Elevated structure and buildings, Lower Manhattan: photo by Arthur Rothstein, December 1941
Once I was left alone, it deepened. All America had followed me to my room, and was asking me enormous questions, reviving awful forebodings.
Reclining anxiously on the bed, I tried to adjust to the darkness of my cubbyhole. At regular intervals the walls on the window side trembled. An Elevated Railway train was passing. It bounded between two streets like a cannonball filled with quivering flesh, jolting from section to section of this lunatic city. You could see it far away, its carcass trembling as it passed over a torrent of steel girders, which went on echoing from rampart to rampart long after the train had roared by at seventy miles an hour. Dinnertime passed as I lay thus prostrate, and bedtime as well.
What had horrified me most of all was that Elevated Railway. On the other side of the court, which was more like a well shaft, the wall began to light up, first one, then two rooms, then dozens. I could see what was going on in some of them. Couples going to bed. These Americans seemed as worn out as our own people after their vertical hours. The women had very full, very pale thighs, at least the ones I was able to get a good look at. Before going to bed, most of the men shaved without taking the cigars out of their mouths.
In bed they first took off their glasses, then put their false teeth in a glass of water, which they left in evidence. Same as in the street, the sexes didn't seem to talk to each other. They impressed me as fat, docile animals, used to being bored. In all, I only saw two couples engaging, with the light on, in the kind of thing I'd expected, and not at all violently. The other women ate chocolates in bed, while waiting for their husbands to finish shaving. And then they all put their lights out.
"El": 2nd & 3rd Avenue lines, looking W. from Second & Pearl St., Manhattan: photo by Berenice Abbott, 1936 (New York Public Library Digital Gallery)
Louis-Ferdinand Céline: from Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night), 1932, translated by Ralph Manheim, 1988