My journey to survey the extent of a contagion began in the train. In that way, it began as had so many others, albeit with minor differences, inflections, as ever. I was bound for work and not holiday. Brown and orange crept into the countryside’s foliage. Sheep feasted on soft aquatic plants revealed by the receding waterline of a railside pond. I could only speculate that such sights passed largely unnoticed by fellow passengers.
Other, more important differences held as well. I was recording these notes not in a notebook proper, but, for lack of materials, on the back of a train ticket, of which I strongly suspected that the elongated format, torn folds and glossy window would perhaps lead to changes in the form of the resultant document. Consider as well that I was bound not west but east through the Moselle’s hinterland, and my sights mostly consisted mainly of lots, paddocks or deserted rail stations, such as that in Herny, its gutters running over with moss, a green liquid in suspension. To the formed joined themselves the distinct hues of a silage mound hidden beneath a tire-lain tarp and the ash from burning stumps and brush railside: black under brown, grey pocking green.
At that point we passed out of the plains and rolling hills and into the woods, from Moselle to Mosel. Hombourg-Haut’s terraced heights shortly came to meet the onlooker, having the shape of a trowel when viewed from the east. At the trowel’s tip stood the old medieval gate, a survivor of the Thirty Years War and the city’s subsequent thirty-year abandonment and crumbling. We spent no more than a minute in sight of the town, at which point the train dutifully left behind that ridge in the valley.
The train continued on through the woods, now equal parts pine and various deciduous, scattered on the last slopes of the Vosges. Looking northwards, I could see that the chain of hills and mountains disappeared with the border’s approach, to fade and to meet a northern death. A sign visible from the railway pointed the way to what I first noted as “Cochern” without noticing my condensation of French Cocheren before and German Cochem from memory into a single entity. So did the French and German elide in that place.
Forbach’s 1960’s highrises at last came into view. Whether years before or only recently, the building or city authorities had painted the structures in blue and grey patterns so that they might disappear into the clouds, or so I supposed. As it was, the vanishing act could be considered, at best, a half-success, though I did find pleasure in the idea of a sky which windows pierced at regular intervals.
It was necessary to change trains in Forbach, for no other reason than the existence of a border. From the platform between trains, I could just make out the year on a yellow limestone building across the way. It was a 1903 construction of which I would have otherwise remarked that it dated from the German annexation. Yet the “German annexation construction” label here seemed misplaced. I had some doubts as to whether the 1871-1919 annexation had here been experienced as such, whether it had not been seen instead as the natural fluctuation of an artificial body, as an invisible line displaced some kilometers this way or that, as the waxing of an idea like another.