The train crossed the border with a deafening screech. It cut through the Swiss Alps, maintaining its high speed through Germany, Switzerland and now, Italy. For miles, I watched the railroad ties of the neighboring track, my eyes skimming them as they would the lines of a page-turning book. I read its path through southern Bavaria, past the glistening lakes of Zurich and Lucerne, towards the mountainous border with Italy’s Lombardy.
The train followed its meandering track, piercing the jagged Swiss Alps through a series of tunnels. The lights inside the train went on and off. Each tunnel opened to another valley not unlike the last, all undoubtedly Swiss. Farmers had cut their rows from the meadows. New steeples marked the towns. Wood-framed chalets stood aged and stalwart on the mountainsides.
And suddenly, I was in Italy.
The change was immediate. Swiss alpine meadows under a blue sky were now the rolling olive gardens of the Italian foothills. A springtime sketch of Swiss alpine valleys had turned to a decaying Italian fresco in sepia. Lombardy was dilapidated, an age-old region cast in the dying sun’s warm glow.
The mountain pass was crossed.
A few days earlier, I stumbled upon Herman Hesse’s Wandering, a book on travel. In the passage I read, the wandering Hesse stands at a mountain pass, staring into the unknown. He takes a step forward, fully aware that the path in front of him will be different than what he’s left behind. The further you go from home, the closer you go to home. That’s what Hesse thought. Every season brings something new, all the while bringing you closer to who you really are.
The train halted to a stop at the first Italian station. The doors opened. The silence and solitude of the compartment disappeared in a crowd of teenagers, talking loudly and animatedly in rapid exclamations. Obviously Italian. Each person wore more leather than I’d have thought to ever own.
There’s more to Italy than that, I’m sure. Yet the people drastically changed with the landscape. In that moment, I recalled how literature affects the way we see the people around us, just as the people around us bring us back to what we’ve read.
I couldn’t help but imagine the wandering Hesse, sitting amongst the Italian youth, scribbling in his journal.
He listened to the lively scene around him, the sudden change in place where he’d been sitting all along.
– By Austin Price
Photo by Austin Price