How To Meet A Man On A Romanian Train

January 31, 2010 by  

I traveled in Romania in 2002, and recently came across my written account of that adventure. Here’s the story of my train ride between Sibiu and Brasov:

A soldier came to me in the train station and said, in Romanian, that it was time to go to track three. He led me there, carrying my luggage and I found my seat in a six-person compartment. One fellow passenger, Arpad, spoke English and helped me get my heavy suitcase to the overhead rack. As the hours rolled by, we talked and sometimes napped. It was a long journey and the train would arrive in Brasov at 10:30 p.m. As usual, I had no reservations but figured that I could easily taxi to a hotel listed  in my guidebook.

At last, I decided to find the train bathroom and left my glass-enclosed compartment for the corridor filled with smokers. My little toe was newly-broken from stubbing it on a piece of hotel furniture a few nights before, so I tried carefully to avoid getting it stepped upon, tapping many shoulders to request passage through the throng. One man, dressed in a nice tweed suit, heard my English and began to speak to me in such good pronunciation that I thought he must be British. He asked where I was from and then began to rattle off states and capitals of the U.S.

He arrested my progress down the aisle. Latched onto me, is the word, insisting that I sit with him in his compartment. I answered that I was on the way to the toilet but might do that on my way back. I suppose that even the Romanians don’t use their train toilets unless they are absolutely desperate. Well, I do, rather than ride in discomfort. He purported not to even know if this train had one! I said, “They’re usually down here on the end.” and disappeared in the crush.

Yep! All trains are alike. There it was. With a Gypsy mother sitting on her baby’s stroller, holding her baby and blocking the door. I smiled and indicated where I would like to go and mimed moving the stroller. She did. The loo was not all that dirty and hadn’t been used much, but it was still skanky. They all are, and if my seatmates were in dread of my impressions out the window of our compartment, I knew they were really worried about my reaction to the toilet. I’ve encountered this embarrassment all over the former Communist  countries. Those at the end of the car, Gypsy mamma included, watched my face closely as I came out of the toilet compartment. They found only my normal serene expression.

There was my new friend, waiting where I had left him and there was no question of my getting back to my own seat. He took my small backpack from me and swung it to the rack in his compartment, thinking it was my luggage. I carry all of my money, tickets, passport and anything important in the fannypack at my waist, but I never let go of my backpack purse either, so I took it back down, mentioning that my real luggage was above my reserved seat down the way. He didn’t pick up on that until later, when the train stopped and I mentioned that I should go make sure no one took it off with them. In a panic, he comprehended the situation and ran down the hall with me in tow to see if it was alright. My long-left-behind seatmates, who were very dependable and respectable, were still there and so was the suitcase. They had probably wondered if I’d been kidnapped but could see that I was in good hands.

Eugene was a very respectable man, as I could tell from the beginning, or I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. I have met many Soviet men just exactly like him. All very intelligent and very stifled by their life, surroundings, and possibilities; starving for a chance to practice English and to learn, firsthand, about the fabled Mecca, the United States. Such men are always very apologetic about the conditions of life, the sunflower seed hulls scattered on the floor, the rutted footpaths and shabby buildings just outside the window. They want to pull a cover over it and wish it were different. Lots and lots of apology, which I had to counter with many waves of my hand, again and again, dismissing the need for him to take personal responsibility for the failings of his country.

Eugene’s desperate push for communication prevented me from studying my guidebook well enough to decide on the hotel to try for. I peeked at it a little and chose the least expensive one, partly because he had told me that he earns the equivalent of thirty dollars per month. He had already apologized profusely for not being able to host me in his flat, but he lived with his aged parents and his son.  However he kept wanting to do something for me. He’s a Romanian man, with all the courtly instincts and we finally settled on the plan for him to find the taxi and tell the driver where to take me. He would ride partway, as his home was on the way.

After much conversation about historical facts, the topic finally got around to beliefs and spiritual matters. Not through my doing. I don’t push that topic anymore. But, before it was over, I found myself talking about my clairaudience and he was so keen to  know, that I wound up telling him how I hear and what I hear.

Then, we were in Brasov and I had to work hard to prevent him from carrying my heavy suitcase which we retrieved from the guardians in my compartment. He was already half in love with me, judging by the sincere compliments he had been giving me. No, it wasn’t a man going fishing. It was a man with very little pizzazz in his life, blinded by a gutsy woman who could talk and laugh so freely. He was astounded to learn that I am nearly sixty-five. He’s probably twenty years younger.

As we pulled our suitcases out of the compartment, a disco habitue man in a white silk leisure suit and his blowsy blond girlfriend stood in the aisle. The man yelled suggestive, probably lewd, sentences in Romanian as we passed. I picked up on the meaning and turned around after I had gone several yards. I pointed a finger at him and said, seriously, but somewhat lightly, “Behave!” like a school teacher correcting an unruly child. He caught my meaning and shrank back against the wall. I thought nothing of it and didn’t take it seriously but Eugene said he felt angry.

After dropping off this new friend at his flat, the taxi took me to the cheap hostel I had so hastily chosen. It was such a plain little door in the wall with a bar next door, that I decided on the much more expensive ($40) Coroana Hotel, nearby. It was a big Communist-era attempt at finery but it had a bed and a bathtub and my broken toe was really hurting so I blew more than a month’s salary on the night.

(A few days later, I figured out what led the disco man to make his assumptions. I’ll write about that next time.)

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