Weltschmerz? Read about trains.

It’s hard to pick up a newspaper these days without reading something that makes your heart ache. It doesn’t matter where you live or how you vote, all of us are aware that there’s a lot of suffering in this world. We have different levels of tolerance, but most of us have a limit to how much disheartening information we can take in without feeling overwhelmed. It’s very tempting to completely disengage.

As writers, though, it’s important to stay open to life, but exactly how to do that is sometimes tricky.

I’ve found a middle way between over-saturation and detachment: read a newspaper’s unchartered territory; the sections of the paper you don’t usually look at. There are a lot of wonderful journalists out there writing about food and fashion, theater and sports, and … trains. Whenever I find myself feeling submerged in world weariness, I read beyond my normal haunts.

This morning was just such a morning. I took one glance at the front page of my local paper and my heart broke. I couldn’t start my day that way. I’m Jeffersonian in my views on being educated and informed, but I need mental space to take in the news of the day without drowning in it.

So, I opened up the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I have both the FAZ and Le Monde apps on my phone for just such occasions when I need to salve my frayed news-reading nerves. Vogue works, too. And Cook’s Illustrated.

The FAZ came through with flying colors. I became enthralled with an interview with Herr Andreas Meyer, the head of the Schweizerischen Bundesbahnen. (The Swiss Federal Railways to you and me, but German compound nouns are too fun not to quote directly, don’t you think?) Swiss trains, to no one’s surprise, have an on-time rate that’s the envy of the world, including the rather punctual Germans. So far this year, German trains were punctual a mere 79% of the time, while the Swiss boast a rate of 91%. Moreover, the Swiss have stricter standards for their Pünktlichkeitsquote. In Switzerland, a train is counted as being on time if it is less than three minutes late, while the Germans allow for a whopping five minutes and 59 seconds before marking a train tardy. On top of that, the Swiss focus solely on passenger trains. Apparently, some railways include cargo and non-passenger trains in their punctuality calculations, allowing said railways to claim better numbers without improving passenger experience.

I could go on, but I won’t. Trains may not be everybody’s cup of tea. For me, though, the train article was exactly the cup of tea I needed this morning. I learned a little something new about the world, I smiled at the in-depth discussion of the Swiss Organisationsstruktur (another great German compound noun), and I was able to soothe my Weltschmerz.

What sections of the paper do you read when you just need a little break from it all?

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