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Nonfiction

This per­sonal essay is a sam­ple of my work


A Flight of Fancy by Josiane Behmoiras
An excerpt from HEAT 21

A voice of honey announced the names of des­ti­na­tions as if those places were towns in Utopia. Quim­per, Nantes, Bor­deaux, La Rochelle… I was run­ning late, jostling amid the Sat­ur­day morn­ing crowds in the Mont­par­nasse train sta­tion, scan­ning the row of TGV trains, their bullet-noses nudg­ing the edge of the depar­ture hall. The train would take me to a meet­ing with French philoso­pher Paul Vir­ilio, also known as The Priest of Speed. I dreaded the image of the Pro­fes­sor wait­ing in vain out­side the sta­tion in La Rochelle hold­ing, as agreed, a sign marked ‘Vir­ilio’ – he who doesn’t own a mobile phone.

I had landed a few days ear­lier in Paris’s back­wa­ter air­port of Orly, exit­ing towards the bus sta­tion only to flee in tan­dem with another woman pas­sen­ger: a man was uri­nat­ing against the AdShel mechan­i­cal poster that was alter­nat­ing images of brood­ing femmes and brainy lap­tops. The next day, walk­ing along the banks of the Seine I would be over­pow­ered by the stench of piss. How­ever, Paris was merely a stopover on my way to the meet­ing at La Rochelle. Time was clos­ing on me in Mont­par­nasse, fol­low­ing a wres­tle with the vend­ing machine that refused to dis­pense my online pre­paid ticket – some­thing to do with the non-French ori­gins of my Visa card, as if an Aus­tralian tourist had no busi­ness on that plat­form. From the ticket office I was swept with the human swarms that rolled and shifted, eager to board the Train à Grande Vitesse that would pro­pel us away from the big smoke, plung­ing inside the purpose-built con­crete canals, occa­sional sec­tions of real land­scape hurtling at us then van­ish­ing, a flight of fancy between Paris and La Rochelle. If only I can catch that train, I thought, I will be sit­ting still for most of the three-and-a-half hours of the jour­ney, writ­ing in my note­book five hun­dred times I shall always arrive to a big train sta­tion one full hour before departure.

A few days ear­lier still, sit­ting under an umbrella on the French Riv­iera I had been prepar­ing for the meet­ing, jot­ting in my note­book quotes and sum­maries of writ­ings by Vir­ilio and about Vir­ilio. From Mel­bourne to Mel­bourne in a con­vo­luted jour­ney of fast travel – nev­er­the­less seden­tary above the clouds – I would have clocked nine flights, gloss­ing over places of inter­est, near­ing the prac­tice which Vir­ilio calls polar iner­tia. As found in my note­book: ‘The seden­taries of trans­porta­tion are very sim­ply trav­ellers who buy a plane ticket at Roissy-en-France…for Roissy. They go around the world as fast as pos­si­ble with­out going any­where, barely mak­ing the nec­es­sary refu­elling stop…a cir­cu­lar voy­age which puts imme­di­acy to the test…I think it’s a form of desire for inertia…’

I had paid 15 euros to occupy a sun-lounger on a pri­vate beach where bod­ies – many botoxed, top­less retirees of both sexes – were marooned for hours under their hard-tanning duties. I was in the here and there, paus­ing between flights, attempt­ing a pré­cis of Virilio’s Envi­ron­ment Con­trol. In his work on per­cep­tion, Vir­ilio argues that, with the tech­nol­ogy of dig­i­tal trans­mis­sion, it is speed that makes us see, rather than light. He pon­ders about the impli­ca­tions for the trans­parency of air, water and glass – which con­sti­tute the vis­i­ble ‘real-space’ – when ‘real-time’ replaces the notion of inter­val and dis­tance, words that res­onated at the edge of the Aztec turquoise water. I had no lap­top, only books, paper and pen. Grains of sand lodged between the pages.
I can still see myself on the plat­form in Mont­par­nasse, fly­ing in that slow-mo filmic pro­jec­tion of the self, under the immense sky­light, in the chaos of noise and urgency. And next I was sit­ting in my allo­cated seat, pant­ing, the train tak­ing its time and finally depart­ing sud­denly and smoothly as a three-wheeled jogger-pram, the push­ing hands invis­i­ble to the tod­dler sit­ting inside it.
Under the influ­ence of veloc­ity, I read Ian James’s Paul Vir­ilio, words on train travel and the body’s move­ment in space: ‘The spread of the land­scape which might oth­er­wise sur­round and envelop us is deformed by rapid move­ment; it is not some­thing expe­ri­enced in its mate­r­ial dimen­sion as such since our body does not expe­ri­ence the fatigue or the extended delay of pass­ing across it on foot.’

http://giramondopublishing.com/heat/a-flight-of-fancy-by-josiane-behmoiras/