Saturday, 24 July 2010

Smoking Mary.

It is only 12kms from São João del Rei to Tiradentes. And there is no better way to do the half hour trip than on-board the good-old Maria Fumaça. It's the original line from 1870 built  during the textile boom of  São João, one of the first in the continent, with beautiful carriages from the 30s, wooden seats and floors and the original steam engines of the 19th century.

We crossed half of the town until we hit the hills and valleys towards Tiradentes. And along the train tracks we had an impromptu audience, stopped on their tracks and looking in amazement. The novelty of a whistling and puffing steam engine is obvious, that's why I was here in the first place, but it is a regular, albeit limited, service nevertheless. The residents see old Mary struggling her path every week and yet they froze, they felt incapable of resisting it's beauty and optimism.

There was a kid leaning against a fence, waving slowly with dreamy eyes, seemingly waving at a mythical animal, a black unicorn. And  three girls, maybe neighbours or even sisters, smiling shyly at the steel caterpillar with the square openings between its ribs, they appeared to be waiting for us. But not just children with open mouths, unsure what to make of this timeless alien; old people, farmers and drivers and women holding their shopping bags were smiling and waving. And it made me think: what is in a train that captures the imagination of humans? How can an old, black, smoking beast be worthy of such attention? Why do people have the instinctive urge to raise their hand and wave to its passengers, some weekend tourists heading to the next village?

I find it a primitive response to dreams. An escapist instinct, the desire to know more and grow, an instantaneous travel to unknown lands and new friendships. And why this never happens with cars or buses? Is it the firmness of the tracks, the sweet, rusty sound of the steam or just nostalgia? That I do not know but Smoking Mary was generous.