Friday, 26 February 2010

Window on the world

The mode of transport we use shapes our view of the world.  As pedestrians, we have a direct, unmediated encounter with the world.  Our thoughts and impressions are immediate and constantly changing as we negotiate the streets.  When we travel by car, bus or train we perceive the world differently - the view through the window is constantly moving, allowing us to disengage our thoughts from the here and now and enter the private worlds of our heads.  The rectangular shape of the windscreen or window resembles a television or cinema screen and the action flickers across it just as it does when watching a film.

In the car, the world stretches out in front of us, our eyes perpetually on the horizon. The miles roll by, the road disappears under the wheels, the car eats up the distance.  There is an urgency to car travel - we continually have a goal in mind, to get wherever it is as fast as possible.  The car is an extension of the body - when I am in my car, I feel the most cut off from the world.  I am in my little bubble, nobody can hear me or touch me, I see the other drivers but I am not curious about them.  They are going their way, I am going mine.  I am completely alone with my thoughts, and it is strange that the mode of travel that requires the most conscious attention, also allows the thoughts the most rein.  Often we arrive at our destinations without having any memory of the actual journey, so wrapped up in our train of thought are we.

On the train, fields, houses and stations rush past. We might catch sight of a fragment of someone's life as they stand and wait for a train at a passing station, stop their car at a traffic light, cross a bridge. And then, the moment is gone. We sit and gaze out of the window at one remove as life unfolds without our participation. It is as though our life is on hold - we cannot get off until the train stops. Time stands still - our immediate surroundings inside the train remain constant - only the view through the window is in perpetual motion like a never-ending reel of film.


Travelling by bus invokes different thoughts.  We are still separated from the rest of humanity by a pane of glass, but the pace of travel is much more stately, stopping and starting according to traffic flow and bus stops.  The top deck of the bus affords us a more intimate view into people's lives - we can stare without being noticed.  Little details sail slowly by - a woman struggles with a bright pink umbrella, a girl in a white knitted hat walks by as a lock of dark hair blows across her face, children dart about in a school playground, a dressmaker's mannequin stands sentinel in a top floor factory window - the moment passes, photographs that never were. Like Virginia Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway, who "sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, felt  herself that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places.  Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to, some woman in the street, some man behind a counter, even trees, or barns", I too can convince myself that "that unseen part of us might survive attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death". 

As a pedestrian, we rarely look up, our eyes usually firmly directed at ground level. On the bus, the world takes on a different appearance as shop signs and advertisements glide past at eye level.  Being on the top deck of the bus is like being cocooned in a separate world.  As the bus crawls along, thoughts meander here and there, more transitory and less substantial than the sustained thinking on a train journey, where the unfolding view is like a background to the brain's activity, our reverie a private, inaudible soundtrack to our own personal movie.  There is something passive, almost leisurely, about bus travel - once settled aboard, I can surrender my will and allow myself to be transported through space and time, with nothing better to do than stare out of the window, while someone else negotiates the traffic.  I am lulled into an almost soporific state of idle wonder - where is the man sitting in front of me going, what is that woman thinking of, what do the people sitting behind me having a conversation look like?  Who left the handprint on the glass?


Next time you travel, put away your book, mobile or iPod, look out of the window and indulge your mind - let it roam free. You never know, you might actually enjoy your journey!

1 comment:

  1. I liked very much reading your thoughts/ considerations/ contemplations about the different kinds of transports you can go by - I may very agree with your observations- additional experiences by taxi, Underground, tram, and S-Bahn (in Berlin)- "the private worlds of our heads"- sometimes I imagine the togetherness of so many different thoughts/feelings at the same moment (but only a writer could describe these streams of consciousness flowing together..).- I like very much some of your photo's, particularly the last ones - looks through the "beschlagenen" (covered by rain and warmth inside the bus..., kids like to write some words or figures on the glass) windows - with blurring effects- painting-like colours- rain creates often such fascinating pictures- also when you are going by a quick train! Did you read Michel Butor's novel "Paris-Rom", a roman nouveau?- he describes in an impressive, minute way such a journey by train!-
    I find this blog very interesting and thoughtful- and the writer anniedog is as brilliant as the photographer anniedog! It could become a photo-book with essays! I'm looking forward to new aspects of your 'Sensitive Journey'!
    "Windows o n the world" (why not to or onto the world?)