“Good morning,” said the railway switchman.
“What do you do here?” the little prince asked.
“I sort out travelers, in bundles of a thousand,” said the switchman. “I send off the trains that carry them: now to the right, now to the left.”
And a brilliantly lighted express train shook the switchman’s cabin as it rushed by with a roar like thunder.
“They are in a great hurry,” said the little prince. “What are they looking for?”
“Not even the locomotive engineer knows that,” said the switchman.
And a second brilliantly lighted express thundered by, in the opposite direction.
“Are they coming back already?” demanded the little prince.
“These are not the same ones,” said the switchman. “It is an exchange.”
“Were they not satisfied where they were?” asked the little prince.
“No one is ever satisfied where he is,” said the switchman.
And they heard the roaring thunder of a third brilliantly lighted express.
“Are they pursuing the first travelers?” demanded the little prince.
“They are pursuing nothing at all,” said the switchman. “They are asleep in there, or if they are not asleep they are yawning. Only the children are flattening their noses against the windowpanes.”
“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince.
October 27, 2010. 18:00
On the road again between Dijon and Chatillon, my nose crammed between the pages of a book I’ve half finished and half understood. It’s in French and, having relinquished the goal of complete comprehension, I’m studying the words themselves, searching for images. But the light is bad in the bus and a baby is crying behind me and the book is in French.
I look up from my front row seat, through the bus’s big screen windshield. We’re coming up on Chanceaux, one of a
dozen little villages on this route. As we pass through, I look over my shoulder at the steeple of the Catholic Church– the highest point from any perspective. Surrounded by pastures of white and beige Charolais cattle, I imagine that this village, this road, hosted horse-drawn buggies, and — before that — cavaliers tout simples when my country was still just a star in the sky. The remains of stone walls line our narrow way, alternating with perfectly-aligned 250 year old Burgundian Plane trees. Brown and green fields spread for kilometers in all directions, a patchwork quilt covering the rolling hills.
This is the last time I will see the sunset on this beautiful road until spring. On Saturday, “European Summer Time” (our Daylight Savings Time) ends. I put the place marker in my book and close it definitively. My nose takes up new residence “against the windowpane.”
As the sun continues to descend, even the driver becomes distracted by the scene over his left shoulder. I notice him glancing out the window from time to time. Is he relishing his last 6:30 sunset too? Does he see what I see?
Staring into the orange sky, I let my mind run away with the “trompe-l’oeil” before me. No longer a sunset, but a vast beach stretches just over the horizon. A long, skinny cloud stretches like Cape Cod into the water, obliterating my depth perception as it connects land and sky. The fading light turns other fluffy clouds blue along the tops of the hills — like fog along the beach. I could be on California’s Highway 101, looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Landlocked in Burgundy, today I could walk to the waves.
The bus descends into a valley and stops at St. Marc-sur-Seine. Impatient to rise above the ridge, I stare out at the hills. The bus huffs and puffs, switching gears as it labors up, up, up. Finally we emerge on the other side, but the light is different now. The purple hue has faded to gray along the side of the road and the beach is a dissolving image, an old photograph on a wall opposite a window.
The dim yellow lights of Buncey appear straight ahead like fireflies in the dusk. One stop from Chatillon. And tomorrow is my birthday.