I work better on the move, without distraction. I’m in my seat now (which is comfortable and spacious. Like and airplane seat, not quite in first class, but definitely better than economy extra. The armrest dividing my seat from the one next to me is wide enough for two elbows).

I have two articles to write today from scratch – one that will go under my dad’s byline, for the new magazine: another for Spinsheet, again about Matt Rutherford now that he’s round Cape Horn and well on his way back north to civilization. I also must finish editing my first editorial for the new magazine, which has been a work in progress. It’s only 600-some words, but it feels important. I’ve been changing it constantly.

We started moving. I’m going backwards in my seat. This train is so smooth I didn’t even notice the motion, and would have thought we were still in the station if not for the city outside going by the window. Interesting how we say that sometimes – “the city going by the window.” The city isn’t going anywhere. Outside my window it is.

I’m off to the café car shortly to start work in earnest. I’ll wait first for the conductor to come by and collect my ticket. I already got shooed out of the café car once – they’re not open yet. I plan to spend the day in there.

1023: The Bistro

I would pay extra for a plane ticket if they had a bistro. I would.

This one is small. They serve mostly cold fare, plus coffee (of course). I got a citrus Ramlösa and a kaffe, mostly so they let me sit here. Strangely, there are no tables, but little stand-like devices around which I suppose one is supposed to sit with friends, with room enough for coffee and beverages on the stand. The stand is in the middle of a squared-off u-shaped dinette, with fake red leather seat covering and a too-low backrest. I’m facing the bistro bartender, who maintains a small laptop at the end of the long counter where food and drinks are served. I can see the world going by outside the window just behind him. There are seven others in the bistro car with me. One is most certainly an immigrant – a dark woman in a white burka who does not speak Swedish. One is likely an immigrant, and looks vaguely Italian. I, of course, am an immigrant as well. People outside of Sweden think I look Swedish. People inside of Sweden mark me as an American from a mile away. I stick out like a sore thumb. The rest appear Swedish. But what do I know.

1211: Back in a seat, not the one I was assigned.

The train is not full today. Not yet. We have stopped several times along the way, never for more than sixty seconds. You’d better be ready to get off when you’re time comes.

Ironically, I ate my lunch in the cabin, and not the bistro. I do believe they frown upon bringing your own food into the cafe car. I drank my coffee and my bubbly water, wrote the article based on my dad’s story (I recorded our Skype conversation last night and transcribed a lot of it for the story today), and came back again for lunch so as not to be rude.

I took a seat opposite my own. It faces forward and is adjacent to a window, so I can watch the scenery go by.

It’s a black and white day outside, the sky blanketed by a low, thick layer of clouds, the sun never high enough to provide any light. The ground is covered in snow, and the trees in the forest have no leaves. The only color comes from the odd countryside house, always painted bright yellow or red (and now I understand why), with a bit of green mixed in from the pine trees, though a faintly duller green to me thanks to my deficiency. It’s slight less black and white here, a bit further south, with a bit less snow on the ground than back in Dunderbo.

The train leans into the turns, like a speedboat. Or a bicycle.

1219: Film photography. -or- Why I took this trip in the first place.

I am a cocked spring, freaking loaded with creative energy.

For the past three days I have been absolutely obsessing over a camera, and not entirely for the wrong reasons. I bought one, an old Nikon F3, on eBay, with a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens – that was Saturday night, and still I wasn’t satisfied. I needed it now. So I spent most of Sunday morning and Sunday evening back online looking at Rollei 35s, Minolta Hi Matics and older Nikkormats, trying to find one within a day’s train ride so I could make a small adventure of it. Last night was my first reasonable night’s sleep in several days.

My editorial for the first issue of All at Sea SOUTHEAST (the new magazine for which I am acting as editor) touches on the intangibility of modern technology – ”writing digital words and getting paid digital dollars, neither or which actually exist.”  Something along those lines.

Back in Lunenburg last summer Mia and I were gung-ho about buying an iPad, so we could use the insanely cheap chart software in lieu of purchasing a new $20 paper chart for each new place we sailed to. The software, which includes digital reproductions of the actual paper charts, and with the same detail, cost about $40 for the entire collection of Canadian Hydrographic Office charts, from the Arctic Ocean south, to all points west and east. Essentially free when you consider the sheer number of charts, from zoomed out small-scale charts to zoomed in harbor charts, some covering only a few hundred square yards.

The owner of the North Sails loft shared them with me on his own iPad when I went in to buy some spare hanks and some nylon webbing that Mia could make sail ties out of. The program begins by showing all of Canada, with a myriad of red squares that outline the various charts held within. Simply zoom in the clever way Apple does it on their mobile devices, running your fingers over the touch-screen, and each chart automatically appears, resolving right down to the creek level with as much detail as the paper versions.

But they are not paper. In the end, the iPad costs $500.00, about twenty-five charts. To me, the value of that paper, which is real, far exceeds the ones and zeros embedded within that iPad that merely represent the paper they’re based on. I’m very excited that we never bought it.

Similarly, I’m back to writing in pencil, and in fact, this very story began as pencil on plain white computer paper.

Hence the 35mm film camera. It’s real. Light enters the camera and leaves it’s imprint, physically, onto the film. The resulting image is real. It’s not zeros and ones, not tiny square pixels, but a real, tangible image, one that can be real and tangibly archived and resurrected any time in the future. I dig that.

The physical capturing of those images. After agonizing over this camera – having already decided I was getting a 35mm, just needed to choose one – I chose the F3 because it’s fully manual and mostly mechanical. The mechanisms that create the images all operate from the power of one small watch battery. There is no LCD screen, not even the small one most SLR’s have on the top, showing basic shooting information – all the data is in the viewfinder, where it belongs, and settings are changed with tangible, mechanical switches and knobs. The resulting image, once the shutter is pressed, will be a surprise days or weeks later when it returns from the photo lab.

The F3 was the premier professional SLR in the 1980s when it came out, and remained in production through 2000. Ironically, it was the first in the pro ’F’ line to use any electronics at all; people genuinely feared this at the time, and the camera was equipped with a backup mechanical shutter that would still fire at 1/60 with no batteries. I bought it precisely because of its simplicity, even if it was considered ’advanced’ in 1983. Two watch batteries that last over a year, and some film – that’s all you need to carry to get the most of it. No cords, no computers, no plugs, just the basic gear. The body is weather sealed and all-metal, and the lens I bought is fixed – no zoom. The camera will take photos in the freezing cold and in the damp and I will not have to worry too much about it.

I’m taking a fork in the road. Hopping off the fence.

I said it was like celestial, and it is. Technology is concerned mostly with the end, not the means. GPS? Tells you where you are, and you don’t have to know how it works for it to do so. It just does. Digital photography? Makes pictures fast and easy. On automatic settings, the camera just works. It thinks for you.

Poeple say that celestial navigation is a good backup in case your GPS fails. This is not true. This is not why it’s worth knowing. Celestial navigation is not about knowing where you are on a chart, it’s about knowing where you are in the universe, physically and philosophically. It’s about practicing art, for the sake of it. It’s about learning history, learning something for the knowledge because knowledge is enlightening. It’s about using tangible references in a tangible world, about being conscious. Not everything has to be about practicality.

Likewise with film photography. I want to pursue it precisely because it is more difficult, more time consuming. It’s real. I keep saying that, I keep thinking that, and I’m finally doing that which I say I believe in. It’s about going out and looking for interesting images to record, and the learning the process by which they are recorded, not simply switching on to automatic and having a go.

There is no logical reason behind learning celestial or how to shoot a manually operated film camera. The logic doesn’t matter. I cannot reasonably defend either pursuit.

I have never made the argument that celestial makes a good backup to GPS. A second GPS makes a good backup to GPS.

1255: Leaving Nässjö station.

Almost 2400 words. Long Friday Column this is going to make. I give myself shoulder problems in my right arm from using the trackpad on my laptop. My whole right side is affected by it, from a crick in the base of my neck, down through a tender spot between my spine and shoulder blade, into a feeling that my right hip is out of its socket and ultimately to a sensation in my foot that I have a stress fracture. It hurts when I twist it a certain way or sleep on my stomach.

The conductor came by just now looking for new travelers. I’ve been aboard now for nearly three hours.

1307: It’s military time in Europe.

The sun just came out, and it’s no longer a black and white day outside. It’s impossible to describe the winter light at 60º north, particularly when there is snow on the ground. The sun never climbs more than it’s circumference above the tree-line, and the shadows are always stretched long. The days are perpetual sunrise/sunset, and it is difficult often to tell the difference. Further south and closer to the equator the sun rises and sets in a near vertical line, the difference in time between sunglasses and a flashlight only minutes.

The air must be cleaner here, or thinner when it’s cold (though that doesn’t make any scientific sense), but something about it makes the daytime light glow. When the sun’s out, one really understands why the houses are colorful, for in the winter on a background of glittering snow, they look like fairytales. The pine-tree green colors lights up in the sunlight as if lit from within, and the moss on the forest floor, the bits that shows through the snow, is nuclear. The browns of bare tree trunks take on a detail impossible to render in broad daylight, visible only in the distorted shadows of sideways sunlight.

It is not often that one gets to enjoy the privilege of a bluebird day in winter – when it happens, it’s always the coldest day of the week, as the clarity brings with it frigid temperatures. But when it arrives, it is foolish to spend the day indoors.

1324: Heartless Bastards, ‘Out at Sea’ is stuck in my head.

1329: Heartless Bastards, ‘Out at Sea’ is now playing on my computer.

…and I am drownin’ in, I’m drowin’ in frustratiiiiiooon
I’m out at sea and a cannot stop the tide
I’m out in the water I cannot stop the tide
I’m out at sea and I’m floatin’ away
I’m out at sea and I’m floatin’ away

I’m back in my real seat now, about to start going backwards when we leave the station we just stopped at. It is zero degrees Celsius, says the ticker.

1414: På tåget mot Kristianstad

On the train now headed towards Kristianstad, my last switch before arriving in Sölvesborg, which should be in about an hour. The sun has fully emerged now and the clouds have cleared to reveal a deep blue sky, the landscape glowing just like I described it above, and yet still more brilliantly. Note the time – I have been on the move now for five hours since boarding the first train in Enköping. I have six hours more on the journey home tonight.

This train feels more like a commuter train and less like a long-distance train. There is no bistro, and the cars are deserted. I can see the conductor through the glass doors separating the cars, about to come by and check my ticket. I am a new passenger on this train.

1423: At the back of the train.

The conductor checked my ticket. He also informed me that I’d have to move to the back of the train – the front bit wouldn’t be going beyond Kristianstad, and Sölvesborg is beyond Kristianstad. Thank you sir.

1441: Backwards

The back half of the train is now the front half of the train. I’m sat just next to the door that leads to the driver’s seat, and watched as a train employee who looked strangely like Seth Green, opened it with a special key and took his place at the helm. Several minutes elapsed sitting in Kristianstad Centrum, and then we were off again, in the direction from which we’d come, going backwards and towards Sölvesborg.

1713: Tillbacka till Dunderbo

Back on the train! And it hardly felt like I ever got off.

I met Torbjörn (Tobi), about quarter after four, outside the train station (Sölvesborg, by the way, is a very neat little seaside town. It’s on the way for us next summer when we bring the boat up to Stockholm, so I told Tobi to hang on to my phone number. After a short stroll around the square, I had a coffee at the aptly named Coffeehouse, and wrote next month’s Spinsheet article about Matt Rutherford. Started it anyway – it’s about ¾ of the way there. The latte was finally hot enough). Tobi came into the small station with me and we took a spot on the bench next to a picture window overlooking the town.

Tobi could not have been much nicer, and matched my brain’s description of him after first hearing his voice on the phone (which rarely happens – have you ever listened to a radio announcer for a long time without ever seeing them? Inevitably you’re disappointed if you ever actually do, because during that time your brain creates an image of that person based on their voice. Just like reading a book and then seeing the movie – imagination is far better than the real thing). He brought the F3, as promised, but also had along a dozen or so rolls of film, and two lenses. I really only wanted one of them, but he gave me a good deal. In the midst of our meeting, he rushed home to retrieve some extra batteries (the little bitty watch batteries, part of the reason I wanted this camera), and brought back with him two photography books, extra lens caps and even more film. So, done and done. Now I have six more hours on the train to learn how to use the thing.

It’s fully dark outside now. We’re back at Kristianstad Centrum.

1833: Losing motivation.

On the train to Stockholm now, having switched at Hässleholm. I had to run up and over the bridge to track #4, wasn’t quite sure where I was going and thought for a few moments that I’d miss the connection, as I had only a couple of minutes to spare. This was compounded initially because I was not quite sure which side of the train to get off. Usually there is no choice. Now there was. I hopped off one side, remained indecisive, climbed through to the other side, and again decided that was wrong, and raced back across to the side I had originally gotten off of before the doors closed. I made it.

1952: Bistro

Back in the bistro car. A group of twenty-somethings occupy the same fake-red-leather seats to my right, really designed for three, but four are sitting there. Drinking drinks and talking Svenska. Two more sit to my left, a couple – they are sitting closer than friends would. I bought a bottle of water and an apple.

About ten minutes ago I realized I have an hour stopover I Stockholm on the way home – my train arrives at ten pm, and doesn’t depart again until after eleven. Not ideal.

2305: Tåget mot Västerås

But I am not traveling there. I’ll get off one stop sooner, in Enkoping, a full sixteen and a half hours – if we’re on time – after after I got on earlier this morning, at the same station. It will almost be the next day.

I didn’t realize it until looking at my ticket earlier that I had an hour stopover at Stockholm Central. That was a bit of a bummer. I spent the time looking at photography magazines in Pressbyrån.