#TalesOnRails with Rail Europe

What first drew me to Europe was family. My grandfather, as a young boy, emigrated between the wars. His family came from a little hamlet in northern France and, through a series of moves, finally disembarked from Portugal while fleeing Spain during that country’s civil war. Their escape involved a van pockmarked with bullet holes, the Cartier jewels, and a gardener that turned out to be the local resistance leader. As a child, these stories, and the places they occurred, fascinated me. 

Genealogy of my maternal grandfather, traced back to 16th century France. 

Genealogy of my maternal grandfather, traced back to 16th century France. 

Photos of my grandfather's departure from Europe. He's the dapper little boy with the comb-over in the middle row of photos.

Photos of my grandfather's departure from Europe. He's the dapper little boy with the comb-over in the middle row of photos.

While in college I studied abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris and connected with distant relatives whose branches of the family tree had stayed planted in France. As many travelers do, I explored Europe through a historical lens, imagining myself walking in the footsteps of kings or luminaries of centuries past. The Lost Generation, those writers and artists living in Paris in the 1920s, became my chosen porthole into European culture. I wandered rue Moufftard ignoring the bars and looking for Hemingway on the way from his first apartment to his writing room. I drank dry sherry, just like Joyce, at Les Deux Magots. I like to think that my precocity was internalized enough that it wasn’t actually palpable to the real people around me, but who can know for sure. By the time I returned to college in New Hampshire, my interest hadn’t been satiated. I ended up writing, and receiving some academic distinction for, my senior thesis about the writers I met on these ghostly streets of Paris’s past during my own visit to Babylon. 

Based on these stories I love and my own imagination, I'm creating a collection of short stories that takes on all the different expatriate personas that populate daydreams and the flawed memory of youthful travel and lets them run wild. The work examines how the past intermingles with the present, and how the stories of yesteryear can enhance, rather than spoil, today’s adventures. Traveling to Switzerland as a part of #TalesOnRail would be an incredible opportunity to continue this path of discovery. In the same way that Paris held a draw years ago, I have the same craving for Switzerland: branches of the family tree based in Geneva and Basel; fictional plot lines to follow from Hemingway’s Homage to Switzerland and A Farewell to Arms; and real life dramas to imagine based on the Swiss sanatarium visits of the Fitzgeralds and their wealthy expatriate friends (and inspiration for Tender is the Night) Gerald and Sara Murphy.

By giving myself the opportunity to live out those stories, by traveling to these places and visiting hotels and bars and restaurants and bookshops that they went to, it ignites my imagination and pushes me to create new work. The time on the train will provide that unique sense of being unreachable, within the world and yet removed as you speed through it, that trains provide and that is so conducive to creative productivity. The frequent stops will also make for irresistible fodder for shorter “word-pictures” on my Instagram account, @jack__callahan. If given the chance to travel with Rail Europe on this #TalesOnRails adventure, it will not only help me to continue writing the stories I want to, but it will allow me to document the experience on social media in a way that will allow other people to see what its like to take a train trip like this, so informed by the past, in the modern day.