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.)
In the summer of 2002, I made a short train trip into Romania. I loved that country, and by accident, had arrived in Sibiu just as the International Theatre Festival was beginning. I had intended to head towards Brasov from Budapest, but the train ticket seller wouldn’t let me go there, so I wound up settling for Sibiu. What a serendipitous move that was! It was a magical place, especially that week when theatrical people from all over the world were gathering, and plays were being performed in many venues, all over town, for a ten-day period.
I soon met Laura, a local banker/lawyer, who proved to be my first InterGalactic Friend there. Then, standing in the fancy dining room of the Hotel Imparatul Romanilor, watching the retractable ceiling expose a skyfull of stars, I spoke to a fellow-gawker. She turned out to be another IGF, Francoise, of Paris, who provides music and sports education for prodigies among the local orphans. She had just jetted in from Cannes, because her husband is a film producer. The three of us hit the theaters as if we had known each other for years.
I finally tore myself away from this glamorous town because I wanted to see more of Romania before my time was up. So, even though I’d broken my little toe early in my visit (cracked it on the mini-bar in the dark), I traveled on to Bran Castle and Sinaia, before catching the train back to Budapest. My journey started at five in the morning, and I was dozing when my train stopped in Sibiu to pick up passengers. Two guys in their twenties entered my seat compartment and promptly fell asleep. I offered one of them my jacket to use as a pillow.
A few hours later, we all stirred and started talking. Soma, of Budapest, and Mateuz, of Krakow, were actors with The Voyage Project, who had just performed at the International Theater Festival. Though I hadn’t seen their performance, I had met their director during my earlier stay, and we all spoke animatedly about the wonderful ten-day event. As time went on, Soma and I slipped into the, now-familiar, symptoms of an InterGalactic Friendship and we began to talk about our lives and background. Mateuz fell back asleep, but as he listened to us, he realized that we were actually experiencing the realities expressed in a poem that someone had handed him during the Festival. He dug the folded white sheet of paper out of his backpack and asked me to read it aloud to them.
Apologies to the author, whose name is not on the page. I am copying this from the original which Mateuz insisted that I keep. Whoever wrote this, though, knew the phenomenon first-hand. Whoever passed this on to Mateuz, perhaps was telling him of their mystical connection; but could never know that he would find a new application for it so rapidly. And now, because of this blog and the topic I’m sharing about the lovely, mysterious, momentary brush of two celestial bodies, I can pass it on to you – who may also have a need for it.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
They’re both convinced that a sudden passion joined them. Such certainty is beautiful, but uncertainty is more beautiful still.
Since they’d never met before, they’re sure that there’d been nothing between them. But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways – perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?
I want to ask them if they don’t remember – a moment face to face in some revolving door? Perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd? A curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver? But I know the answer. No, they don’t remember.
They’d be amazed to hear that Chance has been toying with them now for years.
Not quite ready yet to become their Destiny, it pushed them close, drove them apart, it barred their path, stifling a laugh, and then leaped aside.
There were signs and signals, even if they couldn’t read them yet. Perhaps three years ago or just last Tuesday a certain leaf fluttered from one shoulder to another? Something was dropped and then picked up. Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished into childhood’s thicket?
There were doorknobs and doorbells where one touch had covered another beforehand. Suitcases checked and standing side by side. One night, perhaps, the same dream grown hazy by morning.
Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.
Wow! As I explained the symptoms of an InterGalactic Friendship, we all sat mystified at the way it works. And for a witness to silently understand and “just so happen” to have some poetic words to cover it, was just mind-boggling. Though we humans usually think only in terms of romance and the ultimate pairing off of two people who are destined to “be together,” this IGF business is far more innocent than that. It can happen in the oddest combinations and probably almost never leads to a relationship that even exists beyond the original moments.
Sincere goodbyes at the train station in the Hungarian capital closed that chapter, though the memory and photographs remain in my journal volume, open beside me now. After all, the book of events is always halfway open.