Haunted by a dead cow, Ben rides a small train through the Portugese countryside and into The Gardens of Listening where he hears about a plan to change the world.
Bosch Alumni Network Event
Gardens of Listening - Back On Track Project Team Kick-Off Meeting
Along The Vouga Train Line, Northern Portugal
Stop Talking and Moving – Komiku
Bleu – Komiku
Somnimus – Unsettling Scores
EPISODE 06 - I Hear My Train A Comin' – Transcript
Episode 6 – I Hear My Train A Comin’
© Step One, 2019
This is STEP ONE
a podcast about people striving to change their world -- our world.
We tell you stories of the Bosch Alumni Network. A network of doers and thinkers connected across the globe working toward positive change.
I am Benjamin Lorch.
And today’s episode: I Hear My Train A Comin’
But before we dive into our story, we want to introduce you to the community this podcast is part of.
It’s the Bosch Alumni Network, which consists of people who have been supported, in one way or another, by the Robert Bosch Foundation. The network is coordinated by the International Alumni Center, a think & do tank for alumni communities with social impact. The iac Berlin supports this podcast. If you want to know more about the power of networks, visit iac-berlin.org.
I mean really listening?
What’s going on in your head right now? Are only listening to me… Or do you have some thoughts of your own?
OK, since you’re with me, I want you to check this out and try to really L I S T E N.
I want you to meet Tiago. He’s going to tell us a story.
01 TIAGO VILLAGE
I grew up in a small village in Escapães right close to Santa Maria Da Feira where my father was born and my grandparents lived there.
My father used to tell me that he used the train to go to Oliveira de Mais to go to the commercial school where he studied when he was a kid.
For me one of the most interesting stories that pictures quite well the time... He remembers that a cow was overrun by a train. Then the authorities came, the police came and they buried the cow for health issues. And the next day the cow the cow was already not there because along the line there was a several eh, a gypsy camp and obviously they took this opportunity. This is a whole cow! And they dig the cow. This is kind of stories that only happens in villages.
Tiago is an urban planner and historian. He likes to tell stories and to listen. Stories like the one of about the cow. These are kind of the local legends that bind people together in small towns, even if the stories – like all stories do – change over time.
The train has been an important part of Tiago’s life but today it’s not in the best of shape. It’s old and neglected, covered in graffiti and it’s rarely full of passengers. But Tiago, and a group of people close to him, want to revitalize the train and its stations and they think that stories, like the one about the cow, could play a central role in that effort.
Today we are going to find out how.
The train is here, let’s get on and begin our journey.
The rails we’re riding are called Vouga Line. They are named after the river which runs along. The tracks were laid in 1908, one hundred and ten years ago, before cars and modern highways came to the region. When it first opened, it ran over a 170-kilometer semicircle and linked the Portuguese countryside to the beaches where some people had summer houses. A seaside casino at Espinho was a big draw to a more urban, more cosmopolitan life, devoid of farms...and dead cows.
The line has just one set of tracks, so trains only ride in one direction at a time and the gage is smaller than most trains you might know but it is not exactly cute or touristy.
Today, parts of the line are closed so the system is a relic of what once was. It’s mostly used by students and older people without access to automobiles. Powered by diesel. Loud. Polluting. It’s not some sort of shiny, energetic train. Or not yet.
02 TIAGO DREAM
We have this very futuristic dream of having this railroad renovated and in better conditions to provide not only a good transportation system but also so that more visitors can see this territory -- to know its history, its culture because it fact it is quite interesting territory.
It is late November, and I am riding the train down to the sea together with Tiago, João and Karsten. Along the way we are going to pick Teja and Constança, two additional team members. All five of them, are urbanists and members of the Bosch Alumni Network, seeking to regenerate cities and regions through social engagement.
This is their second time meeting face-to-face in Portugal and they are riding the train together to lay down plans for their work. Their project is called Gardens of Listening - Back on Track and it aims at renovating that old train line and renewing a special bond: the old marriage between the train and the towns it passes through.
We roll through picturesque countryside, and towns such as
Oliveira de Azeméis, São João da Madeira and Feira. It is raining on and off as we pass farms and houses nestled into the hollows and valleys. Many of the houses are the first to be laid down here, long ago. Tiago explains to me that Roman roads first gave shape to the many settlements of the region.
Eventually we pull into São João da Madeira, a town of important industrial heritage, best known for its production of hats, footwear, pencils and a metalworking factory. As soon as we get off the train Karsten begins to take lots of photographs. Some graffiti sprayed on the wall of the station catches my attention.
03 GRAFFITI 00
Ben : Quiero Voga - - Read this to me.
Tiago : “Quiero Voginia ateo Porto”......The sentence means I want Voginia train up to Porto. So a proper connection between here and Porto.”..
It seems Tiago is not the only one with a dream to renew or expand the trainline. For people living in towns and villages in the countryside, having an improved rail train line would also invite tourists to the region.
São João da Madeira is small city of about 21000 inhabitants. It’s a pleasant, but a sleepy place. There is not much going on. We walk through a shopping mall built in the 80s, and it is depressingly defunct. The indoor market down the road is empty and quiet too. Tiago’s expression fluctuates between disappointment and hope.
04 TIAGO LET’S GO
Lets go over there . . .
After a short walk we enter an industrial area wedged into the cityscape. This is where a big metalworking factory called Oliva was located. It employed many in the region. This iron and steel works produced sewing machines, farming tools, even at one point small combustion engines.
05 TIAGO OLIVA
We are looking at the industrial complex of of Oliva that was one of the biggest metal factories in the country. They started to make taps and other parts for plumbing; metal tubes … but along the years and decades they started to do all kinds of materials like fridges, and sewing machines, even televisions, radios, all kinds of stuff. And in the 80s, like most of the industry, it started to collapse.
These goods were exported around the world, particularly to Portuguese colonies. But global competition encroached. The factories closed and jobs disappeared. The region went into economic decline.
Now it is quiet in the factory complex. The buildings are closed up. Some of the roofs have fallen in. The area is deindustrialized. Ghosted.
Through the rain Tiago leads us to one part of the complex that is lit up bright and refurbished. It’s the Oliva Creative Factory which houses a startup center, a few shops and a museum. Creative Factory has all the outward signs of hipster coolness: plywood furniture, a fixie bicycle leaning up against a black chalkboard wall, exposed brick and fancy vintage-style light bulbs but there is no one there when we visit...
If you had a really good train to bring visitors here and also to bring artists and to take artists to other places then you could actually create another kind of movement. Artists like to be on the edge of creation and normally it is in cities where they feel inspired, very few like to stay in small places... they feel trapped so
For Tiago and the group, the train could be a lifeline to connect the small villages to larger towns and cities. If it were modernized, it could draw for not only artists but also tourists to the region.
It is dark out as we leave the Creative Factory and walk down the hill to return to the train station.
07 TIAGO CLOCK
Tiago: And you can actually see the state of the building it’s abandoned, its closed, its derelict even the clock is completely destroyed…you can see only the numbers . . .”
This clock at the train station is a slightly terrifying sight - a clock face without hands. Unprotected by any glass, the white paint is weathered away. The numbers are still clear -- bold and black standing there, facing the tracks. They are strong and can be seen from a distance . . . but there is no time.
It is not that time has stopped --it’s just uncounted here.
Actually, it feels kind of symbolic. Not just this clock, but all of the clocks along the line are this way. Because the train brought precise industrial “railway time” to the region over 10 decades ago and now these clocks no longer measure the time or set the pace for the people here.
At the train station in São João da Madeira, there are only few people, waiting for the train. No one is talking to each other. They look to me like a collection of glowing blue ghosts with their faces each illuminated by their phones. Everyone is looking at their phone. Nobody is talking to each other. They are standing there, alone together.
Tiago and his team want to change this. The way they see it, improved train service could provide more than just transportation for people in the region. It could change the way people relate to one another, the way they talk and listen to each other -- the way they engage with the community that surrounds them.
It’s Thursday now. The Back on Track Team boards the train and heads to the coastal city of Espinho. And this day also happens to be the 110th birthday of the train. As we ride the train, something unexpected happens.
08 TEJA MUSIC STORY 1
So we board and look, There is this guy! With a accordion. Ah, What a lovely accordion. I am completely amazed by looking at this instrument.
This is Teja, a member of the team and expert on the renovation of cultural heritage sites. At that moment, she is sitting next to Karsten who tells her he was in Romania just last week, and he got invited to a birthday party, he learned a song. So he start to sing. And the guy with the hat..
And the guy, from this musical group turns…
Oh! Romanian! this is Romanian! And they start talking. And so Karsten immediately starts interacting with him. And the guy starts playing. We sing, we dance. Karsten gets up! and he starts waving and dancing and everything. The guy from the musical group is constantly saying thank you madam, God Bless You.
Karsten goes to the front to maybe introduce, to explain to the people because they are startled. They pretend they don’t see us. That we are not there. What is going on? Yes.
(MUSIC TAPE OF SLIGHTLY WILD ACCORDION MUSIC)
Somehow no one the train really seems to care what is going on. They stay focused on their mobile phones while we carry on with the musicians sharing a little bottle of local brandy that appeared out of nowhere. There are some smiles among the people but we, the outsiders; and the musicians are really the only people engaged and enjoying the scene.
When Karsten stops the accordion player to publicly explain that this day -- this very day -- is the birthday of the trainline....some people smirk but no one really seems to care.
Do you know about this?
Today is the birthday of this train.
Disconnection and disengagement is of course not specific to this region. Listening to people, and especially listening to people at length to really understand what they are saying is just not something we – well, on a global scale -- are very good at doing these days.
Would you agree?
To find out more, I Googled some stuff.
(** Sound of typing **)
“Short-en-ing at-ten-tion spans”
Hmmm...OK, here we go.
So according to a research published by Microsoft in 2015, our attention spans have dropped in just the span of the past 15 years. In 2000, people were able to stay on task for an average of 12 seconds.
But, in 2015 it was measured to be, on average, just 8.25 seconds. Eight and a half seconds is less than that of the everyday goldfish, which clocks in at an attention span of a whopping full 9 seconds.
These findings have been disputed but
the thing is -- a good story takes more than 8 or 9 seconds to tell and a productive conversation certainly takes much longer than that. Like that cow story that we listened to at the beginning? It lasted at least a minute. And so often we don’t seem interested in taking that much time to fully listen to each other.
As Karsten puts it, it is listening without connecting.
09 KARSTEN LISTENING
Mostly the people around us are listening to get answers and not to understand. Its is just answering. It is not listening, it is not understanding, it’s just exchanging snippets
And I really, really suffer with this because I think to understand things, to understand one another's opinions or needs or wishes, you have – first you have to kisten to listen
Karsten, in contrast, has developed his own way of getting into conversations, with people when he visits places -- just as he did on the train.
10 KARSTEN ENCOUNTERS
So, when I go to a place I have never been before.
I never research anything about it. So I am just, this is a white sheet of paper. And then I am in the position to need help for everything. I have to ask everyone for help. And that brings me a bit under the eyeline of the locals and so they can help me and then we can have an encounter. And I have to create some encounters because I have to ask for everything.
He looks and he explores directly -- looking and being looked at, listening, talking, looking and listening again.
But is this the approach of creating encounters the right one for everyone -- even for the team of the Back On Track Project?
Riding the train again, Tiago and Karsten explore this important question about how to engage the people of the region and talk with them.
11 K & T CONVERSATION
We need to put ourselves at their level. Or… its always doubts that I have. In terms of speech. In terms of communication or
. . .
This is something I dislike so to say that we need to bring ourselves on their level so . . .
Tiago: No, no, when I say, in terms of communication. I already saw in some situations. In this participatory process. Who is running it, they keep themselves on a higher position. Like I am the one who has the whole knowledge. I am the one who came here to solve your problems. And I hate to be, I hate to give that impression. I want to become a better urban planner and better facilitator, urban mediator and so we need constantly evolve the way we read people, the way we analyze people. NO?
Karsten: No, no, no. Don’t do that. Don’t analyze or read.
Tiago: In the way of trying to understand…
Karsten: Yes but there are different ways. If you try to analyze you are always on a higher position. You come there and this is your field of studies and you study somehow the people. And I think this is the wrong way.
I normally tend to be myself and I like to engage. I like to sit down with an old lady. Have a really nice tea and knowing her life.
Karsten: If she is not interested. And she has the right to be not interested in something and we have to respect this. I think the most important thing is time and trust. And for trust you need time.
There is no conclusion, no resolution. After this conversation, they both fall into a respectful silence -- thinking.
(BELLS VIBES AND OCEAN SOUND MONTAGE)
Now at a beach hotel in the coastal city of Espinho. Karsten, Tiago, João, Constança and Teja sit in deep cushy chairs in the lounge area of the hotel bar where we are staying. The space does not seem to have changed at all since the hotel was built in 1973.
The group is here to solidify their plans for the coming year and formally kick-off the Back on Track project. Post-it notes cover a low marble table in the center of the group.
Constança, an expert in design thinking and the group facilitator, summarizes the plans.
12 CONSTANÇA FOCUS
So, the focus for the first year will really be about listening and reading the territory and the needs of the community. With the emphasis on the train and the role of the train and also creating the engagement network for the project, for the outputs for the network or any other things that might emerge from this project.
And then, Teja steps in.
13 TEJA OPPORTUNITY STORIES
In this European setting it is important to give the people the opportunity to share their stories about their daily lives, about their experience of the buildings and environment and artifacts and everything, you know.
In this first phase of the project they will commission photographers and sound designers to photograph and record the trainline and its people. Their hope is to elevate awareness of the train as a real asset to the region. Exhibitions in the towns and in the stations along the line will reflect and echo the line and its communities back to the people while the team and looks and listens for responses.
If they succeed, they could transform the region through improving transportation. But they could also improve the quality of the conversations and connections between the citizens.
Travelling together along the train line has brought the project group together and they feel it could work for other people as well. If their method works, they’d like to take it elsewhere and change the way the rest of our noisy world works too.
This is their Step One.
On my last day in Portugal, João drove me to another train that would take me to the airport. Shortly I would be returning to Berlin while he and the others would continue to work on the project for a few more days.
I think this is a very political project. If we promote this active listening, if we promote this active vision and definitely to think about what others have to say. This is a very political -- a very very strong political statement.
Right now it is all about traiding. We are all pushed to trade something. So, I am going to speak with you because I want something from you. I want to trade something with you. And that’s it. The base of politics today is all about this.
And I think there is such a potential for being something else, right?
Words are powerful
and can be used in so many ways.
Words make worlds
and only we humans were given this gift of language.
When we exchange words with one another, we can do so with care or indifference, even violence.
But when we listen and speak with patience and understanding of each other, we engage in the most graceful act of giving and receiving. A beautiful recognition of the other.
In this way -- it has been said -- that Listening is an act of love.
João: People really need to give more affection to each other.
People now say, ‘oh affection, that is so silly’ and people waste it completely. And Really I do not know why because that is the thing that makes us humans. It’s really what makes us connect with each other and what makes us want to be with each other. Right? And there are so many amazing ways for us to be together and to connect with each other, you know.
In the car now, With all that I asked João how he was doing and how he thought the Gardens of Listening project was progressing.
“I am in Heaven,” he said.
And as I listened to João say that, I was there with him too.
Thanks for listening.
This has been Episode Six of Step One.
Reporting by me, Benjamin Lorch.
Our editor is Jelena Prtoric, our producer Yannic Hannebohn.
Our theme music is composed by Niklas Kramer.
A special shout out this time goes to the whole iac Berlin crew that supported us throughout this first season, especially Lucie and Alexandra and Lisa - this would not have been possible without you.
The teams whose voices you hear in the piece and our team, too, we’re all part of the Bosch Alumni Network.
This was the last episode of the first season of Step One.
Will there be a second season? Maybe.
We’re evaluating our options and hope to be back later this year with fresh stories. If you have ideas or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.
Remember the next step is always step one.
This is Benjamin Lorch and thanks for listening.