The artichoke train
Atlas – Air France n°72 – June 1972
— My dear Diogenes, you should thank me. It’s been one year now since I started examining your case. It’s very clear to me. Not only can I tell you what’s going on in there (his index-finger was screwing an invisible bolt into his temple) but I know how to improve your condition.
— Really? I asked with genuine interest, looking more closely at my interlocutor. He was a sad-looking man in his fifties, piteously shaking with nervous twitches. He just could not stop putting his hat on and taking it off.
— Really. But let me first introduce myself: I’m a psycho-analyst and a very experienced one, believe me. I’ve got Freud on my fingertips. I’m an expert, in other words. Nothing can resist me. I’d be interested to know something: do you dream?
— A lot.
— Excellent. Now, tell me about a dream that particularly struck you.
— Here’s one, I said, after reflecting for a while. This dream haunted me for several months, seriously upsetting my sleep. I had quite a time getting rid of it. I was standing near a railroad track, occasionally on it. And a train was rushing towards me at full speed. It had many cars and made the hell of a noise. The rumble would start in the distance and gradually get louder and louder. All of a sudden I would see this train coming around a curve, five hundred yards away, and charging unrelentingly towards me as the engine whistled menacingly. At this particular moment, the dream would become most oppressive. Whenever I found myself on the track, I must admit that I was scared to death, maybe even more scared of waking up.
— Most interesting, said the psycho-analyst as he nervously played with his hat. Most fascinating. What then?
— Then, the locomotive would come upon me, and listen to what happened: at the most excruciating moment, when I was on the verge of waking up in a trance, it zoomed past me, sweeping by with a frightful noise. It would disappear into a tunnel. Then, oh the wonder of dreams, I would experience a marvelous relaxation of my entire being.
The analyst contemplated at length with a slight smile on his face. My dream had so captivated him that for two minutes at least, no nervous twitch shook his face, he even forgot to fiddle with his hat.
— I suppose, he said at last, that you have not missed the superb symbolic meaning of this dream?
— Symbolic? How so?
— What do you mean: how so? It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Don’t you know that locomotives, like all powerful engines, are phallic symbols? And if you have some doubts, what do you make then of the penetration into the tunnel and the exquisite feeling of relief? Now, my dear Diogenes, are you by any chance more idiotic than I thought? Don’t you get the picture? I searched for what he meant, possessed with the most vivid anxiety. If ever there was a symbol behind my dream, it had certainly escaped me. So I asked him if he was dead sure about his symbol. He was positive.
Freud’s experiments, he said, have irrefutably proven that sex appears in disguise in our dreams under multifarious forms. All have a precise signification and have been recorded in books: powerful automobiles and locomotives are, by definition, phallic symbols.
— If this is right, I said, then you owe me an explanation. For as I told you, I only got rid of this dream after spending a great amount of money.
— Oh? I see. You went to a psychiatrist?
— No, I didn’t. I simply moved to a new apartment.
— Are you saying that you got rid of your dream simply by moving to a new apartment?
— Right. Mind you, this was not done without much hesitation on my part. I had just moved into a charming little house in Meudon. Unfortunately, it was much too close to a railroad track.
Every morning around 3 A.M., the artichoke train, having just emptied its heavy load in Paris would return to Brittany. You can’t imagine the maddening noise which this cursed train would make as it crossed over the Meudon viaduct, just before reaching my house. It was driving everybody insane, even though it immediately disappeared into the tunnel. The harm was done: the whole town of Meudon was having nightmares.
— Did you tell me that the artichoke train was disappearing into the tunnel? asked the psycho-analyst, looking very upset.
— Yes, I did. This is when I resigned myself to finding new lodgings, far from a railroad track. It cost me a fortune. But I can swear to you that I never dreamed of a train or of a tunnel after that. If then, as you claim, this train was a phallic symbol…
— Forget it, said the analyst.
— But if this train…
— Forget it, I said. I couldn’t care less about your stupid dreams. Good-bye.
He looked for his hat but could not find it: he was holding it in his hand.■