On the Train to Stavanger
Words By Lydia Davis, Art By Enrica Angiolini
Two of the things I will do on this train ride, I think, as I settle down in my seat, are look out the window at the scenery and listen to conversations around me, hoping to improve my understanding of spoken Norwegian.
I lean forward to listen to the couple who are sitting in the seats in front of me, but then they stop talking. I turn to my left to look out the window, but then the train enters a tunnel. I lean forward again to listen to the conversation in front of me, which has resumed. The couple exchange a few remarks which I don’t understand. Then, at the next station, one of them stands up, says goodbye to the other, and gets off. I turn to my left again to look out the window, but the window has fogged over.
Another pair get on, put their things down in the empty seats in front of me, walk away to another car to buy coffee, come back, sit down, laugh together, and start babbling. I lean forward to listen, though they are perhaps talking too fast for me. But abruptly, now, he has his laptop open and she has her iPhone in hand, and they stop talking.
Then three people, across the aisle and two seats ahead, start to chatter to one another, but they are too far away for me to distinguish a single word. After that, all at once, around me, everyone starts chattering and talking over one another so that I can make out nothing. Then, abruptly, everyone falls silent.
While this is happening, I think with regret how I could also have taken pictures out the window. There is one nice little shallow valley, for instance, with a white house, a red barn, dark woods in the background, a lake in front, and the sun shining on it all. But I have not brought my camera. After that, there are fir trees, a scrubby hillside, and sheep grazing. Then there are, between Egersund and Bryne, some bare, rocky, scrubby terrain that feels high up, and I think we are on a mountaintop, because I have no idea of the geography here. It turns out that we are not on a mountain top but down by the sea. I could have brought along a detailed map in order to follow our route, but I forgot to prepare one. It is less populated here, not really at all, even by animals—which I know are called dyr in Norwegian. The rocks in the fields are not so different from sheep in the fields. I could have photographed them, but I have not brought even my iPhone.