I’m starting to think that Dante and Rodin spent a lot of time hopping trams in Antwerp, because taking one of these on a daily basis is Divine Comedy in itself.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”
Anyone acquainted with Dante’s Inferno knows that this is the sign swaying over the entrance to hell in that story. Sadly, it’s also my exact thought every time I enter an overcrowded, jam-packed Tram 7 heading to work in the morning. Being a man of the people, I take the tram/subway to work quite often. It’s not always pleasant. Scratch that, it’s bearable. Sometimes. Not really. On one of the rare occasions during which I managed to grab hold of an actual seat, giving me the opportunity to sit like a decent human being instead of clinging to one of the bars on the ceiling and swinging upright like a drying carpet in that vertical sardine can, I remember catching a glimpse of my reflection in the condensated windows. I couldn’t help but notice the eerie resemblance between the pose I was in and the one Rodin’s Le Penseur is perpetuated in, perched on top of the doors representing Dante’s infamous Gates to Hell. The similarities between that rusty tramlike cage and the cavernous confines of hell didn’t stop there.
In order to fully appreciate the predicament that taking this tram on a daily basis is, one has to be given some backstory. Enter ‘Tram 7’, the oldest running subway line in Antwerp, the first variety of which was probably still being pulled by horses in the 19th century. The line is so old, earlier versions of it probably transported relatives of Jesus.
Since then, in line with general governmental efficiency, very little has changed. The carts themselves the least of all. The careful viewer will notice that the two pictures hereunder have not been altered, and that the tram you see in picture 1 hereunder is in fact exactly the same as the one in the second picture, albeit in a different color.
The real problem though, is reliability. These trams are about as reliable as free candy distributed by a guy in a dodgy white van. Sometimes the doors don’t open. You’re at your stop. You press the button that is supposed to open up the doors allowing you to escape
hell the cart, yet nothing happens. The doors remain perfectly still and you feel the tram getting on its way, forcing you to descend at the next stop (if the doors open there). Acceptable in the 50’s? Sure, reliable electric wiring was a novelty back then. Acceptable in 2016? Not so much. Then, there’s the rusty roof. It’s about as waterproof as cheesefondue is healthy for you. You can tell these trams were made in another era of human evolution because the seats are for significantly smaller subjects. I’m not particularly tall but even I wonder sometimes as to where I’m supposed to stick my legs.
What’s the problem you ask? The problem is that the first picture is dated 1958 and the second one 2016. Thats a timespan of 58 years. 58. years. That’s about FOURTEEN AND A HALF times as long as the American Civil War. Or 9 1/2 a half times World War II.
Those trams were put into service in 1958. Here’s a little, non-exhaustive things of other things put into service in 1958 :
- The European Economic Community, granddaddy to the current EU, was founded.
The word Aerospace is coined, fromeffectively merging the words Aircraft and Spacecraft.
- PizzaHut is founded (!!!)
- The first parking meters are installed in Britain
- Instant noodles go on sale for the first time.
The list goes on, but suffice it to say most readers of this blog hadn’t been born yet. Some might even have been born and meanwhile passed away. That’s how old those trams actually are.
Entering one of these trams during rush hour in 2016 is the equivalent of what it must have been like for a woman to give birth in the paleolithic age. A lot of confused people in a tightly-packed space looking nervously back and forth at each other, without anyone really knowing what to do.
Don’t you just love when pieces of art made hundreds of years ago remain relevant today? Hereunder you’ll find Botticelli’s visual representation of what Dante’s hell must look like. Or maybe it’s the seating chart in one of these trams. God knows. Both are equally plausible.
There’s a reason we retire from our professions at some time in life. We don’t work well anymore. We’re tired. Our muscles are sore. Our joints creak and everything leaks. We prefer spending our days in a couch, watching daytime tv and handing out Werther’s originals to our grandchildren. It’s the same for trams I imagine. I’m pretty sure these 58-year old babies want to chill together in a depot somewhere, cussing at the newer trams and spend all day staring at people from their doorway, instead of hauling my ass left and right, on the rare occasions they don’t break down mid-voyage.
So please, De Lijn, if you’re reading this. Do everyone a pleasure.