Matapédia is a small village located where the river with the same name flows into the Restigouche river where Quebec and New Brunswick meet.
One night, at the local train station, I was the only passenger waiting for the train to take me back to Montréal. Inside I met Claude, the stationmaster, who checked my ticket and took care of my luggage. With my bags on the cart parked on the station platform, I imagined the map of the world and my current, odd place on it. Once that train, which had started its journey in Halifax, emerged from the dark and I boarded, I had to face a sleeping crowd. Though there was some comfort in being surrounded by people, I longed for my empty platform, the darkness, and the absence of everything.
Then, for reasons unknown, I recalled reading László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, where he describes a remarkably different scene at a train station in a Hungarian village. Upon arrival home, I revisited the paragraph:
“To tell the truth, none of this really surprised anyone any more since rail travel, like everything else, was subject to the prevailing conditions: all normal expectations went by the board and one’s daily habits were disrupted by a sense of ever-spreading all-consuming chaos which rendered the future unpredictable, the past unrecallable and ordinary life so haphazard that people simply assumed that whatever could be imagined might come to pass, that if there were only one door in a building it would no longer open, that wheat would grow head downwards into the earth not out of it, and that, since one could only note the symptoms of disintegration, the reasons for it remaining unfathomable and inconceivable, there was nothing anyone could do except to get a tenacious grip on anything that was still tangible; which is precisely what people at the village station continued to do when, in hope of taking possession of the essentially limited seating to which they were entitled, they stormed the carriage doors, which being frozen up proved very difficult to open.”
A few decades earlier, in 1957, another Hungarian, a photographer, found himself at one of the most famous train stations in the world. Brassaï, celebrated for his mainly nighttime images of Paris, his adopted home, captured this image of New York’s Grand Central.
Unlike my station platform in Matapédia, there are many people here, and there are surreal beams of sunlight, yet it seems that Brassaï was longing for the dark. Or is it too easy for me to project melancholy on the image taken so long ago by a photographer such as Brassaï?
I was curious to find an image that would reflect Krasznahorkai’s scene quoted above. The Melancholy of Resistance was made into a film entitled Werckmeister Harmonies by director Béla Tarr who, it turns out, is currently running a film program in Sarajevo, the home city of my previous self. But I was not interested in a movie image because I was looking for a photograph that was made unrelated to Krasznahorkai’s novel. After all, I’m not even sure that the scene was included in Tarr’s film since I can’t even remember if I’d ever watched it.
Sometimes, what we are looking for in far away places (the world wide web), is found right in front of us, as was the case with my search for that image. The photograph simply jumped out of one of the publications stored on my bookshelf. It doesn’t depict a train station but a scene at a bus stop here in Montreal, my adopted home. It was a blizzard day, sometimes in 1971, and a crowd gathered around a bus, determined to grip on the only thing tangible, that is, the warmth of the bus’ interior. Only one man stood at a distance in order to take the image. His name is Gabor Szilasi, and he is the one of the most celebrated photographers in the province of Quebec, his adopted home since 1950s. And, in case you were wondering, Szilasi, just like Krasznahorkai, Brassaï and Tarr, comes from Hungary.
As I was wrapping up this text I wanted to check if there was a link between Matapédia and Hungary. My online search “Matapedia, Hungary” revealed something called Metapedia. According to Wikipedia: “Metapedia is a multilingual white nationalist and white supremacist, far right online encyclopedia. While it was originally launched in Swedish it is the Hungarian version that is the most developed and has by far the most articles.”
All these wonderful Hungarian photographers that left Hungary, for different reasons, to find a home elsewhere, like Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, Gabor Szilasi, Martin Munkácsi and probably some others, would not be pleased with that fact. I like to imagine each one of them, joining me at the Matapédia’s empty station platform enveloped in the dark.