Letters from New York 2: Soti Triantafillou

Slow Train

I went south on a slow train that ran through Trenton, New Jersey. Back in the nineteen eighties, I used to stand on the turnpike hitchhiking westwards. It’s a desolate landscape now, full of boarded up factories, abandoned warehouses and rusting machinery. The rivers are green and slimy – I remember that old song about a green river and barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight. A Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

They were different times with different rivers.

Life was made of metal; I wandered among steel mills, power stations with cooling towers, limekilns, grain elevators, cranes and lathes. The cakes were made of mud – they blew up, sometimes they even caught fire. It was W.H. Auden’s beloved scenery, industrial, hazy, faceless; I rode trains between granite mountains and drove on yellow brick roads, on bridges that swung when the cursed birds of Prometheus hovered and crowed. I traveled past deserted graveyards, thermal springs, uranium mines – I had no destination, no purpose. I listened to the vibes of the universe, to the sounds of the hollow earth.

I remembered the details, I forgot all the rest: my memory was like the enchanted land of New Mexico, dusty and blurry, carved by the red Santa Fe railroad – I remembered useless things, people with orange hair, walls made of bottles, herds of wild horses, Pete Townshend’s crooked nose, a sandstorm in Phoenix, Arizona. I forgot what was worth forgetting. Looking back I saw the psychedelic dances at Fillmore and at Avalon and further back the hula-hoops and the polka dot prom dresses and Elvis singing Lawdy Miss Clawdy. I saw myself when I was five years old and rock’ n ’rolled with small feet in pink socks. Thirty years went by and I drove through them in a second hand Thunderbird 66, high as a kite. Some of us popped pills, some snorted glue, others sniffed varnish and lighter fluid, and there were a few who shot up Chinese heroin – in the dissolving darkness I saw the black crawling moon; time turned into jelly and stood still. Now, when the train’s is pulling in the Penn station I feel like kissing the ground, like walking on Brooklyn Bridge on a tight rope. One of these days I’ll take a chance like Steve Brodie who jumped off it and survived.

Soti Triantafillou. March 2012, New York City.

Photo: Soti Triantafillou

Soti Triantafillou is one of Greece’s most prolific and beloved writers. Born in Athens, Greece in 1957, she studied in Paris and New York and is the author of 24 books, all of them long-sellers. Her first novel, Saturday at the Edge of Town (1997), has attained cult status and has been hailed as the most important Greek novel of its generation. Her fourth novel, The Pencil Factory (2000), has become a publishing phenomenon in Greece and has been translated into German, Catalan and Turkish. An independent political debater, Soti Triantafillou has over the years built up a considerable reputation for herself as one of Greece’s cultural icons, famous for her outspoken views and critical stance towards Greek and international politics. Her autobiography, Time Again, published in 2009 and her latest novel, For the Love of Geometry (2011), have become national bestsellers.

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