Riding the Rails

Paul Theroux writes in the Guardian about the inspiration for two of his best-loved travel books, The Old Patagonian Express and The Great Railway Bazaar. As usual, his great admiration for the folks he meets around the world is connected to a certain weariness, a realization that travel is a lot of being held up, a lot of standing around and waiting:

Air travel is very simple and annoying and always a cause of anxiety. It is like being at the dentist’s; even the chairs are like dentists’ chairs. Overland travel is slow and a great deal more trouble, but it is uncomfortable in a way that is completely human and often reassuring. The mood of The Old Patagonian Express, which is at times sombre, was the result of my knowing Spanish. It was easy for me to be light-hearted when I travelled to write The Great Railway Bazaar. I had little idea of what people were saying in Japanese and Hindi. But speaking to people in their own language – hearing their timid turns of phrase, or the violence of their anger, or the idioms of their hopelessness – could be distressing.

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