Apart from railing against the enforced inertia of train journeys, people utter no panegyrics about the scenery through which they pass; they only have hideous tales to tell about fellow passengers. These stories worry me because I have always felt that when we say of a stranger that he is tedious, it is ourselves that we criticize. Only a lie is boring.
On a long train journey we ought, therefore, to present ourselves to the other people in our coach as a wide-open, indestructible vessel into which the acids of truth can safely be poured. We should become for the time like psychoanalysts, making those sitting opposite feel that nothing they can say will shock us or provoke scorn. Travelers are often advised to take a long book on their journeys, but who would devote his attention to a book which will always be at hand when he can turn the dog-eared pages of a total stranger whom he may never meet again?
A little old lady sitting opposite me in an otherwise empty coach said, “…and then, after twenty-five years, my husband died.” I was just about to look gravely at the floor between us when she added, “and oh, the relief.” I would travel from Moscow to Vladivostok to hear a remark like that.
Painting by Paul Gustave Fischer: In the Train Compartment (1927)